I always took pride in my strength. I was a 19-year-old single parent. My kid wasn’t the easiest, and I’m not about to say having a child was the biggest blessing in my life, or the most rewarding thing I had ever accomplished. Raising a child as a 19 year old single parent was hard, and at times, pure unadulterated hell.
I compounded things by trying to die after child-birth and waking up from hours of emergency surgery to find out that in order to save my life, my doctor had to remove any chance I had at having more children. Try being in your early 20s (or any age younger than 45 or so really) in Utah and trying to find someone who wanted to help you raise someone else’s kid and never have one of their own. It’s no fun. Sure, I had a relationship or 2 here and there, but they all ended the same way, either with a vocal or silently understood “I want to have kids of my own,” so I built walls our current President could only dream of to protect myself from ever feeling hurt like that again, because seriously, that sucks, and not in the fun way either.
It had been well over a decade of feeling completely invisible to the outside world, and by that, I mean those single male members of the outside world who might actually want to hold my hand and occasionally be seen in public with me. It had been a ridiculously long, boring, mind dulling, self-esteem crushing dry spell.
Life as a single parent of an incredibly difficult boy had definitely taken its toll on me. It was harder than I ever imagined as he decided he was moving out and I found myself empty nesting and completely alone, at 36 years old. I wasn’t about to sit around for the next 50 years with only myself to keep me company, so I decided I should probably put some sort of effort in to dating. The only problem was everyone I knew in the small town I live in was married, in a serious relationship, a decade my junior, or two or more my senior. What I’m saying is there was literally NOBODY that I knew who fit my pathetically low standards: single, age appropriate, employed, non-smoker. I mean, it really shouldn’t be too hard to find someone who fits the bill should it? But it was, because I had been looking off and on for a decade.
I half heartedly played around on Tinder, and what a joke that was! It was entertaining though, so I still perused the offerings every time I was out-of-town, swiping (mostly left) until I was bored. Then we matched. You know what I mean. I swiped right, he swiped right, and neither one of us was simply collecting a gallery of Tinder matches. We seemed to have an uncanny chemistry, but I lived 3 hours away from him, and as such, it took weeks of back and forth frustration and missed opportunities before we connected.
Oh, but when we did! He took away 2 decades of insecurity by simply not turning around and walking out the door when he saw me…saw the real me. It wasn’t uncomfortable in the least. From one extreme to the other, conversation flowed. The kind of conversations you would expect both from old friends reconnecting, and those of just getting to know someone who was a complete stranger a short time ago. It was comfortable, like our souls had been the best of friends in a previous life and just now reconnected, and it was like “Oh there you are! I’ve been searching for you.”
And then he kissed me, and my mind exploded. What unfolded next seemed impossibly surreal. The conversations. The hurried and urgent need to melt together. The pause for food delivery and more conversation. The much more slowed and deliberate lovemaking. More conversation as if we were old friends, full of laughter, comfort and safe spaces. It went on like that for hours before he left to return home, and I stayed in that room basking in the glow of someone FINALLY giving a damn. Someone FINALLY seeing me.
He smoked, and I didn’t care. Although both he and his ex agreed their relationship was over, the one thing they could agree on, and rekindling that was absolutely not a possibility, he wasn’t exactly single, and I didn’t care. Truthfully, the only pathetically low standards of mine that remained in tact after that encounter were age appropriate and employed, yet still, I didn’t care.
A relationship was out of the question, but over the next year, what we had seemed more and more like a relationship, even if neither one of us wanted to admit it. I found myself making up excuses to travel to his city just so we could meet up, as if simply wanting to see him, to be with him wasn’t enough of a reason. But no, I couldn’t travel just to be with him. I couldn’t let him know that I was driving for hours just to see him, couldn’t let him know that from time to time, I tripped and fell in to feelings, and had to frantically brush them off, at the risk of completely falling for him. I couldn’t let that information out, because this wasn’t a “relationship” at all. It wasn’t a relationship, because he told me he wasn’t in a place for one of those, and I agreed. My head wasn’t in a place for a relationship either, but that message didn’t make its way to my heart, which seemed to fall for him more and more with every encounter.
