Where We Were Headed
by LAUREN LELAND
One relationship cliché that I’ve never quite given much thought to is “No one will love you until you love yourself.” Expanding upon that this idea that for a relationship to be truly successful, we must first have a sense of security in ourselves.
I guess for some, the relationship is the security, and once it’s gone, the grieving is more extreme. For not only are you mourning the loss of a person, but you are also forced to be alone with yourself, and if you don’t know yourself or worse, don’t like the person you are, the idea of being alone is scary.
I have been more or less single for the past four years. I had a three year relationship in college that ended for all the reasons most college relationships do, and then a slew of short-term, never exclusive mini relationships, many of which I had hoped would turn into something more but never did.
There were a handful of hilarious horror stories and people with whom I just was not compatible, but also a lot of disappointments. I would personalize each rejection, as if there was something wrong with me. The disappointment rarely lasted, but in hindsight it wasn’t because I realized my worth, but only because I had a new crush or distraction. I had something fresh and exciting and a reason to be hopeful that this time would be different.
This past summer I started seeing a guy with whom I had cultivated a friendship several months before. Initially just running partners, our conversations and shared interests bloomed into a friendship, and slowly a romance. It took him several nights of walking me to my door before he finally kissed me. When he did, I let out a “Finally!” I was secretly happy he had taken so much time with us. It was refreshing.
The new blossoming relationship was exciting for me but I tried my best to keep the pace slow and steady. However, everything felt right, and despite my efforts to keep it fun and flirty, I felt truly alive when I was with him, in a way that I hadn’t in a long time. I attribute this to his thirst and enjoyment for life. He had a positive outlook and an energetic nature that didn’t seem forced.
When I was with him, I was truly present, not in my head where I tend to reside. He was an actor like myself, but didn’t define himself solely on that. I felt like we were in similar places in our careers. We knew what we were passionate about, but were both still exploring. He was comfortable in a stage where others (including myself) might feel lost, and his comfort was comforting to me.
He texted me every day. He planned outings and made breakfast. We could talk for hours on his porch. We could be equally happy ordering in Indian food or going to a concert. He was never unresponsive, and didn’t play the “uninterested” game I had begun to think was the norm. Each day we spent together, we grew more and more connected. He seemed genuine, sweet and complimentary.
Then, one day, he called me from out of town.
“Hey, this might sound crazy and you can say no if you want. But do you want to be my girlfriend?”
My heart leapt. I beamed. I had finally met someone different. And he felt just as sure as I did. Or so I thought. He returned and I sensed an immediate distance. I brushed it off as my own insecurity, but it resurfaced. Finally one morning at breakfast he casually chuckled and said, “So girlfriend is a scary word…can we just agree that it is?”
Not knowing exactly what he meant, and wanting to uphold the “go-with-the flow” quality I deemed attractive, I agreed. Relationships are scary and maybe that was all he meant. But I wasn’t sure where we stood. And in my timidity I didn’t ask again until about a week later. I began to have severe insomnia from the anxiety but could never attribute it to the relationship.
Finally one night as we were lying in each other’s arms, I asked what he had meant by his comment. As I feared, he backtracked on his decision to be exclusive, saying he wasn’t ready. Naturally I was upset but came back the next day again trying to project an understanding attitude. I hoped that by giving him space he would come to the conclusion that he wanted to be with me. Well he did rather immediately, declaring, “I don’t want to see anyone else. I only want to see you.”
From there things were at a high again. I allowed myself to become more attached.
One evening, some time after he declared again that he wanted to be in a relationship with me, he confessed that he had been seeing someone else. For how long and with what kind of intensity I will never know for certain. What was initially shock, grew to be a swelling of different emotions. I felt betrayed, hurt, and angry.
I immediately jumped to “Why?” I had to know details about this other person, wanting to be told that she wasn’t prettier or more interesting. And I immediately had to gauge how he felt about her. Were his feelings deeper rooted? Did they have more of a connection? More physical chemistry? Why had he lied about what he wanted? Was the way he felt about me a lie?
After a very emotional night and a couple of days of space from one another, we met at a little diner. I let him talk. Rather than communicate what I wanted, I needed to hear what he wanted. To my satisfaction, he said he wanted to be with me. He said his strong feelings towards me scared him, but continued to reassure me of my value, and open up about his history.
Soon he was expressing his fears again: of commitment, of hurting me, of resurfacing feelings towards his ex. I was at a loss for what to do. I suggested he take some time, still hoping that a week’s hiatus from the relationship would be what he needed to realize he wanted it, but knowing deep down where we were headed. Sure enough, we parted ways, a decision that I would not have been strong enough to make. My mind was still reeling weeks later. Tears were still flowing, partially from the loss and partially from the frustration of not knowing how to mentally let go.
I asked the universe for a sign. I asked for strength and a way to move forward.
I was still running into him, still receiving occasional texts, all expressing concern with how I was doing. He was seemingly genuine in his desire to stay connected and even communicated that he missed me too. Though I told myself I shouldn’t try to be his friend, I gave into responding, though I knew my responses were only out of hope that the relationship could one day be again.
And then the universe gave me what I asked for, although when it arrived, my stomach felt as though it had been ripped out and put through a food processor. I was in for the biggest wake up call. In the midst of our “friend texting” where we rehashed our days, and he offered to feed my cat over the holidays, he posted a link to an article he had written on facebook. There it was on the newsfeed for me: a cocky assertion that a series of breakups (ours being the most recent) showed him what he really wanted: meaningless, casual sex with no strings attached.
The article was arrogant and selfish in its assumption that as long as he was honest about it, no one’s feelings would be hurt. But more than the insensitive tone in which he portrayed “boning” anything and everything that he found attractive, I couldn’t get past how seemingly insignificant he made our relationship sound, and how soon after the breakup he was confidently declaring it, as if it were a lie he kept from me all along.
And how almost deliberate it seemed, that he posted it for the entire world, including myself, to see. This wasn’t at all the person I had spent those months with, or the person I had befriended even before then. It wasn’t the voice of the sensitive, caring individual I thought I had fallen in love with, or even that of a friend.
In hindsight, my focus in the relationship was always on trying to read my partner’s feelings. As a result, I neglected my own. Ironically, when a friend of mine first edited this, her biggest critique was that she felt like she had a good sense of my partner but not of me. And on an unconscious level, I was more preoccupied with fighting to keep his interest than monitoring my feelings. I didn’t know it but the signs were all there, the sleepless nights, the anxiety — it was all manifesting physically in my body. I was internally struggling to be enough, rather than focusing on how I felt and the rest take its course.
Looking back, were there red flags or warning signs? Not necessarily. I fought my doubts because I cared about this person. And he fought for the relationship too, repeatedly, even as he sabotaged it. But had I really paid attention to the standard by which I want to be treated, I would maintain control over my happiness, rather than handing that control to someone else. This particular relationship has taught me that not only is it not selfish to pay attention to my needs, but it is necessary. In the absence of this, is there any hope of finding meaning in a relationship?
Lauren Leland is a contributor to This Recording. This is her first appearance in these pages. She is a writer living in Queens. You can find her website here.
Paintings by Glennray Tutor.