You would think based on the evidence I was presented with on a near daily basis regarding what to expect in a relationship between a man and a woman I would have had more skepticism, but instead I was a hard core romantic through and through. A man finds the woman of his dreams, and vise versa, and from that point on the man cherishes and does everything within his power to honor, protect and cherish her as any variety of situations in life occur. This attitude was spurned on by a decent diet of fairy tales in my younger years, continued in their reinforcement by romantic novels brought into the house by a friend of my mother’s as I grew into adolescence. This attitude and belief system probably played in key role in how I would conduct myself in relationships for years to come, making it difficult to have an objective attitude and understanding of a relationship’s health.
I quickly fell in love with my first boyfriend. I had had a serious crush on him for a long time before he asked me out and once in a relationship that crush turned into love. And it blinded me. My assumption was that he would love me in the same way I loved him, which would include making me a priority, acting only in ways that were in my and our best interest. Well I was wrong. I wonder sometimes, come on, the boy was 17, what did you expect? The two of you had no conversations about what dating meant to each of you. Did I ask him how he felt about dating me, what guidelines would apply for the amount of time spent together, with others, did any rules of conduct apply? Like if we dating and sleeping together does that mean we only have sex with each other? A question like that would not have been one I would think to ask or if I thought to ask, be able to put into words. One, I didn’t have a copy of the latest dating manual of the 70’s to guide me, parents involved in a way to help me navigate this new world, or friends with decent advice. I just jumped in with the expectation I would be honored, protected and cherished.
Obviously that didn’t happen. Events all around me made that abundantly clear. But I could not see them. I could not see all the truth, the reality that was staring me right in the face. I did not have the tools to see with clarity, let alone know what to do if I did sense things weren’t not exactly right.
Looking back I’m astounded with the amount of information I was given, not only by my boyfriend but others, that he was cheating on me, that I was not the only one he was sleeping with. Examining each instance, it appears I found a way to blind myself from the truth. I would feel intensely threatened and fearful each time I was provided with evidence, but somehow I would find a way to bury the knowledge along with all the horrible feelings each time. I don’t know how I did that. Like seriously girl, you are smart, what the hell was going on that you could be presented with blatant information that the boy you loved was breaking every rule from your understanding of what this relationship was and find a way to discredit, bury and ignore it?
Like the time my boyfriend’s family took in a boarding student from a nearby town that did not have a high school, too far to make a daily drive to and from school. She stayed just a few days before she was reassigned to another family. My boyfriend made some reference soon afterwards when I was at his house that we should do it in the shower, it’s really something, wink wink. And the girl’s subsequent comment to me in the hall at school, “you boyfriend’s shower is great” or something similar, completely lame but taking the ground out from me. What? What did she say? Why did she say that? Along with rumors on why she had to stop boarding at his house, “well they had to remove her because.” Because what? Bury those comments and fear, stat.
Or the summer following my junior year when I traveled to Europe with a choir. Arriving in Rome after a few weeks away I received letters from him, detailing all his activities of the summer with a little too much emphasis on what a great time he was having hanging out with a particular girl. Now why would he write that? I’m all the way across the world with no access to him, no way to reach out with any questions and now I have to sit with these lines of information? Why are you having such a good time, what exactly are you doing? Why are you making a point of putting those comments into this letter? What do you want me to think? Feel? When I finally got back to our town, all tan and now worldly – if only – I would run into her with him and get an odd sense that information I should be privy to was being wordlessly exchanged between the two of them. Quick. Bury that.
