If you are the hopeless romantic type, this story might appeal to you. Alternately, if you are the jaded, anti-love breakup schadenfreude type, this story might appeal to you, too. This is about the last time I fell over-the-top in love, and the really terrible way it ended.
I met Alex online, but not on an online dating site. I saw his artwork—paintings of disparate figures and forms—on an arts website I sometimes check out, and loved it. I emailed him, to find out if his work was for sale, and also because I was curious about his artistic process. As someone who is a frustrated visual artist, I am really fascinated by the artist mind—how artists manage to translate the things in their heads into beautiful objects on paper. We became Facebook friends and would occasionally chat. And then more frequently chat. And pretty soon, I was logging on just to talk to him. Our talks were strictly platonic, and just fun and silly. We’d exchange music or links and keep each other occupied while at work.
After a couple of months of this, things took a turn in my head. I have never been overly romantic, but I decided I had to meet him. I loved his artwork, so of course I would love him (and yes, this is a ridiculous thought). Under the guise of visiting friends in the city where he lived, I booked a flight to meet him. On the plane on the way there, I wrote a note into my phone: “You are doing something crazy. If this doesn’t work out, which it most likely won’t, you’ll have a few drinks and be okay.” And yet! I had it in my head that things really would magically all come together. There is a term for this: I secreted that it would work out—like The Secret, the self-help book that I’ve actually never even read.
Alex and I met up the second day I was in town, and actually, It was everything I wanted it to be. We spent three amazing days together. As I was leaving, he made a promise to visit me in New York, and gave me a painting of his. I was ecstatic. Two days later, Alex—who had never left the West Coast in his life—booked a flight to visit me the following week. His first night in New York he told me he wanted me to be his girlfriend. I was verklempt. After three years of dating around and having zero relationship success, the fact that this guy—my dream guy—was as into me as I was him, was beyond exciting.
Our second day in New York together, he floated an idea by me: he wanted to move to New York, live together, start our life together. I initially balked. It seemed that perhaps if he was going to move here, he should have his own place first—develop his own life, before moving in with me. I was nervous about him being too dependent on me, or him coming to resent me for moving too quickly. But then I spoke to my mom. My parents got engaged after two weeks of dating, and married after six months. And they’re still together, 36 years later. My mom encouraged me to go for it. “What’s the worst that could happen?” she asked. And besides, wouldn’t it be such a great story?
So, I said yes, Alex could move in. My roommate and I had a spare room that he could use as his art studio. He would pay rent and contribute to bills. He returned to the West Coast and began packing up his life. Three weeks later, I picked him up at the airport, for the second and final time.
At first, things were incredible. We had a great time together. We dreamed up projects and took care of each other. My friends loved him and loved how happy I was with him. And of course, everyone was taken with the story of how we met and fell in love and moved in together so quickly.
And then, after about four months, things started to change. Alex became completely consumed with work and money and smoking weed, and began isolating himself from me. I tried to give him his space. I tried to not take it personally, but also let him know that if he needed help, I was there for him. I went out without him, and tried not to put any pressure on him. He continued to pull away, to isolate, to spend longer and longer hours in his studio. Inversely, I had never been happier professionally. I had just started with The Frisky. I loved my job and what I was doing, and I wondered if secretly, the fact that I was so happy, while he was so miserable, was compounding our relationship problems.
Things with Alex continued to get worse and worse. He said that he needed his space—he wanted to move out so he could experience the city independently of me, but stressed he didn’t want to break up. He loved me, he just needed some room to grow. I could sort of logically understand it, but I didn’t quite believe him. I started to feel terrible all the time. I remember distinctly one night calling up my best friend and expressing that the pain of living with someone who so obviously didn’t want to be with me was breaking me down from the inside out. I felt no joy in anything. I couldn’t move. I tried to talk to him about what was going on and how he was feeling, but he often dodged my attempts, or acted frustrated or annoyed when I would try. I felt awful all the time, and sunk into a deep depression. I fundamentally didn’t feel like myself.
Finally, at the end of October, he found a place that he wanted to move into. He didn’t include me in the search, or the move, which was a clear sign of what was happening, but he wasn’t honest about it either. He told me he thought that moving out would make him a better boyfriend. The day he moved out, I came home to find that he had taken the painting he had gifted me so many months ago.
I lost it.
He was out with friends so I phoned him in a complete rage. “You have taken yourself away from me, and now you are taking something you gave me. I hate you and I can’t believe you are doing this to me after all of the love and support I have given you. How dare you. You have TAKEN EVERYTHING!” I screamed and hung up. He came home and apologized to me, and said he had forgotten he had given the painting to me. That was even more hurtful than packing it away in the first place.
A few days later, I was sitting at my desk at work. He had been spending the week at his new apartment, and I hadn’t heard much from him. He popped up in my IM chat and told me that while “I was the best girlfriend he ever had,” he felt “we needed to take a break.” After espousing my charms and telling me he loved me but wanted to be alone, he popped off IM, explaining that their were some “charts and graphs at work” he needed to get back to making. Yes, my live-in boyfriend broke up with me over IM. While we were both at work.
That was the last time I heard from him. After the breakup, I felt numb. I confided in my friends just how utterly ill I felt. I confided in Amelia and the other Frisky ladies, all of whom were beyond supportive. I let people take care of me. And I felt beyond thankful for the incredible friends I have — friends who have moved so far through and beyond that category that they now reside in the deepest, sweetest place in my heart. I made baby steps: I got out of bed; I went to work; and I made lots of to-do lists filled with minute tasks I could check off. Making and checking off lists of things to do made me feel somehow accomplished and capable, something I hadn’t felt in a long time.
One thing I did not do: I didn’t bother trying to engage in any other discussion with him, because fundamentally, I believe that the person who hurt you can never make you feel better. One thing I did do: I realized I had a of work to do on myself. A lot had been broken in me. I was angry. Angry with him, but really, more angry with myself that a relationship had turned me into someone I didn’t like. That a relationship had somehow pulled me away from myself and had made me into an insecure and afraid person, instead of the happy and confident lady I normally am. I had been eating all of the bad feelings the relationship created. I had choked down my anger at the person I loved hurting me and turned it on myself. And that needed to stop. I kept asking myself what I could have done differently or better, but the reality is, there was nothing. Nothing I could have done, because our breakup wasn’t somehow “performance-based.” It was about a fundamental difference between two people who thought they knew each other but really didn’t. If I did anything wrong, it was in believing that a really great story would also make a really good relationship. Sometimes it does, but sometimes it really, really doesn’t.