Why We (I) Stay(ed)

I started this post a week ago. What a difference a week makes.

My friends struggle to understand why I am in a relationship with a man I constantly fight with, continuously think about breaking up with, and regularly feel unhappy with. Some of my friends have quit the struggle and prefer to stay out of it altogether. A precious few accept it – whether they understand it or not – and just keep waiting for something to give. 

I’ve known him for almost 4 years but we’ve only been dating officially for maybe 6 months. We have a tumultuous past that began very quickly after my ex-fiance broke up with me unexpectedly. I fell in love quickly, even though serious problems were evident from the start. I remember saying to him then: “You are the most selfish person I’ve ever known.” We only dated for 2 weeks back then. We broke up, tried to stay friends, and when that didn’t work we went through cycles of not speaking for months and then reconnecting into a highly charged “friendship” with loose boundaries. Very loose boundaries. I kept going back. He was persistent, I was attached, and we had incredible chemistry.  

When he approached me 6 months ago asking me to reconsider a relationship with him, I turned him down. I had a vision of the kind of relationship I wanted, and I knew he couldn’t provide it. I wanted to feel comfortable, and loved. I wanted easy conversation and mutual respect, stability and support. I wanted a partnership. Eventually he provided a compelling enough case and I agreed to give it a try. Two months later I ended it, then again 2 months after that. My friends were shaking their heads.

Three weeks ago we had a fight and I thought, “That’s it, this has to be the end. It’s just not working.” Fights were starting to become a regular weekend occurrence for us. I try to avoid making permanent decisions in anger so, as usual, I told myself to sleep on it. Of course I got no sleep that night. The next day I told myself not to make permanent decisions when I’m tired and, well, you can see how this goes. Eventually, I finally got a better night’s sleep and told myself the next day, “See? Things aren’t so bad.” He was being sweet, and I was relieved to be feeling a little better. 

But the problems were still there, and they were still keeping me up at night. They were on my mind all the time. Half the time I was thinking about how insurmountable they were and how I needed to end the relationship. The other half of the time I was trying to figure out why those problems existed – what were we both contributing and what could we both do differently to avoid those problems.

The following weekend I thought for sure the relationship was going to end. I had spent a week thinking things over and couldn’t see a way out. It just wasn’t working. I was unhappy, I didn’t feel valued, I didn’t feel like I had a partner. In fact, of all the things I had envisioned for my next relationship, I could find very few of them in this one.

And then, in the middle of that weekend’s fight, he said, “You know it’s because of you that I say felt that you were attacking me (for example). In the past I would have said You attacked me.” And I suddenly saw that we were making progress, that he actually was trying to do better even if he’s not really one to openly acknowledge it. He had quietly noted the need for change, and was trying to work on it. I value that. It brought tears to my eyes, my heart grew three sizes and I instantly recommitted. If he was willing to try, so was I. 

I’d never known anybody like him before, and he said he’d never known anybody like me before. Of course it would take time for us to learn how to be with each other – we just needed to try harder. It was becoming a common refrain for us – we just have to try, we just have to try harder.

Since that day just over a week ago, we fought again, twice. In fact, one night we fought (“discussed”) until 5:30am. It’s amazing how much truth comes out in exhaustion. And truth is kind of like a brand new comforter – once you pull it out of the packaging, there’s just no way you’re going to be able to fold it all tightly enough to get it back in. Once it’s out, it’s out for good.

So, today we broke up. The few friends I have left are being kind and sympathetic. They’ve run the marathon with me. They passed the ‘I told you so’ marker long ago and have just been waiting to see the finish line. They also know that often the finish line is a mirage, so they will cautiously stand by to make sure this is permanent before they say too much. 

I loved him. I do love him. I knew we had the odds stacked against us but I thought I was onto a special secret – that this guy who was troubled and emotionally distant was really a sweetheart just waiting to be loved into happiness. He was incredibly smart, funny, driven, and relentless in trying to get a foothold in life. In so many ways I admired him.

I love discovering people who have unexpected layers of amazingness the rest of the world can’t see. I guess on some level I think that makes me special. Now I think it just makes me like every other person who stays in an unhealthy relationship. We try too hard. We stay too long. We’re hopeful to a fault. We’re a dime a dozen. 

But I’ll tell you this: we’re not weak and we’re not stupid. We know what’s happening. We see the bad, we just whole heartedly want to believe it will get better. And we have the strength of armies because we will go to great lengths and endure great sorrows in the hopes that it will get better.

So the next time you’re frustrated with a friend for not leaving a ‘bad’ relationship, or you find yourself saying “why doesn’t s/he just leave?”, please try to remember that person is just trying their best to be happy. They are hopeful and they are strong. They need your patience and support, not your judgement and ultimatums. 

Ironically, in the end, it was a Facebook post from one of his female friends (who had been the subject of previous fights between us) that tipped me over. It didn’t say anything particularly amazing, and it wasn’t anything I hadn’t heard before. It just said the right thing at the right time:

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4 thoughts on “Why We (I) Stay(ed)

    • Thanks! Yeah, people’s inability to understand is really frustrating. Eight months out, I now have so much clarity around it all but wow, when you’re in it, it’s impossible to sort out your own thoughts let alone try to explain them to others. So glad to be rid of him! Thanks for your comment. 🙂

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