Or more disturbing, the comment by our music teacher. “___________ is very very sexy.” The name of my boyfriend in that blank. What?! That one really threw me. Why would a mid-forties possibly gay man, our teacher, say such a thing? And it wasn’t the words themselves, while disturbing, that caused me to feel very uneasy about what he had just said. It was the manner in which he said them. In a flirtatious way, almost baiting me, dangling a juicy bit of news out in front of me, daring me in what a response might be. Tantalizing me. I had a friendly relationship with this teacher, I was a huge fan of all my music classes and excelled in them, but this felt so wrong on levels I didn’t even understand. My thoughts then went to, he is a friend of my boyfriend’s family and socializing with them outside of school activities, what prompted such a comment? He must know I’m having sex with my boyfriend, why would he weigh in on whether my boyfriend was sexy or not, why would he have an opinion on this, why would those thoughts even happen in his brain? And then the scariest thought. Has he had sex with my boyfriend? The way in which the teacher had spoken his opinion gave the distinct impression that his words came from personal knowledge. This creeped me out so badly that I had to stop all my thoughts before my mind exploded. I had absolutely zero knowledge, experience, education or point of reference to know what to do with the message I had just received. The exchange and all my fear got stored away, not to be revisited until another message was given to me.
I can not remember the words. Was it a direct admission or a dangling of suggested information designed to taunt me? This time it was my boyfriend’s words, hinting of sex with a friend, a friend who was male. Again. I had no library of tools to deal with this. This was the 70’s in a small town, need I say more? I must have had some knowledge that being gay was a thing, and even a sense that my music teacher might be gay and that friend of a friend that I had met up with in Rome during my summer in Europe, he had a different air about him from any other boys I knew, was he gay? But it wasn’t something that was out there, talked about with openness. The idea that my boyfriend might be sleeping with other people, including guys, was information outside my realm of being able to process and deal with any sense of appropriateness, let alone what that might mean for my taking care of myself. So it got stored away with all the other instances that should have been strong and distinctly clear warnings to get out of this relationship.
Later there was college. During my senior year he had stayed on in town to work and earn money, but when I left for college so did he, I to a university, he to a community college about 30 miles away. Our routine became one of him picking me up on Friday night from my dorm, returning me Sunday night. Over the weekend I would stay at his apartment, go out to parties with his theater troupe – the area of study he was focusing on – sleeping in late, cooking, eating, lounging around, sometimes a little homework. I missed out on the best of what was happening back at my school on the weekends by adopting this routine, but I was a committed girlfriend. This schedule, however, left five nights a week when I wasn’t around, and one particular girl from his classes dropped enough comments over a period of time that strongly suggested when I wasn’t around she was. But of course, again, I buried her words – and his about what a fun friend she was – in an attempt to shield myself from hurt. And the truth.
But you can’t do that. It doesn’t work that way. If a person you are in a relationship with is conducting themselves in ways that are destructive to trust, is participating in activities that dishonor the bond between the two people it erodes what good can exist whether or not the parties are forthcoming about what is occurring. Hurtful actions cause hurt, even if kept in the dark. I have seen men do things that they have believed would not hurt me as long as I didn’t know, but in reality those actions put in motion a whole new way of being. It changes the relationship, it begins to wear it down and eventually tear it apart. I’ve seen it play out in key relationships of my own, and others, to know this for a fact. You can’t escape the consequences of your actions, whether or not you are successful in keeping them in the dark, there is always a price to pay. Perhaps it is karma.
I eventually left this boyfriend and he has spent the rest of his life knowing he let his true love slip out of his fingers. He’s told me this, his mother has told me this, and recently, decades later, so I’m not being some self-absorbed wronged woman making this up. On the other hand he stopped being my true love the days and months at the end when I finally allowed myself to begin to see the truth of how he was treating me, and had been treating me for years. Once that process began I just wanted to be free and finally – it was unbelievably hard because the idea of being able to walk away seemed like an absolute impossibility – I did set myself free. On a stormy night with snow falling I drove to a travel agency, purchased my ticket out of there and found myself finally saying no as I packed my bags and headed to the airport the next day. And it was absolute. I never looked back with what if’s or remorse, pining for a lost love. It was dead. My heart was dead to him. Long overdue but thankfully, done.