The sting of a heartbreak can cause your judgement to slip. It can drive us to make decisions without looking down the road to the accidents they will create.
That’s where I was when I met him.
Fresh out of a heartbreak and fearful of another relationship disaster, I made a perfectly awful choice that suited me for the time being, all the while setting myself up for a series of collisions down the road.
And so I agreed to enter into a “no strings attached” relationship. I never thought it would last as long as it did.
For six years, I secretly dated a man who refused to publicly acknowledge our bond. I hung on to his words when he said it wouldn’t always be that way. He gave me glimmers of hope for a real future together — one where I wasn't a secret.
After six years of listening to him tell me he wasn’t ready “just yet” to commit, he told me he had mustered up the courage to commit — to another woman.
How Did It Come To This?
Before you judge, hear me out.
I hold myself accountable to a degree, but recognize the level at which my heart was manipulated. I’ve wondered how I could have allowed myself — a strong-willed woman — to fall into the trap of devoting myself to a man who never returned that courtesy.
How is it that I stuck around for six years with a guy who wouldn’t acknowledge our relationship publicly? Heck if I know, but I have an idea.
While he possessed the typical qualities of a handsome and eligible male, it was the emotions he evoked that lured me into his web. He saw something special in me at a time when I needed it more than ever.
I recall sitting on my living room recliner months after we met, catching him staring my way. “You’re a diamond in the rough,” he told me. I’m rolling my eyes now, but in the moment I felt nothing but flattery.
From our first meeting, I was intrigued. I was working as a community journalist and happened to set up an interview with the new college hire. Our easy banter and connection caught me off guard.
Not too long after that first encounter, he started his pursuit. I resisted at first, but I soon convinced myself that I could spend time with a guy without taking it to the level of social media official.
We spent time together doing the things we loved: biking, jogging, catching our favorite bands on the weekends and traveling the country on snowboarding trips.
What started out as a casual friendship with a side of romance soon turned into a real relationship. Or so I thought. As movie nights progressed into cuddle sessions and long walks became handheld strolls, I began to question my own noncommittal attitude. Surely, I thought, he had done the same.
No. No, he had not.
“I’m not ready to commit just yet.”
When I heard the words come out of his mouth, I dreamed of waking up from the nightmare. We had been “non-dating” dating for a year. The bond had been created.
The heartache and rejection shot through to my core. But he claimed that while he didn’t want to commit now, he wasn’t sure it would always be that way. He didn’t want to shut the door completely. I convinced myself this was a good deal.
While I could put off the sting of heartbreak, I could open myself up to meeting other men if they caught my eye. (I know.)
I attended his family dinners. He made trips across the state with me to see my family. Yet when anyone asked about our relationship status, I would casually dismiss the reality and claim we were just friends.
It’s what he wanted me to say.
He didn’t want the world to know we held hands, shared intimate experiences and talked into the night. So I was forced to lie. I became his puppet and I never stopped questioning why. I never even realized it’s what I had become.
After nearly three years of carrying on with our absurd joke of a relationship, I was transferred through work to a newspaper nearly four hours away. While I began to casually date others, we remained in touch — and he started to get jealous when he would question me about other men in my life.
In the summer, we biked on the same mountain bike team and spent race weekends together. Still, I convinced myself our scenario was OK. I convinced myself that one of two things would happen: He’d finally commit or I would meet someone else. In either situation, I wouldn’t have to deal with the heartbreak.
A year later, work brought me closer to him and we began to see one another more. While I did continue to casually go on dates with other men, we had established a bond similar to any couple who had gotten to know one another over the years.
As time went on, I began to recognize his childish actions. I saw a weak man whose insecurities held him back in every area of life. I recognized the insecurities he had stirred up in me.
We “broke up” from our non-relationship a lot. We vowed to rid ourselves of one another for the sake of moving on. We tried to be friends. It’s what made sense.
Yet sometimes it takes some time for the heart to catch up to the mind.
Despite how much I tried to open myself up to feeling something about another man, I was consistently disappointed. Handsome men with great qualities who didn’t have a life-crippling fear of commitment came my way, but I felt nothing. I couldn’t bring myself to continue on with someone I knew I didn’t feel intensely for.
The Final Break
I recall the phone call. The truth is I knew before I knew. I felt it. It still didn’t make the sting any less severe. He explained to me that he had met someone and they were, in the public eye, a couple. He had committed.
That was fast.
Perhaps to break my fall, he told me he didn’t know if it would last. He wanted to remain friends. I cried, not so much about the loss of him, but because of the insecurities he had nurtured over the years. He was gone, but the insecurities were not.
For the six years I secretly dated him with no acknowledgment of the depths of our relationship, I spent every day analyzing what I perceived as shortcomings. Were my legs too muscular? Were my ankles too large? Was I not tall enough? Did my looks not match up to his expectations? Did I not fit the mold his family mandated? These were the questions I asked myself repeatedly for six years. From where I’m sitting now, it was hell — and it lasted for the majority of my twenties.
Months into their relationship, he came back my way to tell me he and the other girl were no longer serious. He visited me in a nearby city, where he acted in the way one does when they’re leading a woman on. I assumed things were truly over between him and her.
Through a mutual circle of friends, I discovered how much he had lied to me, and to the new girl he had never stopped dating. When he told me they were no longer serious, he was filling her head with dreams of marriage and adventure.
From what I can gather, she’s a wonderful woman. I eventually told her the truth about her boyfriend's actions. Nobody deserves that.
I closed the door right then and there. I was done. Suddenly I became the strong woman that was inside me all along.
After my heart had healed, I was also able to analyze the last six years of my life. I found peace knowing that the storm had ended.
I continued to date, yet didn’t come across too many who clicked. I was fine with that. I practiced being gentle with myself.
I’m happy to say that today I am in a healthy and loving relationship with a hilarious, smart, witty man who is proud to acknowledge our relationship.
It’s so much better this way.