Something, somehow, forms the base for how we relate to others in a relationship, and what our expectations are in those relationships. They are acquired from experiences – good and bad – with every relationship that precedes the other, learned from our parents, and perhaps the worst – culled from fictional fantasies.
Disney is culpable at least for my generation’s notion that girls are princesses to be “won” and/or rescued from dreadful circumstances by handsome princes who do everything right. Did I turn those notions into expectations? If he wasn’t perfect, move on?
As for my parents, they separated before I was 5. Neither one of them wants to discuss what went down, even now, 40 years later. But I have heard. What did I take away from that – as a very young child? Both of them remarried, and divorced again. The stepparents I had loved, would eventually be gone. Did those losses contribute to how I conducted my relationships? Did they teach me to bail before I was bailed on? Did I learn to protect myself, by being aloof?
By the time I first met my husband, I was already shamelessly boy-crazy. My diaries were filled with tales of this boy and that – how so-and-so was flirting with me, and how I wondered whether what’s-his-name liked me. But I was shy. There was nothing aggressive about me – I preferred to be the chased, not the chaser (Cinderella anyone?) I had crushes on many, many boys – none of whom, I am sure, ever knew. Even poor Todd didn’t have a clue I was interested until a year later, and only then because a friend of his told him that he’d better ask me out. Well, obviously we all know what happened after that. But we broke up, because I wanted to.
He unknowingly set the precedent for every relationship I would ever seek. I wanted them to be attentive, loving, smoldering beneath the surface, intelligent, funny, accepting and loving the person I was, making our time together important and necessary without smothering me. Was all that too much to ask?
It was always the guys who initiated the relationships. However, it was almost always me who ended them. I left them because I fell out of love, found someone else, they were too needy, or I just left them before they could hurt me. Still, in retrospect, I wonder how many of the guys I had truly cared for had actually known it? There was one boy I crushed on for years – a mutual unrequited love – had reconnected with by accident one night during our early twenties – and shared one amazing, long overdue kiss (at that point in my life, it was). And it changed … nothing. Whatever I was to him, I would never be enough. And really – he wasn’t IT either.
Maybe I was too aloof with him. Perhaps that aloofness contributed to many relationship failures. I was even aloof with my ex-husband, so much so that he really thought I had no interest in him whatsoever (which, in retrospect, would probably have been best). But there are no accidents, right? Perhaps all of them failed, regardless, simply because they weren’t Todd?
Maybe the handful of guys who walked away from me – or could never quite commit – did so because they were unsure of me. Or maybe, just maybe, I was attracted to them because deep down I knew they wouldn’t work out. And I learned to be mistrustful of their behaviors… lack of consideration, little communication, flirtations, cheating, MIA behavior, old girlfriend issues, and lying. The list goes on.
I lived with a guy for nearly 4 years, who had the misfortune of being born under the same sign (I should’ve known better) and having no good luck other than landing my attention for way too long. That was, next to my first marriage, by far the most damaging relationship I was ever in. He was a lost soul who created this illusion of being a good “Christian” boy, who just went astray and couldn’t catch a break. I shouldn’t blame him, at least not entirely, for all the pain he caused me. I blame myself. Because I should never have been there in the first place. I allowed him to treat me the way he did. I allowed it, because I didn’t value myself enough at the time to walk away. Because I was lost. And I was living in this bubble just waiting for “the one” to come rescue me from it. We all know that fairytale. And we also know that shit ain’t real.
There was the guy who “didn’t have expectations,” because that’s how people get hurt. Hello! Red flag! Should’ve known better about him too. But really – how can we be in any relationship without any expectations?? Did I have them? Of course I did. I expected to be treated with respect and caring. I expected them to value me. I expected them to keep their hands off other girls. I expected them to treat me like Todd had.
It wasn’t until Todd and I had reconnected again, that I realized someone I dated (before I was married with kids) on and off for 6 years – whom I broke things off with not once, but three times – was the closest I had ever come to “Todd.” I was following this map, and I kept going back because it was Todd I was unwittingly seeking. I realized that this poor guy had so many of Todd’s qualities. I’ve never liked hurting people. He never did anything wrong, never anything to hurt me, and his only misfortune was knowing me. Had I been more self-aware, maybe I’d have gone looking for Todd.
In all these experiences I had with dating, I took something away. I learned what was important to me. Todd drew me the map when we were just 17. And then, though I didn’t know it, I spent the next 20 years trying to recreate it – never knowing I was working my way back to the one and only one who could walk that path with me.
What have I learned? If I could have seen Todd at the road’s end, would it have changed anything? Probably not. All of those experiences – the good, the bad, and the ugly – were lessons I needed to learn. And Todd couldn’t be there for that. I don’t have too many regrets. What good would that do? I know myself well enough to know I would not be the same person without them. But I always had the map.