To the men who are overly and emotionally attached to the women they won’t marry.
You all know this girl. She is friendly. She is low-maintenance. She is easy to talk to. She has depth – though you may not see it right away. She is sensitive. She is very hard to get to know on a personal level. She is selfless. She can laugh at herself. She carries her burdens well- so well, in fact, that you wouldn’t know they existed if you didn’t know her well (and even then, you may not see it). She is non-threatening. She is the kind of girl that you will see others seek out to say, “I am having a really hard time- can we talk?”- and her answer is always “Yes”.
You see, all of the above seem to be truly great qualities to have in a person. Unless, of course, you are the person that possesses them.
These qualities are exactly how we get ourselves into these situations.
Let me explain.
When I was 16, I had a whole heart in my chest and a head full of uncrushed dreams. I had no frame of reference for love beyond Disney and the few rom coms my parents deemed appropriate for an impressionable teenager. I came from a world of Sunday morning sermons and Saturday night parties that consisted of board games and Peace Teas instead of Natty and beer pong. I came from pink bedroom walls and muddy blue jeans from games of tag football in the front yard. I came from “Always practice the Golden Rule” and “Learning is a good thing” and “Sing your heart out, sweetheart” and “You can be anything you want to be”. I came from a two parent household where love wasn’t perfect, but it made sense to me. As far as I knew, I lived in a world where people were inherently good and where love made sense. And I didn’t question this.
Just like I didn’t question it the day that he walked in. He was a 17-year-old kid from the other side of town who, looking back, never really had a fighting chance at understanding how to be in a relationship. His stepdad was an alcoholic, and he didn’t know who his real dad was. His mom was a flake. He grew up in a bad neighborhood and went to subpar schools in the district. He was a football player and a musician, and he had no idea what his life needed to look like.
We began to talk, as friends. And, as his friend, I learned a great deal about his life, his fears, his hopes, and his ambitions. Long phone conversations were common with us.
I know you all have heard this story before. “Our friendship began to deepen, and it wasn’t long before we were falling in love with each other.” Blah, blah, blah. I’ll spare you. What I will tell you is that he took me to his senior prom, and then soon after decided what it was that he wanted to do with his life: He joined the United States Marine Corps.
What he couldn’t decide about, however, was what do to with “us” once he left.
And he never really decided. He left, and we were “undetermined”. You know, that awkward spot between not-really-broken-up but not-really-together. We still talked on the phone regularly, despite the distance and the time difference, and we emailed on days when phone calls weren’t ideal. Once or twice, he had declared his feelings for me in the form of a 21st century “love letter” (better labeled a “love email” perhaps?). But nothing would come of this.
At least, not until our phone calls took a very strange turn.
He began shifting the focus of our conversations to an uncomfortable topic for me. He was stationed out in California, and began talking incessantly to me about the girl that he liked out there (the girl who would eventually become his girlfriend). I was incredibly confused, but knew that, above all else, we were friends- so I put my friendship hat on and did what I thought I should do.
But every time I got off the phone, I cried.
This went on for FIVE years. Five years of him sporadically declaring his love for me. Five years of different girlfriends from the west coast (and Africa, and Thailand). Five years of sometimes being the girlfriend and sometimes being the best friend. Five years of him making sure he had someone to come home to, just in case that’s what he decided to do. Five years of being the backup plan.
Five years of mental and emotional abuse at the hands of someone who obviously cared less.
He’s married now – to the tall, skinny, beautiful girl from Africa. They are having a baby.
And I pray to God that being a father means more to him than being a husband- because being a husband doesn’t mean much to the man who called up his “back-up plan” two weeks after the engagement.
I wish I could say that’s where the story ends.
I wish I could say that I’ve healed and I’ve grown and I’ve established myself in a healthy relationship.
I wish I could say that history didn’t repeat itself.
Right on the heels of this chapter ending, another one began.
I began working in a small, private practice for children with special needs. Our staff consisted of barely 8 of us.
He was the teacher there. He was a 25 year old former musician and newly licensed teacher. He made me smile by the way he interacted with the children. We bonded over our mutual disdain for our employer. Since the turnover rate was relatively high at the particular practice we worked for, other employees came and went- but we both stayed. And, with each passing season, our friendship became more intimate. I knew his demons and he knew mine (most of mine). When he needed someone to talk him down from his anxiety, he came to me. When I needed someone to remind me that I was actually worth something (thanks to the five years of trauma inflicted by the previous offender), he was there.
