I’ve been trying to figure out if this is a travel blog or a public diary and I’ve decided to make it both. Some days I want to share spectacular photos or stories about my travels… and others days, I want to venture down the rabbit hole of my mind – and perhaps someone would care to join me.
Today is a rabbit hole day, and the topic is love. Something happened yesterday that got me thinking about this. I’ll explain below. It will take me a bit to get there, to give you the background.
There are many ways I could begin this conversation, as a single, 35-year old woman who’s been in many relationships, none of which lasted. From a conventional, societal lens, I could start to feel inadequate. It’s easy to place a certain degree of self-worth in your relationship status, right? I was engaged very briefly when I was in college (to a guy I later found out was a career criminal), and for those couple of brief months, I was someone’s fiance’. I wasn’t just Jessica (as if just being myself weren’t enough), I was also a woman who someone wanted to marry. I wore diamond engagement ring and I remember feeling like I had made it into some sort of club. I was wanted. Someone wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. That felt…monumental. I was 21 at the time.
Needless to say, that didn’t exactly pan out. And it was followed by more relationships that didn’t pan out. In fact, I wrote an entire manuscript** about my failed relationships, perhaps in search of clarity as to why I seemed to have so much trouble in love. It was cathartic and clarifying, and with the exception of a couple months I spent dating someone this past spring (let’s call him “Bryan”), I’ve been single since penning it, two and a half years ago.
There are a couple of things I’ve had to come to terms with. First, I’m not normal. I really don’t like convention. I am a free spirit and I can easily feel trapped and suffocated. I am fiercely independent, I march to my own drum, I need to be able to go, explore, and roam– on a whim. I follow my heart and my instincts (and for the first time in my life, I can honestly say they are aligned), and these traits aren’t conducive to normal relationships. My longest relationship ever lasted nearly 5 years, mostly long distance, and that worked well for me (save the total dysfunction, I’m strictly referring to logistics, here). I don’t want someone in my space all the time. I don’t want to share my bed every night. I don’t want a human shadow. I don’t want to have to explain myself.
But I’m still human, and I still want love. Over the last couple of years, I’ve had to redefine what love means to me, and that redefining is the main reason my last, brief relationship with Bryan ended. To me, love means letting someone grow, not holding them captive. At the beginning of the summer, I was feeling really cooped up and stir crazy and I knew I needed to go travel for a bit. I also wanted to get away from the monotonous four walls of my home office for a while, enjoy a fresh perspective, and work on my memoir (more on that in a future post). For me, newness breeds creativity – just being in a new environment for a time can breathe new life into me. I did some research and found a place up in the mountains in Colorado, and planned to go there for a month.
I told Bryan about it, and he didn’t like the idea. He kept asking me what he was supposed to do while I was gone. He couldn’t come with me (his work wouldn’t permit) — but even if he could, I wouldn’t have wanted him to. I needed this get away for myself, and he thought that was selfish. So I broke it off.
The thing that struck me about his objections to me going away for a month was this: he thought it was selfish for me to leave him, and I thought it was selfish for him to ask me to not go. It was just a month.
This reminded me of the death knell of another relationship about four years ago. I was in love… I mean, really in love. Let’s call him Jack. One day, Jack and I were talking about my transamerica bicycle ride. When we first met, he read my entire online blog – that was one of the first things that drew him to me. He was enamored with the journey, and over time, he fell in love with the woman who took it (…me). He also fell in love with the woman who was forever changed by that bicycle ride. Had I not gone on that journey, I probably wouldn’t have became the person he was so enchanted by.
