As part of an ongoing series, Yahoo Canada is profiling personal experiences in open letters. Our second entry speaks of a young woman’s struggle to love again after coming out of a failed marriage. For more from the series, click here.
When it comes to romance, I’ve had my struggles.
I met Johnathan* when I was living in Vancouver back in 2006. We were part of the same social scene, which meant we knew of each other for years before being formally introduced. One night after a party, we stayed up late watching “Kids in the Hall,” and after a few more nervous encounters, we began to formally date. We both fell hard, and became completely inseparable. We were best friends. We’d spend our days going for bike rides, cooking, and talking politics. We started living together after only four months of dating, and less than a year later, we decided to get married. We wed in late summer of 2007, in a small ceremony, overlooking the ocean on Galiano Island. Life was pretty perfect.
In the early days, married life seemed just like an extension of our dating life – fun and carefree. But it didn’t take too long before the foundation began cracking beneath us.
Sometimes romantic love is not enough.
Romantic love is wonderful, and being “in love” is a pretty important component of a romantic relationship. But there are also many other things to consider when you make a commitment to a life partner. Do you both want kids? Does one of you want to live in the city, while the other wants to own a farm? Do you love to travel, but your partner would rather never leave the neighbourhood? All of these things add up over the years.
In my case, my husband wanted a lot of the same things that I did, but was not willing to put in the work. He wanted to go out for fancy dinners, but didn’t have a job. He wanted to travel, but was unwilling to make any of the travel arrangements. Slowly, I realized that in order to achieve the life I wanted us to live, I would have to do all of the work – for both of us – just to bring him along. As time went on, we fell into a cycle where I was disappointed in his lack of ambition, and he was hurt by my judgement.
The day-to-day became overwhelming.
That said, I still loved him. But it was clear that the way that we wanted to live our lives was incompatible.
Marriage isn’t over until it’s over.
Telling people that you’ve broken up, dating other people, being separated. These are the steps you take towards ending your marriage but they are not the end of your marriage.
Until you get that magic piece of paper saying that “it’s over”, it is not actually over.
Over the two years that I was separated, my ex and I would play this game where we were with other people, but would have teary kiss-filled conversations while out at the bar about how it was so sad that we couldn’t be together. I convinced myself that being separated was enough, and divorce would happen whenever, but that it didn’t really matter – and the paperwork was too much of a pain, anyways. Deep down, I think that I was holding on to a small thread of belief that there was still time for him to get his life together, and for us to live happily ever after.
I don’t know what changed, but one day while I was downtown, I walked into the courthouse and decided that I just couldn’t take it anymore. That afternoon I filed for divorce.
When I finally received the divorce certificate in the mail, I felt so much relief, and so much closure. It’s not over until it’s really over.
Starting over – and over, again.
In the years to follow my broken marriage, I was involved in a series of other peoples’ open relationships. My group of friends at the time were all about reading “The Ethical Slut,” and being open-minded.
Caveat: While open relationships work really well for some people – and kudos to them! – for a large portion of humans, they are a horrible exercise in making yourself feel like a piece of insecure garbage for most of your life.
I found myself in one of these open relationship things with a close, long-time friend of mine. His then girlfriend was also a close friend.
I don’t even remember how, but one night something between us “just happened.” We had this insane chemistry that made me feel like my skin was on fire just being near him. My whole body would vibrate. But he was still with his girlfriend, and I was still dating and seeking my own primary person. Then one day, he went BONKERS. He flung himself into a fit of jealousy, and confessed that he had really intense, romance feelings for me, and would date me in a second if he were single, and that it made him crazy to see me with other people.
Over the months that followed, we continued to torturously (and secretly) confess our feelings to each other. We would have sex in bathrooms at parties and bars, and cause drama for the people around us. He and his girlfriend did eventually break up and I remember thinking, “This is it! We are finally going to be together now.” We spent that Christmas together, and it felt to me like things were finally falling into place. But here’s the thing. If you start off a romance as a set yourself on fire, dramatic horror show, then when you decide to get your life together, you probably don’t want to bring that horror show with you.
