I can still remember it like it was yesterday. We were sitting at dinner on a Friday night one summer evening back in 2014. After serendipitously meeting, one grandiose “first date” to Bear Mountain, a nickname involving a golden chinchilla, and two “I love yous,” he looked me in the eye and told me something I didn’t expect to hear:
“I don’t want a partner.”
Not just right now. Not just with me.
As in, in his lifetime.
It was date night. I was wearing a fitted black and tan color-blocked dress, him in Brooks Brothers. He was unhappy with his vegetable dish while I was thoroughly enjoying my surf and turf. We were the youngest pair at the Harvard Club by far, where he worked out at his alma mater’s Midtown spot in Manhattan. We never failed to giggle at our surroundings or make up tales about the people around us. However, the laughs quickly stopped and were replaced by a stomach pain (and heart ache) so terrible that I can not describe it.
Feeling sick from this news, I looked at him and asked, “then what is this?”
It has taken me almost four years to understand what he meant that Friday evening.
Now I can relate to it.
As much as I loved him- the last time, and maybe only time I was in love- relationships were too difficult for him. He didn’t want to be obligated to someone, have the stress, or complicate his life.
After four years, that’s how I am starting to feel, too.
I’ve realized how unattached I am… to anything. Sure, I have emotional connections and love the people in my life, but I understand impermanence. I understand people change. I also understand that I, too, have done much better on my own.
Maybe, just maybe I will have the tinglies again, sing to old Chicago songs, have Saturday brunch, and do crossword puzzles over coffee on a Sunday morning with a partner (while Lionel Richie plays, of course), but I will no longer settle. I want someone who can be my best friend. Although that relationship didn’t work, at least I learned what I want.
Perhaps one day someone will understand my need for space, embrace my quirks, and be strong enough to handle me. He wasn’t perfect, but he made me feel alive.
Every time I am on Harvard’s campus I think of him. Last summer I sent him an email letting him know I am in Boston, accompanied with a photo of Harvard Yard. He was happy to hear I was doing well, but that’s where it ended. He needed to set a boundary with me- just like I have had to do with the men who have attempted to re-enter my life.
At the end of the day, we need to look out for ourselves. We can’t please or appease everyone; nor should we lead people on just for something to do. Someone did that with me for over three years after E left, and I will be sure to never mislead someone as others have done. It hurts.
I’ll always be grateful for that summer- for meeting my neighbor who went to art school next to my hometown, who got my jokes, who cooked me filets and bought me cheese despite being vegan. He encouraged me to succeed, introduced me to Betty Who, HAIM, and Ella Riot, respected women, and was one of the most intelligent people I have ever met.
I’ve done a whole lot of settling since that summer. Not anymore, though.