It was like doing a cannonball into the deep end of a pool; last spring I attended a singles mixer for the first time in months, not really expecting to meet anyone special, but still curious nonetheless. One in particular did end up catching my attention, and after introducing ourselves, we were inseparable for the rest of the evening. We left the place early due to the crowd and the noise, opting for exploring the surrounding neighborhood while getting to know each other. At the time I was typically wary of being alone with a man who I’d only just met, yet his personality didn’t set off any alarms; he was a sweet nerd who hadn’t dated much and had a thing for cars, guitars, and skinny jeans. We swapped numbers and kissed several times before I let him drive me back to the train station, simultaneously asking myself what just happened and wanting to do a happy dance.
The following Thursday was one of arcade games, watching playoff hockey, and being incredibly vulnerable with one another. We came from different backgrounds, and I was grateful for his compassion and understanding, despite not always knowing how to respond. The physical connection was just as strong, and he was affectionate in a way that I absolutely adored. I appreciated not having to hold back, that we didn’t have to hide that we liked each other. It was fun to sneak around places while trying not to get caught, something that I hadn’t even dared to do while in high school or college. And by the time we parted ways after midnight, it was like we were officially a couple.
Our relationship moved quickly, but I felt safe and natural being with him. I didn’t see any reason to wait for the “right” moment to enjoy what was between us, having over-calculated previous dating situations in the past and ultimately ending up frustrated and stressed out. Certain topics came up sooner rather than later, but it was good to be honest about where we were both coming from and what we wanted in that respect. There was no pressure or force, nor was there a need to rush anything. He definitely brought out a side in me that I knew I had, but had tried (and failed) to conceal for years; it was almost like he flipped a switch, but I was relieved instead of freaked out.
The ending was just as unexpected as the beginning; I went out of town to see my brother graduate from The Air Force Academy in Colorado, and hadn’t heard from the guy in several days. I knew something was off because we normally kept in contact regularly, though I tried to hold it together in front of my family. I woke up one morning and got a text from him saying that it was over, for reasons that I believe we could have discussed and worked through. I responded as if I accepted his decision, but on the other side of the screen I was devastated. I cried just about every day of that whole week, confused and wanting an explanation. I worked up the nerve to call him when I got home, and sadly he hung up on me when he recognized my voice. He didn’t want to be with me and that’s all the closure I would get for some time.
It took a while for the sadness to truly dissipate, because not only was I upset over what no longer was, but what would also never be. We had all talked about the things that we wanted to do together, and I’d hoped to introduce him to my best friends and family at some point. I should have been angry at him, but I took the usual route of blaming myself; it’s what I’ve done when I have no idea what’s going on, and am trying to fill the question marks for the sake of not driving myself crazy.
It’s as much speculation now as it was back then (as far as what exactly happened and why). I’m aware of the possibilities; that he could have been using me, met someone else, or freaked out and ran the other direction. Ultimately I choose to trust my instincts and believe that his interest was genuine, and that he meant what he said about me. I have compassion for him, knowing what he has struggled with and how it shaped him. Men have pain and fears and complexities just as women do, and those deserve to be acknowledged and honored. It does not excuse disrespect or taking the easy way out, but we’re all human here and each person should be viewed as such.
I don’t regret investing in him or spending time with him, nor do I regret the way we were with each other. If anything, I wish I hadn’t confided in so many people about what was going on, both before and afterward. I over think relationships enough as it is, and a multitude of opinions and theories became paralyzing. It was wishful thinking to be vulnerable and not expect a reaction, especially since most of my close circle didn’t know him. By now I should be able to let cynicism and unnecessary advice go in one ear and out the other, but that’s challenging, given that I second guess myself a lot. I’ve learned to be much more protective about what I share, and selective with whom I share it with. Everyone means well, but not all end up being helpful.
So what do you say when something might or might not have been love, but it was no less real and meaningful? It was more than just an experience, not “right” but not necessarily wrong either. It was beautiful and amazing and I’m grateful that I met him. Initially I was scared that I wouldn’t have something like that again, but as time has passed I’ve seen how each individual relationship is unique, and it’s unfair to make comparisons or box yourself in. It really comes down to whether or not you feel like you can be yourself with someone, and whether or not he/she motivates you to be a better person. That takes time, patience, and grace. Don’t panic if you don’t figure all that out within the first two dates.
It was brutal at first, but I let it be and kept going. Eventually I met new people and put my energy into those who were present, as opposed to those who were not. I occasionally wonder where he’s at now, and various places and songs will momentarily bring back memories. Writing (and reliving) this was somewhat painful, bringing deep-seeded fears to the surface again. I’m still trying to come up with a confident way to explain to a man, please don’t leave without telling me. Please, whatever you do, don’t just disappear.
I hate the way that he left, but I don’t hate him. And despite not knowing, I’m glad for all of it. He woke me up, and in turn, I stayed away from my shell and trusted what was to come. Heartbreak is an excruciating bitch, but it’s also the price for love. When you’re willing to love someone despite the risk of heartbreak, it’s not a sign of naiveté or bad decisions; it’s a sign of a life well-lived.
That in itself is worth celebrating.