After being in a long-term relationship for just short of two years, I find myself living six months single. Break-ups are hard, but I personally find the in-betweenness of twenty-something singledom to be frustrating.
I don’t know if “in-betweenness” is common post-break-ups at this age, but that’s definitely how I’m feeling. I no longer mourn my lost relationship, though I do occasionally get the urge to talk to the ex, The Grad School Boyfriend. This mostly happens when immersed in something I shared with him, like Game of Thrones.
At the same time, I am definitely not ready to be friends with him again. I would like to, eventually, but it’s just not something I’m sure we could ever do. Our relationship was, frankly, toxic. And how do you get over that toxic past to be friends who care about each other’s success and well-being without falling back into the toxic romance?
Furthering this feeling of in-betweenness, I’m not quite ready to be actively “on the market” again. I definitely have interests, which I’m sure you’ll hear about before long, but I’m more interested in being introspective right now and figuring me out. This introspection has led me to some realizations about my past relationship(s).
This series will chronicle some of what I’ve learned through this contemplation. I hope you can learn from my mistakes (so many of them) or at least get a kick out of some of the stories I share. First up is an important thing to know:
I support people who don’t support me. Somehow, I frequently end up dating people who don’t know how to share the burden of a strong relationship. The Ex-Fiance, to whom I was engaged, had ambiguous life goals for earning a master’s degree (which he began when we were together), and these fleeting goals were supposed to weigh more heavily in our mutual life decisions than my own professional goals. He had vetoed living in certain states or areas, even if moving there would mean I had gotten into an exceptional graduate program for my field. That didn’t matter because how could he open an antiquarian bookstore and learn to fix broken books there, if that was what he wanted to do when he finished his MA in literature or creative writing (whichever he eventually chose)?
The Grad School Boyfriend was like this, too. I have to admit I stayed with him far too long considering all the red flags. I read every paper he wrote in his master’s program while listening to him bellyache about how hard it is to study literature at the graduate level. This becomes more ridiculous when I tell you we had met in that master’s program, and the whole time I was helping him, I was also earning a master’s degree in composition and rhetoric with my own seminars, homework, classes to teach, and papers to grade. He even “joked” that comp/rhet was somehow easier than studying literature, claiming he was “living the comp/rhet life” when he had a lighter reading load or a seminar was cancelled.
Seriously? How did I live with that?
To make matters worse, he prioritized his own professional goals (getting a PhD because he didn’t know what else to do) while encouraging me to “just get my teaching license” and discouraging me from my own doctoral aspirations. At the same time, he frequently acted like teaching five composition courses in one semester was no big deal and significantly less work than taking two graduate seminars and teaching one FYC course.
Are you noticing a theme here? Because I sure am.
Not every person I’ve dated has been like this, but I do tend to be the more put-together one in the relationship. I tend to know what I want, and I am pretty good at establishing plans to get it. I take care of things that I want or need because that’s how I work.
Does the toilet need unclogged? I pick up the plunger and unclog it.
Does my thesis need proofread? I print it out and pick up a brightly-colored pen.
Does the laundry need done become I’m out of clean underwear? I do my frackin’ laundry, starting with the underwear.
Do I want to go to graduate school? Then I figure out what schools I want to go to and what the requirements are and whether or not there’s anyone I want to work with.
I’m just not really an ask-for-help kind of person. This means (a) I tend to be really stressed out, sometimes for no reason, and (b) it’s a big deal when I do ask for help, and (c) I get really upset when I think I can count on you, but I actually can’t.
This is not to say that all of my relationships have been like this. In fact, the Best Boyfriend I Never Had (more on him later) was actually hugely supportive and took care of me in more ways than I think I acknowledged at the time. I remember one of the earliest times: I was working 9-5ish at an on-campus job and then working 6pm-2am at another job doing floor sets. He called to make plans for a student organization we ran together, and after five minutes of conversation, he said “You sound extremely stressed, and the semester hasn’t even started yet.” I was sitting on a bench outside, enjoying the sun, drinking my second latte of the day, even though it was only 10am. It was just such an astute observation, and something that most other people (even people I was around all day at the time) had not picked up on. He offered to take over most of the planning work so I didn’t have to worry about it, and then essentially told me how to stay up all night without a caffeine crash.
Thankfully, that was only two days of my life. But it did not start my semester off well, and I’m glad he was around to keep me on my feet when I needed it.
Why can’t the people I actually date be more like him?