For myself, I am an optimist. It does not seem to be much use being anything else. -Sir Winston Churchill
I once read in a book that every failed relationship has one good day. A whole twenty-four hours you can look back on and say, “We were truly happy.” For Chris and me that day was Day One, our first date. The earth spun dreamily about its axis, sighed with content and all was good. It’s sad, no, pathetic, that looking back on a relationship which spanned seven years, ten months and twenty-two days that the first day we spent together stands out in my mind as the best. You may wonder why I stayed with him so long. Didn’t I love him? But that would be getting ahead of myself and you’ll just have to wait.
I can actually define the reason why our first date was our happiest moment. We were still in “crush mode,” you see. That glorious phase of a relationship when you haven’t laid your hands on each other yet and everything is new and still a mystery. You don’t know enough about the other person to be miserable. When a relationship maintains some of this magical crush feeling years later you know it’s a keeper. Unfortunately, my relationship with Chris maintained no magic, no mystery, and barely any fun. Yes, I did love parts of him, some of the time. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t spend 2,850 days of my life miserable, I’d say about 1,900 of them were fairly good. But, when you have a crush on someone and it never materializes into anything else then that person will always remain magical to you. You will forever wonder about what could have been because you never reached the point where you discover they wear the same pair of boxers for four days. Or, have the privileged chance of seeing them grow from a 30 inch waist to a 42 when you’ve remained the same size 6.
I’m not regretting that my crush on Chris developed into more. At least now I can cross him off my list of guys I’ll eternally wonder about. And there will always be days when I remember some of the better times and wish we could go back to them. But, when I really want to torture myself all I have to do is close my eyes and picture that glorious day, the one day I am forever grateful for being allowed to have lived.
It was early fall. We were only eighteen, freshman at the same small New England college. The maples were starting to turn their luminous yellow color and the sunfish in the school’s pond were heading for deeper water. It was my favorite time of the year. I had spotted Chris in my introductory biology class, he looked my type: dark and introverted. I always thought I could draw these men out of their shell and were usually utterly disturbed or completely disappointed at what I discovered inside.
And so the game began. I started sitting behind him in the lecture hall so I could gaze at the back of his head. There was always a dark curl of hair poking out from under his Red Sox hat. While the professor was prattling on about mRNA I was dreaming about playing with that raven lock. I began the game by intentionally dropping my pen once every few days and letting it roll under his seat so he would have to hand it back to me. Then, I started sitting in front of him and making the back of my head as attractive as possible. I would tie up my hair in a knot and leave one lock loose and curl it a bit with an iron in the morning. This was a lot of early work for a college student when the class was at 9:30 AM. I was thoroughly committed to getting his attention.
I did a bit of investigative work and discovered that he lived in the room right below mine and was friends with my next-door neighbor. Small world. I also learned that he thought he was in love with a girl who had already turned him down three times. I respected his persistence and mistook it for chivalry. I was young, hopefully I’ve learned from my mistakes. Because of our mutual friends we started to hang out and I think he started to tire of “other girl’s” continual rejections.
About two months into Intro Bio the class was given an animal observation project. Chris and I got talking about it one day in the dining hall and decided rather than observing the squirrels on the quad we would go to the zoo, together. I think this is when I first got the feeling he had given up entirely on “other girl”. I knew I was the second choice, the fall-back plan, but I didn’t care. My crush was blocking my reasoning.
Chris and I took the train into the city; I remember it was a long ride, about an hour. He was fairly quiet the whole way there, it should have set off alarm bells then but at the time it only added to the mystery of “Chris”. But I did manage to get some information out of him. His family was loaded for one. Great things were expected of him and I got the impression that he was brought up to marry someone who would be content to pop out five children and have dinner on the table promptly at six. “But that’s not what I want”, he said as our train rolled into Back Bay station, “every woman should have her career”. I was in heaven.
