The Bartender buys a toothbrush to keep at my house back in May, during our second date. This is a bold, terrifying move and I’m not sure what to do with it. He tells his best friend and gets back a message that says “Oh man, you’re already in love with her.” The words feel like a punch in the gut that I’m not ready for, but I laugh nervously and allow the punch to also take down some of the walls around my heart.
I tell The Bartender that I am leaving for the summer and I see us hesitate. Across continents and time zones, what is the point? Unexpectedly, he tells me okay and we spend seven weeks sharing stories and secrets over spotty internet connections. We are missing out on each other’s everyday lives, but it doesn’t seem to matter. And I haven’t felt closer to or safer with someone in a long time.
I change my flight to come back to Houston three days early, which is not much but feels absolutely necessary after being away from him for so long. I am nervous as The Bartender picks me up in my car from the airport, but it seems to be exactly what I was expecting. Exactly what we kept telling each other it would be during those long weeks apart.
He breaks up with me three days later, and I am inconsolable in my confusion. Three days after that, we give it another shot at my urging.
School starts and work picks up. Stress levels peak and a routine is established that works more often than not. We fight, we compromise, and we usually fix things a little too late, but we also make plans, laugh a little too much, and spend days together when I feel nothing but total and complete happiness.
On Labor Day I drive us back to his place after spending most of our long weekend hosting a pool party at my house. He tells me that he wants to spend the night alone after we cook dinner together, and though I mock-complain, I admit that I’m excited for a night sprawled across my whole bed. At one point, we argue briefly about whether to sign up for an obstacle-style 5K race in March—though the argument includes absolutely no trepidation about making plans for six months in the future. Later, as I get ready to go, he asks me to stay over anyway. This means an extra 15 minutes on my commute at 5:30 in the morning, but I give in instantly because it also means one more night spooned up against him.
The Bartender breaks up with me that next Sunday—one day after we talked presents and vacations and kissy face emojis. I need to be independent right now, he says, and I know he’s serious because I see him cry for the first and only time. I try to fight him on this, but I have nothing. “Go do your independencey thing,” I tell him confidently, “and then come back to me. But don’t take too long, because I can’t wait.”
One week later he tells me he wants a clean break to avoid any residual emotions and I can feel my head start to spin. This is different, this is odd, this feels wrong and off and fake, and as I keep uncovering more and more questions, now I feel the fight coming up in me. I finally try to ask him about it in a long email, and he disappoints me in the greatest way with silence. I believe in words above all things, and he won’t even give me that, not even for the clarity and closure I so desperately crave after a complete 180. This blatant and sudden callousness is what I am most sad about—that maybe I was completely wrong about him after all. That maybe I’ll just have to live with never knowing. That maybe we’ll both have to live with this unsatisfying ending to what was such an overall positive relationship with such promise.
I am really bad at break-ups. I think I always knew this, but I am only now ready to openly admit it: I can’t be on either side of a break-up without causing a mess. I think breaking up feels too close to quitting, which is not easy for me because I don’t do it… pretty much ever. Overly optimistic, I believe in compromise and forgiveness and chances and self-improvement. I believe in honesty and trust, and that as long as you have those things, just about anything can be overcome. And I believe in loyalty—that people don’t just wake up one morning and no longer love the person they loved yesterday.
But I also believe in self-respect. I believe that promises should not be broken and communication is essential. I believe in listening and sharing and as close to equality as possible. I believe in friendship and family and independence and balance. And I believe that if something is wrong, you should talk about it.
My heart hurts from this, more than I expected. From disappointment, confusion, lost opportunities, lost love, and unanswered questions. But I also believe in time—as much as I hate seeing it pass. And I believe that things happen as they should, when they should. So I guess I’ll just have to keep waiting.