Whiplash (Or, Making Responsible Decisions™)

BY CHELSEA RICCHIO

A month and a half after ending this relationship, in no way did I feel like I was ready to start dating again. All I wanted to do was hang out with my friends and recuperate. But all of my friends were either happily coupled up or active on the dating scene, and I was starting to feel left out.

So I re-downloaded some dating apps I’d used in the past – they’d never worked for me, but I figured that there was no harm in talking to a few people online for a little while to boost my confidence.

And then I had my first match.  “_ says, ‘I walked into a cactus once.’ Message him and ask him about it!”

Obviously I did, because that is literally the best icebreaker ever.

The cactus story was actually not that great, but we were having a nice conversation anyway and he actually felt like a real person. Even though we weren’t talking about anything especially interesting, he felt like he had dimension. I had a ‘good feeling’ about him. So when he asked me out I actually said yes.

For the next two weeks we saw each other several times, and I kept saying to myself, “I’m not sure about this.” Most of my hesitation came from the fact that I just did not think that I was ‘ready’ – and, quite frankly, I wasn’t sure if he would live up to my now sky-high expectations.

One day though I ended up hanging out at his place really late so he asked me if I wanted to stay over. I’m pretty sure he was more excited about it than I was. Which is saying a lot, because I was pretty excited. I was just happy that he wanted me to stay; the last person that I was with never could because, well, he had a girlfriend. Who he lived with.

As I was falling asleep, I had one of those moments where you feel like you’re falling, but really you’re just lying there, and you sort of suddenly wake up and your whole body twitches. (Those are the worst.) He already had his arms around me but he held me tighter, stroked my hair and kissed my hand. I think he thought I was asleep already. It was just such a sweet and instinctive reaction and I felt so protected and safe.

And that was it. Really, he had me at “I walked into a cactus once”, but this was the moment when I finally decided to stop psyching myself out and just allow myself to fully experience the present.

When all of my doubts were stripped away, I realized that this had actual long-term potential. It wasn’t just a “let’s see where this goes” type of thing, at least not to me. This was a Responsible Decision™! I couldn’t fuck that up. Despite the obstacles we were facing, both big and small (his severe allergy to my cat, our schedules, him moving away soon), I was determined to do everything possible to make things work.

He was going to be A LAWYER. Which to me actually doesn’t sound that great; I’ve always kind of hated lawyers. (I freaked the fuck out when I found out how much money he was going to be making, but he said he’d buy me a robot vacuum cleaner and that’s basically all I want in life so I got over that pretty fast.) But I knew it was going to look good to the people around me who had been raising their eyebrows at my choices of romantic partners since 1992, and that was pretty exciting.

In terms of things that I actually care about, though: he lived really close to me (at least for now), we had similar enough interests and lifestyles, and where we diverged we were both interested in learning more about what the other person was into. We both have a weird fascination with the Cold War, like cheese pizza from Pizza Hut, appreciate Taylor Swift’s business decisions, liked the same emo/pop punk music in high school, like watching The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (although really, who doesn’t), and best of all we are both awkward AF. What more could you want? Nothing. That’s it. That is my ideal person right there.

But seriously though, he was great. He was like everyone I’ve ever loved all rolled into one person with some other stuff thrown in too. He had the little things that I’ve started to look for: he thought it was cute when I got really excited by dumb things like dandelions, he appreciated the nice things that I like to do for people, he thought I had a pretty voice, he respected the work that I do, he appreciated my body, he wasn’t afraid to tell me how much he liked me, and he talked to me every day not out of obligation but because he wanted to. He missed me if he didn’t see me for more than a couple of days, sometimes less than that at a certain point.

When he moved back home, 5 hours away, for the summer, I thought things would be easy. I know people always talk about how hard long-distance is, but I just thought that things would be okay because of all of the different ways people have to communicate now. Texting, phone calls, Skyping, social media, and so on. I wasn’t really concerned with him cheating on me; before he left he seemed pretty into me, and he was busy studying and hanging out with his family. I guess I thought that whenever he wasn’t doing those things, he would be hanging out with me, either digitally or in person.

But as soon as he left he pretty much turned into an entirely different person.

For three weeks I was an emotional and anxious wreck trying to figure out what went wrong and how to fix this. He stopped communicating with me effectively and I had absolutely no idea what his life looked like anymore. I would be anxious and nauseous wondering why he didn’t respond to my text for 7 hours – what was he doing for 7 HOURS that he couldn’t check his phone even once for 2 minutes?! I wanted to create some sort of routine so that I would know what to expect, like a Skype date every Sunday night or something like that. I pushed and pushed for that to happen but the more I did the more he resisted. Living in this touch-and-go grey area was literally driving me insane, but it seemed like the only other option he was leaving me with was to not talk to him at all and break up.

I didn’t want to break up. Partially because I liked him and because of how good things used to be, but also because of how good things COULD be. He’s coming back in the fall.In the fall, I wanted us to be able to have a fair chance. But I guess that decision wasn’t really up to me.

