He came unexpectedly. He was smart, funny, motivated, and kind. He got me. It was as simple as that. He just got me.
I could be anyone when I was with him. I could be my worst self or my best self, and it didn’t matter. He knew what to do with me, how to take my mind in his hands and make it back to where I didn’t even know that I needed it to be. He studied his project and could make it into the most beautiful version of itself. He was the master craftsman.
But there was another side of it, another side that I failed to see. Or maybe I didn’t even fail to see it, but simply ignored it out of desperately not wanting to lose him.
This other side was brutal. Master craftsman, yes. But the most particular, temperamental kind. “Will he love me today?” I would find myself asking. “Will I be enough today, or will he be distracted by something more interesting, more unique?”
There’s nothing more exhausting than having to compete for something that you’re not even sure you have.
It always ended on a whim, a brush of courage that would rise up inside of me and give me the strength to say, “This isn’t working. I can’t do this.” Five times. And every time, he came back.
There’s this weird relief that comes with someone coming back to you. It’s hard to explain. Because, it’s not that you necessarily want them back, or even more than that, need them back, but there’s something intoxicatingly powerful about knowing that you were missed.
And so I took him back. Not because it was right, or things were different, but because he missed me. And somewhere along the twisted and distorted way, being missed became more valuable than being kept.
It came to a head one night. We had had an amazing run, full of honesty and adoration and something that felt a lot like love. But something was missing. He became distant- the kind of distance that meant that I would get that brush of courage very, very soon.
I can’t really explain it better than this- it’s like he somehow always forced me to end it. He didn’t want to, didn’t have the gritty guts that it takes to. He cared “too much, too deep,” he said. Maybe it was part of his plan as the master craftsman, to be able to constantly be the one lost in love who was let go. But baby, don’t you see? You let me leave.
There’s a pain that comes with letting someone go. It’s deep and frustrating and nauseating. But there’s a much more tangible pain that comes with the nobody stopping you when you pack your bags and leave.
And that was the thing. Every time. It would end, and he would feign sadness. Or maybe it was real, I don’t know. But the lack of objection made it really hard to believe that there was sadness and not relief.
It bothers me- not bothered, but actively bothers me- that it was such a relief for him to be rid of me. “You read my mind. I’ve been thinking about the same thing. You’re absolutely right,” was always his response, as if the we’re-on-the-same-page mantra is somehow comforting.
The last time- and I mean it, the last time- that it ended, it made me angry. I was angry that I had to do it again. He had come back to me with his list of reasons why he needed me in his life, why he “didn’t want to do life without me,” and I had believed him. Because he was the craftsman, and he had crafted me to believe him.
The way he acted, the way he treated me, the way that he made me feel, it all made me angry. He said the words, and I was there, committed, ready, jumping in headfirst. But he never did.
He dipped a toe in, started to get deep into the waters of love, but always held back. And that’s when it hit me.
I’m the second option.
The backup plan.
The “I wonder what she’s up to” girl.
And worst of all, I mean the truly most horrible, awful, disgusting part of it all is that I had given him permission to make me into that, craft me into that. I couldn’t even be mad at him for it. Because I had allowed it.
I don’t know when it happened. I really don’t.
But all of sudden, I realized that my frustration wasn’t laying dormant in the fact that I deserve better, but it was found in the realization that he thinks that he deserves me. He thinks- in his absence and lack-of-trying and days of silence- that he has done something to deserve everything that I am and everything that I could be for him.
It wasn’t that he assumed that he could always do something to make me stay, but more that he assumed that he would never do anything to make me leave. He knew that no matter what he did, how he acted, and how many times he left, he could come back. And the sickening realization is that that’s not something that he just simply assumed…but something that my actions had made him assume.
Permission to assume.
It offended me that he thought he was enough. It offended my very existence as a woman that this man, who has done nothing to fight for me, thinks that he can conquer my heart. He has not made one single attempt to put on his armor, yet proclaims victory.
What once presented as confidence and faith were now presenting as clumsy ignorance. If he knew me like I truly long to be known, he would know that it takes work to conquer the woman that I am. It’s not impossible, but it’s not easy, either.
But I had done that. I had given him permission.
Permission to conquer.
And that’s just what it is, isn’t it? He treats me like I’m easy, as if I can be so quickly swayed with a well-placed compliment or a well-timed term of affection. And the craftsman is so good at this, so good at faking it.
So I find myself wading in the shallow waters of his vast ocean, never venturing out into the unknown because he has sectioned off the areas that I am allowed to be and has deigned the others as too deep, not safe. He wants to fix my problems, but he leaves me when he has his own. He wants to hear me cry but goes silent when he becomes sad.
And I did that. I granted him that.
Permission to control.
And that’s when it hit me. And it was a hard, dirty hit.
He trusts himself to be with me, but he doesn’t trust me to be with him.
He never tried. He never reached out to where I was. It was on his terms, his time, what worked for him.
There is nothing more exhausting than being penciled into an emotional schedule, crammed between sports and other girls that he can’t seem to let go of. He would only extend small glimmers of hope that could carry me through the next deafening storm of silence, only to make me long for his horizon.
He knew that he had me, and he took great and fantastic advantage of it. He knew that I would put up with him and all of his irreversible flaws because I loved him.
But what he didn’t count on is that as much as I love him, I love me more.
So, it ended again. He met someone, reconnected with them, and he wanted to see where it went. He didn’t want to lose me. He didn’t want to let me go, but he would leave it up to me.
“What do you need, Leah? I will do whatever you need. Gosh, I care about you. I don’t want to lose you. But if you need to stop talking to me, I get it. I will lay off.”
I had given him so much permission to use me as he needed. I was everything for him, and in the process, had become his project.
Let me be clear: I am nobody’s project.
And so, once again, I gave permission. But not to him. To me.
“We shouldn’t talk anymore. I want you to be happy, but I want me to be happy, too. Goodbye.”
He understood, of course. He always understood. Because under all his flaws and all of my permission, he really did know me. But for the first time, I understood, too.
I am not a second choice. And on that day, I gave myself permission to walk away and to never, ever let him in my life again.
Permission to leave.
He’ll be back because that’s how it goes. And that’s not mean to be a blow or a put-down, but more of an observation. He knows me, but I know him, too.
But I won’t be back. Not because I don’t have moments where I want to talk to him, run something by him, or hear his laugh.
But because I run my own life. And he no longer has my permission.