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By Andrea Bowers
He is the good-looking guy I often see at the bar. I am finally introduced by an acquaintance he works with. He’s very attractive, but he’s definitely not giving me the time of day.
One night I’m tipsy and bold and strike up a conversation with him, and he reciprocates my attentions. He no longer has a girlfriend (loyal –- I like that!) and is clearly interested in me. He asks for my number and starts texting me right away. It’s on!
A week full of flirting, lunches and thrilling chemistry later, he’s in my kitchen drinking my beer. I anticipate finally kissing this guy, but instead he’s saying he can’t go out with me. My single mom status has me holding my breath, waiting for the inevitable, but this time it’s some "bros before hos" excuse about a guy I dated 6 years prior. I’m flabbergasted, disappointed, but somehow we end up making out anyway. Thinking he’s thrown his buddy over for me, I try to make plans with him for the weekend and suddenly have the awkward, embarrassing realization that he’s just making out with me because he can.
We don’t talk for weeks while I tell myself I didn’t misread it, there is something there. I’m so sure he’ll come around that I orchestrate a chance encounter at the bar. One teasing game of shuffleboard later, we’re together like a snowball rolling downhill. And it’s good, this flurry of instant messaging, texting, hanging out every chance we get. He gives me his uncle’s letterman’s sweater and adorably asks me to go steady. We take my son to baseball games, the beach, the tennis courts. He carves our initials in a tree. Everything is a laugh. When he goes out of town, we send each other provocative photos and so many texts that my month-end bill is double. One drunken night he says something that hurts my feelings. I wake up to him saying he’s sorry. I say I’m sorry too. We go out of town together. It’s heady, blissful, pawing-at-each-other-and-sneaking-kisses-like-teenagers love. Love love ridiculous fun love.
Friday night he’s at the bar. I’m meeting him there. He offers to leave and meet me halfway, a gesture I swoon at as I walk. As soon as I see his face under the streetlight I know something’s the matter. “We can’t go out anymore,” he blurts out, then flinches and looks away. He mumbles about how I have my life together, how it’s unfair to get involved with me if he’s not that into it and, as I shake my head in confusion and hold my breath, I watch his mouth form the words “and I’m not that into it.” I am so blindsided I can’t process what he’s saying anymore. I walk home in a fog.
I lay down numbly in my driveway until I’m so cold I start to shake. Only after I’m in bed do the waterworks start. I fall asleep crying and wake up crying. I cry to my mom, my neighbor, I cry long after it’s sensible to cry. I cry at the coffee shop, at the restaurant as I push the food around on my plate. I leak sad, disappointed, scared tears throughout the night as my friends try to distract me with drinks and dancing. My lowest point’s at closing time when I drench one of his friends in tears and snot when he tells me I have to “keep on trying.”
A week later, I find him downtown hammered and sad. My friends give him the stink-eye while he and I huddle in a corner making diagrams on napkins of what we want in a relationship. I smugly note that what we want is not all that different. I think he’s scared.
He maintains he’s made the right decision, but I see in his eyes that he still loves me. I want to punch him for hurting me. I want to hug him and take him home.
Our communication escalates as the days go by. Come Friday I tell him where I’ll be and he shows up. It’s like old times. Out on the patio, sharing a cigarette, I consider my delicious dilemma: Should I go home with him or hold off since we are not officially officially back together? I’m wary but optimistic, still smitten but now I know how under my skin this guy is.
A girl I don’t know steps between us. I see his body tense as he leans away from her and say he’s “in the middle of something.” She gets even closer, whispers in his ear and grabs his ass, then walks away. I snap out of my daydream, shocked.
He sheepishly tells me that he’d hooked up with her, and as I get more and more horrified, admits it was in the last 48 hours. I’m disgusted, humiliated and not even halfway back to my house when the “I’m Sorry” texts start coming in.
I am angry now. I tell him to let me know when he figures out what he wants and we can see where I’m at then. I tell him I’m not going to wait for him anymore. He’s apologetic, says it was a mistake and that he’s close to figuring it out. I tell him he’s a coward and a fool and I deserve to be treated better.
A few days later, he crashes his bike, gets 16 stitches in his face and decides life is too short to be afraid of love.
He says he sat in his hospital bed and wrote a list of ways he wants to live better. He says he is sorry for everything and wants to spend the rest of his life making it up to me. He’s going to cut down the drinking, quit smoking, be more professional at work. I am nervous to take him back and terrified I’m going to get burned again, but I do it. I honestly believe you don’t get to the good stuff in relationships if you don’t put yourself out there. I decide if I’m back in again, I’m playing for keeps. We simply won’t break up this time. It feels wonderful to settle into our old relationship.
We’re better than ever. We hike, camp and do crossword puzzles when I’m on mom duty; we make love and party when I’m not. We talk about our long term plans, and yep, we want the same things.
Happy, I don’t notice that the drinking is as excessive as it always was. I don’t notice that he’s still smoking and that dressing to impress at work was a fleeting phase. I don’t recognize in all the backsliding that I was a post-accident resolution too.
One night he’s drunk, I’m not, when an argument starts. Typically I’d absorb the blame, drunkenly fumble trying to resolve it. I love him so much -- I love this relationship so much -- I don’t want to make a big deal of these dumb boozy clashes that happen so rarely. This time, I see the bullshit for what it is. This time, I refuse to take the blame. I poke holes in his tirade and am fascinated at how mean and disrespectful he is. I’d told him before that I’d rather not drink so we don’t fight. He thought I was stupid to blame the alcohol. He launches into a list of reasons why we should break up. This time it isn’t so personal because it seems so contrived. He’s fishing for some reason I will accept. I stubbornly repeat that I think this is a mistake. We fall asleep. In the morning, he continues with the list. As definitely as I thought “this is it” when I met him, I think “this is it” now. I speak up. I tell him I think he drinks too much. I’m only a little surprised at how quickly and huffily he gets out of bed and leaves the room. I take my cue, get dressed and go home.
It’s a revelation to discover I’m relieved. Heartbroken, yes. Disappointed and angry, yes. But overwhelmingly, I’m relieved. I don’t have to worry about his invisible triggers and I don’t have to work so hard to make it work. I don’t have to wonder if this guy will break my heart again. I won’t let him. Now I know who we are. He's a confused guy who likes to drink. I'm a hopeful girl who falls hard and fast. I’m free. I’m single again, and that sucks, but I’m not anyone’s doormat.