I still want to know if we can go back to what we had when we were both living in the same city. I want to know which version of him is the real one – the one who used to miss me if he didn’t see me for more than a day or this one who could not talk to me for weeks and not even care.

I know that had he stayed in the city, we would have carried on as we were and we’d still be together now, probably doing great. I know that we’re just victims of bad timing. I mean, he could have handled things differently, in a way that would make me feel like I was worth a little more, but that doesn’t make him awful. But I have to be mad at someone.

It’s not enough for me to just be angry at the universe, at life in general; that’s too broad of a target. One of us has to have been at fault, and for once I know that it sure as hell wasn’t me.

I’m actually doing okay, at least compared to the way I normally am after breakups. I think this is mostly because I had barely seen him for almost a month anyway. I get sad sometimes when I’m alone, but usually it’s almost as if it never happened at all.

And that’s what is really getting me down – the POINTLESSNESS of all of this. We were only together for a month and a half. Not only that, but we’d only known each other, period, for a month and a half. What the hell was the point of this person coming into my life only to leave again so suddenly?

I think that everything either teaches you something or enriches your life in some way, or both. But I didn’t even learn anything from this. I wasn’t with him long enough to learn anything. Unless the lesson is supposed to be, “Stop opening yourself up to people so quickly, you idiot,” which is how I feel right now, but something tells me that is not what he wants me to take away from this. That’s not even a useful lesson, because I’ve tried being cool and mysterious and it doesn’t work for me. This I know for sure.

So if I haven’t learned anything yet, and it didn’t leave a lasting positive impact, then what the fuck?

I feel like my heart has whiplash. The past year and a half has been filled with very short but intense relationships. If you were to graph my mood during that time period, it would literally look like a roller coaster. I do not get more cautious and reserved the more times this happens. It never gets old. Every time, I open myself up to them within the first two weeks and am super excited. I can’t blame myself for feeling that way because they act super excited too – they’re fawning all over me and want to talk to me and be with me all the time and all of their words and actions support the idea that this person really likes me and cares about me.

And then 2-3 months later (sometimes less), they’ve changed their mind. I’m not sure why this happens. A friend of mine has a theory that my enthusiasm and open nature is infectious and guys I date get ‘swept away’, until the dust settles and they realize that I am not actually what they want.

After this breakup, I was not just sad about this situation but about all 3 people I’ve been with in the past year and a half. People who I never really properly ‘got over’ – I got over them by getting under someone else. I am that cliché. In this case it was sort of intentional – though I didn’t really expect to meet someone I’d actually like on a dating app, I still actively made the choice to use it. In the last case it wasn’t, but that doesn’t make it any less unhealthy.

This is not to say that my feelings for these people were not genuine. They are. It’s just that I never allowed myself to fully process things that had already happened before throwing new feelings on top of that. And now the mountain of feelings I’ve accumulated is crashing down.

When I realized that I’d been with 3 people in a year and a half, my initial reaction was one of horror. I’d just been bouncing from guy to guy. How did that happen? How did I become that person? How did I even find that many people who were interested in me (even if only for 2-3 months each) in order to become that person?

Maybe this wasn’t such a Responsible Decision™ after all.

Maybe the real Responsible Decision™ would have been to allow myself to fully heal and learn how to be truly happy on my own (literally on my own, now that I live by myself). And part of me still thinks that maybe he will be a Responsible Decision™ one day, but today is not that day.

I don’t mean to shame anyone else whose life follows this same pattern, but I don’t think I want this for me. I love deeply, and as a result of all of this my heart is very tired. If I was not emotionally invested in these people, it would have been okay. But I was. I am.

So I know that my ex wants me to go date lots of men or whatever so that he doesn’t have to feel so bad, and strangely enough I actually have had the opportunity to do that already, but I am choosing not to. I initially said that I just wouldn’t go looking for it, and if I happened to meet someone then so be it, but now I don’t even think that’s enough. It doesn’t matter if I meet someone I really like, even if it’s not on purpose.

I am not ready. I will not jump into another relationship when the timing is wrong.

If they really like me, they can wait, and if they don’t, well then I guess that’s good to know. And maybe that would give them the opportunity to actually get to know me before making a decision, thus avoiding the ‘being swept away’ theory.

I thought this summer was going to be for love, but it’s not. This summer is for me. It’s great that now I know what I deserve from other people, and that it’s possible, but it means nothing if I can’t give those things to myself too.

I want to break the pattern just for the sake of proving to myself that I can.


CHELSEA RICCHIO

Chelsea Ricchio is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of the SPEAK OUT blog. She is also the Communications Manager for Healthy Minds Canada. She graduated from the University of Toronto in 2015 with a BA in English Literature and Book & Media Studies. She was the former president of the student group Active Minds at UofT, which hosts SPEAK OUT events on campus (from which this blog takes its name). She was diagnosed with Dysthymia and Social Anxiety. She is 23 and lives in Toronto with her cat Genie. 

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