Sometimes I wish he had cheated on me. Because after that it would have been done with. My animosity would supersede any good memory that ever existed. I wouldn’t harp on the past in lightness, craving him still, for the small, personal moments just he and I, because it had ended so badly and the allure of him had turned pale. But what an entirely different story when you break up with someone because you realize that one day down the road the lives you see for each other is completely different, in that classic girl/carefree boy kind of way. We would accept our differences and stay friends. That didn’t mean I liked things this way. My emotions are still fevered. I sometimes think that maybe a true woman would have supported his uncertainty, because we were partners in love, and people who love each other are supposed to teach other, to make them feel safe in the unknowing, to shine greatness in the possibility of the future. But I guess I’ve always had trouble figuring out what kind of woman I am.
I think back to the beginning. And I can barely recognize myself. I was in the peak of my single life then. My time was imperative. I did what I wanted with boys, but nobody meant anything to me. They were all wrong. But it was all right. I was so happy being free, my days flush with solitude, and feeling whole at any moment in between. I didn’t need anyone. My thoughts were only mine, not drunk on someone else like my friends and the boys who consumed them. And then when he and I met, my whole world was interrupted. Who knew it was possible to meet someone who could become your best friend so quickly, and who you were also so attracted to.
It was something that had never happened to me before, and how fun it was to have a partner-in-crime who just happened to be the best kisser. I didn’t say no to the idea of it. And I always ended up saying no. But this kept going. Eventually it was a question of, What were we doing? It had been months. What were we doing? But I couldn’t understand why anything had to change. I was happy. He was happy. Why confuse things? Most girls I knew would swoon over someone wanting to be with them. I wasn’t like most girls. I liked having someone to like, but talking about my feelings was like reciting a paragraph in a different language in front of a huge audience. It was easier to stand still. So I avoided it. He held my hand on the street for the first time and I remember feeling like I was naked. It wasn’t that I didn’t want him to. It just wasn’t something that stone-hard girls like me were used to. I was always just me. I didn’t know how to be with someone else—at least in the girlfriend way he craved.
Of course when you’re so into your own world like that it never occurs to you that you could actually hurt someone’s feelings by being that stubborn, by not letting them all the way in, by making up your own rules, by not acknowledging that person as a serious part of your life. I felt like I didn’t have time for all that serious stuff, when that’s all I really had. I remember when he wanted me to text him for the first time when I got home because it was late and he worried, but it was fine that he’d be asleep because he wasn’t actually, knowing I wasn’t home yet. This was coming from a person who would kiss the back of my hands, who knew what my silence meant, who could share my silence, who sent lace to my mother. Why was I being so crazy? Why was I so scared to let something good happen to me? And there he was, waiting for me with light in his eyes.
And so we were together together. We had our problems as relationships go—trivial fights I would bottle up and explode over—but at the end of it, in that classic girl/carefree boy kind of way, we just worked. Boy meets girl and best friends and lovers we became. I felt sexy now, being someone’s girlfriend, belonging to him. I liked having a man with his hand at my back, an understanding of my body, and what I would and would not like to drink. It was nice letting my dominating independence subside just a little, giving way to being the two of us.
It was no longer just my music, or staying out until 3 a.m. because I was off the next day but he wasn’t and I didn’t care (because if he didn’t like it he could leave). I liked being a stranger to that girl—the girl who was so shortsighted, stubborn, hard. I liked having the role of a woman—a woman who could make a man happy. I remember him saying goodbye to me after a Sunday of being together. He went home. And then he drove back an hour later because it was stupid to be apart when the world just felt fuller together.
Was it love? I shrugged at the question inside my mind because I’d never been in love before, and I didn’t know what it was supposed to feel like. I wished now (and not for the first time) that I could’ve been like other girls, exploding with emotions that their minds didn’t have to complicate. But there I was, always analyzing things, a conundrum, a push and pull between my head and my heart I felt I would always be in part by. He wouldn’t say it first, if he wanted to at all. It was because of the havoc I had put him through in the beginning, for that dire insecurity he felt, as though at any given second I was just going to get up and leave. If anyone was going to say love first I wanted it to be me.
Because it was love. It was not a prepared, romantic moment. We were at a crowded bar with his friends everywhere and a dripping martini between my hands when I pulled him closer to my mouth and blurted it out like, Pow! Wait, what? He told me to say it again. So I said it again. And then he said it back to me with my face between his hands. So, so much did he love me back. And then he told me he was going to marry me. Wait, what? I asked him how he could ever know something like that. You don’t know that, I said, feeling shy and flushed and happier than I’ve ever been happy with another person. And yes he did. And he knew he would.
But he wouldn’t. Another winter came and life for us changed. I should admire him for abiding to what he really wanted in life, or didn’t want, I guess I should say. And I should admire myself for wanting things differently. But in truth, at the bottom of it, I pity us both for thinking we’re so clever in having life beat. You think you’re making the right choice, preventing hurt, potential unhappiness. You’ll meet someone else. They’ll want the things you want. Or you’ll be okay to be alone again. You’ll move on from each other, thinking of what you had fondly, and without resentment. And yes, friends—good, good friends—and you’ll carry on. But shh, don’t say a word. Whatever you want to say, swallow it.
There’s no room now for that kind of emotional talk, regret, guilt, missing. But it’s better this way than nothing, isn’t it? So I stand up straight, because I can be that old girl who isn’t bothered. I’m introduced as a friend. The car door I open for myself. He’ll be out of town that weekend. But isn’t he cool, being so cool? I try to not harp on it—the smell of his soap, the way we are like we were at times, with music and nights, and how the letters I’ve written him he keeps in a top drawer that’s closed.
But how? Why? Wait. Don’t. I just remember feeling so embarrassed, which is an odd feeling to feel once you realize how different two futures are in one moment. Because I had imagined it. I had changed enough to want it and all of that. And now there was no room for me in all he was so uncertain of. I’m so mad at him for that. But I love him so much. Was he all right? Yup. Did he change his mind? Nope. But how? Why? Wait. Don’t. I wish I was oblivious like the old days. But then I realize that I have, have, have to be proud that being like that just isn’t my life anymore. I get it now. I’m alone in saying it, but I get it. For I am no longer that girl who is so all right to “survive” life alone, who is so happy to exist on a whim, living inward, in her own solo trek. To love and be loved, that is the peak of this life. And one day we’ll be happy again. But it is what it is. Isn’t it?