Monday, August 16, 2010

Being Yourself... Apologetically.

In every girl's life, there's that moment in their youth when they look back at their past, and suddenly see the huge, purple elephant standing in the middle of the room, and do a perfectly executed forehead smack/"Oh shit!"

I recently had mine in regards to my last relationship. Enough time and distance had finally passed to allow me to step back, look at it non-judgmentally, and try to sort out who did what to whom and where and when it went nose-dive-spiral wrong. It didn't take that long, because when I looked back, I saw something odd: It wasn't a relationship that had two distinct characters in it. It was a relationship that had three. And sometimes, more.

Maybe it doesn't come as a surprise, knowing that I'm the anti-dating, anti-commitment snarky love harpy that I am, but we started as TV-and-drinks night hook-up, nothing overly interesting. Yes, we clicked, yes, there was intelligent conversation and good humor and great sex, but I was not doodling hearts on my notebook the next day in class. Or the day after that. Or the day after that. What was interesting was when he texted me 5 days later around 1 in the morning, to check in because he "just hadn't heard from me" since that night. I was just trying to play it cool and keep things normal, but when we finally switched over to voice-on-voice action via the phone instead of thumb-on-thumb, it became clear that our objectives were not eye-to-eye. I told him I was leaving for Italy soon, and not looking to start something. He countered back with, "Technically, we've already had relations, so like it or not, we're already in a relationship."

"I'm fine as long as you don't actually say that to me," I told him, fighting down hyperventilation. (I think until this day he still didn't know that my body actually locked up when he said that "R" word and I could only breathe in shallow gasps for the next 5 minutes.)

"I didn't expect that to happen," he told me, and I swear to god I rolled my eyes.

"Oh, please. I knew it was going to happen. You don't think I go everywhere with an overnight bag, do you?" (Actually, that's a very smart idea, and do as I say, not as I do myself.)

"Ok, I had some idea when you came over that we would end up sleeping together, but I didn't expect anything other than that would happen. But what could go wrong in 2 months?"

"Oh, sweetheart, you don't know me."

Honestly, as in, 100% brutal, public honesty right here and now, I didn't expect anything to happen, either. Honestly, brutally, publicly, the only thinking I'd done about it, and about him, and about me previously was "You're hot. You're really, really hot, and I'm going to just keep having sex with you until you won't let me anymore, and then I'm going to point at you and say, 'Do you see that gorgeous man? Yeah, I tapped that,' and brush my shoulders off." That was my game plan. I wasn't initially serious. At all. I was just seriously horny. And was just thinking he was seriously hot. But he was also raising some good points, and I hadn't connected with anyone like that in...ummm...ever. So we decided to take things slow, until I went to Italy, or until we drove each other crazy, whichever came first. (Keep in mind, I'm a One-Month Girl, and Italy was 2 months away. I was hedging bets on it crashing and burning before then.) I was being honestly, brutally, totally myself. I wasn't playing games, and I wasn't going to sign on to something that I didn't see myself wanting to do. A lot of the time, women tweak aspects of themselves or their personalities to appeal more to men, but it was odd-- I hadn't done anything but be exactly myself with him. I had no ulterior motives. I wasn't trying to impress anyone-- in fact, I believe I tried warning him off. And strange thing-- he seemed to like that. He seemed to like me, the me that not even all my friends get to see.

So things progressed. I was spending at least a night a week at his place (he never even saw my place), meeting his friends, doing the not-dating thing. It was casual; it was comfortable; it was perfectly in my comfort-zone. One night, he called to see if I was doing anything more exciting than painting my nail and watching Sex and the City reruns. (Fact.) I wasn't, and he invited me to go with him to a friend's birthday party. I declined, saying that if it was just a party, I'd be up for it, but since it was this girl's birthday, I didn't want to show up as a stranger. It was like that, for awhile-- he'd say he was going to a show or concert, and I'd say I'd meet him after; he'd call and see if I wanted to spend the night and go to our morning class together, and I'd be already in bed and unwilling to get up and drive through the winter's chill just to get into his bed; he'd say he'd ditch bar night with the boys if I wanted to come over, and I'd decline saying that he needed boy time and I needed girl time (fact #2, and also, something very important to keep on your mind when you're under 21 dating someone over 21-- they need their bar time. And you can't go. So don't impede.)

I wasn't one of those girls who wanted to be included in everything, though I'd help break down a performance space and drive his buddies home if they needed a ride. I baked brownies to stay on his roommate's good sides, and tried to keep the late-night noise down. And then something odd happened-- I started to actually fall for him. It wasn't just about the sex anymore-- it was about his bookshelf. His vocabulary. The way if he tipped his head back and said "Oho!", you knew he was getting ready to contradict something you just said. The way he'd call, just to say hey, if he hadn't seen me that day. His eyelashes. The way we both regarded bantering as a form of foreplay. How he would personally say good-bye to my friends and check in to see what my plan was before we'd leave someplace. The fact that we functioned pretty well together and surprisingly had a lot in common. I started to actually say "yes" to those invitations. It wasn't all great-- we went through some shit that was rough and ultimately took its toll on us, but I started to think about not sabotaging it. Maybe, I don't know, but I've heard of this weird thing that normal, committed people do-- nurture it?

And then I went away. For 4 months. That's a long time. At first, we Skyped a few times a week, or, when I lost internet, we'd have trans-Atlantic calls. Some weeks, we talked constantly. Others, not so much. I was fine with it-- I was busy exploring a new place and leading a new life, and he was the first one to bite the bullet and say "I miss you," which went over really well with me, as I had tried to say it at the end of the conversation before, and literally had choked. But he got that. It was difficult, yes, but whatever it was, it was working ok for the situation, and ok for me.