The most magical part of the day was when Chris first touched me. In front of the leopard exhibit there’s an inviting bench carved in the shape of an oversized male lion asleep on the grass. His back is flattened out to form the seat and his nose is rubbed smooth by the thousands of children who have patted him trying to awake him from his feline slumber. Chris and I were instantly drawn to that bench from which we could sit and observe the real felines on the other side of the Plexiglass.
We got out our notebooks and pretended to observe the leopards. I was trying to make notes on their behaviors while thinking of reasons to inch closer to him. The leopards in turn did a lot of yawning and dozing like overgrown house cats. Finally, one of them awoke, sauntered sleepily over to his mate and very slowly and deliberately began to groom her face, then her neck and back. It was such a beautiful thing to watch, so selfless it seemed to me at the time. He gave her his complete attention. We were moved. Chris’ hand found mine, sending a spark through my body. Our first touch was probably the most erotic thing that ever happened between us.
I can’t remember the rest of the day. Did we go out for coffee, dinner? It didn’t matter because what I do remember very clearly is how Day One ended. He walked me back to my room and deposited me at my door. I knew he was shy but I still waited for him to make the first move. He just stood there not knowing what to do with me but still I waited. Finally, I realized that he was afraid so I gave him a quick kiss right on his mouth and his face instantly looked as if all the light in the world was falling on him at that instant. I have never seen him happier since. He was just a boy then and he had just been kissed by the first girl he thought he ever loved. I went inside and he fluttered away like a love-struck moth into the night.
I won’t bog you down with all the mundane details of my relationship with Chris except for one thing: sex. The sex was O.K. Just O.K. The earth didn’t move and the stars didn’t align when we made love. It was fun for about a year while we were still discovering each other. All those nights in the dorms entwined together in a twin bed, trying not to wake up his roommate. Or getting walked in on by his entire lacrosse team, caught in the act, naked and sweaty. Yet we didn’t care, it was exciting. Like we were breaking the law, committing adultery. This feeling lasted a few years until slowly and surely the fire died and I stopped looking forward to even lounging around naked with him. I started imagining what sex would be like with other men. Lots of other men. Would they have tattoos? Manly arms and sexy six packs instead of Chris’ flabby belly? However, I was never unfaithful, except in thought.
I suppose this would be a good time to explain why I stayed. It was for many complicated and interwoven reasons. Mainly I convinced myself that with any long-term relationship there are going to be a few flaws. Perfection is only for fairy tales right? And Chris was definitely no Prince Charming.
Besides my lack of interest in having sex with him, the first four years of college were otherwise all right. Chris and I met so early into our freshman year that neither of us had a chance to experiment with the opposite sex as most freshman do. We had both slept with one other person and it was at the same time and for the same reason: we thought sex would seal the relationships we had with our latest high school flames. It happened in those beautiful but sad days at the end of August when we thought college would tear us apart. To get over the pain of the separation we had awkward and uncomfortable sex when our parents weren’t home. Then Chris and I both arrived on that stereotypical New England campus and immediately forgot their names. For me and most of my female friends we discovered that there were just so many other men out there, and none of them ever had to know what dorks we were in junior high! On moving-in day I could detect the pheromones wafting down the hallways. By the second weekend the coed showers often had two pairs of legs visible beneath the curtain instead of one.
In that first autumn on campus every attached freshman from U Miami to UW quickly forgets their newly declared high school commitments and joins the campus-wide rut. Males establish their mating leks around the most promising keg of Budweiser. Females either accept their courting displays or move on to the more “fit” male. Evolution is still at work in the human race. I mostly avoided this sexual dance. I had set my target on Chris and was patiently waiting for him to stop displaying to “other girl”. And, once he did, I moved into his lek and claimed him.
It wasn’t until after college and after we moved up to Boston together that the sex thing became a problem. I started keeping track of how often we had sex so I could convince my conscience that I was keeping up with the national once-a-week average. But, it was still an issue. I would think of every imaginable excuse and he would continue to try and the more he tried the more annoying he became! He was acting like an eight-year-old: tell him he can’t have any candy and he’d whine more about it.
