As the world closes its doors to keep the coronavirus out of its crevices, my heart has only just begun to slowly open back up after its own closure. It was shut down abruptly on a Monday night: the potential of a relationship; the early dream of the future we’d begun painting together; the flights, the hotel reservations, the hope of an “us” — every single part of what we’d begun to create, collapsed spectacularly with the words “I can’t do long-distance.” As a battle-worn veteran of long-distance relationships myself, I couldn’t blame him. I didn’t ask him to elaborate. There was no need. Whether it was, in fact, the distance, or something else entirely, it mattered not. He was done and I never want to be the girl trying to convince someone to stay. I know my worth.
I try not to make the same mistake twice. I like to make it four or five times just to be sure. I realize that since I find myself back on the sucky-side of a breakup, or a break-off, in this case, means I still have some work to do on myself to get this thing called love right. There’s a movie about how to lose a guy in ten days, but I’m confident that in the case of this most recent tryst, I demonstrated how to lose a guy in thirty-two minutes or less. I’m an over-achiever that way. Just so we’re clear, it’s been the most eye-opening, soul-widening, and unfortunate lesson of my adult life, or at least in recent years. But like grandma used to say, “You can’t fall off the floor.” (Sure, grandpa would follow with “Yeah, but you can roll into the gutter!” and he’d laugh and laugh and laugh). But grandma was right, there’s only one direction to go from the bottom, and that’s up!
I imagine as you’re reading this now, you’re encountering me somewhere between the gutter and the floor – that unique space where I still feel like rubbish but I’m also grateful to have a place to rest my head, albeit a very hard surface. You see, I derailed a very promising relationship with a man I’ve known for over thirty years. We met in high school youth group and reconnected on social media more recently. I’ve always been a big fan of his, so when we struck up a conversation online several months ago, I welcomed it. And when one phone call turned into two-hour phone conversations most nights, and countless text exchanges throughout the day, I was delighted.
After all, there is nothing not to like about this guy. He is intentional, funny, hard-working, charming, handsome, and intelligent. Not to mention he’s built like a Tonka Truck. He’s one-part chiseled Tim McGraw, all other parts ‘let me lie down on your manly chest and take a nap’. The only downside I could see from 1,300 miles away from where I lived, was that he lived 1,300 miles away from me, back in my native Orange County. That was less than ideal, but I was willing to invest the time and energy it would take to see just where things might lead us. And therein lies the rub. I managed to lead them right off the side of a damn cliff, crashing us into the bottom of a vodka bottle. And I did it all in less time than it would take me to vacuum my house.
I am not going to go into the details of the us that is now no more, I’d like to keep some things sacred to protect the thirty-two minutes of memories we shared. But I will admit, that as I stockpile groceries and hunker down amidst this global pandemic to keep my house in order, I do so on the heels of burning down the little playhouse he and I had just begun to build — with those invisible fur babies we intended to raise together one day, and all the travel plans we’d already booked — all entombed inside.
I would change everything about that Sunday afternoon if I could, well, except for the super cute skater-chick outfit I was rocking. Aside from my wardrobe, I’d unwind that day so fast if I could prevent the words I uttered from spilling out of my mouth like memories on a foam mattress. Any way you look at it, our relationship was brand-spanking new. Less spanking and more “new-ing,” but it was in its infant stage — and we were just two toddlers learning how to crawl alongside one another from different state lines, praying we didn’t shit our diapers. I knew that. With every ounce of my being, I knew that this was a sweet season to just sit back and soak it all in — holding it loosely to see where our new romance might take us — like two little clouds floating effortlessly across the blue sky.
I was very mindful that it was far too early to define this relationship and make it something it was not yet ready to become. However, I must not have realized I was still carrying some wounds from my last relationship. Because there I was, sitting across from this beautiful human in a dive bar in Southern California, staring into his adorable hazel eyes, when I heard myself say out loud that I needed to know where he and I stood in our relationship. To be clear, that was NOT AT ALL what I needed! Not at this very early stage of our long-distance relationship anyway. What I needed was an Advil and a muzzle to shut my dumb mouth — immediately! But apparently, after having consumed three vodka sodas and chasing those down with a boozy concoction called the “Rainbow” which contained ten types of hard alcohol, down at the Aloha Grill, I slid right down that colorful arched aperitif and directly off the rails of relational sanity. The booze did nothing to ward off the unexpected onset of verbal diarrhea that came spewing out my mouth like a chocolate fountain.
