“Well, I tried” is probably one of my least favourite comments to hear when it’s regarding the progress of a relationship or the supposed happiness of the other person. In fact, it’s a phrase that I’ve heard far too frequently from men with whom I’ve been in romantic entanglements, and it’s definitely a phrase that indicates they’ve actually not tried because they actively refused to acknowledge the needs of the other person (in this case, me).

I cannot count the number of times my most recent (now-ex) partner stated “I tried to make you happy” but seemed to overlook a lot of key issues that I kept reminding him of: I suffer from both anxiety and depression, so sometimes I just need my partner to listen to me or be there for me in order to start overcoming those bouts. I don’t get to choose when to be depressed or what makes me anxious, so I do need to have some control over my coping mechanisms in order to get by. Telling me that I’m “not happy enough” and that I’m “being inconsiderate” for not responding to the attempts my partner makes isn’t helping. Not everything has an active solution; sometimes you need a passive solution that, to many of my partners, sounds a lot like “do nothing.”

If I ever have to hear “I tried to take care of you,” I may defenestrate everything I own. This largely accompanies the criticisms that I’ve heard regarding my health, and these focus almost entirely on my weight. I’m not a small person by any means, and I’d definitely be the first person to admit that I could engage in more healthy behaviours (like finding classes that could increase my level of exercise or just walking and biking a lot more frequently). That doesn’t mean, however, that all of my problems are cause by weight or “poor diet” (full of vegetables and fruit and low on processed sugars).

When my medical report came back with something that frightened me (“fatty infiltration of the liver”), my concerns were left unaddressed. Upon explaining that I have a family history of liver cancer and expressing that I was concerned this could be the start, my partner’s response was to tell me that I should “just lose weight” because “he knows this, since it’s his job.” That did nothing to quell the fear I had that I, too, may be in the process of developing liver cancer because of my close link to it; those few words expressed nothing helpful, and (now-ex) my partner – a person who works in pharmaceuticals and is conducting research to developing medication for metabolic issues and continually tells me that “female mice are useless” to the scientific process – never saw any of my ultrasounds or scans.

In fact, I didn’t see them and never had the opportunity to discuss them with a doctor because it was for my entry and resident permit in China. There was no way that he could possibly know, so at no point did he “try” to do anything that would be helpful to me or our relationship. He even went as far as to ignore things I’d told him about my past, about how my self-confidence was gradually growing because I’d finally started to be more comfortable in my own body; he wilfully “forgot” how I spent years of my life listening to people harass me for being overweight. So instead of trying to actually help me, he decided to fat shame me and criticise my body, disregarding my fear at that moment and months of knowledge about me.

Every time I hear someone tell me “Well, I tried,” I can honestly say that I’ve never seen them try. They do things how they think they should be done; they respond to things in ways that they think are correct. This can really only be considered trying when you’ve not been given the answer. When someone tells you that they need time to prepare for social events and you keep surprising them with parties, you’re not trying to make them happy; you’re pressuring them and leaving that person to be uncomfortable. When you’re not listening to their concerns or worries, you’re not trying to help them; you’re neglecting them.

When that person has given you the answers for how to handle situations beforehand and you intentionally never use them, you’re not trying. You’re making things worse.

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