Today, my worry was soothed earlier than I had anticipated. I had reached out to my friend’s father on Facebook, and had his phone number at the ready, should my friend not get back to me by the morning. I wrote a brief message detailing my concern, and the freedom to withhold information, if he viewed my question as stepping into personal territory, in which he’d prefer no intruders. Fortunately, my friend’s father quelled my worry with updates, informing me my friend was optimistically on the mend, and he’d be released from the hospital shortly.
I was so relieved, I nearly cried, being at work the only force restraining me. I was able to nix one toxic emotion– fear. I knew he’d be alright. Shortly thereafter, my friend also texted me as I had asked him, to let me know he was tired, but better.
The next emotion has not been so easy to calm– guilt. All day I felt oppressively guilty for misjudging him. His dad had mentioned the difficulties of the last few days, implying this has been going on, indeed, for the time period in which my friend kept postponing our dates. He had been deliberately withholding the aggression of his symptoms, ironically to prevent worry.
I had to look inward for answers. How could I come to peace with my mistake? And, did this change how I felt about our budding relationship?
First, I analyzed out of what experiences my distrust had been born. That answer was easy: my baggage. But, my insight didn’t stop there: My baggage makes me more sensitive to feeling blown off, and I realized I now need more reassurance in a romantic relationship than I have needed in the past. I used to idolize the woman who needs no man, Mae West a prime example. That woman never got hurt, she was strong. Anything outside of that narrative would mean I was weak. But I’m not Mae West. I want an equal relationship, a partner with whom to be a dynamic duo, I want us to inspire each other, and to be there for each other, when the rest of the world makes no sense. And that means I can’t be Mae West. I have to learn a new kind of strength now, the strength to assert my needs in a relationship. I don’t need a man to be happy, or to change the world, but if I’m to have a relationship, it had better be a healthy one, in which neither ‘has the upper hand.’
In the past, I’ve dated men who would go days, plural, without talking to me, deluding myself into thinking ‘we’re both busy, we both have lives, I’m independent, I don’t want to weigh him down, this is good for me,’ only to be tossed aside when I was no longer convenient. I thought I could be that way still, but I can’t. This time around, the days we’d message each other, with no date night in sight, felt like romantic purgatory.
Every step of this relationship, I felt I had to watch my back, withhold real feelings for him, which were definitely starting to pick out furniture and test paint swatches on my heart. Every man I’ve dated, I’ve felt something real for, and he was no different. But, I couldn’t relinquish my power this time, I couldn’t bear to let him hurt me, because I don’t go back once I’m hurt, and I couldn’t lose him, even if that meant we could only be friends.
As soon as I saw the potential to be hurt again, I abandoned the relationship. He didn’t see me more than once a week, something in the past I’ve been okay with, but this time felt like not enough. He’d message me somewhat daily, but many days I found I was the first to send. He’d be late to dates consistently, even though I knew he shared a car with his brother, I couldn’t help but feel like less-than-important when tardiness was the shadow that loomed over the explanations of why he couldn’t arrive at all. Perhaps his excuses were to spare me from worry, I think they really were. But, excuses, even if true, when not the entire truth, make my head spin and wonder, the emotional scars left from others twitching like Potter-esque warnings.
I acted to protect my heart, something I’ve never done in the past. I’ve given my heart to too many people who didn’t deserve it. And I couldn’t give it over completely this time, even if perhaps this one did.
Romantically, I’m putting the onus on him to make his choice. We both knew this would likely be only temporary, but we would ‘see how it goes.’ I saw. I’ve had to re-evaluate.
My needs are different now.
I need a man who will make the plans he makes with me a true priority. I’ve fallen into the habit of waiting til the last minute to get ready, in case he cancels within the hour we are supposed to get together, with the hopes that if I don’t finish my hair or makeup within that time, I’ll be less bitter when he stands me up. This does not work.
I need a man who talks openly with me. My imagination is too powerful at times, and it will fill in the blanks of a story with images of several possible variations and outcomes, all of which logical, and likely worse than the reality of the situation.
I need a man who doesn’t just tell me I’m special, but acts in a way that make me know that I’m special. Pretty words don’t evoke any emotion in me anymore. I didn’t think I’d get to that point, jaded like the vixens in movies. But, I’ve been told pretty things ever since puberty finally worked itself out, and all those pretty things have ever gotten me has been excessive and lasting pain. Maybe I’ll date a man who doesn’t compliment me at all.
It’s not that I don’t trust people. I trust people too readily, and then fall too hard when I’m disappointed. I thought today I should do some kind of trust exercise with myself, but I’m not experiencing trust issues, or fears of commitment. The problem is far more simple than all that: I wasn’t honest enough with myself, and therefore not honest with him.
I was not open to my friend about my needs from the beginning, because I firmly felt he wouldn’t change to accommodate me, as none of them ever have. This was perhaps unfair, but not unwarranted. And truly, I wasn’t self-aware enough to realize my part in the sabotage of our happy ending, not even being fully aware of how my needs have changed. How could I assert them when I did not consciously acknowledge them for myself?
Today, happy meant finding peace with the events of the last two days. My peace is this: I know he was not lying to me, and he was likely trying to protect me from worry when he withheld more information (“the road to hell is paved with good intentions,” comes to mind). I know that we are still friends, he still keeps me posted, knowing I’m genuinely concerned. I know that he’s got big life changes in front of him, changes that truly necessitate freedom. I know that I can’t really be a part of that freedom, because my needs are no longer as whimsical and easy-going as a younger me once had. I know myself better now. I need consistency that leads to commitment, because I no longer get butterflies in the beginning from excitement, I get indigestion from nervousness.
I need the comfortable stage. I need to know that when my significant other says he’ll be there for me. He. Will. Be. There. I cannot settle for any less. I know now that if I try to settle, I’ll inevitably sabotage whatever small successes we’ve achieved. It’s a priority I thought I could demote, but in fact just made it to #1.
We are still friends, and I’m immensely grateful. But the relationship stands where it does, for now. In friendship. I can’t give myself completely to anyone who cannot make my needs the priority that they must be. The love and loyalty that I give is more than worth the responsibility.
And though the future is fluid, and “life is ironic,” my needs come first next round, whether it be with him, or anyone else.