Previous post: A Seemingly Perfect Relationship (#1)
When I think back to this time, I notice hints here and there that our relationship may not have been in a good place, but I didn’t pick up on any of these clues along the way.
On my birthday, Chris gave me a stuffed bear. I thought it was cute. I happily thanked him. Michael heard about the gift and told me his girlfriend would have killed him if he’d given her a stuffed animal. I thought, “What an odd thing to say.” The stuffed animals from Chris got bigger and bigger. I even got the largest Patrick the Pup Plush Dog from FAO Schwartz in New York City. Patrick was so big that he took up a seat on our sofa. I had never thought about what I wanted, or do I like stuffed animals? To be fair, Chris also introduced me to Tiffany’s. I still have the matching ring, bracelet, and necklace from the Tiffany Bean Collection. I was just happy to get whatever Chris gave me.
One night, three couples including us met at a restaurant for dinner. I was the latest to arrive. I was excited to see all my friends, hugged them, and started chatting. I completely forgot to say hello to Chris who was sitting in the corner. It was only until I sat down that I noticed him. Later on, I would notice couple after couple, my friends, meeting at the restaurants, saying hello to each first, perhaps with a soft kiss, then saying hi to everyone else. In my subconscious, was Chris becoming less important to me?
On rare occasions, Chris openly disagreed with me. One winter we were planning our holiday travels. I planned to visit my parents for Thanksgiving. “Do you want to come with me to visit my parents?” I asked Chris. He didn’t even hesitate. “No, I don’t want to go.” I thought Chris might have just been shy because I’d met Chris’s parents and sisters a while ago. Chris had even invited me to join his family on a trip to Barcelona. They included me in everything they did. I had also been to his parents’ home in Vancouver. I was very happy to meet his family. Why was Chris not interested in meeting my parents at all? Was it important to me if he did or didn’t meet them? Did I just naturally expect him to reciprocate? My relationship with Chris was so much about Chris and his world.
When I look back at the longest relationship I ever had, I always remember how I felt at the end of it. On a Sunday, Chris and I were both still in bed, sleeping in. I was under the covers and had just woken up. Our backs were facing each other. There was a space in the middle of the bed between us. I could feel the emptiness in that space. The space felt enormous. I opened and closed my eyes. Then a wave of strong emotion washed over me. I feel lonely! I didn’t dare move. I didn’t feel love for the person sleeping next to me. I realized deep in my heart that it was possible to feel lonely even when I was with someone when I least expected it.
Shortly after that moment, I heard a story about a couple we knew. This couple had been together for ten years. They even bought a house together. But the man broke it off with the woman. One year later, he proposed to another woman and got married soon after. I learned from their story. I didn’t want to be that first woman. I would rather break things off early than find out ten years later that I’d been in the wrong relationship.
Obviously, Rachel was not satisfied with what I’d told her and had to ask me again: “Why did you and Chris break up?”
I didn’t see the break up coming either. I said, “We just grew apart. I was too young to know how to work on the relationship. I didn’t talk to Chris about things, and he didn’t talk to me. We became more like just friends and roommates.”
“You guys didn’t talk at all?”
“No. We were both of very few words. And we never had a fight in six years. We were very much alike, easygoing. I always thought that not arguing just meant we both had no temper. But I wonder now if that was because we didn’t put real effort into our relationship. That was a sign.”
“Wow. Not a single fight. How is that possible?” Rachel said in disbelief. Unlike me, Rachel often had her own strong point of view on things.
“I had no idea what I wanted. One day out of the blue, I asked him how we were doing. He said he didn’t want to get married if that was what I was asking.” I remembered the story I heard earlier. “I think when he said, I don’t want to get married, really what he was saying was, I don’t want to get married to you. I didn’t try to talk to him about it more. I just moved out and never regretted it. I think I was hurt and tried to protect myself. He also let me leave without a fight. That said something about both of us!”
“Do you ever think about getting back in a relationship with him?” Rachel remembered how Chris came to see me many times when I triggered my schizophrenia after the breakup. When Rachel needed to get more help for me, she would call Chris, and he would always answer the call. He was kind and caring for me whenever I was in need even when I was no longer his girlfriend.
“Oh my goodness. It’s been so long. We must be such different people now. We have both moved on. I can also see we value different things in life. He is much more extravagant than me. He probably still likes clubbing and I, a walk in the park. I love conversations, and he probably still enjoys shopping or golfing. Now, after all these years, I can see the differences.”
“Well, there are plenty of other good men out there. You will meet someone if you want to.” Rachel never failed to stand by me.
I never felt that there was inequality between me and Chris. I thought I just wasn’t loud. In my mind, I was being open, considerate, and accommodating. I was listening. I didn’t think about personal boundaries. I didn’t think about give and take. I was in my twenties and didn’t know how to think about what I wanted or needed.
Was I weak? I don’t think it felt like a weakness. If I had wanted to say something, I could have. I didn’t feel dominated by Chris. At work, I was completely confident. In our private life, I just wasn’t guarded or dominant. To me, it was like reading a really good book or watching a really good movie, and the world of me disappeared while I was completely engrossed in what was in front of me. I was okay being completely in Chris’s world. As a result, I didn’t grow and develop as an individual. I lived the way Chris wanted to live, and I was okay with it. To our friends, Chris and I were a package. We didn’t do anything without each other. Our relationship was my identity.
Once Chris and I went our separate ways, I began the shift from how I lived my life as part of a couple to how I lived being single, being just me. I started to ask myself, What do I want to do? To see? To learn? To have? I am not sure Chris understood why I left him. For a while, when he called, I still answered until he finally gave up on me, stopped inviting me to meet him, and we both moved on.
A couple of years later, he finally complained about me to me for the first time, “You never did anything!”
I thought, I know. You are right. But without you, I changed. I could see and hear myself. I could do more things I love!