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As I reached into my pocket for my chapstick, my fingers brushed against a tiny scrap of paper. Brandon* had an endlessly endearing habit of leaving me little notes everywhere: my sunglass case, under my mouse, inside my makeup bag.
"This Friday is going to be incredible, baby. I can’t wait to celebrate us!"
I stuffed it back into my pocket, grinning.
Valentine’s Day has never been a big deal to me. I detest the social imperative to buy things. But the year I dated Brandon, I was actually excited about it because it coincided perfectly with our one-year anniversary, and I planned to take advantage of it to reignite the spark in our relationship.
Though I loved him, I’d begun to have nagging doubts about our relationship. Brandon had anger management problems — at the first (often perceived) sign of disagreement or discord, he’d explode — accusing me of not loving, trusting, or being committed to him.
At first, these negative things floated inside my head like dandelion fluff, but they took root when my grandmother, with whom I am very close, had a cerebral hemorrhage and had to be hospitalized. I was terrified of losing her. All I wanted was for Brandon to put his arms around me and comfort me.
I tearfully called and asked if he could come over and reassure me. He promised me he would — yet when he arrived, he didn’t even ask how she was. When I pointed this out, he sullenly claimed he was upset because his ex-father-in-law had fallen ill. He burst into tears, and I took him into my arms, as I’d hoped he would do for me. I couldn’t help wondering why he was so upset about someone he’d never really spoken of before, or why he never even mentioned my grandmother. I swallowed my disappointment, telling myself it was the unpredictable nature of grief.
A few days later, he still hadn’t asked about my grandmother. When I gently reminded him that he’d never asked about her, he blew up at me, screaming about the heartless nerve I had to ask him to comfort me while his ex-father-in-law, a man who’d gone from relative obscurity to someone he now claimed to love as much as his own father, was ill.
After several days of fighting, I was emotionally spent.
“You know it’s our anniversary, and Valentine’s Day in a few weeks,” I reminded him. “We hit a rough patch. Let’s celebrate and get back on track.” To my relief, he agreed.
Instead of store-bought crap, we decided to exchange sentimental, homemade gifts. After considerable deliberation, I got the idea to take some of the love notes he’d left me and turn them into a collage, which I would then use as a card by writing a love note of my own on the inside.
I assembled the notes, hoping to make them look symmetrical, yet artfully chaotic. On the inside, I sincerely espoused my love for him from his brain to his balls. I was really pleased with how it turned out and couldn’t wait to give it to him.
He was coming to my house for dinner, so in addition to baking an exquisite lasagna, I set out a ton of candles. Every surface glimmered and glowed with warmth and romance, and the house smelled divine.
When he arrived, I pulled the card from behind my back and handed it to him.
I watched his face as he read it, enjoying the looks of recognition they sparked.
Here’s the back.
He kissed and thanked me, then handed me a small gift bag. Inside was a small decorative glass jar with colored ribbon tied around the mouth and a label that read “50 Reasons Why I Love You.”
It was full of small slips of paper, and I excitedly grabbed a few to read aloud. Though nice, they sounded strangely antiseptic.
"I love waking up to find we’ve been cuddling together all night," read one. I thought this was a bit odd, since we’re not big cuddlers, but I shrugged it off.
The next one read, "I love the way you think you look awful when you first wake up when it is actually then I find you the most beautiful." This one not only didn’t sound like him, but it didn’t sounded like something anyone would say.
“Did you really write all these?” I asked. “Yep. I typed them all,” he replied, smiling brightly. I felt an uncomfortable sense of doubt, but pushed it out of my mind and dove into the lasagna instead.
In the morning, he had to leave early, so after seeing him off, I headed to my friend Susan’s for coffee and some V-Day show and tell. Together we gleefully dumped the contents of the jar onto the table to see all of the 50 ways Brandon loved me.
I grabbed one. “I love the way, how even though we may be miles apart, I still feel like you're right here with me,” I read.
“That’s interesting syntax,” Susan said, grabbing another.
“I love the way you treat my friends,” I read. “That’s weird. He always complains that I don’t spend enough time with them or know them very well — why would he love me for how I treat them?”
We exchanged dubious looks. I took another. “I love the way you look when you’re sleeping,” I read. “Maybe he does,” I mused. “But he’s never said anything to me about how I look when I am sleeping.”
Suddenly, I had a horrible thought.
“Do you think it’s possible that he copied these from somewhere?” I asked. “I mean, he wouldn’t do that . . . right?”
Susan quickly retrieved her laptop and set out googling. Third in the list of search results was “101 Reasons Why I Love You.”
I got a little nervous.
“Maybe he just borrowed a few,” she said hopefully. “Let’s read and number them to see.”
I took a handful.
“Here!” I exclaimed. “‘I love your beautiful hair.’ That’s true; he compliments my hair all the time.”
Susan scanned the list. “I love your beautiful hair,” she said. “That’s number 93.”
My heart sank.
“I love your willingness to share everything and most especially your heart with me,” I read.
“Number 77,” she noted.
“I love how if I died right now I would be the happiest person alive knowing I found my one true love,” I said miserably.
“Number 72,” Susan said softly, reaching out to pat my leg.
Tears filled my eyes, blurring the edges of everything I saw, but nothing I felt. We eventually got through all 50 reasons, and each one of them was plagiarized verbatim.
“In his defense,” Susan joked, “some of these didn’t apply — like number 55: I love the fact you gave me the gift of our children.”
I chuckled through my tears, but I felt deeply wounded. This was our chance to reconnect and become closer and stronger than ever, and he — the man who claimed to love me — couldn't be bothered to come up with a single original reason why. It was as heartfelt and personal as a fortune cookie. He may as well have written my name in a turd and drawn a heart around it.
When I confronted him with the evidence, he denied it, claiming he couldn’t possibly be the only person on the Internet who feels this way about his partner. Even though he’d been caught cold, he stubbornly maintained it was a coincidence. He furiously countered that the fact that I’d searched his reasons was proof that I didn’t trust or love him.
Rather than just admit it and come up with a passable excuse like “I was in a rush and I had a lot going on at work,” he simply lied to my face and blamed me for busting him.
Each of his previous criticisms had made me doubt myself. But the tangible proof of his lies made me see I wasn't the problem: He was. Everything he’d previously accused me of (mistrust, dishonesty, lack of commitment) were all things he was guilty of. Even though he was looking at me while he was raging, he may as well have been looking in a mirror.
I ended our relationship after that. It hurt me to do it, but the total half-assery he displayed with my gift hurt me more. Rather than judge, repress, or sop up my feelings with a bottle of Jameson, as I’ve done in the past, I simply let them course through me as I collected the things he’d left at my house, including the jacket he’d worn on our last night together.
I don’t regret our relationship because I learned a lot about what I need, deserve, and want. What I do regret is not being able to see his face after he reclaimed his things and found his jacket pockets full of the other 51 reasons he chose not to plagiarize.
*Name has been changed