You Can’t Always Get What You (Think You) Want
I was actively trying to get out of a toxic long-term relationship when I met my future husband. A new romantic relationship was the last thing I wanted, but meeting him when I did turned out to be exactly what I needed.
I’d spent that last seven years with a man that I’d moved to another country for when I was just 18, and I’d already tried to break up with him twice.
The first time I broke up with him, I felt so guilty that I took him back within a day. At this point in our relationship, he’d convinced me that everything that went wrong in my life my was my own fault. That first night alone in the apartment, I convinced myself that I’d made a mistake. The reason our relationship wasn’t working was because I wasn’t trying hard enough. I took him back, thinking that this time I would make it work.
The second time I felt more sure of myself. I knew that our relationship was unhealthy and that it would be better if we weren’t together. I tried to explain this to him. I told him I wasn’t happy. He told me I was being unrealistic with my expectations. My unhappiness was just my own warped perception.
Did I really think that there was anyone else in the world that could love me as much as he loved me? That there was anyone in the world who could make me happy but him?
He wore me down. He made me doubt myself enough that I stayed with him, again.
Then he got a job that required him to be away for up to four months at a time. He would either be out in the middle of the ocean, or in another country. It was during these absences — when I got to live alone and do whatever I wanted without constant questioning or criticism — that I realized how much happier I was without him.
And then, the kicker. I had to have emergency surgery due to an ectopic pregnancy. I’d been pregnant, lost the baby, and then nearly died from internal bleeding. And while I spent four days recovering in the hospital, separated by thousands of miles and ocean from my family, he spent those days at home in our apartment playing computer games. It would have been one thing if he’d been out of the country when it happened, but he wasn’t. He just didn’t want to spend time in the hospital.
At this point I knew, for a fact, that I had to leave him.
This time, I ran away.
As soon as I graduated college, which was right after I got out of the hospital, I told him that I was moving back to the US to go to grad school. He was set to leave for another stint abroad anyway. I’d go live with my mom, and he could come visit. It would only be for two years, he’d be traveling for work anyway, and I’d move back to Portugal after grad school.
That’s what I told him. In reality, I planned to break it off with him before he ever had a chance to visit.
I just wanted to be single and independent. I was 25, and since the age of 18 I’d only been in one very unhealthy relationship. I knew there was more to life than that.
My plan was to live with my mom until I could get a job and then find my own place. Then I’d figure out the rest of my life.
And so there I was, about a month into living back home. The still-then-boyfriend was traveling, and I had made no move to break it off with him yet. I was waiting for the right moment. I didn’t want to break up with him over a satellite phone call while he was in the middle of the ocean. He didn’t deserve that (although, spoiler alert, that is eventually what happened).
One night I was visiting my cousin. We were hanging out at his place before going out for dinner and drinks with some of his friends, including this one friend my cousin always talked about. He and my cousin had been best friends since middle school, and he featured heavily in the stories my cousin told me, but I had never met him. Two of the other friends had already arrived, we were just waiting on this one guy. We’ll call him JB.
When JB walked in, I could not take my eyes off him.
Yes, he’s a good-looking guy, but it was more than that. I felt… drawn to him. It’s hard to explain and I know it sounds cliche but there was just something about him. I couldn’t stop staring at him.
I felt him looking at me too but, to be fair, that may have been because he could sense my stares.
When our eyes did meet, it was jarring. It was like he could see me in a way that no one else ever had before. I felt completely exposed, and it was both unnerving and fascinating.
That was the night I met my soulmate. I didn’t know it at the time, of course. But I believe that something in me recognized something in him that night. It wasn’t love at first sight, but it was something at first sight. Some sort of recognition of a connection that we weren’t yet aware of.
I made JB wait. I told him I didn’t want a relationship though I couldn’t deny that we were insanely attracted to each other.
We talked for hours at a time, emailed each other daily, and traded our favorite songs and artists (this was back in the day when you could burn CDs, the modern version of the mix tape). I told him everything about myself, and then I told him all about the unhealthy relationship that I was trying to get out of. He was nothing but patient and supportive.
And for all of my desire to live by myself and be independent and single, I also really wanted to be with JB.
Being with him was easy and comfortable. It was fun and exciting and exhilarating, like all budding romances, but for me what was so different — and fascinating — was the fact that he accepted me exactly as I was. No judgement, no criticism, no guilt, no condescension.
The thing is, I don’t know if I would have been able to break it off with the ex-boyfriend if it hadn’t been for JB. I might have, but I’m not 100% confident.
My ex made it very hard to leave him. He called multiple times a day for months.
The worst was when I had to go back to Portugal for a few days. I had to pack up the rest of my stuff, now that my charade of only moving away for a short time was over. I also had to close out our joint bank accounts and take my name off of the apartment we’d bought together. I had wanted to use some of this time to meet up with friends, to explain why I was leaving and to say my goodbyes, but he never left me alone. He spent every waking minute with me, arguing and trying to convince me to stay with him.
What got me through those four days were the daily emails from JB, filled with love and encouragement. I would read them over and over throughout the day, letting his words wrap around me like a hug, reminding me that I could do this, and that I would be ok once I got through it. He’d be right there waiting for me on the other side of this dark tunnel that I needed to get through.
And he has been there for me ever since.
I have never once regretted my relationship with him, even though it meant I never got the chance to live by myself, or to be single and date. I don’t feel like I missed out on anything, because what I’ve learned is that when you are in a truly healthy relationship, you still get to grow and learn and be independent. Plus, I didn’t really want to date.
I have never felt limited or constricted by being in a relationship with JB. He has given me the freedom and the support to go after whatever crazy ideas I might come up with. When I quit my job even though I didn’t have any other prospects lined up, he supported me and never made me feel bad about it.
He taught me how to talk about my feelings. I’d never been able to do that before. I’d learned to hide my feelings because talking about them had only ever caused fights. I’d gotten used to putting on a happy face and pretending that everything was ok even when it wasn’t.
JB could see right through me, anyway. He showed me — and proved to me again and again — that he would love me no matter what. He just wanted to love me and for me to be happy.
I simply didn’t know that this kind of relationship was possible.
It seems obvious to me now. But it might not seem obvious to some people. If all you’ve ever known is a toxic relationship (or more than one) then you might not realize that you don’t have to stay. That you deserve better. That you don’t have to settle.
You don’t have to put up with being made to feel like everything is your fault. You don’t have to feel like you are less worthy than a video game. You don’t have to put up with being second-guessed, shamed, or mistrusted.
I‘m grateful that I finally came to the realization that I needed to get out of an unhealthy relationship. I may not have succeeded in leaving the first few times that I tried, but at least I recognized that something wasn’t right and that it was up to me to do something about it.
But more than anything, I am grateful that JB walked into my life exactly when I needed him to, even if I didn’t know it at the time.
Originally published on Medium.com