|Me, age 5, holding a beer while dressed as Jem. For real.|
Over the years I have had friends who were very supportive, if misguided because of the one-sided stories (a.k.a. whining and bitching) they have heard from me about my relationship problems.
One girl who I will call Liz in this story (because that is her actual name) had been in and out of my life for a decade. Even though she was not local and until 2013 had never lived in my town, she knew every intimate detail of my life from age 18 on.
Liz witnessed one of my most disastrous relationships, one that lasted two years and took two years to sever completely. There was a cycle of cruelty, fighting, breaking up, and then once again I would be swept away by his charm.
Then I met Greg and lived happily ever after.
But not at first.
The first seven years held various unfair problems we had to work through. During many of these problems I would run crying to Liz asking what to do and then do the exact opposite like the frustrating person I am. However, most of the time I ran to Liz I only wanted to hear it was going to be okay because deep down I knew exactly what to do but I was too scared.
The last time I ran to Liz crying over some relationship insecurity, I was determined I was leaving Greg for good. I spent the evening drinking wine and beer at her new apartment, eating lots of cheese, and dancing to "Single Ladies" while her future husband and their dogs put up with our antics. However I soon settled back into the fact I did not, in actuality, want to leave Greg, and that I would have to actually work on my relationship to make it work and not magically hope that things would stop being sucky and began deeply moping.
I watched while Liz and her future husband had a relaxing evening of blogging and playing cards. I watched how they interacted. I saw the way their faces interacted. The gazes. The smiles. How they were each others' whole lives already and it had not even been a year. I longed desperately for what they had and realized then I had exactly what they had already waiting at home for me in my apartment. I was just too drunk to go home to it.
Six months later at her NYC destination bachelorette party, Liz drunkenly whispered to me over her Solo cup, "We don't like Greg."
I just shrugged at her as I sipped my beer. So fucking what? I liked Greg. I just never was around her when he and I were happy. She was still mad at him for all the bullshit I had let her in on over the years about him while conveniently hiding all the of bullshit I gave him in return.
Then Liz giggled and randomly brought up my ex. She said, "What ever happened to your other ex? He was hot."
I nodded very slowly because I had already had several glasses of wine at that point before my beer and things were a bit too exciting for me to be nodding any faster.
I had not thought about the other ex in four years at that point. It has been seven years since our breakup and four years since he had last called me to apologize for everything he did wrong (it was a lot of things, some that should be unforgivable like sexual assault), four years since I realized we had nothing in common and no reason to talk ever again. It was done. Over. Finito.
A few days after I departed from Connecticut to Baltimore, I Googled my ex. My ex, it turned out, had gotten married almost two years prior. I messaged Liz, totally shocked at the news. I could not believe I was finding this out through Google instead of word of mouth as this was very important news.
More searching lead to all of his social media accounts. It turned out it was not true that we had nothing in common. I looked on his Tumblr. He had cats, and cats are my world. He loved all my favorite bands and songs according to his Last.fm. He seemed very happy with his wife, like he had his life together.
I was 28. I was graduating that year, finally, with a two-year degree in nothing. I lived in the shittiest apartment complex where our apartment had been shot at and a year later someone would throw a huge rock at Greg while he was jogging. Both my grandparents had just died. Greg had finally stopped asking me to marry him because I kept saying no. I felt like shit about myself.
And he seemed very happy.
I was furious that he was happy.
For weeks, I did not write. I did not try new things, and tried very hard to find my way.
What was that like, you ask?
Well, have you ever had your identity stolen? It felt like that except there are no credit card companies to call.
You only can reconcile your concept of self with yourself.
It was a difficult time for me.
I asked myself many questions. What could I claim as mine, as authentic parts of me? What parts of me did I need to throw away because they were supposed to be on someone else's credit report? What if someone else once claimed parts of me? Could I steal those parts of me back and reclaim them as my own or would those parts of me always be tainted with that person's soiled fingerprints?
Was I allowed to love what I love, love who I love, without feeling inauthentic? Could I just be me, or would I always, always feel like I had something to prove?
Finding him again, this lost thing from my childhood days that broke my heart into thousands of pieces and not being able to dismiss him as someone I have no connection with suddenly hurt. Comparing my life to his hurt. His radio silence toward me hurt. My memories of what he did to me hurt. I suddenly could not separate who I had been with who I was now, I suddenly was furious and it was all his fault.
Or was it Liz's?
"We don't like Greg."
"What ever happened to your other ex? He was hot."
Since then Liz has told me she sees how happy Greg makes me and she is so convinced I made the right choice in marrying him, even though she does not quite see how we worked through all of our problems. Magic?
The truth is we take it day by day.
Oddly the truth comes from something I heard my ex's wife say about my ex. She said she chose him because he was the only person she could stand to be around twenty-four hours a day and still long for more.
Yet another happy couple reflecting how I feel in my relationship.
A big part of my relationship with my husband has been learning how to handle conflict. Staying calm, calling in reinforcements, counseling and time are all tactics I have used in managing conflicts. Most things I have learned are not a big deal as I used to think they are.
Stay Calm - Some of the biggest upsets in our early relationship involved me making a big scene over nothing. I remember one time I could not find a shirt for an important meeting with some of the biggest and most important political people at my job and I found out he had threw it in the hamper instead of hanging it up the morning of the meeting. I flipped the fuck out when, truly, it all turned out OK.
Calling in Reinforcements - Liz was a great reinforcement to have, but so was my mother, his family, and the rest of our friends. It is important to create a family of people who not only see you during your upsets but also your triumphs so when true shit hits the fan (job losses, illnesses, homelessness) there is a level of fairness.
Counseling - Both Greg and I are severely mentally ill. We would be lost without regular counseling. Not just for our relationship, but for helping with depression and anxiety that comes with being mentally ill.
Time - Most of the crap that happens to us is out of our control and gets better with time. It really is our reaction to it that creates a better quality of life.
P.S. - You know what also helps? We love the shit out of each other. It really really really helps and there's no replacement for that.
I know, it's totally disgusting, isn't it?