Same Old Story
Always the friend, never the girlfriend. Always the one before The One.
You expect it. It’s inevitable; you know it’s coming, yet when it does the news still manages to drive a stake through your heart. He moved on, you got left behind. Again.
In the beginning it was everything you dreamed a real romance should be – the perfect meet-cute, you had great chemistry, he treated you right (or so you thought) and best of all, you were really good friends. But, then you went and spoilt it all by saying something stupid like I love you too soon, and he started to pull away. He told you it was because he wasn’t ready for a relationship, that he had too much going on and needed to focus on his career, that he could only be friends for the time being.
You cared about him so much that you were willing to compromise. You were in no hurry. He continued to orbit and every so often was drawn back to you and you’d think he was ready at last, but as soon as things got too serious and you started talking of the future – even in terms of the mere shift from being friend to girlfriend, he pulled away and retreated again. You tried to fool yourself that you were okay with ‘keeping things casual’ but you’re old-fashioned. You wanted exclusivity and the security of a commitment. Accidents do happen and you were afraid of being abandoned as the single mother to an unplanned child. You believe that children should be born of love and commitment.
You were always open and honest with him; you never hid anything from him. You shared your dreams, your hopes, fears and vulnerabilities to prove to him that you trusted him and that he could trust you too, but he never let down his wall, never opened up to you in the same way, leaving you feeling naked and exposed.
You waited patiently in the wings for years, waiting for when he’d be ready, trying not to complain, trying to accept with dignity when he never called, never invited you to meet his friends or family, when he was afraid to be seen in public with you, never had time for anything more than a quick visit, yet was able to find the time to spend the day gardening or help a friend move house. He told you he needed his privacy so you respected his wishes and told only the closest couple of friends that he existed. They told you his behaviour was suspicious, that he must already be married or seeing other women, but you insisted you have good instincts and believed he was being honest and not fooling around. You believed he was one of the good ones and that motivated you to stand by him even more, made you determined to prove your friends wrong, determined to prove your worthiness by being the one that never doubted him.
Eventually, after years of this, the strain becomes too much, but you haven’t the strength to move on while he’s so near that you see him pass your window every day on his way to work, so the only option is to move away. You tell him you’re leaving town to make a fresh start. He seems disappointed and you long for him to ask you to stay, but he doesn’t. You hope that one day he might pack up and follow you, but he never does.
You keep in touch. He never mentions anyone new so you think he’s still working things out. You never mention anyone new because there isn’t anyone, because even though you’ve tried, you just can’t stomach starting something new. If there had been someone new, you would've told him, because you feel he had the right to know. And so as long as he’s still single, the glimmer of hope persists that one day he’ll decide he’s finally ready, that he’ll realise what he’s letting slip through his fingers. You’d still take him back after all this time if he could prove he could commit, not out of weakness but because to you, your history, your memories are special and you don’t want them going to waste.
Game, set, match
Then you hear all of a sudden that he’s met someone and they’re in a committed relationship and starting a family, all in the space of a few months. And it all becomes perfectly clear – he was never too busy, too focused on his career, not ready for a relationship. He just never wanted a relationship with you.
You really were just a friend – the rest was you unwittingly providing benefits on occasion when he needed a convenient distraction. You read the book, you should’ve seen the truth right in front of you – he simply was never that into you. All the reasons he gave, all the excuses, the lies, were a smokescreen, that even if he couldn’t admit it to himself, he was only ever using you, keeping you on standby until he no longer had any use for you – a pawn, expendable at his choosing in his quest for a queen.
You were never a real contender and while you were waiting to be dealt another hand, he had left the game to play elsewhere. You realise that when he said he would come visit soon, but only on the way to something else, that he wasn’t being conscientious about fuel consumption, he needed a cover story to tell her. That she’s probably being played the same way you were.
You realise you’ve been played by the most expert of players. You respected his wishes to ‘keep things between just the two of you’ for years so that for all intents and purposes, to the rest of your world he didn’t exist. The people around you had no idea why one day you were glowing and the next you were falling apart, and wondered how you could be single for so long, never knowing that you had been secretly seeing someone on and off. He’s the boyfriend you never had so how can you cry over a love that never was? It’s ingenious really. The most brilliant of long cons. I have to concede defeat to the superior player. Well played. Well played indeed.
This is why I don’t like playing games – I always lose. I’m clumsy and slow, I’m not skilled enough, I give too much away, can’t pick up on the most obvious of tells, I’m no good at bluffing, bet too much on a single roll of the dice. And I made the biggest mistake of all – I tried playing a pro’s game. I was outplayed, outmatched and I lost.
Forever in the penalty box
I’ve never believed love should be a game or competition and I’ve refused to play along by lying, cheating or pretending to be someone I’m not. I’ve always believed in being myself, keeping no secrets, being open and honest. However, after you’ve rejected countless times in favour of someone else, you realise that despite all those it’s-not-you-it’s-me lines, the common denominator IS you.
You are the problem, the defective one. You’re the one who is both too much and not enough. Too flawed. Too pure. Too deep. Too literal. You loved too much. Your love is not welcome as it drowns, suffocates. You were naïve and gullible. You made the mistake of misguided loyalty, of thinking of a future when none had been declared. You didn’t follow The Rules or learn how to the play game. Instead of rolling over and taking it, you made the mistake of getting angry and hurt when you were stood up, brushed off or a promise was broken with only a glib excuse. You realise you trusted too much, followed the wrong instincts. You chose to ignore the signs. You have only yourself to blame.
You’d been trying to win the game by following your own rule book and so you were sent to the penalty box over and over while watching others scoop up the prizes. You return once again defeated, empty-handed, fearing the look of disappointment on your parents’ faces because you know how much winning means to them. Eventually you pull out from competing altogether – it’s easier to bear their disappointment at your decision to quit than their continual disappointment at being the eternal loser.
