Since I started dating at the ripe age of 17, I always managed to pick guys who were bad for me. They always had this indescribable capability to make me feel at my lowest. I would constantly be in a state of anxiety or tears and would walk on eggshells in hopes they wouldn’t flip and break up with me. Every single guy I would date managed to conjure up distaste, anger and annoyance amongst my loved ones.
Until I met him.
From the moment we first met, I knew there was something about him. Our first date lasted for hours as we talked about the values we shared, the music we both loved, and the futures we imagined for ourselves.
He challenged my mind. He made me feel at ease. He made me feel beautiful.
I remember laughing with him at dinner when he paused and stared at me, then smiled. I asked him what he was thinking, and he said, “I’m just really happy right now.” After I jokingly blamed it on the alcohol, he replied with a sparkle in his eye, “No, I think it’s the company.”
Coming home that night, I couldn’t help but grin from ear to ear but that’s when my brain intervened. I reminded myself that this is how all my previous relationships started. The first date went swimmingly, I dove right in and then I would get crushed. So, I told myself I would take it slow.
We went on a second date a week or so after. And then on a third. And then on a fourth. We began seeing each other between one to three times a week, whether it was dinners or relaxing at home. Even though he hated texting, he would text me daily – either to check in on me or share something that happened at work.
I remember my birthday dinner. He had booked it in a restaurant neither of us had tried but he thought I would love. We got dressed up, and we had a lovely time. I had been away the previous week and missed sitting with him — his smile. He sheepishly told me how nervous he was about my birthday, not knowing whether he’d scare me off if he got me a gift or picked the wrong restaurant. The night was perfect.
He was different from the others. He never hesitated to tell me how he felt – he was clear and unequivocal about his feelings. He liked me, he cared for me, and he wanted to be with me. The sense of anxiety I had felt with others was gone – there were no games here. He would call me his girlfriend in passing, and it all seemed to fall into place.
For the first time in my life, I was with someone that made me feel safe enough to express my wants and needs without a fear of rejection. I knew that I could be myself and he wouldn’t think I was “too much” – the descriptor that had been placed on me far more times than I could count. I could call him, telling him that, for whatever reason that day, I needed some reassurance about us – and without skipping a beat, he was happy to tell me whatever I needed to stop the anxiety.
My friends loved him. I remember us going to a dinner at a friend’s house and him calling me, riddled with nerves. “I’m so nervous – I really want them to like me. What if they don’t like me?” He fumbled through the grocery store picking up goods for the potluck, calling me to make sure he made no mistakes. I grinned as I told him, “I like you and they like me, so I’m certain it will go great.”
My heart soared later that night when he had gone home and my friends turned to me in awe. They went on about how kind and sweet he was – how we could finish each other’s stories and were on the same wavelength. They excitedly discussed how happy they were to see how he behaved around me – caring and with a loving look in his eye – but was not afraid to tease me alongside my friends. They could not wait until their next encounter with him. I couldn’t either.
Eventually, we reached the event we had been dreading. His job required him to leave to another city for six weeks and would require him working around the clock while he was gone. We were both nervous. This thing we had was new, and we didn’t know if it could make it through.
One day we sat at my place and we discussed these fears. The fear of our relationship ending was overwhelming for both of us. Not knowing if I could handle what in my mind would be an eventual rejection, I offered for us to take a break and reevaluate things when he got back. He was shocked. “Why are you even putting that out there as an option?” Instead, we made a game plan and set out our expectations going into his departure so that we were on the same page. It was safe. He was safe.
His time away felt like forever. When he first left, I would get daily check in texts or a reminder that he liked me. No matter what happened that day, he made sure to communicate that.
Wanting to see him, I booked a train ticket to the city where he was working. Luckily, I had a lot of friends who lived there. At first, he was excited, and we planned a lovely dinner with friends. However, as the date of my departure neared, his seemingly ever-growing lack of care for my trip bothered me. He kept making changes to our dinner reservation to give him more time at work. He would forget information I had already relayed to him. While I appreciated the importance of work, I was hurt at how I seemed to be a low priority to him.
