The Love You Deserve
There are two kinds of women in the world: those who seek out, find, and accept good love, and those who don’t. For 23 years, I was the latter.
"I can relate more than id like to admit ." 5 stars by Jen
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If you’re looking for a reason, there isn’t one I can easily explain. My parents divorced when I was a baby, and I have no memories of them together, but I do know that he was (and probably still is) extremely physically and emotionally abusive.
Not being a psychologist, I have no idea what impact two years of life amidst abuse has on your adult life, but if there is any, it cannot be good. My mother only just got into a wholly healthy relationship recently, long after I grew up, and my father – well, let us say that my best friend’s mother has a restraining order against him after having dated him for some months.
Ideals on Candy
Image by Clare Bell.
Can I get a Role Model?
None of my friends have parents that are still together, or together and happy, so finding a couple to model my relationship ideals on simply didn’t happen.
For any psychology student, this might be enough to diagnose me: an abusive father and a single mother don’t make for the best embodiment of bliss in love. But I insist that it’s much more complicated than that. I grew up striving for something completely unlike what my mother and father had, viewed them as the anti-ideal, in fact. But, from my first kiss at 15 to my last break-up at 24, I failed to find what I was looking for.
Names of Children
There was the first love, the first long-distant relationship that I was convinced would last forever.
We picked out the names of our future children (Henry and/or Annaliese), chose a wedding date (June 22nd, 2013), and broke up shortly after we finally ended up in the same city, for many then-heartbreaking reasons. He had gained 100 pounds over the past year, and refused to do anything about it, and had also stopped seeing me, had taken me as an absolute consistency in his life to the point that our sex life had disappeared, and he would come home from class and sit straight down at his computer, with no time for me.
I ended things between us, but I might as well have been the shattered remnants of a beer bottle in a gutter when it came to how I felt.
In the aftermath, I took up with someone who I kindly refer to as “the guy who drove me to therapy.” I’ll call him Scott. Over three years, he managed to bypass all my deal-breakers: violence, broken pride, cheating, being used for sex, being a secret instead of a girlfriend. . .
Needless to say, when I decided to have an affair with my internship supervisor, (let’s call him Nick) it felt like the same old masochistic hat.
He had a live-in girlfriend, I was still in contact with my most recent ex, and, as we fell into a nocturnal life of drugs and lies, it fulfilled my need to remain within the comfort zone of drama and being treated badly. That is, until he started to be kind to me.
At first, we had very strict rules:
1. His girlfriend can never find out and/or get hurt.
2. Our arrangement, whatever it was, would end in six months at the latest, when I moved to New York City.
3. (This was unspoken) No attachments. Just sex. The third rule, probably because it was unspoken, was the first to be broken. Nick introduced me to Tom Waits, scotch, and smoking indoors. I could tell there would be complications.
Image by Thomas Sørensen.
What did you expect?
Then came the Facebook stalking of his girlfriend, my girlfriends by my side, considering who was prettier. Then the question to him:
When was the last time you slept with her? And the answer: Valentine’s Day, which was one day after we first kissed. I was disgusted, but tried to hide it, and he, knowing me well (another warning sign), caught on, asking: “What do you expect? We’re together and it’s Valentine’s Day.” And, slowly, I began to resent her.
When kids loose their Cool
At the same time, I began to fall in love with him. I fell asleep entwined in his arms, or across his legs as he played me beautiful music I had never heard before.
Of course he texted her occasionally, but would always be up front about it. The story was that he needed some independent time, and was going out to bars to think and taking long walks around the neighborhood, of which I fully approved; but when going-home-time came, sometimes I would feel guilty and freak out about what we were doing, and going-home-time would be put off. He’d step out of his car, hold and sooth me, as I protested that he needed to get home so we could be safe. He always chose me. Always.
Escaping to Somewhere
After a month of late nights, deep kisses, and conversations – I told him about my abusive father, my twisted love life, all my shames, and goals, and dreams.
