I knew even before sitting down that the writing of this would require a generous glass of wine. So here I sit on my couch with a glass of Rosso sitting on a coaster in my windowsill, ready to be imbibed as I attempt to sort through a massive tangled tumble of thoughts, emotions, and memories from the past fourteen months, attempting to make sense of it all. My neighbor, a musician, is playing his electric guitar next door. It is a melody at once mournful and hopeful –- an appropriate soundtrack for what I am about to write.
This post promises to be a long one –- nearly 2,000 words (even after all the editing I could stand) -– so if you’re brave enough to stick it out, I suggest you choose your poison, get cozy, and settle in for a long read. I don’t know that this will have any benefit beyond my own catharsis, but if you are interested, I invite you to read on.
I am single again. Truth be told, I have seen this moment from a distance for the last several weeks, even months. I suppose it is natural that I avoided it as long as I did, not wanting to acknowledge the unpleasant and difficult (but inevitable) truth. I suppose I hoped that by some miracle, things would change, that my doubts and reservations would evaporate.
To give my reading audience a little context, you should know that Jordan was my first boyfriend. We started dating in April of last year when I was twenty-eight years old. This makes me a bit of an anomaly to have a first boyfriend at that age, I know. I had the odd crushes in high school and college, and even some extended flirtations, but nothing that would be mistaken by anyone (least of all me) for an actual relationship. The years after college looked much the same.
This does not mean I lacked experience where the cultural phenomenon known as “dating” was concerned. I met guys at church, in coffee shops, at the gym, and even subjected myself to being set up a few times. Over the years, I have had more first dates (and not quite as many seconds) than I can count and consequently, could fill a hefty journal with lengthy descriptions of my experiences.
Especially in the years since graduating from college, I became fiercely independent; my Mom will tell you that I have always have been that way. I suppose that the more I matured, the more I grew into myself and became more fully formed as myself. I made decisions on my own, bought my own car, decided where I would live, learned how to balance my work and social lives, managed my finances, traveled, and decided how to spend my time. I hardly found it sad or tragic to go to a coffee shop, a movie, or out to eat on my own. It wasn’t always my preference to fly solo, but if I wanted to do something, I simply did it. I am not the type to avoid going out if there is no one to join me.
It is not that I wasn’t seeking a relationship or that I didn’t want one. However much I enjoyed my life as a single adult, I -– like any woman -– wanted that primary relationship: a potential partner, someone to share a life with. But what few prospects came my way were less than promising (that is a post unto itself).
By the time I met Jordan, I had long since decided that given my dating history, I had better get used to being single. I did not see this as despair or giving up, merely a choice to embrace my reality. There was no reason to avoid living life fully simply because there was not a man in the picture to share it with!
Jordan caught me by surprise. Now I must confess, I am none too adept at picking up on the subtle interplays between men and women, particularly when I am the woman involved. As an employee at the gym where I work out regularly, I thought he was simply being friendly and sociable (as required by his job) when he said hello or wished me a good afternoon. Then at the end of March of last year, he asked me out on a date. This was my first clue that he thought of me as more than a paying member of the gym.
Jordan is a fantastic guy. He was markedly different from anyone I had ever met or been on a date with before. He was completely forthcoming and honest. He was the first guy who had ever maintained eye contact when I answered his questions about my life, my likes, my family, and so on. He extended the standard courtesies most men do on dates (opening the door, paying for dinner, etc.), but offered so much more than that. He was interested in what I had to say and was paying attention to the answers. I was impressed that he was more interested in hearing about me than in talking about himself.
Over the coming months, he would periodically interrupt whatever we were doing or talking about to say, you know what I love about you? The things he would list caught me by surprise: I love your how intelligent you are, I love how much you care about your family, I love how financially responsible you are, I love that you read books and think about them, and so on. I had not met anyone before who seemed to pick up on these things and find them appealing qualities.
