5 Important Things I Learned When My Relationship Failed

woman sitting on ledge
God & Man

The moment I met her I remember thinking to myself, “wow, this girl is going to be an important person in your life.” She was definitely important; I’ll give her that. Ultimately, though, her significance proved to be antithetical to what I had initially imagined.

I’ve always been the kind of person to read the last page of a book first. I like to know where I’m going to end up. I enjoy the journey of seeing how I get there, but only when I know where the road will lead me. A part of me wishes I could have read the last page of our story. If I had, I probably would have never left my house on June 6th. That’s probably why the human experience doesn’t generally come with a helping of foresight.

I had a good feeling about her.

We’d matched on three separate dating apps, which I told myself was important. In retrospect, it isn’t important at all. Lots of people use multiple apps to meet people. Most dating apps use an algorithm that sorts by distance, and she lived down the street from me. I suppose if you really wanted to cry fate, you could use proximity as the basis. In choosing who to give our love to, though, “because she was literally the closest human body” just isn’t a good reason.

Lesson #1: Don’t turn a coincidence – or even a string of coincidences – into a cosmic sign.

We met at a bar I had been to dozens of times before. It was a five-minute walk from my apartment, and right up the street from her yoga studio. I don’t remember which beer I ordered, but I do remember that her eyes were a shade of blue that I didn’t know existed until then. I was frozen in admiration as she started telling me about the post-graduate fellowship she’d be starting next month. My breathing slowed a little as she explained what it was like to come out on a conservative Christian college campus, and the struggles she faced in learning to accept herself FOR her queerness, and not despite it.

I was completely thrown off my game, which, let’s face it, I never had much of to begin with. My mind raced forward through all the potential scenarios of what could be, landing finally on the pleasant image of an ideal forever together. It was an image I brought myself back to in the coming months, whenever I’d start to wonder whether ending our relationship was actually the best thing for me. I wanted that image to be realized, but failed to understand that it was never even real to begin with.

Lesson #2: Don’t allow yourself to fall in love with your perception of someone before you let yourself know the reality of someone.

“I just get this sense that you love me but you don’t like me,” she said to me at one point after we’d broken up for a bit less than 72 hours. “I know you love me, but I don’t think you can even articulate why.” She then went into a dissertation-length monologue about how she needed me to constantly tell her very specific, concrete things that I liked about her. Really, our entire relationship boiled down to her needs and her insistence that I was constantly falling short of meeting them. These all-important needs, however, remained ambiguous, as if she were testing my love for her through my ability (or inability) to crack the code. There was a little explanation here and there, but on the whole everything she said was some generality of discontent.

Looking back, most of what she harped on is spoiled, “poor little rich girl” dribble, masquerading her deeply rooted insecurities as unmet needs. At the time, though, I allowed myself to be consumed with being enough. I slowly and subconsciously started reinventing myself to be the person she kept obtusely hinting that she wished I were. I lived with a constant weight on my chest that I was failing the woman I loved somehow. There was no space to consider my own needs, and I started seeing myself as a busted accessory to her life. Even still, I lived with a consistent anxiety that she was shopping around for a replacement accessory, and would send me off to a resale shop as soon as found the right fit.

At the end of the day, she was right. I loved her, but I sure as hell didn’t like her.

The love itself is complicated, of course, because the woman I loved never existed in the first place. The woman I loved had the same blue eyes, but a vastly different soul. I was in love with the image of her I had fabricated the first day we met. Everything inside me wanted to find that imagined woman, and I stayed with her because I kept hoping that my idea of her would come out of the woodwork. Instead, I was left with the real, flesh and blood woman standing in front of me telling me she knew I was putting my all into our relationship, and that my all simply wasn’t enough for her.

Lesson #3: Sometimes we want things to work out so badly that we ignore every sign that the situation we’re actually in, isn’t actually the situation we want to be in.

When I first met her, I thought she would be important because she was my dream girl. I thought I had found my soulmate. I came out to my family with her by my side. I spent every night and all of my free time with her. I told her things about myself that I never would have dreamed to say to anyone besides a blank Microsoft Word document. I saw forever in the crystallized blue of her eyes, and she gave me every reason to believe that was a reasonable thing to see. As fixated as I was on that imagined future, I naturally blinded myself to the warning signs right in front of me.

I wanted to create a narrative around these signs that they were simply evidence of the difference between us. That despite our differences, we had enough in common to be able to love each other in the ways we both needed. I had been so used to writing people off for skin deep issues that I saw as irreconcilable differences, and I was committed to ending that pattern with her. I willingly blinded myself to the fact that some differences are just that: irreconcilable, and therefore toxic to individual growth.

Lesson #4: You can’t love someone into being the person you want them to be.

Relationships involve two people, and they require the effort of two people. Even in their demise, that mutual effort is evident – foundational, even. I prefer life events to be black and white, cut and dry. I want there to be clearly defined roles of protagonist and antagonist. However, that isn’t the reality of life. And it certainly isn’t the reality of any relationship.

Being able to articulate what you want is a necessary skill, and it is one I have yet to perfect. I go along with things I don’t necessarily want out of fear of disappointing or losing people. I cling to the idea that I have to be right, rather than opening myself to the possibility that right and wrong could be flexible ideas. I crave security and comfort, and as such I’m a relatively risk-averse person, unable to reap the rewards that come along with risk. I push things down until they just can’t stay there, and suddenly spring to life to manifest themselves in frightening ways. In terms of personal growth, I’ve come so far over the past few years. But, I still have farther to go. The work is never done.

In the days and weeks immediately following our separation, I let myself dwell on all the ways she failed me. In a way, reminding myself of the relationship’s reality was necessary to allowing myself to move on from it. The accompanying anger and resentment were important to feel, if only as a means of cauterizing the wounds incurred from my time with her. It’s a fine balance between allowing these emotions to consume you, and allowing them to play their necessary part in your healing.

Lesson #5: Don’t allow yourself to fixate on how someone else has wronged you to the point that it impedes your own growth.

Had I practiced the aforementioned lessons, I may have spared us both quite a bit of pain. Had I checked my expectations at the door, rather than carrying them around throughout our entire relationship, then perhaps we could have loved each other for who we were, and not who we wanted each other to be. At the end of the day, that was our issue. We were each in relationships with the idea we had of the other, and not with the person next to us.

It is both excruciating and liberating to fully acknowledge and feel that. It’s painful to know that I spent so much of myself on someone that I didn’t truly love, and who didn’t truly love me. As I look forward into the vast unknown of the rest of life, though, my heart feels freed knowing that I loved someone who never existed. That reality makes moving on not easier, necessarily, but more natural. There’s a part of me that wishes I could read the last page, so I could know where I’m going. There’s another part of me, slowly getting bigger, that wants to let go of my need for control long enough to fully be in each moment, relishing in the journey. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

More From Thought Catalog