Many, many years ago in my early twenties, I did something that NO woman in her early twenties EVER does: I fell for the wrong guy.
Shocking, I know.
The problem with falling for the wrong guy in your twenties is that you don't realize he's the wrong guy until after the fact and you need LOTS and LOTS of proof before you realize it. You're like the world's worst juror--overwhelming evidence, no conviction. Or you convict, acquit...convict, acquit...
Oh, the drama. Here’s just a few of the ways I figured out that he was the wrong guy.
He once asked me to bring dinner over for us and then, unbeknownst to me, left before I even got there. Turns out his friend called to let him know there was a party down the street, so instead of just cancelling, he blazed and ignored my calls. Meanwhile, I waited at his empty house like an idiot for an hour or so holding take out boxes, waiting for him to pull in the driveway. I finally gave up after my calls went to his voicemail a handful of times and then went home and ate A LOT of tacos alone in my room. (I can laugh about it now, but I’m pretty sure there were some tears in my guac that night.)
Then there was what I like to refer to as the “Alone Abroad" incident. I had lobbied for awhile for us to go on a trip, just the two of us (we rarely did anything without his group of buddies). He finally caved and we booked a little getaway, out of the country actually, and then--surprise!--his friends showed up and crashed the party halfway through. It was really ironic to be in a whole other country and run into his friends. What added to the fun was waking up the next morning to an empty room and being left half the day by myself wondering where he was. Turns out he decided it would be fun to hang with his friends that day (sans ME) and didn't let me know because he was afraid I might be mad. Nah...I prefer being stranded in a strange place and left to try and figure out if my boyfriend has vanished by his own free will or was kidnapped.
But the straw that finally broke the camel’s back (nope, the stranded in a foreign country incident wasn't enough) came when we were on one of many Ross & Rachel style "breaks" and after not speaking for a couple weeks, he asked if I could come over so we could talk. So, of course, I put on my running shoes.
Shortly after I got there, for reasons I can't remember, he had to step out for a bit, leaving me alone in his new place for a few minutes. As I wandered around I noticed a picture of us on the nightstand. "Ooh!" I thought, “this is a good sign!” I walked over and sat on his bed, picking up the framed picture to take a closer look. When I brought it closer, I noticed that there was another picture behind it sticking up slightly. Thinking it was a different picture of us, I began to pull it up to see which one it was.
It was not us.
It was a picture of him and another girl—like the kind couples take...arms around each other’s waists & big, genuinely happy smiles. I felt sick to my stomach, not just for me but for her--whoever she was. He’d been playing this swap game depending on whoever was over at the time. Ugh. No more. I was done. I left before he came back with whatever little scraps of dignity I could gather up. We never got together again.
Needless to say, the relationship and the way it ended for good was difficult and, even though I make light of it now, there was a lot of pain and anger built up over those couple of years, mostly toward myself for staying as long as I did. But, instead of dealing with it, I handled it like I'd always handled pain--I avoided it. Swept it all into a neat little pile, placed it under the rug, and spent the period of time after the break-up actively trying to avoid him, her, and whatever feelings of low self-worth kept me in that situation for so long.
The universe, of course, had other plans. He and Girl From The Picture would not be so easy to avoid.
Part of my "moving on" strategy was buying a home of my own, it gave me something new & exciting to put my energy into. To my surprise one day, I looked out the living room window and saw my ex and GFTP walking into the house across the street. I mentioned how weird it was to a friend. It got weirder--the house I'd chosen was directly across the street from one of GFTP's relatives. Huh, small world.
Months later a coworker of mine went on leave at work and who, of all people, would you guess filled in for her for three months? Imagine the awkwardness that I had to see her every day, not just where I work, not just in my hallway, but right next door. "I got this", I thought--after all, I'm a master at avoidance. If she made a left, I just made a right.
All this seemed a bit coincidental, but the next run-in left me with no doubt this was happening for a reason.
