You were the one
who taught me what I don’t need
and I thank you, now
I thank you for that
— Sister Hazel, Thank You
I met M spring semester of my junior year in college. I had just come back from a semester abroad in Spain, and in my absence, my two best friends at school had started hanging out with M and his friends. He was a senior then, and I knew who he was – there were only about 1100 students at my school – and I knew that he’d been dating the same girl for as long as I’d been at school. They were still technically together when I met him, though she’d graduated the year before and the distance was taking a toll on their relationship. I remember thinking he was cute, and I remember my friends telling me that he dug me (being able to talk intelligently about baseball and other sports is one of my surefire boy-getting tactics), but I didn’t want to get in the middle of whatever was going on between him and his girlfriend.
I ended up there anyway, because, as we became friends, M would cry on my shoulder about her and how he hated being away from her and how he didn’t see how they could last if they couldn’t be in the same place. Looking back, there were lots of clues that M was not right for me, and that was one of them, but I overlooked them all. Eventually, they broke up, and I would say we got together almost immediately. That was another clue. Things were good – we were head over heels for each other, we never fought, and our friends were friends, so there was never any of the friction that comes when one person in a group of friends starts dating someone outside the group and then pulls away. We had a good time together, and I thought I was in love with him, but I can’t say I was ever truly comfortable with him.
I’m much better about it now, but back then, talking about money made me really uncomfortable, and M talked about money ALL the time. Whenever someone bought something, he wanted to know how much it cost. He talked about how much he spent on whatever thing he’d done or bought that day. He spent money like water (he had the most massive CD collection I’ve ever seen), and why not? His parents were, if not wealthy, then certainly comfortable. For someone with access to so much money, and no need to worry about it, he sure seemed to concern himself with it a lot. When I told him I wanted to be a social worker, the first thing he said was, “But social workers don’t make very much money.” As if that’s why you do a job like that, for the money. He never asked me what else I might get out of that profession, why I thought it was good, important work. What’s that, Blue? You see a clue?
He was very sweet to me, and devoted – almost to the point of suffocation, actually. If I had plans that didn’t include him, he pouted and asked when I’d be back. If I went to dinner in the dining hall without him, he was wounded. I told him once that I hoped to move to Spain to live someday. The first thing out of his mouth was, “What about me?” When I said he could come with me, he said, “Why would I want to live in Spain?” He never tried to understand what was so meaningful to me about it, how it seemed to call to me, how much I loved being there. I told him, “Just because I want to move to Spain doesn’t mean I don’t love you.” He said, “But if you moved there, that’s what it would mean to me.” Hello, Pat Sajak? I’d like to buy a clue, please.
After graduation, he stayed in the city where we went to school, renting an apartment with his best friend. I went home to Richmond for the summer and we wrote and called and visited. I just looked in my journal and found unsent letters to him from that summer, all about how much I loved him and how I hoped we’d end up married. He was sending me the same kinds of letters, and things were rosy. But.
There was a redheaded girl I knew from school who was in M’s class. We had been friends, more or less, since my freshman year. We would go out occasionally or drink on campus, but I wouldn’t say we were close, really. She knew M and his roommate, of course – we’d even hung out at school together – and somehow that summer, she started spending a lot of time at their apartment. In the beginning, she seemed to be angling for the roommate, which everyone thought was odd, including the roommate. Eventually it became clear that what she was really after was M. I didn’t worry, at first, because I knew he was, as I said above, devoted to me. But as they spent more time together, M and I fought more and more. Whenever I expressed concern about what I saw as her attempts to break us up, he dismissed them, saying she wouldn’t do something like that.
I moved back to school in August, and everything was good for a while, now that we were back in the same town. I don’t remember exactly what happened, and my journal is silent for several crucial months, unfortunately. I do know that sometime in September, I called M at his apartment and broke up with him. He didn’t do much resisting, and as I said in Part 2, that’s probably because he knew someone was there to handle the fallout – he loved the idea of being in a relationship, and hadn’t been single since high school. Then I called my best friend, sobbing, and when she said, “If you’re this upset about it, maybe it wasn’t such a great idea,” I yelled at her for not being supportive and she hung up on me. I totally deserved it.
M and I agreed to try to stay friends, but within TWO weeks, he was dating the redhead, they were practically living together, and he just could not fathom why I wouldn’t want to be around them. In my head, she’d weaseled her way into his life and essentially stolen him from me. I know now (and even then, if I thought about it rationally), that if my relationship with M had been truly strong, nothing she could have done would have made a difference. It was easy to put the blame on her, though, especially after this: I had called M for something, and she was there; she asked to speak to me and I told him not to put her on the phone, but he did anyway. I don’t remember what she wanted to tell me – I think something about how she didn’t steal him away, and they’d never cheated while he and I were together (to this day, I don’t know if that’s true or not), and she hoped we could salvage our friendship – and it doesn’t matter. It turned into a screaming match and she got the last word in, calling me a fat whore and hanging up. I was so mad, I threw the phone across the room and slammed my palm against my closet door, hard – and right onto the head of a nail that was sticking out of it.
A week or so after that, the redhead came to campus to see me. She apologized for what she’d said; I didn’t accept. She said she wanted to still be my friend; I told her I wasn’t interested. Two weeks later, M came by, utterly confused by the fact that I wouldn’t forgive her, or him. I don’t think I ever saw him again. I called him about a year later, looking for my baseball glove; I was with him the last time I’d used it. She answered – they really were living together then – and after talking to him, I felt sick to my stomach.
I hardly ever think about him now, and I never miss him. I do know, through the wonder of alumni magazines, that they eventually married, moved to Connecticut, and they now have a baby. And god help me, she’s adorable.
After M and I broke up, one of my very good friends told me that she never understood why we were together, that we didn’t seem to be a good match. She said she didn’t say anything because I seemed happy, but she always wondered what I saw in him. Part of me wishes she’d said something in the beginning – this friend, of all of my friends, is probably the most insightful, and I really value her opinion – because it would have saved me a lot of heartache in the end. I’m sure, though, that I would have dismissed her concerns, and tried to explain all the good things about him (because, despite the way it may sound, there were good things about him).
The truth is, M and I would never have lasted for a million reasons that had nothing to do with the redhead: he wasn’t culturally adventurous; he was immature and lacked ambition; he did things that bordered, for me, on dishonest without hesitation or reflection; I didn’t trust him enough to truly be myself with him and he knew that; he wasn’t intellectually curious; I didn’t feel safe with him; he lacked the ability to see things from the other person’s point of view.
I knew, even in the midst of my relationship with M, that these were things I was overlooking in the name of “love.” I suppose I thought I could change, or that I could change him, or that I had convinced myself these things weren’t that big a deal. He loved me, after all – isn’t that what mattered?
I know better now. That isn’t to say that the relationship that ends up working has to be perfect in every way. I know it won’t be. But I’ve come to understand, through my relationship with M, that there are some things that are deal breakers for me, and I shouldn’t sweep them under the rug and try to pretend that they don’t matter. They matter immensely.