I’ve always been a late bloomer. When I was in sixth grade a kid was paid five dollars to come up to me and say, “Would a man with no feet wear shoes? Then why do you wear a bra?” I didn’t shave my legs until I was in seventh grade, and even then it was without the blessing of my mother. The first time I kissed a boy I was a month away from turning 14. I don’t know if that sounds young or old, but a whole year earlier, during recess, I had listened to my friend describe her first experience going to third base, so I was feeling way behind the times. It was the night of my 8th grade graduation and my friends and I had snuck out of the house where we were having a sleepover (sorry Mom!) and met up with a few guys from our grade who were sitting in a park drinking beer they had presumably stolen from one of their fathers. After an hour of sitting around and staring at each other, the girls and I decided it was time to head back and that was when he went in for the kill. It was about as pleasant as you can imagine kissing a 14 year old with beer breath would be. I didn’t have my first drink until I was 18 and in college, and I am still waiting for the day to come when I have my first cigarette. But none of these were more notable to me than the fact that it wasn’t until I was 24 that I had my first relationship. I had certainly experienced my fair share of dating, if we all understand dating to be the process of avoiding someone else’s advances or accepting the fact that they are avoiding yours. But it wasn’t until I was two years out of college that I met someone, fell in love, and had the blissful experience of that same person loving me back. And so, chronologically, that means it wasn’t until I was 26 that I experienced my first break up.
I’ve mentioned my boyfriend before in this blog, but have yet to make the formal announcement that after almost two years together (we were so close!), we broke up at the beginning of June. This blog has never been about our personal lives so it’s certainly not as if our audience has been tracking my relationship. I don’t feel as though I owe an explanation or verification. Frankly, I just felt like writing about it.
The problem with dating someone for the first time at 24 is that you never had the ease of dating someone without the pressure of “Are they or aren’t they the one?” When you’re 15 and you’re in love, and your boyfriend asks you to homecoming by writing out an invitation in chalk outside the front entrance to the school, you’re allowed to just sit with that and be like, “Wow, you’re pretty great. I’m going to consider having sex with you in the next 6-9 months.” But when you’re 24 and your boyfriend is patient enough to learn how to make the bed just the way you like, you’re like, “Oh fuck, I gotta hold onto this one.” The only relationships I ever experienced prior to my first were those of my friends, and while I was certainly a jealous outsider looking in, I also remember that they were 19 and the largest obstacle facing their relationship was whether or not they were willing to stay faithful while they traveled to Acapulco on spring break. I don’t mean to undermine relationships that began in high school or college, especially those that have resulted in very successful adult relationships/marriages. My point is that no one really cares whether or not you want to marry the person you’re dating when you’re a teenager. But once you’re out of college, and therefore considered an adult (despite the fact that if it were up to me, I’d still go to my pediatrician. She was so nice.), everyone suddenly becomes much more interested in “the one.” The pressure of figuring out quickly whether or not this person who you just became comfortable ordering a cheeseburger in front of could possibly be the father of your children, is insurmountable and, frankly, unfair. I felt the pressure to figure out within the first couple of weeks whether or not he would march beside his gay son at the 2035 Pride Parade. (He would. Thank God. Phewph. Total deal breaker in my book.) Trying to navigate a relationship with the understanding that at some point the two of you have to decide whether you’re going to stake a permanent claim in one another or go your separate ways is a lot of pressure for someone who doesn’t even consider herself old enough to subscribe to a newspaper yet. I never saw myself as someone who would get married in my mid-twenties, but suddenly there was this man in my life who I couldn’t imagine living without and the opportunity to resolve my entire future was at my finger tips. I’ve always prided myself on having a very honest and logical sense of the world. I believe in only spending as much as you earn. I believe in talking nicely and tipping well. I believe graffiti should be seen as vandalism and not art. I believe a couple should agree on religion and politics before getting married. I believe you should make your bed in the morning and go to bed at night without dishes in the sink. But this utopia I had created for myself, this idea of what my perfect relationship would look and feel like, blurred as I found myself so in love with what was in front of me. The instant gratification of waking up next to someone you love on a Saturday morning overpowers your check list of “100 Things We Must See Eye to Eye On Before Broaching The Subject of Marriage.” If Carrie Bradshaw was writing this she would tell you, “It wasn’t logic, it was love!” In my mind, and too often out loud, I would say if this changed or we adjusted this one small thing, then we would be perfect and everyone could live happily ever after. No matter how frustrated at him or myself I became, I always held onto the idea that I would find a way to have a successful and healthy relationship with him.