About two years into the relationship, near the end, the transam came up in casual conversation. I mentioned that one day, I’d like to do it again. The comment was innocent and honest – I truly did want to do another cross-country bicycle ride at some point. It had been an incredible journey – why wouldn’t I want to do it again? Well… it blew up. Jack couldn’t bear the thought of going two months without me while I was off on some bicycle trip (similar to Bryan, Jack’s work wouldn’t permit him to take time off to go with me, and he wasn’t a cyclist anyways). I remember sitting there, looking at him in disbelief. I couldn’t understand why that was such a big deal – it was two months, that’s all. Similar to Bryan, Jack kept asking what he was supposed to do while I was gone. I assumed he would go about his daily routine – how would me being away for a trip change that? Like Bryan, Jack thought my desire to bike cross country again was incredibly selfish. I was in a relationship now… and somehow, that was supposed to quell my desire for growth and adventure. And similar to my reaction with Bryan, I felt that Jack was the one being selfish.
Truthfully, had the roles been reversed in either of these instances, both of these men would have had my full support. I get it. I understand the need to grow and stretch yourself, and I would never want to stop someone from experiencing something that could transform them in incredible, positive ways. I would never do that.
So Jack and I broke up not too long after that. It was the beginning of some serious questioning for me. One night I asked him if he would ever re-marry (he was divorced and had been very hurt by his ex-wife). We’d been dating for two years, and that seemed like a reasonable question. I was not on a quest for marriage by any means, but I figured that maybe at some point in my life I would want to know what it felt like to be someone’s wife. I knew what it felt like to be someone’s fiance, albeit, briefly. Maybe I would want someone to call my husband, one day. I didn’t want falling in love with someone who had been cheated on to preclude me from that experience. I didn’t want to pay for another woman’s sins.
Well, Jack was adamant. No, absolutely not. He would never remarry. He’d been there, done that. He wasn’t going to do it again. He didn’t see the point in marriage. It was too risky.
Now, I had never done anything to hurt Jack. I loved him too much… I would have shielded him from harm with every fiber of my being. I treasured the love I had with him. And this made me realize a couple of things. Maybe Jack wasn’t over his ex-wife. Maybe he didn’t love me, or maybe he didn’t love me with the veracity with which I loved him. Maybe he didn’t see a future with me…maybe he didn’t want one. And that hurt.
The relationship ended. We remained friends on Facebook, but that’s about it. I saw him a little over two years ago when I got rid of all my belongings, packed up my car, and headed to California (the gypsy soul won’t quit). We went out for drinks, and at the end of the night, I suppose the alcohol got the best of him and he kissed me. It really fucked with my head…the truth was, I still loved him. Maybe not as much as I used to, but part of me was still holding a flame for him. And now I was heading 3,000 miles away. He texted me shortly after he left and apologized. I didn’t want his apology.
So, all of that brings me to the trigger yesterday. I checked out his Facebook page to see if he had posted anything about a fallen officer (it was confirmed, and to the person who was affected by this, I love you and I am here for you in any way you need), and saw photos of him with his … fiance’. He had proposed to his girlfriend.
So my initial reaction was, damn… it felt like a punch to the gut. And I had to figure out why that stung so much. The truth was that Jack and I were not meant to be together. I knew that. I would have never felt satisfied with the type of life he wanted. I need open space, exploration, freedom. I couldn’t have had that with him, and I think that eventually, I would have ended up leaving anyways. So if I could openly admit that we weren’t destined to stroll off into the sunset together, why did that bother me?
Because it made me feel like I wasn’t good enough. Jack didn’t love me the way he loved this woman. She had something I didn’t have.
The truth is, every guy I’ve ever been in a relationship with is now engaged or married. I mean, I could really destroy myself if I wanted to dwell on this. I have to re-frame it in my mind, and this is where I have to remember that I’m just not normal. Do I really want a relationship? Do I have to be in a relationship to have love? I don’t have the answers. I know I don’t want a conventional relationship, and the type of love I’m looking for is otherworldly. Maybe I’ll find it, maybe I won’t. But I won’t let myself feel inadequate over my relationship status. I will keep living a life that feels right to me. I will keep trying to be extraordinary. I must. And maybe somewhere out there, there’s an unconventional man looking for the same.
I promise the next post will be a legit travel blog post 😉 Thanks for humoring me, if you made it this far.
**a gritty tell-all, as if anyone cared to know the ins and outs of my failed attempts at love… hence, it’s still a manuscript, not a published book)