He felt broken, and I knew it. I tried to fix him, to help him at every chance I had, and I succeeded. I took his problems and made them my own. His sorrows became mine. I felt joy in his triumphs no matter how small they may have seemed. I was his support in every sense of the word, and he knew it, accepted it, and gave me credit for it.
I never pushed him for more than he was able to give, even though the vast majority of the time my stupid heart ached for it. Behind closed doors we were the most compatible of lovers. To the world, we were simply friends, except for a few rare instances when a little bit of that affection escaped for anybody who may have been looking to see.
I was never under the illusion that we were exclusive. I mean, on my end of things we were, but that was merely because even though he could see me, I was still invisible to the rest of mankind. Never once did I think we were in an actual relationship; it was COMPLETELY impractical after all. I mean, his entire world was 3 hours away from where I had built my entire life. Still, at times every single thing he did screamed relationship, and at times it confused the hell out of me. Then it happened.
Disaster struck. He desperately needed help, and I couldn’t do it all myself. It was an emergency, and I needed the help of his family, family I had never before met. They helped me come to his rescue, and I loved them for the brief time I spent with them. The relationship vibe was strong as he sobbed on my chest in the room we shared with his sister and her boyfriend through the night. The following day was intoxicating. The next time we met was even more so. This felt almost overwhelmingly intimate, but not in a sexual way, as I would soon find out that part of our “relationship” was over.
At his very lowest point, I was there for him. Built him up. Reassured him. Sacrificed myself, my financial security, and my sanity so he could exist. Not once was this something that he took for granted. He acknowledged it on more than one occasion. I was the reason his life didn’t combust. I was the reason he was available for her.
It happened unexpectedly. The weather was horrible. I couldn’t go to him. Coming to me isn’t something that crossed his mind. I missed my friend something fierce, but things were changing. I don’t blame him. She’s prettier. She’s skinnier. She has children the same age as his own. She lives in the same town as him. I wouldn’t choose me either. And I don’t blame him for choosing her. I don’t blame him, because this is the way things work. Someone always emerges as the wiser choice. I couldn’t go to him, and he couldn’t come to me. There was no middle ground, so he chose her.
He was a horrible boyfriend. He couldn’t see that as I was so intently focused on being strong for him, I was falling apart myself. He didn’t realize that while I was attending to his every need, I was silently wishing he would see that I needed him to take care of me. I don’t mean in a monetary way; I’ve always worked incredibly hard to be able to take care of myself, and others. I didn’t need things. I needed him to hold me and help me fight my own demons. I needed him to help me calm the battle in my soul. I needed him to rescue me from the loneliness of my mind. I was afraid to need him. I was afraid to surrender control of myself to anybody. That personal strength I had always been so proud of was my worst enemy at this point, because my mind would not let me do what my heart was screaming for. He had no idea that I needed him, so he chose her.
He was a horrible boyfriend, and I was an emotionally unavailable and detached girlfriend who wasn’t even capable of telling him how much he meant to me. How my entire world changed the moment I met him. How he finally made me feel like I was worthy of someone’s time and affection. How my mind felt like it just might finally be capable of surrendering to the whim of my heart.
He was a horrible boyfriend, but he wasn’t my boyfriend; he never was, and as deeply as I cared for him, I never did dare be vulnerable enough to show him that I wasn’t strong. I was the furthest thing from strong. He was the only person in my life for years that made me feel alive, wanted, desired, and worth anything. He made me feel beautiful, confident, and successful.
It occasionally crosses my mind that I perhaps I should be a little bit sad about the way things worked out, but I’m not. I suppose if I didn’t have those carefully constructed walls, the ones some people manage to sneak through only to find out that there’s yet another layer of walls to work through, and it’s just not worth the effort, I might be sad. I could be devastated if I wanted to, but I don’t have a single tear to shed over him choosing her. I’m not sad at all because he was a horrible boyfriend, but he IS the best friend I could have ever found.
I could have easily avoided him, but somehow I knew he was a collision worth having.