Many of us enter relationships that are unhealthy, dangerous or just “not meant to be”. Despite being unhappy, for many deep reasons, we stay. Paralyzed. Even though we shouldn’t.
Bob and I had been best friends for six years. At first I was oblivious, especially having a boyfriend (who was my first serious one), never even suspecting Bob’s feelings. I had many good guy-friends, and would always get along better with boys, so I didn’t read much into it. After a while, I started to suspect, but consciously decided to dismiss and sweep it under the rug.
Bob ended up confessing and later also admitting that it was too hard for him to be just friends. Besides having a boyfriend, I wasn’t even remotely interested. Bob decided to take a step back, which burnt, but I understood. I can’t remember the details, but eventually he managed to move on and we became friends again.
I believed that he was finally over me. But then he caught me in one of those gaps between boyfriends – after I ended the relationship with my second serious boyfriend. If you’ve read my previous posts (Extra Baggage), you know that it didn’t end very well. It took me a long time to admit to myself and own up to it.
These are the stages of denial in relationships that aren’t “meant to be”:
1. Giving them a chance
It all started when I lost myself in admiration for his bravery. It made me say yes, when I should’ve found a gentle way to say no. Giving chances is part of life, I do believe in them. But not when deep down you know that this isn’t for you. I couldn’t see us as more than just friends. I agreed to go out with him, in spite of never being interested before. I still can’t fault myself for doing so, because I felt like I should at least try. I believed that with time, the spark that was missing would grow – One I had in all my previous relationships, even before they began. At that moment, when he overcame his own demons, and took a leap – I made a decision to do so too.
2. Ignoring the first signs
The first stages of a relationship are usually reserved to getting familiarized with each other. Both my previous boyfriends were also friends of mine before, so I wasn’t new to skipping that stage. But I also knew that it should still be pinker than what it was. While we did have good moments, there were too many fights that shouldn’t happen in the “honeymoon stage”. For Bob, it was his first serious relationship. So many of them were carbon copies of ones I’ve had in my first relationship when I was 16-17. I have already been through it all. Enough to know that they have no place in a relationship when you’re 25. It was exhausting, irritating and I had no desire to deal with it. But I was in denial, so I did. I was scared, and told myself that it was part of giving it a chance.
3. Getting lost in having support
It’s quite rare to find someone who genuinely cares, who does so selflessly and wholeheartedly. Someone who adores and puts you on a pedestal, even when you don’t completely deserve it. It’s also very addicting. It’s usually the kind of support that we get only from close friends. Which should have been a huge, all caps billboard sign. But I’m only human, and it’s nice having someone to fall back on. Someone who really cared and supported me through difficult times. I also knew that if we broke up, I would lose him as a friend as well. And I was couldn’t prepare myself for something like that. I needed him in my life.
4. Attachment to their family
This was something I was very much deprived of in my previous relationships. My first boyfriend’s family was very religious and we didn’t have much of a connection. Then my second boyfriend wasn’t Jewish and his family couldn’t even know about us. If you’ve ever loved and gotten along well with your partner’s family, you know how amazing it is. Bob’s family was welcoming, loving and just darn right charming. I would spend weekends at their home and it always felt just right, like that’s exactly where I belong. Which at one point, was a very conscious reason for staying with Bob. I hated the thought of breaking up with them more than I did with him.
5. My secrets keeper
Being best friends from before, Bob and I knew each other very well to begin with. As we spent more time together in our relationship, we got to know one another on a deeper, more intimate level. Many under the surface secrets we held inside, naturally came up to the surface when we were alone. He was the only one that knew me inside out, knew things no one else did. Bob knew secrets I wasn’t sure I could live with alone, like my anxiety attacks. So I held on to him harder and refused to let go. It’s difficult for me to open up, reveal my deepest darkest secrets… And just thinking about having to trust someone else, or no one at all, was terrifying. If you’ve read my “Terms of Anxiety” post, you would know that all I did was create a vicious circle.
6. The one doesn’t exist
I never believed that there is “the one”. I think that there are people you get along with more and people that you get along with less. It’s a matter of compatibility, who you feel good with and are willing to make it work. I convinced myself that those all consuming, blinding true loves only exist in movies. That I didn’t need that “puppy love”. When I was with Bob – At a point where I wasn’t exactly miserable, but I wasn’t happy either (not like I should’ve been) – I was convincing myself that I will most probably never find someone who was perfect for me. That with anyone I would have to work hard. Bob was truly a wonderful person. We had a great connection and we got along well enough… So why not put in the effort and ignore the neon signs?
7. What if there’s no one else?
Despite not believing in the existence of “the one”, there was always that small doubtful fear of ’what if?’ in the back of my mind. Even though I knew that if there were, Bob definitely wouldn’t be it – I was still trying to make it work because I was unable let go of the ‘What if I never find anyone else?’. I stayed with him for too long after coming to that realization… Of knowing that I’m only with him out of fear of spending the rest of my life alone. Which should never, ever be the sole reason to stay in a relationship. Especially one that causes you stress, suffering or even worse – mental and physical agony.
8. Fears of the unknown
This applies to basically everything in life, whether it be a relationship, a job, a place, etc. Many times we’d rather suffer through and take the hits, stay unhappy in a place that is incompatible. The fear of the great unknown can be beyond paralyzing… It can root us in the same spot, spinning in circles indefinitely. With time one of my biggest mottos has become: ‘When we fear it most, is also when we need change most’. I’ve gotten so used to having a boyfriend in general, and Bob specifically, that becoming single again, was scarier than the break-up. I haven’t been single for longer than a couple of months – and doing so at 26, felt like the plague. I was terrified of suffering in my own company, and spending the rest of my life single and lonely.
9. Suffering in silence
Having eight stages stacked up one on top of the other, I was struggling to carry the weight. Not to mention the anxiety and all of Bob’s baggage and issues. But besides weighing heavy, all of the mentioned stages struck me with dread, preventing me from taking the leap. So I suffered in silence, pretended like everything was okay, or as close as can be at least. I was convincing myself that I was doing the right thing. That I didn’t need that grand love, as long as he treated me well. I wasn’t in love with him, or attracted and I was painfully aware that he wasn’t my “Prince Charming”. We were basically friends with benefits – And in the last month or two, we were just friends (just barely) without benefits.
10. Breaking the silence
With the ninth stage stacked upon the previous eight, I quickly crumbled under. I was no longer able to bear it – thus entering the tenth and final stage. After holding it in and together for so long, I was ready to burst. I started thinking about the boyfriend before Bob, comparing the two. Just thinking about “The mythological ex” had me wanting so much more than what I had with Bob. I was miserable, and it came to the point where I could barely stand the sight of him. Bob wanted to see a couples therapist, and that was the last straw – Because while I believe that relationships take effort, it also shouldn’t be that much hard work. Especially before we even married. Moreover, I didn’t believe that our relationship was worth it – there wasn’t much to save.
I’ve beaten myself up for a long time following the break up… For not ending it earlier, for dragging poor Bob along and causing us both to suffer. But as time went by, the more I healed, I started to learn from the mistakes we made. Regret is a useless feeling – it can change nothing and only makes things worse. So I worked hard to minimize it (cause let’s face it, you can never completely eliminate it)… And started applying the lessons I learned into my life – Thus creating growth and strength out of difficult and straining experiences.
The worst lies are the lies we tell ourselves. We live in denial of what we do, even what we think. We do this because we’re afraid. We fear we will not find love, and when we find it we fear we’ll lose it. We fear that if we do not have love we will be unhappy.Richard Bach
Wishing you all the strength to fight difficulties,