I felt a glimmer of hope after our dinner together. We went to a gorgeous restaurant with some of my best friends, and he was more affectionate than I had ever previously experienced. He had never been a man who favored public displays of affection, but this time around, he was happy to kiss me at the table, put his arm around my waist as we walked, or pull me into him when we waited in line. I reasoned that maybe him seeing me made him realize how much he missed me and cared for me. I felt safe again in our relationship.
Things began to go downhill when I left home. Upon my return, his level of effort plummeted. The daily texts slowly dwindled away. My levels of anxiety began to peak and I started calling him daily instead, knowing that he had always been adamant that he would pick up when I would call. He mostly kept that promise – if I called, he would answer. If he didn’t, he would call me back. However, I became the initiator. There would be weekends where I would hear nothing unless I called him to check in. My call history quickly began to reveal the shift in our relationship.
It was in that time frame where I began to find myself sitting at home and crying. Even though he continued expressing his feelings for me on our calls and being my anchor through rough days at my own job, something just did not feel right. Something inside me screamed out that I deserved more. I would silence my thoughts and remind myself that I knew he was away. I knew he was busy with work.
But I also knew that if he wanted to, he would – and that as time went on, it no longer felt like he wanted to.
I rationalized this all away by telling myself that things would change when he got home. We could start seeing each other again and dive right back into what had felt like such a strong and safe connection.
His second night back, we got together for dinner. We made things official, and he blurted out that he loved me. Those words were big and scary for me, and I didn’t say them back. But there was also something about the way he behaved — the seeming distance in his eyes — that made me hold back.
Although I thought we would get closer, the distance seemed to grow. Rather than being excited to see me, he was tired. He was tired, and cranky, and stressed, and sick. I tried to justify it as “burnout” from his work trip – and it all likely could have been – but my gut told me there was more to it.
From the moment he returned, I sat in cognitive dissonance. His words told me that he cared for me. That he wanted to be with me and had wanted this since he met me. That I made him happy. But my gut told me something was wrong. I tried my very hardest to believe him and let that carry me through the day.
Maybe this was just a phase.
I really should have listened when they told me actions speak louder than words.
He told me that it had nothing to do with me and that it was all about him and what he needed in his life. He was unhappy and needed to move back to his hometown. Neither one of us asked, but the message was clear: it was over.
I told my friends that it was unexpected when he walked out of my life. That wasn’t the truth.
“I think we’re running on borrowed time.” I remember when he said that to me over dinner one night. I was taken by surprise. He explained that despite how much I cared about him, he knew that one day, my feelings for him would not be enough. I brushed it off at the time, justifying the comment as one of his self-deprecating moments. What else could I do?
Looking back, I realize that this comment should have tipped me off to the real message: I deserved more than what he could offer me.
The reality is that I allowed myself to accept the bare minimum. I allowed myself to be so enamored with the idea of finally being with someone who communicated his feelings to me, to be with someone who cared about how I felt, who supported me, who picked up when I called. I was so in awe of this man for simply caring about me that I allowed myself to accept basic human decency towards the person you’re dating as the bar. Once he hit that bar, I was willing to run the errands and make the compromises.
The reality is that he knew that I deserved more than he could offer me. He knew that one day, I would turn to him and ask for something that he simply could not provide – whether it was his emotions, his time, or his mind. He knew that he could not be the man that I deserved.
So, as I sit here, reminiscing over our time together, and the pain of losing him, I thank him.
I thank him for teaching me that it’s not enough for your partner to just be present. It’s not enough for your partner to pick up the phone. It’s not enough for your partner to tell you he likes you and that he wants to be with you. It’s not enough for your partner to sit on the phone while you cry about your job. It’s not enough for your partner to take you to dinner and kiss you on the forehead before you go to sleep.
That is the bare minimum.
And you deserve way more.