Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Most Important Relationship You Will Ever Have

Yesterday, I opened up February's issue of Glamour to read a Letter to the Editor that resonated with me as if I had written it myself. It reads as follows:

"I just finished '6 Love Talks That Bring You Closer' [December], and its message, 'If you feel it, say it,' hit me hard. Too many times I've held my emotions inside, whether for the sake of a friend or for fear of scaring off a guy. Thank you for reminding women it's OK to voice their minds, because they may not get the opportunity to do it later." -Laura Kell, Ottawa, Ontario

As I may have glossed over a couple of times here, I am One-Month Girl. For some reason, right around the time of the one-month mark of seeing someone approaches, it usually ends. Either I get bored with them, or they have finally been driven crazy enough by something that I do to leave (there are many quirks), or the connection was just never really there and we just stop calling or texting to see each other and drift apart.

Curious about how true this statement really is, I counted. Out of 9 relationships I have had, only 2 made it past one month. (The first was 6 months, but I was young and too apathetic to actually muster the energy to dump him on his ass like I should have. Really should have.)

Recently, I went past the one-month deadzone with a guy I was seeing, nearly effortlessly. The date came and went without nearly any fuss, barely noticed. It went over a month and a half, and-- surprise-- I would roll over and still be looking at the same person. I can't lie. I actually enjoyed it. Very much so. I hadn't had that experience since I was...and I'm not lying...16. And I actually liked the person I was waking up next to this time around.

As I had not found in my past "monthers," there's a level of comfort that can't be fully achieved in 4 weeks. Or, maybe, it's just my hyper-awareness of the timestamp and expiration date that makes me so sensitive. But nonetheless, it brought up the curious territory that I hadn't encountered yet before: communicating about what was going on.

Most people will tell you that at one-month in, you should start doing the discussing. Because of my brief and checkered past, I had learned one thing about being with men, and one thing only: whatever you feel, don't say it, because they're not going to be around long enough for it to matter. And so, I remained quiet about what I was feeling and what I hoped for, odd in what was an extremely talkative and open relationship. As for my fellow co-sleeper, he was far more expressive. But for every time he did something that could have warranted a glimpse into what I thought, I thought it to myself, and myself only. I never said, "I love being able to talk to you about writing and the fact that you're just as passionate about it as I am, or, in fact, I love being able to talk to you about anything intelligently and receptively," or "I love that I can ask you for an interesting book suggestion, or in the morning, if I really wanted to, I could grab something off your bookshelf and keep myself properly entertained until you wake up because YOU ACTUALLY HAVE A BOOKSHELF. WITH BOOKS ON IT. THAT I WOULD LOVE TO READ," (sorry. Good literature is something I get really passionate about. Mix it with men, and I'm a goner,) or "I love being able to just sit here and do absolutely nothing and still feel like it's all good and we're actually doing something," or even "No matter how many times she bites me, I adore your cat, even if she hates me because I am the Other Woman to her." I think, maybe, once, I told him that I loved being able to use my full vocabulary around him and not have to worry about getting lost in translation after dropping "ostracize" for the first time. I was definitely teased for using words like "fetching", and I definitely teased right back when he said "Bully for you."

"I don't think anyone has said that since Teddy Roosevelt died," I told him. My first defense to feelings and emotions is always to be blase. I may have even said the words "Well, it's been fun, kid," while I was saying goodbye before Christmas break. A.) He's older than I am, so who was I "kid-ding"? B.) Who the hell did I think I was with that line, Mr. Big?! and C.) Whenever I may have to say something that might be hard or uncomfortable, like, say, "I'm going to miss you," I stray instead into the obnoxiously trite and banal, like this gem of a parting statement.

Basically, when it boils down to it, there were lots of "thank you for's" and "I love when's" and "I don't think you know it, but's" that I never said. I, the perennial Single Girl, highly cynical, sarcastic, jaded, abrupt, and blunt, was trying to do the thing I do best, and protect myself in the advent that it all went wrong around that one-month mark. After it didn't, I should have known. I should have known that there is a difference between when you don't really care about the outcome of something or someone, and when you're actually invested in it, and that as soon as you begin to invest, either with time, or money, or feelings, you need to do that talking, no matter how scary it seems. As soon as I realized that, I should have started doing the talking.

But I didn't. Instead, I fell back on my crutch, being a "Shower"and not a "Teller." I hoped that the nights spent together and the small gestures and the fact that the steel trap I call my mind came up with a fitting Christmas/Thanks For Being Dislocated College Student Crash Central For Me gift would do the talking so I didn't have to. Let me be frank: I don't tend to soften for people. I am a little stiff and awkward. So the fact that I loosen up enough to call you "babe" and try to be as charming as possible around you and your friends means something. The fact I actually let you snore instead of just leaving and going back home means something. The fact that I got used to you snoring and the crumbs in bed from your eating means something HUGE. Though he may have been the one who said "Don't try to change me," I was actually the one doing the changing. I softened. For the first time, I dropped all the guards and was 100%, totally, completely me, "that's what she said" jokes, stupid superstitions, and all. And I didn't worry about it, something totally foreign and new to me.