Don’t get me wrong here, I like sex. A lot. Just not when your partner is immature about it. Men, pay attention: women want maturity in bed! We want James Bond, Don Juan, Brad Pitt from that scene with Geena Davis in “Thema and Louise”! Of course when I told Chris this he actually did try to be more serious but it came across as awkward and even more annoying than when he was being silly. I started to think how I would have to play a sex- avoidance game with him for the rest of my life and it just got depressing. You’re supposed to want to have sex with your husband. After you’ve been married for ten years the sight of his naked body should still send a shiver right through you. The thought of Chris naked towards the end of our relationship, again, just depressed me. Which gets me to the real reason why I stayed: fear.
After being with the same person for eight years and living with them for four it’s scary to just walk away. We weren’t married (thank God!) and didn’t have many communal possessions (just like an eight-year-old he didn’t like to share) so we at least didn’t have to obtain legal counsel. But where would I go? How would I spend my Friday nights? Would anyone ever find me attractive again? Would I ever have sex again!? Scary stuff went through my head. I had friends in the area but a lot of them had moved out of Boston in the past year, man they have bad timing!
Our relationship started to fall apart about six months into our seventh year together. We had both gone through some bad times; many people had died that year including Chris’ older brother, Douglas, in a motorcycle accident. Chris was expected to take over Doug’s role in family business, which he did. He all of a sudden found himself at the helm of an international company but without the guidance of Doug. He took it all very hard, I would too, and I don’t blame him for that. I convinced him to seek professional help for his head as he was beginning to drive me mad. His shrink put him on an antidepressant which seemed to cheer him up. And, one of the side effects is a subdued sexual appetite. Bonus!
For some reason unknown to me Chris decided to stop taking these happy pills and headed back into depression. He started hanging out with a bad crowd from work and stopped including me in things, even keeping his whereabouts from me! I never got along with his friends so it was hard for me to hang out with them even when he did include me. I was starting to crack. I made up a list of all the reasons to leave (this wasn’t the first time I had done this but this time I was actually serious):
1. Sex is not great. 2. His friends don’t like me. 3. I don’t like his friends. 4. I don’t find him all that attractive anymore. 5. We are very different, politically, socially, everything! 6. I want to get married, he doesn’t.
Number six may seem interesting considering this is a list of reason to have left him, not marry him. But the truth is I wanted to get married, I still do, someday. I want to have that feeling of comfort that I will always have someone to go home to and share a bed with and who knows the pattern of freckles on my left arm. I want to love someone so much that only crawling inside of them will satisfy my desires. When we grow old he’ll still seem sexy to me because he’ll take care of himself and not let himself deteriorate like Chris did.
The problem was I couldn’t even imagine being married to Chris, I couldn’t imagine the wedding. We would have fought over everything, down to the color of the damn napkins! He was the type of guy who never understood that a wedding is a girl’s dream. She starts planning it in her childhood. Chris would have ignored my dream of a small wedding on a quiet beach somewhere. Everything would be overdone and his way: his guests, his family, his friends and his choice of napkin color.
Maybe this attitude was because Chris had money, lots of money, and was used to getting his way. He never admitted it but I know he was always afraid if he married me I would steal his money. He never learned that money was on the bottom of my list, it’s a heart I was looking to steal and claim as mine own.
So one day as the last brown leaves fell from the oaks I finally broke down - literally - sobbed for a whole October Sunday. It all hit me at once, I had to end it. But I chickened out. I told him how I felt but also said I was staying for the time being, I thought I still loved him enough. In the end he was the one to leave. Turned out he was miserable too. If there’s one thing I am truly grateful to him for it’s the fact that he had more courage than I did. We were both unhappy but at least he had enough conviction left in him to walk out. Post long-term relationship goal # 1: obtain conviction.
This blog started out as a place to post fiction about not feeling grounded. I quickly realized that I prefer writing essays about living mindfully, living green, ecology, motherhood and looking for ways to feel more grounded, hence the "holdfast". Thanks for visiting!I hope you found what you were seeking. -kate
Save the children, Save the planet. click on these links for my easy tips on how to do it: