The first man who loved me: loved the idea of me.
I was the Wife. A character in the picture of a perfect life. (That’s what it felt like anyways.)
I was sixteen when I met this man and he was twenty-three. I had never really drunk alcohol, or gone to parties. I had only ever kissed one boy.
Suddenly I was in a grown up relationship.
(I wasn’t a grown up).
I’m never sure how much ownership I should take for this relationship. Because, yes, it did start this way. But I was a grown up when I married him. I was a grown up when I stayed with him.
When I look back at the self I was with this man I see a petulant, anxious, spoiled, scared little brat. I was frozen in time. I didn’t grow as a person. I grew into myself, curled up in a ball. I don’t like the self I was when I was with him.
He wasn’t good for me, and I certainly wasn’t good for him. The self that I was when I was with him? I wasn’t good for anyone.
The end of this relationship felt like relief.
The second man who loved me was a good, kind man. He knew me well, I think.
We had fun. We had passion. We were connected.
When I look back at the self I was with this man I see a woman growing into herself, learning, changing, opening her mind. She’s still anxious and scared, all the time. She’s a bit of a pain in the ass. She’s trying so hard to be enough.
There is less to say about this relationship because it was good. It was fun.
He was good for me, he pulled me out of my shell. I don’t think I was as good for him.
The end of this relationship gutted me in a way that I had never been gutted. It made me stronger. I got sad, then mad. Then I let it go.
I am a pain in the ass, to be honest. I am anxious. I fall too hard and too fast. I am quiet when I should speak up. I am self conscious. I will cry after a day of shopping because I feel fat and disgusting. I text way too often.
I am also warm and kind and sexy and funny. I am smart.
I’ve spent most of my life trying to mold myself into what men have wanted me to be. (What I thought they wanted me to be.)
I have been patient when they were uncertain. When they didn’t call or disappeared for days at a time. I have stared at the phone and prayed for it to ring. Wondered how I could be sexier, funnier, smarter. How I could be enough to make them want to keep me.
(I once had a guy I was seeing tell me he would really want to be with me – if I lost 30 pounds. And I laughed. I agreed with him.)
Recently I stopped wanting to do that. I don’t have the energy anymore.
I didn’t grow much in my twenties. The worst of me, the self-conscious girl who didn’t like herself, was the part the flourished. Suddenly, at 29, the world opened up and those voices started to fade. Almost three years later I can’t recognize who that girl was. I have dreams sometimes that I wake up and am back there and I can’t breathe.
The self that I am today is nothing like the self that I was with the first, or the second, man who loved me. I’ve grown, shifted, more than I knew I could. I’m a better person by far.
Suddenly I’m in a relationship that feels simple. A relationship that feels secure. A relationship where I feel like I’m enough. There are no guarantees. There never are. But it feels good. I don’t feel like I’m compromising any piece of my self.
The beautiful thing is that I don’t know who I’m going to be in another 5 years. 10. But I know that I’ll continue to shift, refine. Grow more into the self that I know I can be.