We sat in his car behind a bar that always reminded me of a country club and exchanged I love yous, as simply as if we were any other couple, telling each other when the time was right. However, the rules didn’t change. Nick wasn’t going to leave his girlfriend, and we still had an expiration date. That didn’t stop him from sending his girlfriend off to her parents’ house for a long weekend, and whisking me away to Toronto, where we indulged in expensive dinners, art museums, and each other for three blissful days. Shortly afterward, he told me I was the one.
You’re the One
And, though he was driving, I immediately and indignantly slammed on the brakes. How can I be the one when you still refuse to leave her?! was the beginning of my long, wordy fit, during which there were several tangents and an ever-elevated tone of voice.
It was unnecessary; he was ready to transition out. Over the course of a couple months, he directed the situation at home such that when they finally broke up, it felt completely reasonable. And, in a lot of ways, it was. I was no home wrecker – he pursued me after a year of not sharing a bed with his girlfriend; he told me sadly that it felt like they were good friends and roommates instead of lovers, and I understood his pain. She hadn’t done anything wrong – he just didn’t love her anymore, and that was no one’s fault.
Image by Rachel Kramer.
In the end, I respected him for his concern and care. We may have broken Rules 2 and 3, but Rule 1 remained intact:
she never finds out, and she never gets hurt. Of course she was hurt – they had been together for about five years – but when we went ‘public’ a couple months after their break-up, the story was that we had gotten to know each other well, grew to like each other, and unfortunately that happened around the same time they broke up. She may have been suspicious, but he did everything he could to protect her from the much-worse truth.
Once we were together, though – sans drama, sans taboo – things changed for me. I still loved him intensely and unconditionally, but there was no element of self-punishment in our relationship.
We quit doing drugs, we started a normal diurnal routine, and I got antsy for what I knew best. So I cheated. I seduced Scott, broke up with Nick, and fell back into the same relationship pattern I was used to: broken pride, being used for sex, being a secret, all over again. I was miserable, and I was comfortable, and I couldn’t stay out of contact with Nick.
Just one Drink
Safe and Sound
He was the one I called when I had an overwhelming day and needed some sympathy. He was the one I called when I started running again, and had collapsed on the lawn, coughing enthusiastically because of the months of cigarettes.
He was the one I went to on my first weekend without Scott, when he refused to contact me, and I fell into self-harm. We met for drinks at a bar nearby his house, and obviously ended up at his place. I raced home that night, filled with longing and confusion, and hoped that sleep would bring wisdom. It didn’t, but it did give me a decision. Instead of meeting Scott after his weekend AWOL, I spent the day with Nick: feeding his friend’s cat and having lunch outside in the sun.
I never saw Scott again, and had intended never to tell Nick about my indiscretions, but eventually, in a drunken confrontation, I had the choice to continue my lies, or to step out into unfamiliar territory and tell the truth.
I’m not sure what guided my decision, whether it was wanting to be a better person, wanting to test how much he still loved me, wanting to punish myself, or just wanting to give up the game, but I came clean and told him everything. Every one of his questions, every element of the past several weeks, and, in conjunction, comforted his aching heart, went to therapy to confront my terrible relationship tendencies, and, somehow, we got through to the better, truer love that was always underneath.
I can’t say that it was an easy decision to make, or an easy one to follow through with.
We would be having an evening free of hurt or guilt or trauma, and then I would remember something I hadn’t confessed, and would need to confess it, say it out loud, and know that there would be no secrets any longer. He might yell, or storm out of the room, and once threw a wine glass off the porch (which we then searched for and found in the dark of night), but he always told me that he loved me, and when I lost myself to guilt and shame, he would hold me and tell me I wasn’t a horrible person – I had just made a mistake.
What I deserve
A month later, we were engaged, and two years later, we got married, and now, two months post-nuptials, we’ve both expressed our gratitude for all of it, ugly as it was; we never would be so close now, or so honest.
But as for myself, separate from him, I’m most grateful for the moment I chose to be honest. Because then, for the first time, I was putting myself on the line without any contingency plans, hoping for the good love I knew was possible.
And though I didn’t know it then, I now know that that love – his love – is exactly what I deserve.