Aside from writing a book, it has become a dream of mine to be published in The New York Times’ Modern Love column—I know, I really have some hefty dreams here. I’ve written and submitted two columns, both of which I am proud of, but I am still working toward my goal. I came across one I wrote about my latest ex-boyfriend. I wrote it a little over a year ago, to the day, when we were on a break.
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I arrived at his house wearing ruffled lingerie and a pair of black stilettos. It was 3 am, in the middle of November. I walked up the brick path to his door, balancing a homemade white cake in my hands; it was his 25th birthday.
He answered the door, surprised, but blew out the candles. He motioned me inside, but then stated the obvious.
“Holly, you have no clothes on.”
“I know,” I said. “It’s part of your present.”
Although we’d only known each other a few months, I felt comfortable enough to pull such a sexy stunt. I saw Matt for the first time, almost a year before, on Valentine’s Day. He was serving tequila shots at a local bar, while I was drowning my single sorrows in a dirty martini. He didn’t notice me that night, but we met six months later at the same bar.
I wasn’t attracted to him at first. He was a little too flirtatious for my taste. I always saw him leaning over the bar writing down his phone number for different women. However, with each time we saw each other, he grew on me. He was tall, with light brown hair, and eyes that became my weakness. More importantly, he made me laugh.
One evening, he invited me to his house to watch a football game. He said he wanted me to meet his friends, because he thought I could date one of them. The high from his invitation became an extreme low; I was crushed. I declined the invite simply because I wanted him, not his friends.
Soon enough, he got the hint and invited me over for a movie, just the two of us. It was there, my crush grew, we kissed, and he told me about himself. He claimed he was busy, in graduate school, working two jobs, and completing an internship. His packed schedule was his main reason for being single. He also said a previous girlfriend had cheated on him, making him hesitant to date.
His openness comforted me. My past was a mess of failed relationships; I had been cheated on, too. I saw his previous relationship as a challenge, since I knew I would never cheat on him, or anyone. I had always thought of myself as a good partner in a relationship. But two years later, I found myself lost in a sea of tears as I told him to forget my name.
Matt told me he loved me for the first time on a Sunday morning. Since we usually spent Saturday nights together, Sundays were often special for me. I loved waking up to the sound of Matt’s neighbors mowing the lawn. Matt would get the paper from the end of his walk way, we might fix eggs or cinnamon toast, and then sit on the couch together and read the local news. His ‘I love yous’ often came in these quiet moments, which I cherished.
Matt and I celebrated our anniversary on Boss’ Day; an inside joke we shared because I often let him think he was the boss in our affair. Looking back, it seems he really was the iron fist in our relationship. I call it a relationship, because to me, that’s what it was. The feelings were there, the motions were there, but I was never Matt’s girlfriend.
For this reason, it took me a long time return the favor and tell Matt I loved him, too. In my heart, I knew I loved Matt, but my past experiences kept my lips zipped. I had only loved one other person, my first love, and I didn’t want Matt and I to end up as that relationship had.
A week before our one year anniversary, I caught Matt with another woman at a bar. My insecurities heightened. I was embarrassed, hurt, and confused when he took her to his house that night. Since I wasn’t technically his girlfriend, I had no right to get upset at Matt for sleeping with someone else. I got mad anyway and pushed him out of my life for months.
Like a mathematician, Matt calculated each move with me. Sometimes he was sweet and would tell me he loved me, but if I got too attached he would pull away. He never called me his girlfriend, but he didn’t approve of me dating anyone else. When I said it was time to meet his family, he agreed, but never made the plans.
I fell in love with Matt for many reasons. He made me laugh, but we could still have serious talks. He put up with my girlish requests—calling before bed, behaving at bachelor parties, tasting my recipes, etc. Matt was perfect on paper with a master’s degree, a great job, a nice car, and a beautiful home. I saw stability in that; something I rarely had in life, let alone in a relationship.
The best part about Matt was the way he made me feel when we were together. He was never short on compliments, interested in my work, and confident in me as a person. He often told me how great I was, how lucky he was to have me. On those days, I had the world in my hand. But the good times were laced with the bad, times when he would ignore my calls or stand me up for a date. It was in these moments I learned actions really do speak louder than words.
Matt always apologized if he messed up and was quick to tell me he would take any punishment I had for him. I didn’t want to punish him; I wanted him to treat me right in the first place.
But one batch of apologies and two months after I caught him with the other woman, I gave him a second chance. I remember our first Saturday night back together. We were sitting on his couch again, watching a movie, while sharing a bottle of red wine.
“You know, sometimes I think about what it would be like if we were together forever,” he said.
I had thought about it, too. I pictured us moving in together and having our usual Saturday nights. I thought about cooking him dinner when he arrived home from work, fixing him a stiff drink, and talking about our day. I liked the idea of it, but I had a feeling that’s all it would be—an idea.
I had fallen in love with a man who put his life first and my heart was breaking because of it. I was last on Matt’s to-do list, after work, family, and even friends. The bad times were starting to push out the good and I was growing impatient as our two-year anniversary was approaching.
One week before Boss’ Day, Matt’s sister was getting married. I had been with Matt eight months prior, the night she was engaged. I made a mental note about the October wedding and waited for Matt to ask me to be his date; it would be my chance to meet the family, finally. When the invitation never came, I had reached the end of my rope. And there were no more chances left to give.
I have always fantasized about that perfect relationship—the one that’s a balance of me and my boyfriend, our friends, and our families. I pictured that with Matt, but I never got it. I wanted to be close to his family, like they were my own. I wanted to bake cookies with his mom and go shopping with his sister. I wanted to be a part of his life.
My mind was confusing fantasy with reality. My fantasy was that he would eventually leave work at 5pm, spend time with me when he said he would, and answer my phone calls. My reality was I had a man in my life that simply was not into me as much as he was into working overtime, going sailing, or doing his parents’ yard work.
After two years of living in the clouds, I had to face the cold and end the relationship. Maybe he thought I was overreacting, but I couldn’t get caught up in his mind. My feelings had been tangled for months, waiting for something better and I finally saw it wasn’t going to happen in this relationship.
When I told Matt I was done, he said nothing. Of course, there was a small part of me that wanted him to fight back. I wanted to hear that he cared about our future and would try to make things right, but it didn’t happen, which made the wound worse. For all I know, Matt could be waiting in the wings for the day my will breaks and I give him another chance. But that day will never come.
I take part of the blame for our relationship failing. Instead of taking many of the signs seriously in the beginning, I did the typical girl thing and just hoped things would change. I’ll admit that my optimistic heart often gets me in trouble in situations like these. However, I can’t punish myself for fantasizing that someday there will be someone willing to include me in his life, even if it is a busy one.
As a woman, I am constantly training the people around me how I need to be treated. Matt figured out early that it was okay not to be exclusive with me or bring me around his family. In return, he taught me what I shouldn’t put up with if I expect to have a real relationship that lives up to my dreams.