If I have ever been in love, then I’ve been in love three and a half times in my life. And if I have ever been in love, then the first person I fell in love with was very suicidal. I sometimes think this has effected the way I approach relationships, approach the people I begin to develop feelings for, approach what love is and what it is meant to be.
Partly because I walk on eggshells with everything I say and partly because I am so on edge. I tend to not only blow up at small provocations, but I often egg on conflict as well. I invite it or find ways to squeeze conflict out of benign situations. My first love was a relationship of drama, of late nights, of tears, of leaving my phone on at bedtime so I would hear it if he needed me. My first love included dishonesty and poor timing and both of us very mentally ill.
I mean, it’s really awful to be falling asleep or sitting in class or eating dinner and wondering all the while if you’ve missed a call or a message from them, and that if you did and you weren’t there then next you’re going to get a call from someone else telling you it’s too late – they’re dead.
I was deeply protective of him, determined that I could not let anything hurt him and took the utmost care of his privacy. I refused to let something I might do or say distress him, which is hard because humans inevitably hurt one another. This was all made very complicated because a large piece of our relationship was long distance. What made it worse is our relationship itself was very short, but book-ended by a fiercely loyal friendship – equally as intimate in every way but one.
This week I intended to text my ex something, a joke albeit a personal and inappropriate one. I ended up misdirecting the text to another friend, frantically deleting it, and then I began to desperately spiral into conflict with this friend. Except this friend did not let me spiral, he essentially just said: “I understand, but leave it now.” and would not entertain my drama or my anxiety. This is quite honestly the best reaction he could have had; it caught me off guard, after all I was used to someone spiraling with me, to someone indulging my concerns and confirming my worst fears. But my friend just said, it’s an honest mistake, it happens, just leave it. Where someone else might have fed my panic, he put it away.
So anyway, I texted my ex the joke and we went on to have a decent conversation. And I kept wanting to ask him – but are you OKAY okay? And I sort of did ask and sort of got an answer and that would have to do.
I am not upset with my ex about my own psyche. The fact is we’re both doing really well and I would love being friends with him for years to come, but it is moments like I had with my friend that I think my ex had a greater impact on me than I expected. He’s a musician and I’m a writer and we’re both theatre kids, I sense the tortured artist’s in us didn’t help with the problem of cultivating drama. In contrast, my friend in the anecdote above has a head for business and engineering, he is gentle and almost always calm. I have no idea why he puts up with me but he does, so that’s nice of him.
My ex and I talked a long time, discussed visiting one another – he goes to school just a couple hours drive from me – we exchanged friendly stories from our first semester of university, reminisced about high school, talked about our lives from everyday events to intimate secrets and back again, I’d forgotten what a wonderful friend he is. We talked about the progress of our mental health and I remembered how easy it is to talk to him. Sometimes talking to people I get really wound up and stressed inside my head, I think and think and play out scenarios; I type and delete and type and delete. I type too much or not enough; I try to be me and all the while try not to be me. But my ex is different because he’s been there, sometimes still is there; he gets it.
I’m not saying I think I have a future with him, romantically, but I also don’t panic with him like I do with others. I don’t fear he will see me as weird or messed up because he knows that’s not how it works, he knows what it’s like for the world to feel so out of control in even the most simplistic circumstances.
I often tell people I’m not really looking for a relationship, and that’s partially true. I’ve never been in a relationship that I handled well, my mental health and commitment issues make things a nightmare, and anyway I don’t really see the point of something serious at the beginning of my university career.
At Thanksgiving my aunt told me that, even if I don’t get into serious relationships or if I do, or if I just date casually or whatever happens, the best thing I can do is use the messy parts to figure out what I am looking for in a partner. I can figure out the pieces I need and what might be ideal for when I am ready to settle down (if I’m ever ready to settle down, and if I’m not then that’s okay too.) For example, I know now that a relationship with a girl will strain my relationship more with my family, but I would be willing to deal with that. I know now that I need someone who is willing to take physical things slow and isn’t embarrassed to laugh at themselves or be silly. I know I need someone respectful and open-minded and conscious of the world around them and people outside the scope of their own life. I know that I want someone who will fight for others, especially others without as strong a voice. I know that I need someone who will take my anxiety and my fears and will not fan the flames, but will tell me to leave it, who will help me put it away.
Usually high school relationships are quite casual, but I think of the three and a half people I’ve been in love with – three of which were in high school – I’ve learned quite a bit from every relationship, every date, every hand held, every heartbreak. I’ve learned little pieces of what I’m looking for, of what works for me and what won’t, and what I can work on in myself.
I’ve been rewatching Castle this month and in season 3 episode 4, Castle opens his apartment door and immediately inquires of Beckett: “how do you know when you’re in love?”
Beckett pauses a moment and then declares: “All the songs make sense.”
That made me laugh because sometimes I listen to music and think god this artist is obsessed, this seems so unhealthy, how ridiculous to rely on someone that much, to feel so intensely.
But then sometimes I listen to those same songs, and I get it.
I think Sam Smith put it well last year: Sometimes I wish we’d never built this palace / But real love is never a waste of time
-Grace T, January 2018