Some time had passed, maybe a year or so, and I was now living on a different side of town. While jogging through the new neighborhood one day, something on the ground caught my attention. I happened to look down to the left and noticed her name—a rather unique one—carved into the cement sidewalk in big letters just a few blocks down from the new house. And when I glanced to the right, I noticed the last name on the mailbox was also hers. I stopped in my tracks and took out my headphones as I put two and two together. NO. WAY.
Of all the towns, of all the neighborhoods, and of all the streets within that large neighborhood, I had apparently moved just a few blocks down from her childhood home. I had to laugh at the odds. It was also not lost on me that anytime I wanted to do the one thing that helps me forget my problems--running--I'd have to pass her name literally carved into the ground. Of course, I could always go a different way...
As someone who has spent A LOT of time and energy her whole life avoiding pain, conflict, and any other negative feelings, I was at a very literal crossroads and I knew it. I decided, for once, NOT to go the other way...for once in my life not to take the path of least resistance.
As one of my favorite authors Glennon Doyle says, "the brave ones don't run from their pain, they run directly toward it. Pain is a traveling professor and the smartest people I know are the people who say come in, sit down, and don't leave until you've taught me what I need to know."
Image by Rocio Chavez via Your Sassy Self
I had no idea what it was I "needed to know", I just knew it was time to figure it out (clearly she wasn't going anywhere). And, I don't know about you, but I never figure things out by trying to figure things out. The only way I’ve ever figured things out is by writing. It gets the jumbled mess going on in my head out in front of me for me to see and make sense of.
So, I'd run, let whatever feelings came up hang out instead of shutting them down, and then get home and get it down on the page. I never had any huge epiphanies through doing this, there was just a gentle knowing that I needed to continue because the stuff on the page had little to do with them and a lot to do with ME. What happened over time (not overnight, over T...I...M...E) was that running past her name began to bother me less and less. Until it didn't bother me at all.
Then, over even more time, something magical started to happen: I began to feel gratitude when I saw her name. Because, without that whole situation, I never would've learned what I don't want. Mr. Wrong showed me everything I wanted in a Mr. Right.
It's funny when I pass her name now that I have a family of my own. What else can I say but "THANK YOU"? Sometimes when I see it I just smile to myself a little and send both of them a silent blessing. It's because of the two of you that I'm where I am now, with a man who respects and values me and doesn't let a day pass without telling me or showing me that. And without him, there wouldn't be my son--this beautiful, smart, creative, spirited little man who I've fallen head over heels for wouldn't even exist. It's such a miracle, really. Not just that I left that day all those years ago, but that I decided I deserved better. And without having gone through the bad, how could I so deeply appreciate the good?
Leaving me alone in a strange place taught me that I want to be cared for. So yea, it's kind of annoying how my husband reminds me fifty times to wear my seat belt and drive safe every day when I head out the door, but it's also kind of nice to feel SAFE.
Being stood up showed me that I want to be valued. So it feels good when my husband kisses me on the forehead and calls me beautiful or tells me I'm a good mom or his best friend. It makes me feel TREASURED, not dismissed.
And, as far as my "coincidental" run-ins with GFTP? They just kind of fell away.
My point in sharing this story is that we sometimes go to such extreme lengths and waste so much mental energy trying to avoid our pain, not realizing that it's THROUGH that pain or discomfort that we find the very thing we need to learn and, once we do, we're better for it. Had I not worked through mine, I'd probably be stuck in the same pattern, attracting the same kind of guy--the kind I'd feel invisible to. I'd probably see things through a whole different lens--instead of appreciating my husband's care for me, I might see it as "annoying" or see him as "too nice", rather than genuinely appreciating it.
The path of avoidance is always easier in the short term, it requires nothing of you other than continuing to pretend there's nothing wrong. But you pay the price in the long term. Sometimes the path you feel the MOST resistant to, the harder option, is the one to take because THIS is the path to truth, healing, wisdom, and freedom. I think sometimes we get caught up in the idea that wisdom only comes in these big, profound, pivotal moments. I've found that sometimes it comes little by little and feels more like a crossroads than a rock bottom. When you come to yours—big or small—choose bravely. I promise it will be worth it.
Image credit: Megan Dougherty via Flickr (no changes made) https://www.flickr.com/photos/magnusdigity/141542344