After Spring Break, what had previously been a pretty steady stream of communication started to trickle down. It became harder to get a hold of him, which was hard and frustrating for me because it was also when I was having the most issues being abroad. I got public-ally felt-up and molested by a stranger. I got bronchitis, with no doctor, and no drugs. I was getting broke. I had to find someplace to live for the next year while across the ocean from America. I was planning my senior year and starting to think about grad schools. I was really homesick. And he just didn't feel "present" anymore. About this time was when I realized he was seeing other women, which explained a lot.

Italy proved to be my undoing. Not that I'd ever take the experience back for, literally, the world, but in the last few dozen days before coming back home and moving back to Burlington, I got more and more keyed up. The girl who previously wanted a very achievable, functional, next-to-nothing relationship now wanted everything. And wanted everything to go perfect. I wanted my fairytale ending-- a reward for all my hard work. I wanted to actually be able to say "relationship" without fainting. I found myself daydreaming about things like washing his dishes and grocery shopping. I started looking at music calendars for shows we both liked. I started calling back to the U.S, just to whine about how much I wanted to be gone, and be home. A lot. If I couldn't get through to him (which, by the point, was more un-often than not), I would call my closest guy friend, conveniently his best friend, and bitch. (I am so sorry.) In other words, I jumped the gun. Not just any gun. I jumped the Heckler & Koch G36. (And yes, go to that link and look at the photo so you can see just how far ahead of the horse I put the cart. That thing's a beast.)

I think I temporarily misplaced my identity with that of one of Mad Men's housewives.

I ended up becoming one of Those Girls-- one of the whiny, insecure ones who seeks constant validation from her partner because she's not secure enough in what she wants. And I ended up rendering myself wholly unattractive and pushing him away, before I even realized what I was doing. I effectively took that G36, and shot myself in the foot. Or, maybe the heart. (And this is now the part in which now that I've claimed my share, I also acknowledge that he was a particular dick for a bit, too. So it wasn't all him, but it wasn't all me, either.) I went from being someone who knew exactly what she wanted, and exactly what she was comfortable with, and exactly what was fair to ask or be expected, to someone whose thoughts on commitment and relationships flip-flopped every other day and was getting increasingly demanding while at the same time never being pleased with the results, even if they were exactly what I had asked for. I became (and I'll say it since I know you have,) a total, raging, whining, needy cunt-bitch. No, I wouldn't have wanted to be with me, either. In fact, I hated myself while I was doing that, but it was like a personal train wreck I just couldn't stop-- I'd built up enough momentum, it just had to run its course. Oh, how the mighty had fallen.

And this is what I have to say about this whole affair-- my Cliff Notes, if you will:
- Know what you want out of a relationship, always. It may change, but at no point should you be waffling around about it. If you are, it means you either don't want it enough to still be in it, or you're too confused about something in yourself to be a productive member of it.

- Do not, do not, DO NOT become someone who picks petty fights over text, or calls or texts numerous times a day for unimportant reasons. Here's an example of when it's ok to call and/or text more than a few times in one 24-hour period: Medical emergencies. If pertinent, timely plans have become subject to change. If you've just won tickets to a Philadelphia Eagles game. Here's when it's not ok: When you just want to "hear his voice." Again. 2 hours after the last call. When it's to say that you still haven't found your sunglasses, and can he please check his car again? When you know he's at work, or with his family. When you are drunk.

- When things change, you've gotta put the Big Girls pants on and talk about them. Things like emotions. Goals. Where you see yourself in a month, or 5 months. Where you see him in that. If you don't see him in that. If you'd like to see him in that. Mind-reading (still) is a lost art.

- After the break-up, wait it out. You're gonna be sore, and tender, and touchy, and bitchy for awhile. For maybe, a long while. Wait until you sort yourself out to sort anything else out. Maybe that's why I'm in such a total "no nothing" zone right now. No relationships. Nothing even casual. I just want to be me, and figure out what that means again, and not have to worry about anyone else. (Though, 2 months later, even when you're creatively slurring their name paired with rhyming insults at 3 AM, you're still going to be worrying about them. Worrying if their life's on-track. Worrying if they're remembering to feed the cat. Worrying if they're getting a chance to bitch about their work/parental/friend issues with a caring ear like they need to. Worrying if they're just eating pizza every night and haven't seen anything green or leafy in weeks. Worrying if they're happy. Not fair, and it sucks, but true.)

- In some wise dude words, "It's between you and him." Remember that. Act accordingly. At one time, you liked each other. You still might, half of the time. So be nice to his friends. Be nice to his property. Don't talk shit about him. Have some manners, and bitch about it with your roommate later. (All this personal informational is strictly for educational purposes, from my side of things. Another "do as I say..." moment.)

- Space, like silence, is sometimes golden in a relationship. You need time alone or with your friends. He needs time alone of with his friends. Doing everything together, or expecting to do everything together, is not sexy. It's suffocating. I never appreciated sleeping alone more than the nights after I spent the one before with him.

- Goddamn, it's a phone, not a texting device. That is still your cell phone. Stop with the day-long texting, and actually take 45 minutes to talk. It is so important. Honestly, that's one of the things that won me over and made me go from "just another bro" to "I'm really feeling this Joe."

- If you see yourself becoming that Crazy Bitch, please, for the love of god, try to stop or have someone step in and perform an intervention/exorcism.

That's what I have for you in hindsight. The rest, you'll have to take and make up as it comes along on your own. But believe me-- heed me. If I could go back, fix it, make it right, and take it seriously, I would. Maybe not now, but when I'm ready. Don't fuck yourself over, too. You deserve a whole hell of a lot more than that. You're all smart, pretty, fabulous girls. So start acting like it, and not someone else.


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