Last week, it ended. After much thinking, I have decided that the phrase "But there's something I need to tell you" should be struck from the English vocabulary. As soon as I heard those words, I knew that shooting me point-blank with a .45 would have hurt less.

While we were having our extremely calm and mature dissolution conversation (I'm not being ironic here-- we actually had a very low-key walk-and-talk-it-over, a first for me), he looked at me and said, "Carissa, you never told me how you felt or what you wanted."

True on both counts. I was the one who, at the very beginning when he called me to ask what was going on, was the one who preached "casual, casual, casual." But that's just me. I'm a pretty casual girl. I don't really do dates, and I'm much happier just chilling at home with you or your buddies than going to a big party where I only know a few people, though I will pull myself up by the bootstraps and be a big girl and do things like introduce myself to your female friend after she walks in on me in your bed. (That one goes down in the books as one of the "Ten Most Awkward Experiences Of My Life." Right before that time in high school I had to hide in a shower because I thought my then-boyfriend's mother had come home early. And if this doesn't sound awkward enough, let me tell you which shower: the one in her private bathroom in her room. Can't you just see that discovery going over?)

I can't put my finger exactly on when it went from "casual" to "I'm actually seriously into this." It was somewhere between the drunk texts asking for a wake-up call to not let him sleep through class and the hours spent together just being totally at ease and yes, this is me, so I'm going to say it, the great sex, and the horrible puns I actually enjoyed and getting used to the smell of the cigarettes that I came to realize that I actually really liked this person I was getting to know. But I didn't say anything because honestly, it was exactly the way I wanted it, and I didn't want to say anything and have it change. As always, I was afraid that saying something would equate change, and maybe not for the better. I wanted to keep everything just as it was, so I kept quiet. Broken logic states that if you don't ask, you can't hear the response.

For fear of losing him, I kept quiet, and partially because I kept quiet, I lost him. Ladies, I am sharing this with you so you don't make the same mistake I did. Like Miss Kell said, "It's OK to voice your mind, because [you] may not get the opportunity to do it later." And because I am sure you will read this at some point-- babe, I'm sorry, but thank you again for coming clean and meeting with me and, actually, for everything. "Better late than never" is not true, but I hope that this speaks far more candidly and clearly for me than I could at the time.

In the end, it was amicable. There is nothing quite like getting the explanations and respect you deserve to show you the difference between the absolute asses you have been with before and someone who actually doesn't want to hurt you. Obviously, I am not thrilled that something that I thought was so good is now over, but you have to respect it when someone says "I'm not ready," and when both of you have things that still need to be worked on before things can progress or get any better. When someone has enough integrity to say to you, "I erred, and I'm telling you," you better listen, and listen hard. And when that same person tells you, "And here's what you could have done better," take it. We all have things to work on. Some of us may not even understand the things we do to ourselves or others, but only one truth remains-- you have to keep working at it. That's all anyone can ever ask of you. You can't change the nature of your beast so easily. It takes trial and error, blood, sweat, and tears, and lots of time. It's not going to be pretty, and generally, it's better if someone doesn't have to live with you through it. Believe me. I know. I have alternately been the girl who's tried to stick through a guy's abusive drug use because I mistakenly thought I could help and be the rock, and the girl who tried to keep the guy through my own major life changes that rendered us both incompatible.

In the end, I can't tell you which would hurt worse. I've never been shot point-blank with a .45, but I have been left, a lot. More, I would hazard to say, then my fair-share. If there is one thing that so many dissolutions have taught me, it's that you always learn something about yourself. Even just the act of being with someone else is an incredible learning experience. Someone else will always be able to open you up, pull all your shit into the light, and expose you far better than you will ever be able to yourself. So what did I learn? Firstly, I am potentially even tougher than I thought. What doesn't kill you will hurt, but I'll get through it, because I always do. Secondly, there is still more work to be done on myself before I take the next leap of faith.

In the end, as I said to him, the only person you can control in a relationship is yourself, and sometimes, not even then. You're never going to be any braver than you are this very second, so now is the time to do exactly what you need to do. Speak up. Tell them. Do what you need to. Make the changes that will let you live with yourself and not have regrets. When it comes down to it, the most important relationship that you will ever have is the one you have with yourself.

And I hope that that relationship only gets better from here.



  1. Well said/written, Carissa. You are right! We can all keep learning about ourselves, and sometimes we just need to take the leap and get over our fears.

  2. "When it comes down to it, the most important relationship that you will ever have is the one you have with yourself." So true, and written so poignantly. This would be an excellent article for the Scarleteen Blog ( Just sayin'... (submit it!)