When we read about celebrities in the news, or hear about people’s actions in passing, it is so easy to think “Wow, get it together”. And I know this, because I felt this way once too.
When I was eighteen years old, I found an amazing man who held every characteristic that I admired. Intelligent, sensitive and yet charismatic, I suddenly understood the whole “college guy” appeal. I found all of this so refreshing, as I had felt somewhat isolated after deciding to take a year off after graduating from high school. Our town is not the largest by any means, so it was easy to fade away, considering the majority of my classmates had moved away for college – even my closest friends seemed so out of reach sometimes, with their dorm experiences occurring many hours away.
When I met Ethan in October, my senses were on fire – I constantly felt as though I had consumed too much coffee, and we joked about this often. Especially since I was working at one of the local cafes to save money for school. I suppose part of it was the unusual endorphins soaring through me as we laughed so often. He was born and raised twenty minutes away in one of the towns nearby, and often came by to visit relatives. He was so cool, and yet so collected and emotionally aware for our age. He always asked how I felt, what I thought, and I eventually found myself exploring new forms of thought I hadn’t acknowledged before. He was by far, the most respectful man I had ever experienced.
It took a week of hanging out almost every day for one more additional fact to come out. He had pulled his truck to a stop in my driveway, and left me waiting for more as he lingered over the words “I have to tell you something”.
“This is going to sound messed up, but I assure you this isn’t what I had in mind, and I plan to take care of it,” he crowed.
I could hardly breath at this point, this conversation was taking way too god damn long.
“Last year, my girlfriend moved away to another college out east. We met during our freshman year, and agreed to continue our relationship long-distance. She left in August, and we don’t talk much anymore – had I known I’d be open to a new relationship, or that it’d be this hard, I wouldn’t have continued with it, and I’ve decided to call her tonight to let her know I can’t do this. I’m so sorry I didn’t tell you right away, I just had no idea that this was even possible.”
I slowly exhaled as he neared tears. He looked broken and so disappointed in himself, ranting in disbelief at his situation. I felt confused as well – this was typically a very black and white situation for me. You don’t date people who are in relationships. Then again, I knew we were young, and that he clearly did not foresee any of this coming, especially three months after parting from his girlfriend. He texted me before I went to bed, wishing me a good sleep, and letting me know that he was about to end his long-distance relationship on skype. I woke up to a text later that night, cheerfully stating the “situation had been handled”.
In the next few months, Ethan met my parents, and I met his relatives that he often came by to visit. There were crispy walks in the snow, trying each other’s lattes, discussing his college classes, and even discussing my potential major, should I apply in the spring. Ethan always had a way of making me aware of my options, and in a way, keeping me in tune with what I wanted. We didn’t even sleep together right away, which baffled me considering the silent pressure that I had witnessed in earlier dating experiences.
It wasn’t until December, when I found a holiday card in the backseat of his truck from “Nadia,” that I realized he had not broken up with his college girlfriend at all. Cue our first fight. I felt an inferno of pressure in my diaphragm as Ethan casually explained that he had decided not to say anything to her about breaking up after hearing her mention how busy she was.
“She basically broke up with me at that point, so I don’t really know why she is sending me that,” he said flatly. “It’s called ‘ghosting’ – If you don’t have time for a person, then it’s not a relationship. But I’m so sorry for how this made you feel, I thought to throw it out immediately, but didn’t want you to think I was hiding something”.
His tone changed from confused to empathetic, as he focused on each of my facial features and how they formed a unique picture of displeasure. Anxious, I asked him to even simply text her to clarify the relationship, as I was not about to be caught up in a web of nerves. Communication is just so important when it comes to relationships, and I didn’t want to have her believe they were still together. Even though we moved on together, I still felt a tinge of wonder. Was I in the wrong for how I assumed what “handled” had meant back in October? Should I have asked for clarification? And does his honesty in the moment make up for the lack of intel back at that time?
This stayed on my mind for a long time, until I asked him about this again during spring break. It was out of the blue, and he fumbled it because he didn’t expect it.
“I don’t know, I mean I think she gets it. We haven’t spoken in like three months”.
As he finished his sentence, he watched me as I counted back from March in my mind, knowing that this would mean they had talked since the holidays. He then began shrugging a lot as he spoke.
“I don’t know babe, like you know I am a good person, and I invest most of my time in you. I don’t really see why any of this matters. What is making you so paranoid, love?”
Disappointment. Disappointment is what was making me paranoid. I stared at him as though I was watching him walk away, and then realized it was me doing the walking in an emotional sense. I felt like Cady in Mean Girls, when she thinks “goodbye forever” as she walks past Aaron Samuels, losing what she thought was perfect. Just this realization that nothing could possibly move or function the same, no matter how much pushing was exercised by both parties.
Looking back, this was not me. I am not a paranoid person, nor am I insecure or lacking in confidence. If you feel like you have to out-think a person in order to make sure you are being treated right, this is not a solid relationship to be in, no matter how much chemistry there seems to be. If you have to strategize or snoop, then live in the now, and spend your time with true people who care enough about you to communicate efficiently with you. It took me so long to leave because I was certain that things could change. Changes occur naturally in all of us, but try not to date based on certain desired changes happening. We are human and powerful, but we are not changed by others. We are changed by our own actions.