It was a point of contention in a former relationship. “Don’t you ever relax? You’re so keyed up.”
I tried to relax. I surely did. But there was something within me that could never quite get comfortable.
I envied how easily he went there. How effortless relaxation seemed to him. When I was struggling with existential crisis, I asked him what the purpose of life was — and it took him no time to answer. He said, very quickly, that it was to be happy. It was that simple for him, that clearcut.
And at the time, I took his confidence as proof that he was somehow more enlightened than I was. That he’d figured out the secret that had evaded me. And maybe if I spent enough time with him that it’d rub off on me.
So I spent so much time with him. And I tried to relax. But I never quite got there.
Perhaps It Was Because I Was Used to Being a Prey Animal
It never occurred to me back then that there might have been another etiology for my hypervigilance. I can look to prey animals for this theory. Cats are predators — and it’s not uncommon at all for them to be found napping half the day away, all the while spread out like something melting into concrete.
Anyone who has ever owned a pet bird knows that they don’t relax. Not really. They sleep standing up. And if you ever see a pet bird lying in the bottom of their cage, they are seriously ill and probably won’t live long.
It makes sense if you think about it. When you spend far more time being hunted than acting as the hunter, you stay alert. It’s the difference between survival and being someone else’s meal.
When I met this ex, I’d been through an awful lot. There were plenty of reasons for me to act like a prey animal — to never quite let down my guard, even when I wanted to.
And the fact that he didn’t struggle similarly was far more telling in hindsight. He hadn’t struggled with the same level of trauma. And as the months and years wound on, I would learn that he had been more of a predator than I could ever dream of being.
It came out in dribs and drabs, these confessions. Each revelation was more unsettling than the last. Offered when he was another level of confident that no matter what he did, I wouldn’t leave.
Thank Goodness for Flight Instincts
I never did learn to relax around him. And instead, one day I fled, once things became completely unbearable. Perhaps that is the saving grace of prey mentality. We are excellent at flight when forced to be — although don’t relish the necessity.
Although… curiously, I’ve learned since then to relax. Just never around him. Instead, I’ve found it to be effortless around select others.
Perhaps that was the key all along — I can relax just fine, just not around predators.