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When the Time Comes

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A little less than a year ago, I came out of my first serious relationship. It had lasted three years, but the end was pretty much always inevitable.

Three years is a very long time for a first relationship to last, and it was also a lot longer than this particular relationship SHOULD have lasted. For a long time, I kind of knew that the relationship should end, but I didn't want it to. I wasn't willing to let go of it and move on.

It's hard to say when things finally changed for me. All the pieces were there for a long time, waiting to fall into place, but I just wasn't ready to let go and watch them tumble down.

The idea of having to put it all behind me scared me.

The idea of losing such a close relationship. Of losing something so familiar. I knew that relationships when you're young don't last forever, and often don't even last for long, and that that's not a bad thing. I knew even that THIS relationship probably wouldn't last forever. But it had been such a long time, I had gotten so used to it, it felt like it wouldn't really disappear, it started to feel so permanent – I knew in an abstract way that there'd of course be an end somewhere down the line, but I didn't have to deal with it right then and I didn't WANT to have to deal with it as anything more than an abstract.

It felt like such a long time, but I was scared knowing that once it was over, it would feel like the blink of an eye.

It felt scary thinking that something that was of such huge significance in my life would one day be just a past experience, something to idly reminisce about with my friends over a cup of hot cocoa or what-have-you.

This is the part where I'm afraid what I'm about to say won't sound very encouraging at first. But I want to be real with you. Because I think I know what it is you might be scared of, and I know, for myself, it IS scary. But I also know what it feels like coming out the other side.

This is what it was like for me:

Someone is ripping the carpet out from under my feet.

Even if I absolutely hated the out-dated, questionably-stained flower print, I still trip up when it's pulled out from under me, I still go “Oy! Excuse me, I was walking on that!” Maybe I didn't hate it, but god I was getting sick of those stains, and some days I just really felt too exhausted to bother scrubbing at them yet again. In fact, maybe I even kind of liked the flower print, if only it weren't for the godawful stains, then it'd be a totally excellent carpet.

But all of a sudden that carpet's gone. And I definitely did trip; heck, I face-planted. But then I get up and look around. It takes a while to get used to the feeling of my socks on the wood that had always been there beneath that scruffy old carpet – it's weird and my socks slippy-slide on this new smooth surface. But after the initial shock, I start to notice... this is actually kind of a nice hardwood floor! Since when had that been there?! Who put that old carpet over top when there's such beautiful wood beneath!

It's in a little disrepair, so I take the time to scrub it and polish it and it starts looking utterly stunning, and MAN but I am in LOVE with this awesome hardwood floor! And once I'm comfortable and happy and have lots of time to settle in with my nice floor, then I can pick out maybe some nice new rugs that really complement it. It all looks awesome, and GOD am I glad I got rid of that old carpet after all, no matter how familiar it felt, and no matter how weird that wood felt beneath my feet at first.

It turns out to have been worth it. Now I don't ever want to make the mistake of getting a carpet that clashes with that floor or that covers it up.

So yes, it was pretty damn scary at first.

It's still scary sometimes, it's still something I'm struggling with, that knowledge that things in life are really nowhere close to permanent. But you have to really think in the long run. That lesson? Learning that things in life are so unlikely to be permanent, things in life DO change faster than you ever expect them to? You're going to learn that sometime. You can't put something like that off forever. It is something you will just have to face someday, and maybe today's that day.

So with that lesson aside, how is this going to impact your life? Would you really be okay with feeling like shit with your partner sometimes, for the rest of your life? Why? Why is that okay to you? And if you wouldn't want to feel like that for the rest of your life, why do you think it's okay to feel like that for ANY amount of time at all? You love them, you feel like because you love them and you get along the majority of the time, then it's worth it. But you know, you could feel as awesome as you do when you're all lovey-dovey together... pretty much the whole time. And at least at the times when you're not feeling quite so lovey-dovey, you're not going to be walking away feeling like total crap.

