Since it's Valentine's Day, I thought I might talk about my love life. As many of you, my imaginary readers, are no doubt aware, my girlfriend of four months broke up with me about three weeks ago. I would have talked about it before, but the breakup kind of messed me up. This week we sat down and talked things through, though, and I feel a lot better now.
For those of you who have not heard this story, I'll give you the Reader's Digest version. To protect her identity, I will refer to her as "Jem." And to protect my own identity, I will refer to myself as "Snake Eyes."
We started going out in September, and very quickly were seeing each other almost every day. I was hesitant at first, but then gave in and let myself be happy. We made plans to visit each other's families over break, which I had never done before, but things were going very well, so it felt like the right call. My visit to Jem's family went very well, I thought, but when she came to meet my parents she seemed very distant. On the first day we talked a little bit about some of her concerns, but that was our last real conversation. She broke up with me a week and a half after the trip, but I knew it was over the day I drove her to the airport.
What killed our relationship? This was very hard for me to understand. Personally, I was very happy-- until January, when it became apparent to me that something was wrong. But things had been wrong for a while. That became clear in this week's little post-mortem discussion. There were lots of little things that were making Jem feel unhappy, unloved, unimportant. I don't want to blame these little things, though, because none of them would have been hard to fix. In virtually every case, they would have required nothing more than a few words and maybe a slight change in (my) behavior. These were not big problems. The big problem, the one that killed the relationship, is that I didn't know about any of the little problems. That's what did us in. The longer we were dating, the more little problems were stacking up without getting fixed. One day she reached a tipping point and had to get out.
Now what? My friend Rachel Van Kirk told me years ago that it's important after a breakup to think about what you have learned from the experience, and what you still need to learn. So here are three things that I think I have learned in the past five months.
1. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. I thought our relationship was super-awesome because I saw no evidence of problems. But I was wrong. There were problems-- I just wasn't seeing them. And in truth, I don't know that I was looking very hard.
2. Always look for ways to help, instead of waiting to be asked. I had heard that it sometimes takes hard work to keep a relationship healthy and happy. I thought I was willing to put in the hard work, but I always thought that meant making difficult sacrifices and compromises after problems had been identified. It had never occurred to me that I might be required to work hard to find problems to be solved. I thought I was ready to do whatever Jem wanted, but what she really wanted (I think) was to have me actively spend time and attention making our relationship better instead of passively waiting around to be told there was a problem.
3. If something is wrong, holler until you're heard. In January, I knew something was wrong between us. I tried to raise the subject delicately, but I knew it wasn't working. I guess I was afraid that if I pressed the issue too hard, Jem would get upset with me and it would damage the relationship. Boy, that was stupid. Problems usually don't solve themselves spontaneously, and relationships don't stay in stasis like Schroedinger's cat until we can find the perfect moment to really open up and see what's happening. I was right in thinking that something was wrong between us. And it was getting worse every day, every hour. So, next time, I'll be direct. If I'm not happy, I'll raise a ruckus and I won't stop until I know that I am heard.
These three lessons are all I'm sure of right now, but I suspect that there are lots of other lessons I have yet to learn. In fact, I wouldn't have reached 33 as a bachelor if I didn't have lots to learn about women and relationships.
And if any of you, my imaginary readers, have lessons you want to teach me, you're in luck. I'm in a teachable mood. So please feel free to drop me a comment.
Put me some knowledge here, man.
--CASA DE DOLOR