I was supposed to help G with an academic tournament this weekend, but I’m in Baltimore. I’m at a coffee shop in Maryland with my friend Kaitlin having a writing day, and I’m supposed to be at a high school reading tournament questions to genius seventeen-year-olds with buzzers in their hands. I told him I would a long time ago. I committed to this months ago, when I was still trying to impress him and win him back. But I’m not now. I’m in Baltimore instead. And you know what? It feels right.
I’ve decided to stop being a doormat. I’ve realized that part of the reason why I wanted to stay friends with G is that I was secretly hoping, right after the breakup when I agreed to it, that his new relationship would dissolve and I’d be there waiting in the wings, steadfast as ever. But I’ve decided I don’t want that. I don’t want to always be waiting. I’ve decided to chase my dreams, to be free, to start writing the book, to invest in myself. I’ve decided that it’s not good for me to have coffee with someone who claims to be platonically interested in me, but then tells me that he doesn’t want me going on dates with other guys, even though he knows that’s not fair. The best thing I’ve ever done is decide to move on from that. Good for a season, but not meant to go the distance. Good but not the one. We get to decide, is the thing.
I had probably the most significant conversation I’ve ever had with another human being the other day, and I spend most of my life having conversations, so that’s saying a lot. I like to create spaces where people feel free to sort things out, to recognize that they have the tools they need within them to solve their dilemmas, if they will only listen to themselves.
“Amanda, I need some advice. I need someone to tell me what to do.”
This is not something I’m usually up for, because I’m convinced that I’m usually wrong. I don’t like advice. I don’t like telling people what to do, because honestly, I haven’t the slightest clue. All I do is tell people to lay out the options and pick the next right thing. But this time was different. She told me about her boyfriend, some of the things he was currently doing and had done in the past. Actions and words and my ears just started ringing because it all sounded too familiar. The put-downs and the belittling and the undermining and all of it. All the things she’d never told anyone. All the things she overlooked and sugar-coated and ignored. All the red flags she allowed to keep waving.
I inhaled, and I looked up. And I told her what I wish someone had told me so much earlier than the day my sister finally said it to me.
“You’re in an emotionally abusive relationship, and you need to get out.”
Let me be clear: it wasn't all bad all the time with G. But there were moments. I don't even like to attach the word "abusive" to the whole thing, and it was nowhere near what my friend had just described to me. But there were moments. He colors them as simple arguments and difficult interactions, but they were arguments and interactions that shut me down completely in a way that made me believe that I deserved someone who shut me down completely. And half of the equation was always my own vulnerability -- I do not have thick skin. Part of the reason I felt so safe dating someone else who had gone through a period of depression is that he had extreme empathy for me when I was down. But when we were both in a bad place, we were bad for each other. Anytime I ever told the whole story to someone, they told me to leave. And I didn't want to. So I stopped telling the whole story. And when he told me he wanted to go, that there was someone else, that he no longer felt like he could be the positive support that I needed, I didn't listen. I told myself a different story: that it was me, that I was the problem, that if I could only be better and heal some more and be less messy, he would stay. And I hung on, and hung on, and hung on, even though he told me not to, and even though he was no longer mine to hold.
I told my friend what I knew: that she was staying and settling because she was comfortable and staying felt easier than leaving, and that the fact that she was staying told me that she didn’t realize how much value she has. I’ve talked to so many people about the significant others they stay with, even though this, and even though that. Even though there are ultimatums and deal-breakers running amok, and even though dreams are being discarded and whole personalities are being shut down. Even though they’re being told that they’re too much, or not enough, and that they never will be, so they’d might as well stay or buy the ring already or brush it all under the rug.
I wish I’d had the courage to leave, rather than exist in a world where I took whatever I could get and accepted that I was merely tolerable instead of exquisite and radiant and unstoppable, which are all things I only realized that I am after he left and I had to come home to a quiet house and look in the mirror again.
I went on two first dates last week. I thought the first one was so good that I almost stood the other one up, but I’m glad I didn’t. It’s not a rebound thing, and it’s not an attention thing, which I think are things that people are concerned about, and that’s nice, but it’s a “finally, I’m ready” thing. I tried it before I was ready, and I forgot to ask anyone about their dreams and mostly smiled a lot, so clearly I wasn’t ready.
But this time, there I was, on a date, and it was late, and I said I’d take a half day the next day and stay out later, but he said, “No, you need to go. Your kids need you.” And that’s literally the opposite of what G would have said.
And later that day, my friend texted me and said, “I told him he needed to go. And I feel like I can finally breathe.” And then lots of emojis. And I told her she was brave and that I was proud and I cried some happy tears.
We see what we need to see when we’re ready to see it. Here’s to getting out.