A few months later, he was in a monogamous relationship with a new person, and as far as I know, they’ve been together ever since. Again, maybe your relationship came out of an affair, and it’s going swimmingly. Good for you (kind of). But in most cases, it will end as a sad puddle of bullshit.
Nothing “just happens.”
People say this all the time when they are talking about missteps, affairs and poor decisions. “It just happened!” “I don’t know how I ended up sleeping with him! It just happened!” “OMG! I know he’s in a relationship! But it just happened!”
I’m sorry, but if things keep “just happening,” you need to get really real with yourself.
“Just happened” is something that we tell ourselves to rationalize unhealthy behaviour and make ourselves feel like we’re not being terrible. It allows us to feel like we’re being guided by fate, and like we are simply pawns of the universe when it comes to matters of romance, sex, and love. “It” might have just happened, but usually the road to “it” is paved with a series of uneasy, deliberate steps that set the stage for “it” to seem as though you weren’t deliberately meaning for “it” to happen the whole time. You exchange numbers, you have one too many drinks, you stay until everyone else has left, you go to their place for a nightcap, you sit too close on the sofa. These are all decisions. And in the moment, you know that they are bad ones. But you choose to deliberately make them anyways.
Chemistry is not the same thing as love.
Chemistry is a crazy thing. I’ve had one or two relationships in my life that made me absolutely insane with lust. I’m talking about the kind of relationships where you don’t sleep, you ignore your friends and you forget your own name because you just need to be touching that person RIGHT. NOW.
I am glad that I’ve experienced that kind of lose your mind, sexual fire, but make no mistake, it is not the same thing as love. And having amazing sex with someone does not translate to having an amazing relationship with them.
In one of these set-yourself-on fire-with-wanting instances, the object of my obsession and I would spend literally the entire day sexting. We would then spend hours staring into a screen at each other doe-eyed, telling each other how much we were losing our minds for each other (it was long distance). A month in, he told me that he was falling in love with me, and he booked a flight out to Vancouver to visit. We needed to see each other.
The plan was basically to spend four days locked away in a hotel room f—ing. The problem with this plan is that he had been ignoring all sorts of real life responsibilities for the past month in favour of paying attention to me. Booking his flight was the final pin in the cap of shunting his entire life, and finally caught up with him when he arrived. His friends were fuming that he had been planning to visit town without seeing them, and he almost lost his most important client, because he hadn’t told them that he was going away. He ignored everything that mattered.
Our visit ended up being a confused mess of sex and anxiety, and we did not proceed with any sort of relationship afterwards.
Being “needed” is not the same as being loved.
This one might seem like a no-brainer, but for me, it’s hard to say no when I see someone going through a rough time – even if I know that it will be detrimental to my own emotional integrity. This has played a factor in a few relationships that I’ve had, where the dude was clearly not into me romantically, but relied on me heavily for emotional support. And we were also involved sexually, so I confused the whole thing for being a real relationship.
Bottom line: if someone wants to be with you, they will just do that. There is no bad timing, or it’s complicated, or I’m so messed up right now. If someone won’t give you the respect of their full attention while you are sharing both your bed and your feelings, then they are not worth your time. The end.
No one’s perfect.
The world that we live in today often shows us a really messed up view of relationships. Instead of reality, we see love as a rom com mashed together with a Kinfolk magazine spread. Everyone is #soinlove, and living their #bestlife, and are #soulmates – they also probably have amazing sex every night, and just love to #elevate the shit out of each other.
This is not real life.
Picking a life partner is a compromise. I love this project by photographer Dita Pepe in which she imagines her life with different partners through self-portraits because it shows how different one person’s life can be based on the partner they choose. Each one has its benefits and each has its drawbacks.
While a lot of these experiences were tumultuous at the time, it feels really good to know that I am ready to not make the same mistakes again. And though I know each person has their own lessons to learn, I hope that this list might give some of you out there the tiny nudge you need to say no to some of these terrible dating pitfalls.
You deserve better. We all do.
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*Name has been changed for privacy.