“Do you want to make a drink?” Josh asked me after I got home from work one night. I’m a creature of habit and I never drink after work; he knew that, so his question was strange.
“No, I’m good,” I said and proceeded to wash some leftover dishes left in the sink.
“Sit down, we need to talk,” he said.
“Uh-oh,” I responded. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I have high anxiety and any conversation that begins with “we need to talk” tells me that an inevitable catastrophe is impending.
“Don’t worry, it’s not bad,” he assured me as he guided me to the couch. I took some deep breaths to prepare for the worst, just in case.
“I have to go back to New York,” he said. “It’s where I need to be. I just don’t feel comfortable here. Something feels off and I don’t know what it is. But I just know that something’s not right.”
I sat there, stunned, wondering how in the world he thought that what he was about to say to me wasn’t bad. In that one instant, he had changed everything. My life was on the trajectory to having everything I’ve ever wanted, and now I was having the rug pulled out from under me. Nothing would ever be the same. But “it’s not bad,” according to him.
Josh and I had been a couple for three and a half years. For the last year and a half, we had been doing long distance. He was living in New York for work purposes and I was in LA.
Our relationship had its ups and downs and challenges, and the distance certainly added another layer to that. We had broken up twice before, but only for a total of a couple months. We were madly in love with each other and had that once in a lifetime kind of connection, so we were always pulled back in. It felt so worth it.
But our main struggle, and the reason for both breakups, was our failure to see eye-to-eye on our future. I wanted a traditional relationship. I wanted to move in together, get married, and possibly have children. He wanted to be a nomad, wanderer, and world traveler and have nowhere to call home. He didn’t want to be tied down and forced into a box. He didn’t want to fully commit to anything or have anyone expect anything from him.
Then why did he say he did?
When we broke up seven months prior, it was fairly amicable and peaceful. I knew who he was and knew that it would never line up with what I wanted for my life. He never wanted to get married again, have any more kids, or have a home base. I could quote him on saying each of those things to me at least once. I let him go so that we could both get the future we envisioned.
Three months later, he begged me to take him back. He said he was in therapy and working out his commitment issues and that he was a changed man. He even got two lotus flower tattoos inked on his shoulders to signify his “new beginnings.” I didn’t trust that he was serious until he booked a flight back to LA with the sole intention of proposing to me.
I told him it wasn’t the right time to propose, but the grand gesture certainly made an impact. A man doesn’t just decide to propose on a whim. He wouldn’t tell the woman he loves he wants to marry her without following through on everything that entails, right? I still wasn’t sure.
When he flew back to LA once again for the holidays, he tried every tactic in the book to try and get me to see that everything was different now. He wanted all the same things that I wanted! He only said he didn’t before because he had trauma from past relationships that he has now overcome! He was ready and prepared to move back to LA just to be with me!
So I came around. I fell for it. I gave in to the fantasy of what he was saying. He was offering up everything I desired on a silver platter, and he said he would show me he was serious through his actions.
We began making plans to merge our lives together in either New York or LA. When we decided together that LA made more sense, he gave a 30-day notice to the landlord of his apartment building and his two bartending jobs. He was going to move into my apartment for a short while and then we would find a more permanent place together. Holy cow, I thought, this is really happening.
Our texts and calls for the next 30 days were full of excitement and joy. Every conversation included thoughts about what we wanted to name our children, what kind of wedding we wanted to have, how we were going to redesign my apartment. My conversations to friends about the status of our relationship always included the statement, “it’s so crazy. He’s just done a complete 180.”
It was crazy. Crazy of me to believe that.
All it took was five days for him to freak out. He so generously gave me five full days before deciding that he couldn’t do it. He had moved all of his stuff into my apartment, gave up everything he had in New York, made a promise to me, and then all it took was five days for him to change his mind.
I’m not always the most understanding person. And Josh made that even more difficult for me because he didn’t always express his emotions in a way that made much sense. He spoke in metaphors and idioms. “Time is a flat circle,” was a phrase he used frequently. He said his thoughts pertaining to us were “ethereal.” He referred to his life fitting into mine like a “square peg in a round hole.” Either I was too dumb to understand him or he was too metaphysical for his own good.
So on that fateful day five, I asked for more clarification on his speech about feeling discomfort.
“I don’t know. I just don’t want to live with you.” Boom. Ouch. That sentiment would have been helpful six days prior. But there we were.
At least he was more clear this time. I still wasn’t sure why he didn’t want to live with me, but at least he put a statement out that I could understand. He ripped that bandaid off without so much as a warning besides the clue that all of this stuff had been packed up into his truck already. Straight savagery.
And suddenly the man who I had such long, deep conversations with and who knew more about me than any human being on this planet seemed like someone I didn’t really know. The Josh that I knew would never renege on a promise just because of five days of discomfort.
“Wouldn’t you rather know now than have me drag this out and be unhappy and tell you in a year?” He said. Um, no. I’d rather you man up, commit to your decisions, and find a way to make it work for you. After all, he claimed he still wanted to marry me. He still wanted to be with me, just not in the same apartment or even the same state, for that matter.
“Does this feel right to you?” he said, desperately reaching for some solidarity in his shocking decision, thrown in with a hint of gas-lighting.
“Yeah, it does,” I said, having known since three months into our relationship that I wanted to be with him forever. “You realize we’re over, right?”
How could I be with someone who didn’t want to live with me after almost four years of dating? With him, there would be no end in sight to living apart. In his idea of a perfect world, we would simply see each other when we wanted to and be alone the rest of the time.
“I figured you would say that,” he said. I didn’t know if he was just being a coward and wanted to end the relationship and didn’t know how or if he just couldn’t stand the heat of the commitment expectations. Because most people eventually want to settle down and build a life with someone, especially when they’re on the verge of turning 40. His behavior was a puzzle I would never solve.
I couldn’t believe he was doing this. I put all of my trust in him. It was a betrayal worse than cheating. Cheating I could understand. Sometimes people let their animal instincts get the best of them and let their morals fly out the window. But deciding that you can’t live with someone you claim to love after five days was impossible to fathom.
I got up and poured myself that drink I didn’t want because I couldn’t stop shaking. A mere few hours earlier I was talking to coworkers about how awesome it was to finally be living with my boyfriend. I had never lived with a man before, and it was everything I wanted and hoped it would be. When they would inevitably ask me how things were going, I was going to have to tell them how stupid I had been to allow myself to relax into that reality.
I started hurling insults and saying the meanest things I could think of to say to him. Because he deserved it, but also because I needed him to understand the pain he had just caused. And I knew that what he had just done meant that our relationship was completely irreparable, so I wasn’t as worried about the consequences of my emotional outburst.
I didn’t want him to leave my apartment that night because I knew I would never want to see him again. My body completely rejects any kind of camaraderie with someone who has hurt me. I want him to find happiness somewhere, but I don’t need to know how or when or why.
I will never understand, not for the rest of my life, why he did this. Why he so aggressively barreled his way back into my heart when he could’ve just left well enough alone and had this partnership end on good terms. Now I’m left with months of heartbreak and anger to work through.
I really hope my next boyfriend can commit to more than five days.