I thought it was okay because after feeling like crap, we would calm down a bit and talk more and come to an understanding of where each other stood, and we'd get along fine right after.

Well, when you put it like that, it sounds like abuse. But I was abused before and this didn't feel like it so I thought I was in the clear. I thought I just felt like shit because we're so different politically – it was often issues of politics-influencing-daily-life-experiences that got us riled up – and that since my beliefs are important to me, having him disagree with them hurt. But that really wasn't it.

It wasn't just about what we were arguing about – though now I have decided that since my beliefs are so important to me, I really need to have a partner who supports them and is in my corner – but the way that we argued. We really ARGUED, we fought; we didn't just disagree, we raised our voices, got angry, and felt awful. A lot.

We had one conversation which I think really signified the beginning of change within me. For the millionth time I tried bringing up that I thought he needed to work on how he dealt with and expressed his emotions (and that I needed to work on that with myself, too), because the only emotion he really ever expressed was anger, but even then, he did not do so in a healthy way. I explained that I really thought he needed to work on ways of expressing and communicating his anger in a more productive way and that I thought – since we'd agreed to work on this ourselves already but it had done no good – he should try to get some insight from a counsellor, as should I.

As the conversation got more heated, he started telling me that I was ignoring the fact that I had done nothing to get better, that I was a major part of the problem here. I said “Well, yes I still have to work on stuff too, and I have never denied that, but that doesn't negate the fact that you have some big work to do yourself." He basically said to me – “So we're in agreement that you have work to do, yes?” And I said yes, but–.

But he closed off the conversation there. Good, he said, glad we're in agreement.

And I finally thought... this is ridiculous. How many times do we have to go in circles and get nowhere before I finally give up on this? Why do I keep trying when he's made it clear that he's not interested in changing the narrative?

The basis of our break-up was that our career goals just wouldn't ever coincide easily. But I think I focused on that aspect, that solid, plain-facts, unemotional aspect of our incompatibility because it was easier to hold myself to the plan for a breakup with that reasoning in mind (and even then, boy howdy was it hard. I tried so hard to come up with ways it could tooootally work but no, really, I was kidding myself). And it was easier than considering the many other ways we were incompatible. Because by that point I was coming to terms with the fact that it just needed to not continue, no matter what reason I used. That I wasn't okay with feeling like that for the rest of my life – or rather, just any longer at all.

I knew realistically for a long time that I should be getting out of the relationship, but I wanted to believe it was still worth a try, that I didn't have to face those feelings if I could avoid it. I knew because I was working at Scarleteen, I was spending so much time KNOWING these things. I was (and still am) surrounded by people who know. But I just couldn't do it, I couldn't convince myself it was the right thing to do. I had a friend telling me it was what I should do and that I'd be happier in the long run, and I knew that the other volunteers and staff here felt the same way. But I just couldn't do it and I was ashamed; I felt like I was letting people down, especially since I was supposed to be more knowledgeable around this, being a volunteer and all. I worried they would all be disappointed in me for making what they knew to be the wrong choices, and yet I still couldn't do it.

I withdrew from them a bit, sort of using the same rhetoric he even used himself – statements that I had pointed out the flaws in to him, yet found myself repeating. That it's easy to say a relationship should end when you're not in it and you only hear about the bad stuff that goes on in it. But – as I said to him when he'd state those sentiments – if the bad stuff is bad enough for people to think you should leave, then it's BAD. The bad stuff really shouldn't be THAT bad.

I had got stuck thinking that, because we got along most of the time, it wasn't really any different to how a relationship with someone I was more similar to would feel. I knew that in a healthy relationship you rarely ever FIGHT, even if you disagree, but I felt that because we were so different politically (but both similarly passionate about our beliefs) that made things less clear-cut, it made it less black-and-white.

