“I love you. I’d do anything for you.”
I really believed that for almost a good year—November 25, 2011 to November 10, 2012. To put it dramatically, those are the dates on the tombstone of our relationship, the relationship I really believed would end in marriage and halcyon days of picking out a Christmas tree and dressing up our kids for their first Halloweens.
But strangely enough, today, in the days after everything fell to pieces, I am anything but destroyed or in mourning. Instead, I’m happier and feeling better than I have in a very long time. Uninhibited and confident. More beautiful when I look in the mirror. Don’t worry, this isn’t a mere feminist paean, I promise, but it is a testament against convincing yourself you’re happy with something that isn’t good for you. The mind is a powerful thing and it’s more than happy to settle for a mere placebo. Don’t let it.
John and I met on my college bus, the shuttle that runs from the subway to the campus. He was visiting one of my friends and we just so happened to hit it off. He arrived in my life at the perfect time. I was about to find out my mom, my best friend, had cancer. He became the perfect distraction. I was able to skip out on a lot of heartbreak because John and I were always texting or chatting.
I got the call one sunny morning last fall that my mother “hadn’t made it”; she had passed on. On a reflex, I texted John. We never really discussed my problems, but rather everything else—some kind of irony or a new band we were obsessed with. The jury’s still out on whether that was a helpful or harmful thing. Though far from perfect, I consider myself a pretty strong woman and I’m proud of the way I handled things. John wasn’t the type of boyfriend that felt comfortable with my heart out, bleeding, and I wasn’t the type of girlfriend that would let herself do that. It would have been nice to know that I could have cried in his arms, to break down every once in a while without the threat of judgment. He was a safety net; however, that kept me from realizing the depths of my pain and fear. I didn’t want to have to grow up that fast; I could be silly and immature when visiting John, sharing a Tweety Bird from an ice-cream truck, eating chocolate almost to the point of no return and going to the zoo. Whenever we fought, the ache of loss would creep back, like a deserter come home from war.
I’m not saying he was just a crutch, because he was a lot more. For a time, we were in love. There was giddy, ecstatic, crazy, stupid, passionate love. Lots of discovery and embarrassment. We had some incredible long weekends together, moments of being purely and deliciously alone with each other and silent but content, half asleep. We went to baseball games, concerts, the Capitol and the beach. He cooked and baked for me (which in my book, is a mark of a good man, because I prove myself useless in the kitchen every time I try, ruining every bag of popcorn I toss in the microwave), until I was lulled into contentment.
I found myself agreeing with his plans of marriage and children, even though the wild part of my soul was being suppressed, the part that was screaming: “No, you’re only 20! You have years ahead to date and live. You used to want to date other people during your study abroad in Dublin and while you were in law school.” But I told myself to be practical. I was happier than I’d been in months. Why would I try to ruin such a good thing?
The problem was he always had to be right. I’m pretty stubborn too, but I can see logic, even if it belongs to someone else. This resulted in fights about what time we should leave to catch trains and planes—really small, stupid stuff. And me walking the streets of New York City alone at 3 a.m., looking for an ATM, so I could take a cab back to our hotel because he was mad and wouldn’t come with me.
When I finally resolved to break up with him for real, he flew up to see me in Boston from Maryland and I caved. Almost right away, but not before we had come up with an agreement. We both had things to work on. I had a tendency to take my anger out on him. I was going to fix that. And he promised to always support me and never let me run away from him without trying to chase me. It was a soft-power kind of ultimatum.
A week later, he broke both the agreement and my trust and faith in him. I knew I deserved better, so I girded myself up for the final breakup. This was it. He got angry, really angry, and blamed me for ruining everything. And then a few days went by and he got sad, really, really sad, sending me links to sappy love songs and messaging me of his love for me and how he would do anything for me. About how his stomach felt sick and his heart sank just thinking of me with any other man. I wasn’t falling for it this time.
He has proved my friends right, who keep telling me “I dodged a bullet.” He’s done everything to try to manipulate me and get me back, including threaten to ruin my reputation and job prospects, invent stories and doctor texts. He has embarrassed me on several levels, but I’m secure enough to avoid throwing my hat in that ring.
I’m finally free of that nonsense and even though part of me loves how I feel when playing wild, uninhibited air guitar around my room, the other half is lonelier than ever before. I was addicted to something and I’m going through withdrawal. I feel like shit; I’ve felt sick for two straight weeks. I want to go around the city “methodically knocking people’s hats off,” as Melville would put it. At the same time, I’ve learned a little more about the dynamism of what I want and it’s someone who has the ability to be spontaneous with me, dump a plan we had and sit on the water with a bottle of wine. It’d be nice to be with someone who actually wants to go to the literary history exhibit I helped to curate and won’t disparage it as being silly. It’d be nice, but not a requirement, to find a guy with a thing for rocking out to Foreigner. Most of all, I demand a man who will respect and trust me and a man I respect and trust to the utmost. If I’m with someone, I’ll give him my all and I expect his all in return. I want it to be OK to be out of control, out of control with pain and out of control with joy.
At the moment, I’m not in any position to find a new boyfriend. I can get through anything with my own support system and I need some alone time. I can stand to woo myself just a little bit. There’s too much amazing stuff and too many wonderful people in this world that make me authentically happy for me to settle for anything less. And for this, my very ability to make such a decision and follow up on it, I am grateful.
I have lost my Eurydice,
I have lost my lover,
and suddenly I am speaking French
and it seems to me I have never been in better voice;
it seems these songs
are songs of a high order.
~ Louise Glück
Elizabeth Gavin studies English literature and political science in Boston, but wishes she could be a pitcher for the Sox. She’s in love with Bob Dylan and Ernest Hemingway and is a fervent believer in paradox. Contact her at [email protected].
Editor: Thandiwe Ogbonna