Like any relationship, ours had the moments where disagreement or differing points of view would become apparent, sometimes painfully so. We’re both pretty even-tempered people when dealing with these sorts of conflicts, but our backgrounds and upbringings could not have been more different. We adopted a policy of talking about everything, never taking for granted that one would implicitly understand where the other was coming from.
Over the coming months as we began to see and know each other more clearly (the glasses being ever so slightly less rose-colored), things I had previously accepted as extensions of our differences became things I found less able to accept. I learned that the life choices he made and continued to make that I had chosen to accept (or overlook, if you want to be brutally honest) were things that I could not accept as being a part of my life. I had to ask myself: if this is someone I am considering building a life with, can I accept these things as a part of my life?
These were topics we had previously discussed, and thought that I had come to terms with as part of who he was and is. But the more I lived with the choices he was making for himself (choices that impacted me nonetheless), the more I knew these were things that could not, under any circumstances, be a part of my life if I was to be completely satisfied as one partner in this relationship.
These were not my only concerns. As I took inventory of my thoughts and feelings, I found some resentment, some feelings of being taken advantage of, and some regret. In all fairness to him, I did not address these feelings when I had them. I tucked them safely away, hoping that they would suffocate a slow death, deprived of light and air. But instead they begged for my attention all the more loudly.
I also began to see that I never felt supported in the matters that were of greatest importance to me. When it came to sharing my heart with him, trying to discuss things that were vital to me, he was too uncomfortable to sustain the discussion. Over time, I simply stopped trying to share these things with him.
It is not a decision I made explicitly or consciously, it just started to happen that way. I had edited out pieces of myself because I thought it would make our relationship better. It slowly suffocated me (and by extension, our relationship) the more pieces of myself I restrained. What made this most difficult is that I knew beyond a doubt that this was never his intention for me; it is simply a pattern we slipped into. I allowed it as much as he. Once recognized for what it was, I knew this was something that I -- quite literally -- could not live with.
When I finally brought this discussion to the table, he shared similar feelings. He had been feeling a disconnect for some time also. I was able to share my heart openly: that I felt taken advantage of, that it was slowly killing me not to be able to share my true heart with him, and that I did not feel that he was reciprocating the support I had given him. I felt as though I was asking him permission to be my true self.
He was able to tell me that it had been months since he felt like he had a girlfriend. This was more than the giddiness or newness of the relationship fading. There were things vitally important to us as individuals that we were not able to compromise on, but that could not coexist in a relationship without some measure misery for us both. We both realized quite clearly that this wasn’t going to fit.
I bear him no ill will or resentment and wish only the best for him. In spite of all our differences and the way we ignored and then finally and awkwardly fumbled with them, he really is a terrific human being. I look forward to seeing what God has in store for him. I am incredibly thankful that if we had to break up, that it was calm, mutual, and in the best interests of us both. And I am most thankful to have retained his friendship.
As sad as this decision is, I feel incredible relief and joy. Speaking the truth set us both free. Though in the end it was not to our mutual benefit to have stayed together, we both gleaned gifts as a result.
For me, the greatest gift is that I know myself better than ever before.
I know what my boundaries are and that I can and will enforce them. Where I once was tongue-tied, I know how to communicate my deepest and most guarded thoughts and feelings. I know that I want to be with someone who not only accepts who I am, but celebrates it. I know that while opposites may attract, it is vital to have common ground. I can say with confidence that I deserve a partner who complements me, who celebrates me, who supports me, and someone for whom I can do the same with a whole and unedited heart. I’ve heard my friends say the same thing to me, but I never quite believed it. Today, I actually do. I am convinced of it.
I cannot think of this as wasted time. God has used this relationship to reveal me to me; I know myself better than ever before, I know far better now than I did a year ago what I am made of. What a gift it is to be better acquainted with the particular way in which He formed me!
Perhaps this sounds like a bit of idealistic gas, but as crazy as it may sound, this is my true heart. I love and cherish God’s unique blueprint in me and even if there is no particular man in my present (or my future) to appreciate it, it is something I can celebrate.