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I was 20 years old and deeply unhappy. I had few friends and very little social life. I spent most of my time in my bedroom, with the door closed, watching films and wondering how to meet people. I didn’t think much of myself.
The systemic rejection of everyone I had known in high school left me feeling vague and unworthy. I was desperate and filled with self-loathing: two things that attract undesirable bedfellows.
Will and I met at University. He enjoyed inviting me over to watch him play Call of Duty. He also enjoyed such activities as: telling me my boobs sag, explaining how I was not as smart as he was, and bullying me into writing his film papers.
He was a tall, gangly alcoholic who liked to show me books, such as “Opera for Dummies,” to prove he was an intellectual. I literally spent months sitting on this boy’s couch waiting for him to say something intelligent.
Though Will was not one of my finer moments, he served a purpose. He taught me that to expect people to be anything other than what they are is a signpost on the road to frustration. He also helped me get out of my shell by introducing me to people and showing me around the city.
Even so, Will, and the men who came after him, left me feeling disillusioned with ideas of love, romance, or even being treated kindly by men. I grew tired of being lied to, gaslighted, and called crazy because I expected fulfillment of boyfriend promises.
As in my platonic relationships, I gave my heart away too quickly and then wondered why I was being rejected. I gave up and decided to embrace an expectation-free life.
My girlfriends and I spent all our time at bars. We got drunk on cheap beer and flirted with bartenders, ignoring our studies. We allowed ourselves to get carried away with being young, and irresponsible.
Sometimes we went home with men and commiserated the next day over embarrassing, drunken mistakes. We didn’t care if the evening had been a disaster. We thought everything we did was meaningful and significant.
My experiences meeting men had the feeling of conquest. In the moment, seeking a warm body to take to my bed, I felt powerful and in control. All at once I knew my sexual agency and figured out that men would respond to it.
But outside of the dim lights, pumping music and buzz of alcohol, my feelings of power faded into nothing.
The next morning was always awash in shame and guilt while I stared at the ceiling and wondered why I thought such a man had been a good idea. I had no interest in finding a relationship; I gave out fake numbers like candy and never expected or wanted to see any of the men again.
Somehow, in all this randomness, in all the shame and self-loathing, and all the ridiculous embarrassment, Max walked into my life.
My girlfriend was throwing a party. I arrived armed with my bowl-hair cut, Trent Lane T-shirt, and 6-pack of James Ready. I was irreverent, silly, and keen to find someone to go home with. I had almost given up when I saw Max. He was standing on the patio smoking with a friend. Bearded and a little sheepish, I thought he was adorable.
After a brief introduction, I used my oh-so-romantic opener: “Do you have a girlfriend?”
Following a quick make-out session on the couch, he took me back to his place. I woke the next morning, feeling like a trainwreck. I opened my eyes. Max was gazing down at me and tenderly stroking my hair. The gentle look, and non-sexual physicality of the action made me truly, and deeply, suspicious.
That morning, I didn’t think much of my encounter with Max. I was still so wrapped up with my own bullshit that I didn’t notice a good man literally starring me in the face. I figured he was just another bad decision.
I lay in his bed starring at the ceiling and dreaded the subway ride home. He walked me to the corner, I gave him one of my patented fake numbers, and left. I didn’t expect to see him again.
I couldn’t wait to forget about my other sexual encounters, yet I found myself thinking about Max. He didn’t jump out of bed after sex or make me feel unwelcome in his house. He didn’t act like I was lesser because we slept together the night we met. I thought maybe he might be the person I didn’t realize I had been looking for.
A week later I was hanging out with my girlfriend. We were lounging around her bedroom with no particular plans in mind when she announced she was hungry.
We hit the pub down the road and chatted away over burgers and pints. All at once I spotted Max outside with a group of friends. My heart leapt in excitement. I jumped down from my stool and out the door without a word. I ran down the street calling his name until he turned around.
His face broke out into a broad smile and my life changed forever. From that night, and all the nights after, he has been my constant and irreplaceable companion.
The thing that really struck me about Max in the early days was his maturity and depth of character. Never had I met someone so in tune with who they were and what they wanted. Like me, he had spent years being bombarded by selfish users.
With the birth of our relationship, we were both able to lay aside the co-dependency we thought had been meaningful. Slowly, we fell in love. We reveled everything there was to know about each other. We tried to spend every moment together, and still do.
He helped me to realize I was worthwhile, and did not deserve the sort of ragged emotional subsistence I’d been hopelessly pecking at. I helped him learn the power of saying no and setting boundaries.
We have been together 5 years this November.
I am amazed by the improbability of our meeting. If one singular event had been different, we never would have met. If I had not gone through all those absurd and embarrassing experiences, I never would have been ready for the emotional commitment of a real relationship.
I’m extremely lucky.
So rarely do we see or recognize the people that fate has thrust before us. So rarely do we take the plunge and enter into something with our whole hearts. If there is one great success in my life so far, it is my relationship with Max.