It’s funny the clarity that comes with time. I’m two years out of undergrad, living with fantastic roommates, and loving my job. This weekend I visited my parents for a “relaxing” weekend back home. My parents love a good yard project (especially when their kids are home), so on Sunday I found myself out in the garden with my mom. My ever-protective (and stubborn) dad, making sure I didn’t burn my sensitive pale skin, insisted that I wear a hat while working out in the sun. Rolling my eyes, I went into my room to try to dig out whatever old baseball caps I had left behind. I finally found one—the lavender Key West hat from Kevin. My sophomore-year boyfriend had gotten it for me after our vacation with his family in Florida. Chuckling to myself at having saved this hat at home, rather than just keeping it or totally trashing it, I threw it on and went to help my mom outside.
My mom and I chatted away while gardening. She planted a new rose bush, while I tackled the weeds. I couldn’t help but think about Kevin and so many little details in our relationship that I hadn’t really thought about since we had broken up four years ago! I’ve since dated several other guys and I hadn’t thought about Kevin in a long time. I suddenly had this intense moment of clarity and thought out loud: “Why in the world did I ever date him?” My mom just laughed lightheartedly. I don’t think she ever knew either. “Maybe because he was so cute, Shan?” I laughed along with her. Yeah, he was pretty darn cute. But that wasn’t it.
I thought about how we had met and how we had first started dating. His friend from high school had introduced us; she and I went to college together. We were only a few weeks into our first semester sophomore year when he came to visit her at school. He waltzed onto campus—in his military uniform and BMW might I add—bringing all his southern charm right along with him. A bunch of us spent the weekend together at our school football game and our favorite fro-yo place. He paid me every compliment under the sun and did whatever he could to impress me. He even started doing push-ups on the bleachers in the middle of the football game. To be honest, I was pretty turned off by that; he was just trying too hard. But he paid me attention. And made me feel special. And I was craving that really badly. See, I was heartbroken.
I met Noah the previous year and he and I had become fast friends. We were in all the same classes and we found ourselves in the same friend group. He was the smartest guy I had ever met and he had the best sense of humor. Everyone loved Noah because he was so easy-going and able to laugh at himself. It also didn’t hurt that he had a killer voice and could play the guitar better than John Mayer. We hung out together in between classes studying and practicing songs that we would play together for Open Mic Nights. On the weekends, we’d hang out with all our friends watching movies and going out in the city. We had amazing chemistry and flirted to no end. Some of my favorite college memories are the nights that he and I would stay up late talk until the sun came up. It was undeniable that we liked each other, but nothing official had ever been said. Then one night, we shared the sweetest, most perfect kiss that would have made Taylor Swift proud. “It’s the first kiss, it’s flawless, really somethin…it’s fearless.” I was on Cloud Nine.
However, my excitement didn’t last long. We spent the summer FaceTiming each other (since we lived 3,000 miles apart) and making plans for our relationship once school started up again in the fall. Except, I wasn’t the only one he had made those plans with. Turns out, Noah had been sweet-talking me all the while talking to another girl in our class—that I was friends with, no less! We came back to school and he started dating her. Leaving me in the dust. Speechless and devastated.
So sure, this military guy with the BMW may not have been my favorite cup of tea, but he was a good guy, right? Seemed like a gentleman that wouldn’t cheat on me and he was giving me loads and loads of attention…so why wouldn’t I date him? Kevin and I hooked up the night of the football game. I let him cross lines that no guy had with me before because I was so desperate for attention. His weren’t the arms I wanted wrapped around me. But they were there. And they were strong. And they were holding me. All I wanted was to be held! Crushed over Noah, I clung to Kevin. He filled a void in me that was desperately longing for love, yet he had no idea that I cried myself to sleep that night.
Reflecting back on that night and the ten-month relationship that followed, I asked myself, What was I thinking? What did I see in him? Why did I date this guy? Sure, Kevin was a decent person (much more than Noah had been). He was honest, dependable, smart, attractive. The kind of guy who should make any girl happy. But he just never sparked that inner desire in me to be on fire for life! He was just…there. Filling that empty gap that I was trying to fill as quickly as possible. I was still heartbroken over Noah and I desperately wanted someone to want me. To need me. To love me. Kevin walked into my life and bought me flowers and gorgeous necklaces. He introduced me to his parents and babysat with me. He told me I was beautiful and watched all my favorite chick-flicks without complaining. He was crazy about me but it just wasn’t enough. I tried to convince myself from the beginning that he was right for me. That he was a good guy and so much more dependable than Mr. Let-Me-Make-You-Promises-I’ll-Never-Keep. I kept thinking to myself, I could marry him. I could spend the rest of my life with him. Instead of excitedly dreaming, I can’t wait to marry this man! As much as I wanted to…I didn’t actually love him.
My relationships with my closest friends changed and I started sharing pieces of my life with them in matter-of-fact ways, rather than really letting them in the way I used to. I think I knew deep down that if I really started sharing, if I let them in on what was actually going on in my heart, I wouldn’t be able to keep up the facade anymore—with my friends or with myself. It finally took a really bold friend to ask me pointed questions about my relationship—Does he bring out the best in you? What do you enjoy most about him? How does he help you grow? I really struggled to answer these questions because even after ten months it was pretty surface level. We had become so physical so fast that I could barely think straight and he couldn’t bring out the best in me because he was constantly praising me. He treated me like I was perfect but let’s be real, I knew I was far from perfect. Valuable, of course, but most certainly flawed.
My friend’s questions sparked the clarity I needed to look at my relationship for what it was: a filler.
I never gave my heart any time to heal after Noah, yet I let myself soak in all the flattery, gifts, and attention that Kevin had to offer because it felt good. After some solid reflection and conversations with trusted friends, I finally mustered up the courage to break up with him. But even then, I missed our relationship. I had become so comfortable with him in my life and I missed that feeling of being pursued. I wanted him to come after me but if I’m being completely honest with myself, it was more for the attention than for him. And he did come after me for a while. He visited me at school and he brought me presents; he made all my friends roll their eyes. It took me a long time to be firm with myself and with him that I couldn’t see him anymore. I needed to stop filling that void in my life. I needed to let myself deal with the heartbreak I felt rather than just covering it up. I needed to love myself before I let any guy love me.
I’ve learned that no matter how hard I try to convince myself that I love something or someone, reality will always win out. Just because Noah was wrong didn’t necessarily mean that Kevin was right. I finally allowed the Kevin-Noah saga to end by giving myself lots of time and space.
Now I focus on being honest with myself and holding out for what I really love. In the meantime, I’ll just be gardening with my mom, and loving my very full life of friends, work, and adventures!