I have found the paradox that if I love until it hurts, then there is no hurt, but only more love. -- Mother Teresa
In honor of Valentine’s Day, this is a post about relationships.
Since I’m single today (happy Singles Awareness Day to my single friends — here’s a little love for you), this is really a post about failed relationships. I’ve had several, and frankly, I was the cause of most of the break-ups. And only once or twice did I regret it when the relationship bottomed out.
A quick recap, with names omitted to protect those involved:
My first ever “boyfriend” was in the eighth grade. All my life I’d gone to the same tiny elementary school, where the boys were primarily relatives or might as well have been. My cousin (also my best friend) and I went to different schools, and we used to write notes and give them to each other at volleyball and basketball practice. Don’t ask me why, since we saw each other at those practices. Note writing was very hip to the middle school crowd.
In September my eighth-grade year, one of those letters contained a scribbled note from a boy who went to school with my cousin: “You are so fine! But you are too tall for me.”
Apparently he got over my lack of petite-ness, because within a week, we were going out. Anyone who has suffered through a middle school relationship remembers the “going out” phase. You didn’t actually go out anywhere, and you usually stopped talking to each other as soon as you were an official couple. This particular guy and I didn’t talk in the first place, so we were able to go straight to the awkward no-talking phase.
We broke up within two weeks.
Then, a few months later, we saw each other at a dance. We were slow dancing to some classic ’90s pop hit — I wish I could remember which one! — and he told me, “You need a boyfriend.”
I made a noncommittal answer. He went on, “A boyfriend like me.”
Suddenly, we were official again. And once again it lasted all of two weeks, when the pressure of our long-distance relationship (I went to another school and lived 12 miles away) was too much.
(A side note: Trying to remember which ’90s pop hit it was has inspired me to create my own sweet song list on YouTube. Hello, Boyz II Men!)
When I started high school (the only high school in my small town), it was like hitting the jackpot. It was like being the only man at a retirement home full of women. I was suddenly surrounded by boys I wasn’t related to! I went a little crazy. That year I made up for all the “going out” I hadn’t done in middle school.
First there was my freshman homecoming date. He did this winking thing that used to give me butterflies. We went out for about a month — until about a week after homecoming, when I decided I didn’t want to invite him to the Sadie Hawkins dance the following month. In true “going out” style, I wrote a break-up note. I’m pretty sure I made a friend deliver it to him in math class.
I went to Sadie Hawkins with a large group. While dancing with the guy I’d gone out with twice in the eighth grade, he asked me who I liked. You know, liked liked. I confessed that I’d had a crush for months on this one particular boy. All the girls in my grade liked him, because he was wicked athletic and could jump out of the gym. After the song ended, the guy I’d been dancing with disappeared, only to return a few songs later.
“He said yes!” he told me.
“Who said yes to what?”
That’s when he told me he’d asked my crush out for me. I was mortified. I would never in a million years ask someone out. But then it hit me: He’d said yes! My crush had said yes! When my new boyfriend asked me to dance a little while later, I could only follow the freshman-dating-approved silence for so long.
“So … are we going out or what?”
My crush replied with a slightly less than enthusiastic, “I guess so.” I’m pretty sure we didn’t speak at all after that, and it wasn’t a huge shock when we broke up a week later. But I had a whole week when I was known as the girlfriend of the boy who was, at that time, my dream guy — every girl’s dream guy! How many girls get to say that?
The next boyfriend didn’t happen for a few months — an eternity for a boy-crazy ninth-grader. I wasn’t thrilled about going out with him, but he was nice. Why not give it a shot? We broke up two weeks later … and then “Titanic” came to our small-town theater. A larger group of us went to see the movie together, and all I can say is that I got caught up in the love story. By intermission, the boy and I were back together.
Unfortunately, I figured out soon after that he really wasn’t the guy for me. I decided to break it off , once again turning to the break-up note to do the dirty work for me. My plan was to give him the note and get on the bus, which was prepared to take me far away on an overnight basketball trip. Alas! I hadn’t factored the time of year into my plot. Before school started that day, he cornered me in the hall … with my Valentine’s Day present. I tried not to accept it, honest I did. But he was insistent, so I finally took it — and handed him the note.
(Note: This should not be counted as a happy memory. It’s probably one of the worst things I’ve ever done to someone. Eventually he got over it; we were even friendly for the rest of our high school careers. But I don’t think he ever really forgave me.)
The next story has an even unhappier ending to wrap up my freshman year. There was an amazing guy in my health class. He was funny, cute, athletic, quirky, smart — everything I wanted in a boyfriend at that time. We started writing notes back and forth (can we please, please, please bring back note writing?) until, in the middle of one of his hilarious notes, he asked me to be his girlfriend.
I still remember reading that note in the hallway, right as lunch was beginning. He was in the middle of a crowd of students meandering toward the cafeteria, and I caught his eye and shouted, “Yes!”
Looking back, he was the best boyfriend I ever had. On our one-month anniversary, he had a single red rose delivered to the school office for me, and he gave me a CD (Third Eye Blind’s self-titled debut, which I still love) and a poem he’d written himself.
But the school year was rapidly ending coming to an end, and I couldn’t see a way to make the relationship work over the summer months. I technically wasn’t supposed to be dating. There was no way I’d be able to explain lengthy phone conversations with a boy to my parents without lying. So I told him I wanted to end it. He talked me out of it, but I was still uneasy. So, at a dance on the last day of school, I broke his heart.
It took a long time for him to forgive me. But that summer, he met the girl he’d eventually marry. They have been together ever since — more than a decade. (Another side note: Holy smokes, I’m old!)
Thus ended my freshman year. I swore off boys entirely, a great resolution that lasted until about the second week of September when a cute senior caught my eye. We became a couple at the homecoming dance and dated for a year and a half — a lifetime by high school standards.
A few months after that breakup, I started dating another guy, also a senior. He made me laugh and thought I was beautiful. We only dated a few months, until he went to college.
I was single my entire senior year, but not by choice. That was a painful year of unrequited love. The story eventually had a happy ending — or a happy middle. We dated my freshman year of college, despite the fact that we were at separate schools. That was the year I discovered Instant Messenger and found out I could survive on four hours’ sleep. (That was also the year my coffee addiction began.) We were together for a year or so, until around the end of our sophomore year. That relationship didn’t technically end; it just fizzled. My heart was still smarting a little when I packed up my life and transferred to a college in a different state for my junior year.
I was single that year. Then I met a guy I fell in love with. Or thought I did. Now I think I was wildly infatuated and far more concerned about what I was getting out of the relationship than what I could bring to it. Still, I had my first broken heart when we broke up, and it took months to recover.
Since then, I’ve been a
reluctant mostly proud member of the single ladies group. There have been a handful of guys and more painful life lessons learned but nothing serious.
And tonight, as I sip my glass of wine and think back on the ups and downs of my dating life, I’m happy. I don’t regret any of the relationships, even if I am ashamed of how I treated some of those sweet boys. I don’t regret the heartbreaks or the lessons that probably could have been learned in an easier way. I am happy with where my life is now, and, for the exes I’m still in touch with, I’m excited about where their lives have taken them. Several are happily married or in serious relationships. One recently became the father of a beautiful baby girl, his second child. God has most definitely been good to us.
It is infinitely satisfying to realize that even the relationships that crashed and burned have left a positive mark on my life. The pain is gone. Any old bitterness has disappeared. In their place is a warm glow from good memories.