I can still remember exactly where I was standing the moment I knew I couldn’t stay with him.
We’d been engaged just under 5 months, together for over 10 years, and I knew we weren’t going to make it through the 11th. In that moment, it was the most sinking disappointment I think I’d ever experienced. I thought I’d had it all worked out, I thought I was doing it all “right.”
We were high school sweethearts. He was the captain of the football team and I was a theater girl. We survived separate colleges, we lived together for several years, and we were even about to buy our first home… wasn’t this what they called the good life? How could this feeling – this knowing that this wasn’t the right life for me – hit me so strongly when we were engaged and less than a month from closing on our house? How could I know with such certainty that I wouldn’t be happy in a life with him anymore, that I just didn’t want it anymore?
Standing outside on a warm May night in Connecticut, surrounded by friends old and new, I looked into a large bay window to see the person I had said I would marry. And there he was – sitting on a couch alone, disconnected, half asleep, detached from life.
And I knew.
If I am going to be honest with myself, it wasn’t the first time I’d questioned how “right” we were; far from it.
When we started dating the summer before our senior year of high school, I was over the moon – both with him and the concept of having a serious “someone” of my own (it seemed everyone else had already had a few chances at this that I’d missed out on). He was my person, and I always wanted to have a person. I had so much going on in my head, I just wanted someone who would listen and be there and love me through it. I talked, and talked, and talked. My family was wild and crazy and his stoicism was appealing. Nothing seemed to rattle him, he would just say “I’m sorry, that sucks” and listen without being affected. That was foreign to me, and a bit amazing. It felt settling, it felt like I wouldn’t come apart at the seams if I was around someone like that. It was a solid comfort.
We spent all of our time together – too much time together – to the point where people stopped calling to see if either of us could hang out. But we didn’t care. We were young and just happy to have each other. And for the first two years of our relationship that was more than enough.
When we left for college after a year of dating seriously and believing we would be together forever, we both struggled. I had always been more outgoing than he was, but I found myself with a strange lack of confidence in unfamiliar surroundings. He felt the same way, but he often felt that way. The result? We spent nearly every weekend of our first two years of college together, and without anyone else. We had grown comfortable with each other, we barely even spoke when we were together, it was just being together that seemed to make us both feel better.
It wasn’t until the summer after our second year of college that I started to question what we were becoming and who I was turning into. I took a waitressing job at a popular chain restaurant and he took a construction/landscaping job. Inevitably this meant that we barely saw each other – I started my shifts after 10am and worked late hours, he started before the sun was up and was in bed before my shifts were even over. Once a week he would come to my restaurant and sit in my section to order a meal before going home to bed. All of my coworkers thought it was the sweetest thing and they loved when he came to visit me. I did too, but I remember wondering what I loved most about it.
He didn’t talk much when he came in (he never talked much), he was tired and hungry, so he would eat quick and leave right after. It was sweet, he was supportive, but I also distinctly remember that it was really nice to be able to say that my boyfriend was sitting at table 92. I made some really great friends that summer and they adored him. Well, they adored us together and were envious of his stable love and support. He was the big brother to all the girls and his silence intimidated half the guys, but we were consistent and everyone knew we were an item and that was fun at first.
Near the end of that summer, just before our 3 year anniversary, I felt the pull for something more. I had felt alive all summer with my newly acquired friends and regained confidence, and it was the first time I’d felt that way since high school ended. That alone was a sad realization.
I didn’t want to lose the energy I felt again by being around people that I truly enjoyed! I had a couple harmless “work crushes” that summer, but nothing that made me want to be with someone else, it was more than I was questioning if I could really be happy staying with him. I knew he wasn’t the extraverted, energized type – he was my kind, stable boy who loved me with everything he had in his own quiet, calm way. I just didn’t know anymore if that was the kind of love I was looking for. I wasn’t sure that it was the kind of love I needed any more.
When I finally put words to these feelings at the end of the summer, it was my older sister and best friend that heard them. I told them I wasn’t sure I could stay, that I thought it was time to end things, that I wanted to break up with him. And both thought I was crazy. He was one of the few good guys out there, they reminded me. He wasn’t like “other guys”. It was just a rough patch because our lives were so mismatched, it wasn’t a reason to end a 3-year relationship. And even though I already knew how and when I was going to have the conversation with him…I listened, and I thought – maybe they’re right.
So, I stayed.
The next few years were somewhat of a blur when it came to our relationship. Life got busy and we just drifted along together. We finished college, moved into an apartment together, I started graduate school, he eventually found a job in the city, and we just kept going… I didn’t have time or energy to stop and think about why. I had something to lean on, someone to fall back on, and amidst all the transitions, that was good enough. When I felt unhappy, I took full responsibility – it was my family drama, grad school stress, my weight, etc. It was something that I could work on and fix and it was always outside of us. So I put in the work and used him as a support all the while. I learned, grew, and changed tremendously as I unraveled myself from the family drama, succeeded in my graduate studies, tackled my weight…but eventually, all that change led me to a place where I wanted more. My life was full of all of the things that mattered most to me — family, great friends, good career path, health — everything was growing and yet my relationship was stagnant.
And looking into that bay window that May evening of 2012, I knew I had outgrown my relationship.
I knew I was leaving.