There were two things wrong with that. (Well, there was a lot wrong with it, but two biggies.) One, I was hiding behind the idea that being so different politically was the main issue. And secondly, I thought that getting along most of the time wasn't much different to getting along all of the time, and that one couldn't even really expect to get along all of the time.

But I took a step back.

Wait.

Do I get along with my friends all of the time? They certainly do things that annoy me from time to time, it's not a big deal but it's still there... but do I still respect them and feel respected? Yes. We disagree sometimes, but do we ever fight? Do we ever walk away feeling like utter shit? Ever? No. Because I learned quite a long while ago that friends that make you feel shitty are not friends worth having around.

Why was I not expecting the same thing out of my romantic relationships?

Why did I think that feeling like shit sometimes was worth feeling lovey-dovey the rest of the time? When I could instead NEVER feel like shit, why was I choosing option A? I thought the lovey-dovey feeling was worth it, and I thought that feeling like shit wasn't a big deal. It wasn't as shitty as I had felt in my past abusive relationship after all.

This realization that I was putting up with things I shouldn't had a lot to do with my best friend, and I think it's an unfortunate truth that I probably only came to all these realizations because he's a guy. I'm bringing this up because I think it's a mindset that gets a lot of people stuck where I was. Because of the heteronormative society we're raised in, it can be pretty hard sometimes to let go of the difference in perception of relationships with men vs. women that society teaches us. It's not that I was looking at him as a potential partner, because at that point I wasn't at all interested in a relationship with him.

What it was, was that it was easy to view my friendships with women – which all of my major friendships were up until that point – as a separate beast altogether from a romantic relationship. But having a male friend made me realize that he was – and all my other friends were, too – treating me the way I would want a partner to treat me. And that it was VERY different to how my boyfriend was treating me.

You shouldn't need to be friends with someone of the gender you're primarily attracted to, to really try to look at your friendships and ask yourself why you put up with certain things in a romantic relationship that you don't put up with in your friendships. Why do you think that difference is okay? A friendship should be the basis of any romantic relationship – so why does the romantic aspect suddenly change the fundamentals of what you feel is okay in a friendship?

It's been eight months since our relationship finally came to a complete close.

Since then we have barely been in touch at all – any interaction was very brief, and unemotional – and I honestly feel amazing now.

After three years I'd gotten so used to him being angry, and to me being angry and defensive in response, I'd gotten used to feeling like the biggest piece of poop from the biggest dog's butt in the whole world. But after eight months, I have now become used to NEVER feeling piled on by a friend in a conversation.

In these past eight months I have not ONCE felt as defensive or as angry and picked-on as I did pretty much every few days with my ex-boyfriend. I have yet to walk away from a conversation with someone close to me, feeling awful and confused and close to tears. Now that I've entered into a new relationship, I expect nothing less than the happiness I have gotten used to for the past eight months. Because it IS possible, and it is TOTALLY worth it.

And if I start to find that that's not what I get in a certain relationship, I'm so getting rid of the rug and sticking with the hardwood.

You don't have to feel like an utter pile of shit in a relationship. Ever. Not once. Yes, really, YOU. YOU, right there, YOU do not have to EVER walk away from an argument feeling like you're from different planets and like you're worthless, feeling like how are you ever going to both get what you want when what you want clashes so much sometimes, feeling like how the crap could a normal conversation suddenly turn out so badly, every single time.

Even if you think this love, THIS love is special, THIS love is worth it... it's not. Simple as that. Nothing is worth that. Because you can have love, just as strongly as THIS love, but minus all the crappy feelings. It may feel abstract thinking about it now, but it certainly won't feel abstract when it happens and you're feeling good 24/7. Why not go for that? Why do you feel like you're not truly worth that or that it wouldn't really be much better? Because trust me; you ARE truly worth that, and it really, REALLY is SO much better. Buy a rug that complements the hardwood and you'll see. It's worth it. I promise.

written 05 Sep 2012 . updated 05 Sep 2012

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