Just days before my mother died in September of last year, I phoned her to share some good news with her. I was so excited and overflowing with optimism and enthusiasm – I had just finished the first full draft of my first novel – something I always dreamed of doing but wasn’t sure I’d ever get to do so the fact that I was halfway there was an extraordinary feeling. I was on top of the world. Her response was a disinterested that’s nice – no more interested in it than when I had given her my rough manuscript the previous December to read. She paged through the first few pages, said it looked good but handed it back to me saying that she wouldn’t read it, yet she was able to read six full books in the few weeks she stayed with me.
It cut me to pieces that she didn’t share my happiness, couldn’t even try to pretend to be happy for me and it cut even deeper when it hit me how different her reaction would have been if I had said I was getting married or having a baby. She would’ve been overjoyed. She was so desperate for a grandchild that she wouldn’t even have cared if the child was the result of a drunken encounter with an anonymous stranger in the bathroom stall of a seedy nightclub even though that would’ve been totally out of character for me. I spent my entire life trying to make my parents happy by being the good daughter and I still failed, couldn’t even get the happily-ever-after right for them.
At least now both my parents are gone and I no longer feel the pressure to compete. I’m free to leave the games and races behind me once and for all.
Time for retirement
I’m too old now to start learning the rules of a game I am losing interest in, especially when now I’d be competing with women half my age. I’ve passed my best before date, the rot has set in. My bruised and battered heart has become stiff with scar tissue, it's calcifying, slowing turning to stone. I have become too jaded, just like the rest of the same old washed-up lost causes that cycle through the internet dating pool year after year, floating about hoping to be reused, recycled, repurposed; like dying fish flapping about trapped in a drying-out muddy pool.
I don’t have the energy and or the interest in starting a relationship just for the sake of being in a relationship. I don’t want a relationship. I have a relationship with my banker. I want love, not a business arrangement. However, I suspect love is the preserve of youth, the innocent and naïve. I’ve become too cynical, sceptical and suspicious. I won’t be so easily fooled into trusting unconditionally again. And where there is no trust, there can be no love.
This is the curse of the deep being. I used to get upset when men complained that I was ‘too intense’ and said that this was the reason they were reluctant to be with me. I saw it as a flaw in me, but now I see it not as a sign of my defectiveness but rather as a sign of their weakness. It’s not that I am too intense, too complicated, too much work – it’s that they are not up to the task. My light is so powerful that they’re afraid they’ll be incinerated if they get too close, my depths so deep they’re afraid they’ll drown if they take the plunge.
I really do need a knight in shining armour – a fearless warrior, a powerful and courageous king, an immortal being for I am not the weak fragile princess, I am the dragon. I am no longer the prisoner of my own timidity and self-doubt.
Until then, it’s easier for me to exist in solitude – aloneness and loneliness do not scare me, they are my refuge. Better to avoid men altogether, because even if I meet one who thinks he might be interested in me I know I won’t be his type, I’ll be too much for him, so best not to encourage them. Easier for me to remove distractions and eliminate hope altogether, to believe that love is something that happens to other people, that it is not my destiny; that my destiny lies in a higher purpose, which will one day be revealed.
It may sound like I’m quitting and I am. Sometimes you just have to admit that you suck at something and give it up. There is no shame or weakness in this. It actually takes guts to admit your limitations and walk away, and as they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Well, it’s a nice thought anyway, but in reality it only makes you hard and bitter. I find it amusing when friends tell me they admire my strength (dealing with a chronically broken heart is actually one of the easier things I’ve had to deal with in my life) as if my strength is some kind of pure, God-given virtue. If they only knew…
In truth my strength is a kind of dark alter-ego that I draw on when the pain gets too much. He lives in the shadows, inhabits the overgrown graveyard of my mind amongst the tombs of long lost friends, displaced roots and vaults filled with the taunts of bullies, lost opportunities, unachieved dreams, disappointments and disillusionments. He haunts my memories during the day and my dreams at night. He is the one I know I can always count on, who will always be there for me. When I am at my weakest, when I feel I cannot go on, when I just want out because I can’t handle the pain anymore, when no one else can help, he comes to me; his eyes blackened and bloodshot, black veins tracing his face, he smiles barring his fangs yet I am not afraid. His expression is concerned and compassionate. He reaches out his pale hand to me, pulls me to my feet, draws me into a comforting embrace, whispers to me that everything will be all right, then sinks his teeth into my neck and as he drinks, his toxin floods my bloodstream. I close my eyes, sigh heavily, relaxing as his drug dulls the pain, heals, fills me with strength. And when I open my eyes again, they’re black, the pain is gone and I feel overwhelmed with determination that I shall prevail and that one day those who doubted me, who gave up on me so easily, so flippantly will regret their weakness.
A bittersweet farewell
And so, to him, The One that never was, I wish him well. I truly do. I hold no ill feelings only sad regret. I sincerely hope he has found his happiness. There is a space in my heart that will always remain his. It was the last space left. I close the door and nail it shut, and retreat back to the comfort and refuge of the dim halls of the castle inside my mind. Candlelight casts flickering shadows down winding corridors littered with pages of words, my mad random scribblings. Somewhere a grandfather clock ticks softly counting down my time. The clear perfect notes of Clair de Lune trickle through and I follow them to the drawing room where I find my strength seated at the grand. He turns to me his eyes blue and clear now, the veins and fangs gone, smiles sweetly as his delicate fingers continue to play the piano keys. I sit down beside him, resting my head on his shoulder, closing my eyes as I listen. Content.
For perhaps the great love of my life is not a man, but writing and we have found each other at last.