As many of you know, I’m a bit of a planner. I’ve got plan B-C-D-E-F ready before A has happened. I’m also an introverted extrovert. I do, in fact, get energy from working a room and being surrounded by people, but I don’t want small talk. I want to talk about your plans and your fears and your dreams—the big stuff. Mixed in with the planning and the extroversion is a serious set of boundaries. I talk a lot, but I don’t often share, and for me to share deeply personal things with someone is rare.
In the middle of this always-have-a-plan kind of social life, I found myself actively pursuing someone during the fall semester. There was a plan, because…well…there’s always a plan, that I was slowly but surely executing, when completely and entirely out of left field, someone else came into the picture. Someone who, in one single conversation, broke down more of my barriers than anyone ever has.
To say I was shook was an understatement. I was exposed and vulnerable and that is not a position I let myself be in. As one of my very good friends told me throughout all of this: “You’re experiencing true, unfiltered romance,” and I’m inclined to believe her. There were some speedbumps, primarily related to age—y’all, I had my first several periods before this guy was fully potty-trained—that I was not sure I could get over. However given this person’s character, his direct and sincere interest in me, and realizing the bullshit of the social norm that it’s okay for men to date younger women, but it’s taboo for women to date younger men, I decided to try not to be a stick in the mud and give it a chance.
Let me tell you: it was awesome. I felt supported. Someone was genuinely interested in who I was and what I stood for. He was not focused on how to most quickly get into my pants (because even when dating at 30, this is some shit, I tell you what). I FOUND A TEXAN WHO WAS WILLING TO LEAVE TEXAS SOMEDAY. There was a plan for him, I had my own plans, and we’d started talking about those plans together. All signs were pointing toward go.
Til they weren’t. I’m not kidding you that in the matter of 48 hours, we went from untouchable to estranged. I’m still not 100% sure what happened, if I’m being quite honest, but I know this was the result of a complete and total communication breakdown. A miscommunication, a lack of reaction on my part (I know, the HBIC of overreactions did NOT react appropriately to something, imagine that), and an inability to work through past traumas took me from Cloud Nine on Wednesday to crying in a ball on the floor on Saturday morning.
And you know what? It’s okay. I’m not going to light him up. I’m extremely hurt, but I also hurt him, and when someone tells you that you hurt them, you do not get to tell them you didn’t. Furthermore, if their remedy for that hurt is to put distance between you two, unless you want to catch some charges, there’s nothing you can do but respect that boundary. That said, there are some balls I dropped in this situation that I wish I hadn’t. Hopefully sharing them here might help someone else with in the future.
- Set ground rules before any serious conversation. My ex used to tell me, “Regardless of how this conversation ends, you and I will be okay at the end.” He did this because, in his own words, “Usually emotional discussions require safe places, and if they aren’t, resentment or emotional leverage can be used to power over the other.”
- A conversation might need to start via text, but always plan for a face-to-face follow up. The same ex often let me start via text when I was frustrated because ours was the first relationship for me that was healthy enough to discuss issues without a big blow up. There was always a plan for face-to-face follow up, whether same day or two weeks later. It let me get the nerves and the frustration out, so that when we talked, we could be productive.
- You have to communicate with your partner. I missed the fact that this person I cared for so deeply was upset—I knew, but I internalized it incorrectly (more on that in #4), and I didn’t ask—and now I don’t have that person. He didn’t outright tell me, and I didn’t ask when I knew something was off, which gave way to both of us getting angry instead of seeking clarity and resolution.
- Recognize your own trauma. I have been cheated on repeatedly in the past, and my most recent relationship was with someone who is polyamorous. When I felt like things were off in this dynamic, I assumed there was someone else because that’s what I know. Likewise, my behavior after not acknowledging how badly I upset him made him feel like his ex did. We both reverted to feelings and behaviors because of what we’d been through.
- Lastly, know that when people open up to you, it is sacred and should not be brought into an argument. There were some allegations made of me that while fair, they were worded in a way where the intention was to cut deep. While I know it was intentional, I do not think the impact was well-thought-out, which I’m attributing to age and maturity. Either way, to have things I shared about on the basis of trust tossed back at me in an argument was hurtful.
At the end of the day, I’m sad but okay. We can all only work with the tools we have in our arsenal. I am so immeasurably sorry that I didn’t see how much I’d upset this person before it was too late for him. However, when I was in my early 20s—as he is now—you couldn’t tell me NOTHING in an argument. I made up my mind, I said “eff you and your feelings” (usually MUCH more colorfully than that), and I cut the cord. So I add to that apology anyone I treated as such before I knew better. We can only do better once we know better, and I know there’s learning in this for me.