I will never forget the smile that spread across his face when he realized it. “We’re finally communicating,” I could almost hear him say. After what had seemed like the year that wouldn’t end, chasing each other halfway across the world and back again, we found ourselves still tangled in the mess we never sought to remedy.
The heat of the summer night and the dirt that settled in my sandals had brought me back to his door. We caught up, trying to prove to each other that we had been doing just fine. Him with his research and me with my internship experience. He asked if we were on the same page, and I said we were, never knowing what that meant with him. That’s when he told me about the girl next door, the one he started to have feelings for.
Nothing had happened yet, but wasn’t I happy for him that he could finally open up to someone? I smiled and made a joke, knowing I would soon take my throne as “the girl before the girlfriend,” once again. I had to laugh, or else I know I would have cried. After our talk, he went for the high-five, and I went for the door. As I left, he shouted after me to call him.
This isn’t the first time I’ve been “the girl before the girlfriend.” Sometimes the experience has meant bolstering the egos of those I’ve been involved with. A lot of the time, it’s meant bearing the emotional brunt of the other — listening to past relationship follies, having to be sympathetic during the descriptions of the “crazy-ex girlfriend.”
There were multiple nights where we stayed up talking, unpacking different emotional issues. One night included a story about said boy, left heartbroken on a mountain that he had climbed to call his girlfriend at the time. It’s a wonderful story, maybe I’ll tell you about it sometime.
Though we had talked every day, sometimes about out plans to date each other, that never came to fruition. After he opened up to me, I attempted to get closer. After he pushed me away, the relationship devolved into a form of causality. We’d been through so much together, a war zone of messy emotions, self-prescribed commitment issues and never fully communicating how we had felt.
Although this is something that happens more than I’d like to admit, he is the most tangible example. He wanted to know if I was proud of him for finally being able to open up to someone else. For the longest time, I thought that person was going to be me. Maybe it was my penchant for trying to fix what was broken — either the boy or the situation — or maybe it was my anxiety surrounding going after what I wanted.
A lot of this has come from the “cool girl” trope, which I touched upon in a previous column — being able to “roll with it” and fit whatever description I need to fit. Sometimes I was too worried to speak up and tell the boy how I felt, sometimes I knew that speaking up meant I either cared too much and tried to fix everything or I was leaning on the side of indifference and never pursued it further.
Although I try not to think about it too much, and usually laugh because of its ludicrousness, I still remember when during my freshman year, he sent the breakup poem he’d written for me to our whole poetry class. “Well, you’re not the girl I’m going to marry,” he said. That was evident, seeing as I was 18 and still believed all the world’s problems could be solved through poetry and theatre. That biting sentiment remained, however, and it devolved into something worse — it felt like I could never be anybody’s anything, or it felt like I would have to change my priorities to be whatever they would want. It meant that I would still be in their lives, no matter what form I would have to take. This pattern of behavior has followed me since freshman year and even devolved into giving relationship advice to the boy who cheated on me about how to get his parents to like the girl he chose over me.
This isn’t to fault those involved, people change and they change their minds. This is just to bring attention to a pattern I’ve noticed, something plagued with almosts and maybes, all from not fitting the description of what someone wants, or fitting that description too well.
I’m unsure if there is a real solution to this pattern, for it is so easy for us to become what someone wants in order to remain an entity in their life, even if that doesn’t align with what we want. So easily do we bend ourselves into forms we no longer recognize to fill holes that others create for someone like us. In this messy, complicated world that spins without end, we should be able to say what we feel, go after what we want, and try not to place people into unrealistic tropes we’ve created for them.