We were laying in bed and he said, “If I were going to marry anyone, it would be her.” I heard the words come out of his mouth and I was confused. Partly because we were both laying in my bed after he agreed to spend the night, but more so because after all this time, nothing had changed. He was in bed with me, but had been building a life with someone else, someone he had just confessed he could see himself marrying, someone who wasn't me. We had been “dating” for seven years, off and on, and I had nothing to show for all that time except late nights and broken promises.
There were feelings there, but they were surface-level at best. Deep down, I knew he wasn’t the one. On paper, he had all of the qualifications. He made a good living, he was charming, he was mature and we had known each other for years and shared friends. I knew that he had nothing to offer me, but he was comfortable. We knew each other, and he felt safe. He had been around for so many of my big life moments: getting my first job, moving into my first apartment, traveling internationally without my family for the first time.
However, who he was in my head and who he was in real life were not the same person. I tried to make the two versions of him real, but people are who they are. I knew that the one for me would never create such confusion in my mind, but by the time I realized this, I was already in love.
It wasn’t until a few months after he professed his preferred marriage choice that it dawned on me: He had never explicitly said the words, ‘I do not want you and never will.’ He had never and would never commit to me. Because if he had, I would have stopped years ago.
I spent the better part of my 20s wondering why. What was wrong with me? What could I do differently? What did this woman have that I didn’t? He always gave me just enough hope to make me believe that one day he would suddenly realize how amazing I was and pick me. Choose me. Love me. The day that he said those words was probably the first time I ever heard what he was truly saying to me.
He might have enjoyed my company but he would never see me as someone he could commit to.
I knew that his marriage proclamation was a direct response to the words that we had never said. We were both older now, several years had passed, and he knew that my life plan included marriage and children. So without saying the exact words, he implied that he would always choose me for comfort, but he would never commit to me. And for the first time, I heard the truth.
The truth was, there was nothing wrong with me other than I was accepting less than the bare minimum from a broken man. The truth was he would always return to me for physical comfort, but nothing more. His manipulation tactics worked well for many years because he was charming, but his actions never matched his words.
When we first started dating, he told me he had always been attracted to me. I thought that surely a man who had always wanted me would treat me as a prize, worthy of being earned; not as a toy. Once we established this, we decided that we wanted to get to know each other better as more than friends. He also decided that he would date me and this other woman at the same time because he could.
We knew he was dating both of us, and he clearly enjoyed having the attention of two women because it meant he was never alone, and also it made him feel irresistible. When he could no longer juggle his feelings for both of us, he committed to her while still holding on to me. When he told me that he chose her, I was devastated.
It never occurred to me that in this twisted game, I would lose. I questioned everything about who I was. My appearance, my personality, my intelligence, my accomplishments; I spent almost an entire year mourning what I felt was a loss. Every now and then, he would pop up and, through my pain, I felt honored that despite him choosing her, he couldn’t let me go.
Manipulators turn love into a game and that’s what it was for us. I enjoyed knowing the fact that he would come running whenever I called, and he knew how to give me just enough attention and hope to keep me hanging on. I didn’t see my worth and I didn’t believe that I deserved the love that I was dreaming of. It’s all the questions that kept me holding on past our expiration date. What if he suddenly decides he wants me? What if I walk away right before he changes his mind? What if he’s the one and he’s just scared of his love for me?
It took years for me to see that it was not honor, but selfishness. Unable to choose, he wanted to have his cake and eat it too. Even though once they started dating, I was the other woman, I convinced myself that I wasn’t because we had both been there from the beginning. When their relationship ended, and he finally confessed about our indiscretions, she wasn’t surprised. Looking back I can see how even though we might have been pitted against each other, we were both allowing ourselves to be hurt by someone who claimed to care for us.
It took a long time for me to see how I played a role in my own heartbreak. I knew I was unhappy, but I didn’t believe that I deserved the love that I desired. We were both broken and our broken pieces fit together like a puzzle. He was desperately looking for love to fill the empty places in him, and I wanted to find somewhere or someone who would make me feel fulfilled.
The harder we tried to fit together, the more broken we became. I lied to him and myself by telling him that I wasn’t looking for anything serious, but the truth was I wanted him to want me as deeply as I grew to want him.
I settled for less and ended up getting less than what I settled for.
Movies and society have taught us that true love is messy and complicated. The more true it is, the more complicated it is. And while love can be complicated, because we as people are complicated, it shouldn’t be painful. I spent more nights crying myself to sleep than I would care to admit. I was at the point in my life where I felt that that situation was one of the only things in my life that I could control. I had graduated from college about a year prior and was still looking for a full-time job. Every rejection or unanswered email was a personal slap to me, and it made me dive deeper into the situation because he made me feel desired.
At least somebody wanted me, even if he didn’t want to be with me.
But that night in my apartment, his words finally broke the spell that he had over me. It had been wearing off over years, the more time I spent alone and in therapy. As he said those words and tried to explain himself, for the first time in a long time, his words fell on deaf ears. I had heard all that I needed to hear. I would never be the woman for him. And that was okay. I’m not meant for everyone.
It had been seven years of this ongoing saga, and that night as he lay in my bed and mentioned her name, I saw that he hadn’t changed or grown in seven years, but I had. I had moved into my own place, I had gotten a new job, I had traveled, and I knew that the woman I was and the woman I wanted to be were not compatible with the man that he was. And though the feelings were still there, all he could offer me was the past. Memories and history of what we had done.
Our ending wasn’t dramatic. I just stopped engaging with him, and when he asked me why, I told him that the relationship with him wasn't what I wanted. He tried to manipulate me into a conversation, but I never responded. I had spent years putting my needs on the back-burner and because of that, my needs were not met.
By walking away, I could create the space for someone who will want to be with me, not just use me as a placeholder.
Despite everything, we had shared a lot of time together. Our situation broke me. I had never known heartbreak like that, and I hope I never experience heartbreak like that again. However, I don’t look at it as wasted time, but lessons learned. I wouldn’t know the things about myself that I know now if it weren’t for him.
I wouldn’t know how I need to be loved if I hadn’t been loved. I wouldn’t know the red flags to watch out for if I hadn’t overlooked them with him. I wouldn’t know how to make sure that someone’s actions match their words. I also wouldn’t know that I could be strong enough to put myself first.
It’s been almost two years since we’ve had any contact, and I can honestly say I’ve never slept better.
My bed might be empty, but I’m at peace.
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