When You Are The Practice Girlfriend

My ex got engaged this weekend. I guess I should have seen it coming.

Somehow, though, it still felt like a slap in the face. After all this time. After I had gotten over the initial sting of seeing him happy with someone else. For so long, I told myself that things could never work out with her, because there was some key ingredient that the two of them did not have together — something which I had kept with me when he left. It was only a matter of time, I thought, until they would break apart.

And then it became clear that they weren’t going to break up, at least not in the satisfying, immediate way I thought they would.

And then they got engaged.

And here I am.

My friend called me to ask if I had seen the news on Facebook, the hundreds of people congratulating them, “liking” and commenting their good fortune while I remained unsure of what exactly the appropriate response was from my end. I had. I could hear the timbre of her voice change when she realized that it wasn’t about breaking the news, only about buffering the blow. “It’s not a big deal,” she told me, “you are so beyond that now.”

Then why was she calling me?

Because she knew I cared. Because she knew that I would still see this as some kind of a defeat, even so many years later.

I told her that it was no big deal, as getting her off the phone and out of her guilt was the most important thing at that moment. There was nothing she could do — and none of this was her fault — so having her wringing her hands over what to say to me was only wasting both of our time. She knew that I was upset, that I was probably going to take some time to get over this, but only with my blessing could she let me get to the work of fixing my heart on my own. There was nothing for her here.

When we dated, I thought we would end up engaged. I thought that we were headed somewhere important, that I was the person who was teaching him how to really love and giving him the blueprint for a life together. And I was, really, it’s just that the life wasn’t with me. It was almost as though I was programming him with necessary, useful information so that he would function perfectly for someone else. Everything we had together was a good wall against which to project his “real” relationship, because it became clear through our breakup that ours was never “real.”

Not “merging the families” real. Not “compromising our life choices to be together” real. Not “spending years watching each other evolve” real. Not “investing in a diamond and saying ‘I love you’ in front of all my friends and family” real.

Ours was real in the sex, real in the light-hearted dating, real maybe in the love — but in a soft, easy kind of puppy love, for him.

I realize, looking at her, that I was practice. She has all of the qualities of a wife, of a mother, of the kind of person that you would want to be with for the rest of your life. She is giving, and thoughtful, and mature, and presentable. Her life is not as consumed with highs and lows and chasing and obsessing as mine is. She is happy just being happy — something I have never managed to master, myself.

And so I was the practice girlfriend, the one who got to teach him all of the things to avoid and to look for in equal measure, who was right in many ways, but not enough of them. I was the person he would learn with, a bike he would fall down and scrape his knees on while rolling down the hill. And now I have to teach myself, as I have been trying to, that I could be the real thing for someone, that I don’t only have the qualifications of a beginner level. Maybe one day I will believe that it’s true.

For now, I had to hide your updates on my news feed. I’m sure the pictures will be lovely, enough so that I have no desire to see them. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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image – Jesslee Cuizon

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