“So, are we dating other people?” I think I said, or something like it. “Oh my gosh, Debbie, stop talking!” shouted my internal dialogue.
But I didn’t stop talking. Far from it – nonsensical dialog continued to spill from my lips like a bad ‘N Sync song.
Oh, what I’d give to be twenty-one years old again at that very moment. After all, when I was twenty-one years old, my mouth was wired shut. I’d had jaw surgery that Christmas due to an open bite. The surgeons had to saw all my teeth out of my cranium, realign my bite and then wire my chompers back in place. As a result, I was wired shut for six weeks. I was speechless. Literally. And I would have paid top-dollar to have still been speechless on this particular day, sitting in front of this particular man, having this particular conversation. Somewhere between my fuzzy-head and tender heart, I put the die in diatribe and spewed out the most ill-timed request of him to know just exactly where we stood. Khalil Gibran says, “Between what is said and not meant, and what is meant and not said, most of love is lost.” That felt true for us that night. Perhaps it’s fitting that one of our last memories together was in a place called the Aloha Grill since Aloha just so happens to mean “Hello,” “I Love You” and “Goodbye.”
Once my plane touched down back in Austin the next day, he called to tell me it was over. If I’m honest with myself, I was not surprised. I knew when I saw my reflection staring back at me from the bottom of my empty rainbow glass that I had probably pushed the boundaries of our relationship further than they were able to stretch. If there was anything that stunned me, however, it was that he didn’t tell me in person while I sat in front of him earlier that morning while he scrambled me eggs. Maybe it would’ve been too difficult to give me eye contact when he told me that he couldn’t do long-distance? –too hard to watch my eyes fill up with tears as the hope I held in my heart for us vanished. Maybe he thought I’d try to talk him out of his decision, beg him to give us a fair shot? I’ll never know. What I do know is that I deserved a proper goodbye. I deserved more than a phone call. If you’re going to break my heart, have the decency to say what you need to say directly to a face you’ve known since you were a teenager. And because he chose not to, I was left with just my mind to deduce why it had all unraveled — I’m only guessing that it was because I was asking him to lease the vehicle when he hadn’t even taken it for a thorough test drive. We all know that a relationship is like a car, you have to drive it for a bit to figure out what all the strange noises are before you commit. In my soberest moments, I fully believe that and operate to that end.
But now, instead of taking our joy-ride, I was listening to him tell me it was over. I wanted desperately to reach through the phone and stop him from ending our beautiful beginning —to tell him that he was making a huge mistake, that what we had was special, that the distance was only temporary and that fear was getting the best of him. Mostly, I wanted to prevent him from hurting my heart because I knew it had already endured more than its fair share of pain in this lifetime. But I couldn’t and I didn’t. We were over before we even started, and all those possible dreams that we had begun painting together, were washed away the minute we hung up that phone.
I learned long ago that we need to forgive others who, by following their own hearts, break ours. As difficult as it is to do, we just need to move on. Because the truth is, we are all wounded. We all show up in a relationship and bump into one another’s lives pretending we know exactly what we’re working with. Or, we think we have a clear understanding of the wretched terrain over which we’ve each been dragging our baggage. But we don’t. Behind the friendship and the courtship, we are all trying to keep our fears and insecurities tucked deep inside our heart’s suitcase, scared to death that our personal effects might soon find themselves scattered across the runway of rejection, where now I discovered all of mine. Regardless, I don’t do ambivalence well and my subconscious knew that when it spoke up on my heart’s behalf and requested just a tiny bit more of him and us. I value myself too much to give anyone my time without getting what I need in return. Retrospectively, I’m not sorry I sought clarity. And I’ll never be sorry his life bumped into mine. I’m just sorry my vulnerability was too much for him to handle.
It only takes one person to make us feel special. And he made me feel special. We could have changed this world together. Instead, he changed his mind. Sometimes good things just get away from us and there’s nothing we can do about it. Other times, fear really is to blame. Regardless, I know that I will find a man one day very soon who will accept me sober and intoxicated, serious and silly. And when I’m standing in front of that guy with my whole heart laid out there in front of him, he will choose to stay and protect it, not silence it, and walk away. Love isn’t a choice — what we do with love is. So, I’m going to hold on to the romantic notion that someone will completely alter my life in all the best ways, just as he had begun to do. I will continue to trust that this is all a part of the Lord’s crazy plan. After all, with every closure, there is an opportunity for a new beginning and with every shutdown, a fresh start. That’s true for my heart, this county, and this world. Always.