How 1 Simple Question Altered the Course of My Relationships Forever
I was a high school band nerd. He was in band too– that’s how we met– but he was anything but a nerd. Athletic (swimming, cross country, track & field), blonde hair, blue eyes, flawless skin, perfect smile. He was prettier than me, that’s for sure.
He didn’t treat me very well, but I was so starry-eyed by the fact that a guy like him had any interest in me that I didn’t really care.
We were both kind of sarcastic and obnoxious, and I think that’s why he liked me. I could put up with his crap and give it right back to him. He was a cocky, charismatic bad boy wrapped up in a letterman’s jacket.
I wanted to believe that I was the only one he could really love, because I was the only one who truly “got” him.
I wore his letterman’s jacket for six rocky months of my junior year, which is practically like a first marriage in high school. He was my first date, my first real kiss, my first real boyfriend. We clashed frequently, mostly because when I needed him to be there for me, he would retreat.
Oh, and he was constantly ditching me to spend time with his ex-girlfriend. And hiding it just well enough that I constantly second-guessed whether or not it was actually happening.
So there was that.
And yet I stayed with him. I wanted to believe that I was the only one he could really love, because I was the only one who truly “got” him. (It’s okay if you’re gagging right now.)
Yes, I was young and naive, but looking back, the relationship was more of a hobby to me than anything else. Being with him gave me something to think about, something to obsess over, something to talk to my friends about. It kept my boring teenage life fueled with constant drama. And it gave me bragging rights. From his mischievous blue eyes to his perfectly straight teeth and tanned muscles, he was all mine.
Well. When he wasn’t spending time with other girls, anyway.
My parents hated him, and looking back now as a parent, I understand completely. If my daughter were dating someone like him, I would definitely have something to say about it. But I didn’t care what they thought. I ignored their concerns and continued to be in love with the cute, blonde bad boy.
It was a perfectly normal, defensive response from a teenage girl to the guy who was breaking up with her.
Shortly before our six-month anniversary, it happened. He cornered me in the hallway after school, right outside the door of the National Honors Society meeting I was about to attend. (Confession: I wasn’t just a band nerd. I was a nerd-nerd.)
He looked serious, which was unusual for him, and then he spoke:
“I think we should break up.”
Those six words are still seared into my mind. I was stunned.
“Why?” I squeaked.
He then gave some stuttering, rambling explanation about how he didn’t think we were happy anymore, and how he was coming between me and my parents, and I just stood there in that upstairs hallway only half listening, because my brain was still trying to process his words. I think we should break up.
Once the rest of his words began to sink in, my first reaction was to talk him out of it. My mind swirled with rebuttals.
What do you mean “we’re not happy anymore”? What does that even mean? If you’re not happy, then tell me why! What can I do? And who cares what my parents think? Me fighting with them doesn’t have anything to with you! Things get hard and you just want to give up?
It was a perfectly normal, defensive response from a teenage girl to the guy who was breaking up with her. But then, somehow, on some level, as he finished up his speech, I realized that everything he’d said was really just a long, roundabout way of saying, ‘I don’t want to be with you anymore.’
And then the following question came into my mind, as clearly as if someone was speaking it aloud:
Why would you want to be with someone who doesn’t want to be with you?
The thought struck me with so much force and clarity that when I responded to him, it was only a single word:
He looked at me, wary. He had probably been expecting a fight, or some kind of an emotional reaction, but all I’d said was a simple, “okay.”
And I walked away.
I’d like to say I washed my hands of him and I was fine after that, but I was only sixteen, he was my first love, and let’s face it: I had been rejected. I sat through the NHS meeting alternating between feeling numb and wanting to cry.
I’d already had my taste of freedom, and I didn’t trust his feelings for me anymore.
Afterward, I told my friends what had happened and they rallied around me (they didn’t like him either). They reminded me that I was now free, and I could “play the field.” I wasn’t ready for that yet, but I appreciated the sentiment.
By the time I went to bed that night, I was feeling marginally better about the breakup. I hadn’t realized how consuming the relationship had been, and my friends were right: breaking up meant breaking free.
Oddly enough, the next day at school, my now-ex-boyfriend looked miserable. But I didn’t look miserable, so people kept asking me what I’d done to him, and I kept having to repeat the same thing: “I didn’t do anything! He broke up with me!”
Apparently he thought he’d made a mistake, because within a couple of weeks he was emailing me, asking if I thought we could try again. But I’d already had my taste of freedom, and I didn’t trust his feelings for me anymore. So I politely declined. I may have been young, but I’d begun to understand that my happiness shouldn’t depend on the whims of a guy, no matter how cute he was.
In the 20 years since that first breakup, I have seen too many girls– and even grown women– try to fight for relationships after they’re over, and it’s tough to watch. I wish I could sit down with all the single girls in the world and drive home this important point:
When someone tells you how they feel about you, believe them. You should never have to convince someone to love you.
Trying to convince someone that they should stay with you is like trying to get back to shore in a rip current. Rather than letting the water pull you to a new current, you exhaust yourself fighting it, getting nowhere, and you end up looking like a sad, pathetic drowned rat– or worse, you end up actually drowning.
No matter the outcome, if you have to fight to make someone want to be with you, you’ve already lost– not only your relationship, but also your self worth and your dignity. You deserve to be loved because you deserve to be loved, not because you convinced someone to love you.
Don’t fight it. Just let go. Yes, it’s scary, but if you let life’s currents pull you to a new shore, once you set foot on firm land again you’ll be just fine, I promise.
Fortunately, I only suffered one more dumping during my dating years, but the knowledge I’d gained from the first dumping allowed me to handle it gracefully.
On the other hand, I was the dumper a few times, and oh, how I wished my ‘dumpees’ had understood what I’d learned at that first breakup. Instead, their reactions ranged from outright anger and hatred to prolonged mourning, and while I empathized with them, each time all I could think was, Why can’t you just let me go? Why are you holding on so hard to someone who doesn’t want to be with you?
I don’t know where that wise voice in my head came from that day my first boyfriend broke up with me in the high school hallway, but I’m glad that epiphany came when it did, because while my first breakup was painful, it was necessary.
I’ll always be grateful to the blonde-haired, blue-eyed, sarcastic jock who dumped me– but I’m even more grateful to that little voice in my head that asked me the exact right question at the exact right time.