I should probably mention that he had a girlfriend.
As these things go, lines began to blur. We began to get more comfortable with each other. We worked in a very stressful environment, so hugs were common, and personal space didn’t exist between us anymore. When I was stressed, he would massage my shoulders. When I was having a bad day, he would hug me, kiss me on the forehead, and whisper kind words in my ear. When I needed validation, he would hold my face in his hands, bring his face near to mine, and tell me that I was beautiful, that I was smart, and that I was strong. But at this point, I was just confused.
One night, I went out with him and his girlfriend. We all had too much to drink, and, for a girl who doesn’t normally drink, this may not have been the best of ideas. I immediately became very sad. He had some friends over at his apartment, so he had me go and lie down in his bedroom. He came in to check on me and I began to cry- and not the delicate, dainty, attractive crying- I was sobbing.
He crawled into the bed with me, wrapped his arms and legs around me, stroked my hair, kissed my forehead, and whispered “Who’s got you, Erin? It’s me- you’re okay. I’ll always protect you”.
As the night went on, I stayed in bed and he went back and drank more. He continued to sporadically check on me, each time repeating the same pattern- crawling into bed, enveloping me with his arms and legs, and whispering in my ear. However, the last time was different.
He went to kiss me on the forehead- then kissed me on my nose, then kissed me on my lips.
At the end of the night (really, at the beginning of the morning), he crawled into bed between myself and his girlfriend. I woke up an hour or so later to find that his one arm was underneath my head and his other hand was resting on my chest- his body pressed up against my back. I quickly (with all the grace I could muster) got up to “use the restroom”. I came back and laid down on the absolute edge of the bed- as far from him as I could. Not 10 minutes went by before he rolled his body over to mine and once again pressed his body to my back and put his arm across my chest. His girlfriend mentioned something to him- to which he responded, “Don’t worry, babe, I’m all yours”. However he did not move. I quickly removed myself once again and walked out to the newly vacant couch (his friends had just left). Once again, not 10 minutes later, he came out into the living room, flopped on top of me, kissed me on the forehead, and said, “How ya feeling, kiddo?”
When Monday morning came around, I pulled him aside at work and told him that he had kissed me. He panicked and begged me to keep his secret- he didn’t want to ruin his relationship. So, once again, I put on my friendship hat and did what I thought I should do.
Months went by. More months of forehead kisses and intimate moments and face-holding validations of my existence. I was becoming depressed- I saw this man every single day. At least with the first guy, I only saw him when he was on leave. How was I possibly supposed to get over someone that I saw in this capacity every single day?
So, I wrote about it. I wrote a blog and put it online. If he cared enough to read it, then it was something he needed to know. It simply stated that I cared too much for him, as both a friend and as more than that, and that I needed to write it so that I could move past it. And, most importantly, I didn’t need his help.
That week, he was a wreck every single day that he came in. Everyone noticed. He came in with hives on his neck and bags under his eyes. He wasn’t sleeping, and wasn’t saying why. I tried to pry open the conversation, but he avoided me at all costs.
After that, things began to shift back to normalcy. I eventually figured that he hadn’t read it, and that the best thing I could do for myself was to move on- which, I’m proud to say, I started doing.
About 2 months later, he came into work and told me that he had asked his girlfriend’s father if he could marry her. He spent nearly an hour telling me about the ring (the clarity, the cut, the inclusion, the color, the cost, etc.) and about the way he wanted to propose. I was genuinely happy for my friend at this point- the friendship hat bore no weight for me that morning.
However, later that day, he began to pry for information about “how I felt” about his situation- and he wouldn’t let it go. He finally admitted to reading my blog- nearly two months prior.
I was furious at him for waiting until he spent thousands of dollars on an investment in one person before he worked up the courage to talk to the other. Anything I had to say at this point was irrelevant.
So the good friend in me said, “I just want you to be happy”.
And he is. Because he got engaged yesterday. The deed is done. And it hurts much more than I thought it would.
It hurts being the not-quite-marrying-type. The girl that comes close, but never gets to be Cinderella the princess- just Cinderella the girl with rag dresses and a pumpkin. The girl that you love but don’t fall in love with.
And it hurts that this has happened twice.
So, I guess when I see you tomorrow, I will smile and tell you how happy I am for you, because that’s what I should do. And I’ll watch you get married and have a family.
And I’ll wait for my next chance to be the girl that’s not-quite-good-enough for the guy who is going to marry somebody else anyway.