No one person has ever known me as intimately as he did, and that intimacy becomes an addiction. To know that there is a person out there who will drop everything to care for you, who thinks you are the most beautiful woman in the world for reasons beyond your physical looks, and who makes every effort to assure that, in his presence at least, you are happy and comfortable; there was a calm and a joy in my life that I had never known before, and it was something I wasn’t willing to give up easily.
In the end, though, the checklist won and we realized through many painful arguments and plateaus of progress that we could not be for each other what the other needed. When our relationship ended, it was he that pulled the plug. I didn’t tell him this at the time, but I honestly believe it was the bravest thing he ever did in the 20 months we were together. I almost envy his courage to say, “This isn’t working,” and hold to that declaration despite my protest. In my heart I knew he was right, but I honestly don’t know if I ever would have had the strength to say it myself.
We didn’t formally agree on how we would handle the end of our relationship, but as it turns out we both feel it’s better not to communicate as we use this time to heal separately. We haven’t spoken since it happened. Many people have asked me how I can stand to not talk to someone who was a part of my life for that long and in that way, and the truth of the matter is I can’t. They ask me how I’ve never texted him when I’ve been out late drinking. I’ve never done this before so I’m winging it here, but I like to think that it’s because I know that there is nothing he can do or say in response that would make me feel better, and so I choose to protect myself from that kind of lingering pain. I know he misses me. I know he loves me. For he and I to pow-wow over the loss every Saturday night at two in the morning does not grant either of us the ability to move forward and become healthier adults. That’s my take on it at least. For all I know he be like, “Bitch, I got hoes up in here! Don’t distract!” Did I mention that my boyfriend is Seth Green’s character from Can’t Hardly Wait?
I certainly can’t offer advice on how to endure a break-up. I imagine the saying “time heals all wounds” is true, but seeing as how I’m not on the other side of this thing yet, I can’t report that back as fact. All I can say, and listen up ladies because you won’t hear this anywhere else!, is that it hurts like hell. It actually feels like heartbreak; a flash of his face or the smell of his skin suddenly comes into your memory and your chest swells and you feel the need to hold onto your heart and protect it until the memory goes away. As you reenter the world as a single person, you still see a place for him in every aspect of your life, because it was only a moment ago that you intentionally reserved the room. I went to a family reunion two weeks after it happened and I kept seeing him swimming in the pool or sitting next to me at the dinner table and smiling as I spoke with my typical wine-infused bravado and heavy gesturing.
It’s distracting, it’s paralyzing, it’s reflective and bitter and sad and terrible.
But there’s nothing to learn from a break-up, because the break-up wasn’t the thing. (Unless you like, slashed your boyfriend’s tires, you should learn not to do that again.) The thing was the relationship. This, what I’m going through now, is all a gray area. It’s all incidental of a much bigger, more important time in my life. I do not define my relationship with him by how it feels to be apart from him. I look at what we had and I feel like the luckiest girl in the world. Not everyone gets to experience what it’s like to be loved by someone that much and I feel forever in his debt. For a first-timer, I couldn’t have asked for a better person to help me navigate the highs and lows of a relationship. He has set the bar, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t question whether or not that level of trust and respect could be given to a girl more than once in her life. But I know that that fear does not serve me and to get stuck in that mindset is to not acknowledge my potential. One of the best pieces of advice I received during the aftermath was from my friend Linda, who told me I had already invited this kind of love into my life once; there is no reason to believe I can’t do it again.
What I am most thankful for is that our relationship ended because we were both conscious of our needs, not because we stopped loving each other. And for that reason, I get to love him for the rest of my life. No matter who or what comes next, I will always get to think of him as the incredible, loving man that he was. That, for me, makes all the pain and frustration I feel now, a sweeter pill to swallow.
In the meantime, one suggestion I can make (should any of you ever find yourself in a similar position): find a song that you feel identifies with what you’re going through. Because sometimes you just want to sit and stew in it, and musical accompaniment makes that experience all the more theatrical. Below is mine. Enjoy.