Here’s something you probably wouldn’t guess about me: my friends and family members haven’t met anyone I’ve dated for almost eight years. Wait. I stand corrected. One time I invited my brother to dinner with a guy I was dating about four years ago and I chewed all my fingernails off before the appetizer course.
It’s almost pathological, my phobia of introducing guys I’m dating to my loved ones. In the past I’d always made excuses like, “If he’s important to me, you’ll meet him” or “I’m still getting to know him myself.” I rationalized the compartmentalization of my love life by telling myself that I needed to get to know someone without everyone else’s opinions tainting how I felt about the guy. I’ve been lying to myself.
I wasn’t always this way. In my 20s I had two serious, back-to-back relationships, and these guys were both fully integrated into my life. They knew my friends, family and co-workers. Without getting into all the nitty-gritty details, what you need to know is that I left my live-in boyfriend of three years for a guy I met through my best friend. The decision to do this — to leave the boyfriend everyone knew and loved — was devastating to all parties involved. When I called my mom crying the day before I pulled the trigger, she simply said, “Follow your heart.” I broke the news to Jeff the next morning. “I’ve fallen for someone else,” I choked out through tears over a static-y cellphone connection. He was on tour with his band in Europe. I called in sick to work and spent the rest of the day on the floor of our bedroom crying. The following week, I moved out of our apartment into my own place and started dating the other guy. That’s the short version, the one where I truncate all the pain and mixed emotions.
If the breakup was hard on me, the subsequent fallout from friends and family was worse. Every person I loved had an opinion about it. They said all sorts of awful, unsolicited things to me from “I don’t know you anymore” to “Jeff was never right for you” to “I think you made a huge mistake.”
When the New Boyfriend dumped me out-of-the-blue nearly a year later, saying, “I just can’t do this,” I was left to go through heartbreak for a second time in less than a year. I endured another round of confusing sentiments such as: “What did you do?” “Do you think Jeff would take you back?” “Neither of them were right for you!”
On top of my own pain, the additional hurt of hearing my loved ones’ upset over the two breakups was too much for me. This was when the split happened. I decided that love was painful and confusing and other people’s opinions about your love life made it worse. Going forward, I vowed to keep my dating life completely private to avoid being swayed by the wrong advice. In the future, I would make all executive opinions about my love life without influence. I still think this is a good policy, for the record, but I think the reason I chose to do this came from a place of hubris. The truth was that I felt humiliated by the way everything went down and I didn’t want to suffer the embarrassment of any future relationship failings with my loved ones looking on. I wanted any future heartbreak to be a pain I suffered privately. (Insert joke here about the irony that I became a dating and relationship blogger.)
After that, no one met, or even heard about, the men I was dating. I kept romantic interests my own deep dark secrets. If per chance, one of my friends did meet a guy, it was always by accident. Keeping this up made things easy for me, because when these relationships ended — and I always believed that deep down they would because I was being punished for bungling my love life so badly in the past — I didn’t have to hear one word about it from my friends or family. No “I told you so”s or “I never liked him anyway”s. I dealt with the heartbreak alone. But that was the hard part: the isolation.
Circling around to the reason I’m thinking about this now: I’ve met someone I really like. We’ve been dating for a couple of months. My loved ones are asking all the usual questions: “So when are we going to meet this guy?” This time, I haven’t felt able to give my usual vague answers, the realization pounding me over the head like one of those beat-the-mole-with-the-mallet carnival games: THIS ISN’T WORKING ANYMORE! I need to stop dodging the mallet and come out of hiding with this guy. If I want things to work out with my new boyfriend (and I actually do!) he’s going to have to be part of every part my life.
Walking with the new boyfriend the other night, I revealed that my parents, who live out of state and hardly ever visit, are coming to town next month. I was possessed by a voice I didn’t recognize. “Wanna come to dinner with us?” I blurted out.
“I’d love to meet them!” he responded, before I could take it back.
My heart started to beat fast. Part of me thought he would say no. But his yes left me with no choice but to deal with it. Thoughts of everything that could go wrong flooded my brain. The pain I buried away eight years ago, rushed back to me, making me dizzy.
“Are you sure?” I asked again.
“Yes. I’m sure.”
After some reflection, I realized that it doesn’t really matter what my parents or anyone else thinks about the new boyfriend. Sure, I want my loved ones to like him as much as I do, but I’m finally understanding what I never did during my 20-something breakupmagheddon: the reason I was so deeply affected by my loved ones’ opinions was because I was unsure about both relationships. Not in the “you never know what life will bring” kind of way, but in the “I know neither of these guys are right for me deep down but am too afraid to admit it so I’m looking for external validation” kind of way.
That’s not who I am anymore. The way I approach relationships now isn’t even in the same universe. I don’t know yet if the new guy is my “forever” man, but I don’t want to know yet. What I do know is that I like him so much that I want to get to know him better and in order for that to happen, I’m going to have to introduce him to the people who know me best.
To ease my anxiety over the impending dinner with my parents, I’ve decided to dip my toe in the introduction pool. The other night, I invited the new boyfriend out to see a friend’s comedy show. We sat at a table full of her friends, my acquaintances, as we watched her show and made conversation.
“He’s great!” they all said when he went to the bathroom.
I smiled because I knew it was true.