the ex factor

In realizing that I had referenced two of my ex boyfriends by my sixth post here, it occurred to me that perhaps I should elaborate. Some people collect Precious Moments figurines, some people collect cars, some people collect stamps. Me? I apparently collect ex boyfriends. This was never part of my life plan, it’s just A Thing that has come to be as I’ve gotten older. It’s like that scene in Goodwill Hunting where Matt Damon is reciting all his made-up brothers for Minnie Driver. Marky, Ricky, Danny, Terry, Mikey, Davey, Timmy, Tommy, Joey, Robbie, Johnny and Brian. And Willie. Some people look at me sideways for this, flash their eyes of judgment at me, like maybe something is wrong with me, maybe I have commitment issues, maybe I’m secretly completely fucking insane (that part’s a little true) and dudes are all like whoa, this bitch is NUTS. See ya! More than anything, though, it’s just that I’ve been dating since I was fifteen years old and it took me a while to find my footing.

Mostly this stems from having little guidance about healthy relationships, and no healthy relationships in my own life to follow as a model. My parents were divorced by the time I was six, and their marriage was on the rocks since probably before I was born. My mom had sustained the sudden and tragic loss of her own mother four and a half years before my birth, and because she had been given little in the way of coping skills, she was ill-equipped to navigate that territory. Even those with a high emotional IQ would struggle in the face of tragically losing a parent at the tender age of 23. My mom had been married less than two years when her mother was killed. Not to mention she was a brand new mother herself. This was in 1980, before there was a solid understanding of life units and how they impact your relationships. Coming from a hillbilly Irish family as my mom did, it might as well have been 1940. Pour some whiskey on it and pull yourself together, Soldier! My dad’s upbringing was very different from that of my mom, but his was also not imbued with healthy communication skills or coping mechanisms. His own mother wasn’t exactly the embodiment of warmth, kindness, and compassion (Hi, Grandma!), and he was in no way equipped to be a healthy support system for someone wracked with such profound grief. By the time I came along, their relationship had sustained so much damage and heartache, such broken communication, that another baby in the mix was not unlike pouring water on a grease fire. All of My Own Damage is something for a heavier, more introspective post. What I’m driving at is that I don’t blame anyone for my lack of understanding of how relationships were supposed to work, but certainly that has contributed to my having a string of ex boyfriends.

Outside of my parents’ relationship, I had some pretty confusing and detrimental experiences of my own as a youngster, which led to my dating life being dysfunctional right out of the gate. I was in a handful of pretty serious relationships throughout my teens and on into my early twenties, all of which fizzled in front of me, due in part to my unwitting efforts to sabotage them. I was barely a conscious being, trying to find ways to mitigate serious abandonment issues, gain a sense of identity, and simply survive. Unlike many teenage kids, I did not have the luxury of a family foundation within which to bounce against safe, padded walls while I figured it all out. By the time I was sixteen, life was not a drill, and I had to sink or swim. I clung to anything I could at that point to keep me afloat, and there was no space left for self awareness, for processing the motivations behind some of my own despicable relational behaviors.

Perhaps it is not totally inaccurate to admit that as a younger person I had commitment issues. I didn’t trust marriage – I only knew marriages to fail, or to last way too long, a bitter and loveless representation of a life squandered. I also have always tended to end relationships as soon as I recognize that they are not going anywhere long-term. I am not a casual dater in any way, and never have been. Sure, I have tried. And failed. Because the truth is? I want to share my life with someone. A dear friend of mine and I discussed this at length last year and he and I managed to determine that basically what I want is to be an integral member of a high-functioning, two-person team. But it’s more than that. It can’t be pure pragmatism, because what’s life without passion, without the kind of love that knocks you off balance, challenges you to be a better human being? As I said, I spent several years working through relationships – some short, some longer – in an attempt to find that perfect balance.

And then I met Jason. His is one of the only names that I’ll actually use here. We met in winter 2007, started spending real time together in the spring, fell in love that summer, got engaged that fall, and it was all over just after my birthday in May of the following year. Three days after I turned twenty-four years old, Jason was dead, and my life was irrevocably changed. Had things turned out a little differently, I might have celebrated my fifth wedding anniversary this year. When we met, I was still struggling with fears of commitment, with a lack of faith in the institution of marriage. Throughout the course of our time together, through his patience with me, in the face of severe health issues and depression, as I became a part of the Walker family, it was almost as if one day I just woke up and those issues were gone. There was a sudden wave of clarity, a knowledge that no matter where a person comes from, they must choose where they are headed. Because of my experience, I believe that when people decide to settle down it is not necessarily that they are so sure. Instead, it is a willingness to be sure, a desire to put yourself all-in and trust that the person with whom you’re embarking on this journey will reciprocate. Being this vulnerable is not easy, and does not come naturally to any human being, which is what makes it so fascinating that we are willing to do it and have been for thousands of years.

My engagement was pivotal, a moment when I became acutely aware of what I actually want out of life, and was able to name my aspirations. I was able to own the craving for family that had evolved in me. After that relationship failed, after Jason died, I was fractured, wounded, and felt irreparably damaged. Finally I had reached a point where I knew what I wanted, had felt it with my fingertips, and had lost my grip on it. I have had significant relationships since then, have loved deeply since then, have even thought about marrying other people, have learned myriad lessons about myself, and have developed and grown in ways that my twenty-four-year-old self could not possibly have grasped. As I stand on the cusp of being thirty years old, as I come to terms with the fact that I will not be married in my twenties, as I mourn the reality that my mother won’t be present at my wedding, it seems inconsequential that I have a handful of exes. If anything, I hold it up as an illustration of my unwillingness to settle for something different than what I deserve.

One Comment

  1. Someday I’d like to do or read an interview with someone who collects Precious Moments figurines. They be pricey, for one, but I’d like to understand the significance.

    Good Will Hunting is one of my all time favorite movies, so I enjoyed the reference. Very apt!

    I also too understand the acceptance of not getting married in my twenties. It was something I clung to simply because of how I was perceiving what I “should” be doing, if I was taking seriously Hollywood romantic comedies. And I was.

    But I’m of the opinion now that finding someone later in life is sweeter, perhaps. Sure, you wait longer, but you’ll recognize him more quickly and know when you’re ready more easily. At least in my experience.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *