I swore I would never talk about this until I was getting paid for it. I guess in one dark corner of my mind I thought this would be part of a grand ending. Or it would help to tell the story that led up to a grand ending. I probably never would have told this unless some wayward connected thought came to me as I was looking at hand-carved buffet cabinets in Anthropologie's online store. I don't know how it happened, but alas, it did.
I met a couple a little under a year ago whose names I no longer remember. But it was the last day I saw my ex-boyfriend. The last time we would ever see each other in person. I think, even then, I knew it would be the last time. That's why I was filled with so much dread. Why I was doing everything I could not to cry, and yet, I couldn't stop the floodgates. They weren't always tears and it wasn't always sadness. It was a terrible place in the world to have your heart breaking and have it all blamed on you. It was Amsterdam. Still my favourite city in the world.
We spent the evening of our last day together on a double-date with these two. A stock photo-beautiful European couple, with their shit together. They had a deeply enviable shared life that was perfect not just compared to us. Not that my ex and I struggled all that much financially. I had the most extravagant life with him, going out to restaurants, drinking a lot of wine, and traveling - and if we had stayed together, any other financial problems we had would have been solved. These two had it together beyond their financial stability. They knew what they wanted out of life, and they made their arrangement work. There was no questioning their relationship or de-prioritizing of it. They were so deeply, evidently invested in each other and proud of each other. They wanted to show the other one off. Not for their own gain. Maybe it was because the success and happiness of their partner was tied to their mutual unit, the overall thriving of their "us". And in seeing that with my own eyes, I couldn't help but notice one other thing, which I never put my finger on at the time. They loved each other. Trusted each other. Respected each other. Yet neither of them, particularly the woman in this white, straight, long-term relationship I was observing that night - was having to compromise themself. There was no shrinking. No overpowering. No struggle for control. What I remember thinking that night was that they made it look easy, loving each other equally and honestly. I remembered the level of discomfort I felt in their presence was different. I wasn't happy for them, but I wasn't jealous either. I felt ashamed. Even though they were never trying to show off. Even if my ex wasn't making cold, ignorant comments towards me because he could. I felt deeply embarrassed for being in their presence, being myself - compounded against the fact that my relationship was failing, and I knew it, and the reasons were completely out of my control. From the inside out, I felt unworthy.
Earlier that day, I had completely lost any patience I still had in me. We were now in Amsterdam, our final destination before departing, separately. He was headed back home to Croatia to figure out what the next chapter of his life would look like, and the circumstances around them being executed. I was heading back to Canada, but not the life we were building together there a month before. It was in the middle of Rembrandt Square at around 3 in the afternoon. No shortage of witnesses. I don't really remember what I said - the fight started over a power adapter in a store. There was tons of screaming and crying on my part. At the end of it, he walked me to a bench and told me to go to therapy when I got home. He said he would be behind me all the way. But not before he called out how much of a bitch I had been on the trip so far, scapegoating my mental health issues for what were very clearly our mutual problems. Incompatibility. Two different travel personalities. Financial stress. Time-sensitive stress. Not knowing when we would ever see each other again. That trip was all we had, with so much riding on it. We were traveling Europe for three weeks and at each other's throats the whole time. This was my breaking point. But nobody comes into this world with the intention to break themselves.
Our life together in Canada was a byproduct of having two separate lives which constantly overlapped. We met in the workplace. Therefore, we had the same mutual friends, same coworkers. He didn't know a lot of people in the city and yet it was where I came from, the only home I knew whether or not it ever felt that way. So naturally, he latched on me. I fell into the dicksand pretty quick (watch How to be Single to the end, or UD it, either way this is an important term that you should know if you don't already) and unlike my other exes, he made sure I stayed in it. He would make me feel guilty for going back home to my place, yet always had an excuse for not being able to make it to mine. He didn't care about hurting feelings. yet that was his personality, and where he came from - everyone warned me about him before we'd even met, let alone when I made the decision to date him. was it a decision? I wasn't used to being pursued. Canadian guys don't do that. I never realized how much his traditionalist ideals were flattening me, silencing me, because he was acting like a gentlemen. I also never expected that this complacency I was submitting to was something I liked. I liked being paid for, having someone pick flowers for me. I liked the idea of him wanting to care for me. I liked having sex with him where blowjobs were optional and I wasn't constantly being bent over or getting my butt slapped. Yet it didn't take long before I started to feel as though he possessed me. This didn't sit well with me. I never wanted to be anyone's property, and yet, it seemed as though my ex saw me that way. He didn't hide it. I remember trying to confront him on matters here and there and he never felt guilty for it. He simply saw it as that was the way it was supposed to be. Men take care of their women. Women take care of their men. yet the way he believed it should be wasn't rooted in equality. I know that if his visa issues were resolved, I would be well on my way to marriage now, and pressured frequently for children. He didn't want me to wait until my IUD was supposed to come out to get pregnant. He wanted the wife - the submissive wife - and the mother to his children, and the kind of partner who would give everything up for him. And when his visa situation fell through and he knew he was bound for New Zealand, he tried to push me then too. He told me to get a visa because it would be so easy for me. He wanted me to follow him around the world. And what about my life? What about the things I want?
The truth is, there are a lot of men who see it this way. They don't mean it because they're bad people. It's because the world has always told them they can have whatever they want. Particularly white men. I hit the double-whammy with white male privilege dating someone who not only was given everything he wanted because of his gender and skin colour but also grew up in an old-world, traditional household where his mother bent over backwards and sacrificed for her husband, and her two sons. He came from a small village on a small island and women did what they were told and became what they were made to do. He grew up in the catholic faith as well. Patriarchal, full of guilt, threatening shame on those who dare to live the other way. Things went well for him until he went to college and couldn't find work after graduating. He found himself caught between the millennial mantras of "do what makes you happy" - when he realized quickly after leaving school that he wasn't happy in his line of work - and everything his father taught him about being a family man. He probably never thought his mother missed out on anything because his parents have a healthy marriage. Yet I don't feel that he respects her. I don't get the impression that he thinks she's ever amounted to anything, and so it comes as no surprise that he didn't want me to amount to much, either. Or, at least, I could never amount to more than he did. Before this trip, two of our mutual coworkers had pulled me aside to tell me what they overheard one night on a shift I wasn't working. Without spilling unnecessary details, I found out my ex not only didn't support me trying to do volunteer work related to my chosen career field, but he thought I was completely naive to do it. It seems as though he needed ways to bring me down. He would say I could be happy in the short-term. But he seemed to only really believe I deserved it when he had a hand in making me happy. And people aren't perfect. No one can fix everything, and I learned a long time ago that it would make me the stupid one to believe I could lean on anyone to do that.
The hands-down biggest reason why I was so in love with my ex-boyfriend was the fact that he reminded me so much of my father. Losing him almost ten years ago now was the most difficult event of my life and nothing has changed me more than what that did to me. The truth is, my ex was a lot like my father, far beyond the way he dressed, his temper, his disregard for how he made other people feel, and his fixation to have a good-looking life. I don't know when the exact moment was when I realized that while I could have married this guy, that marriage would have turned out a lot like my parents'. Whenever this was, this was the first time I saw my relationship as potentially dangerous. It was the first time I realized that being with my ex would take things away from me. Things, that by virtue of my own tenacity and self-honed skill, I had the right to. For a little while, we did have a really good-looking life and it was a lot of fun too. But it was only going to stay that way if my ex got his way. I would have to be behind him at all times. I would have to put him, his needs, and his aspirations first. I would have to take his last name, or at the very least, make sure our kids did. (He also only cared about having boys. Don't even get me started on that.) And under NO circumstances could I be more than a pretty face next to him. He has no respect or understanding for strong women. In fact, we are a threat to those kinds of men. He refused to borrow money from me when he needed it, and he wanted to make sure that he was the star of the show, that he could work hard enough to make me happy. I look back at that now and a part of me feels so sorry for him, that the world had made him so insecure. It makes me sad that he was so broken on the inside that he had the nerve to hold a mirror up to my face, so that I could see those flaws as mine. So that I could carry it, because he couldn't. Him and I have a cordial relationship now, and we talk from time to time. But truth be told, this man wanted to make me so small, just to give him some sense of control. Man or woman, you just can't do that to other people. Nobody asks to be loved in order to be shrunk or stripped from the parts of them that speak to their hearts and souls. Nobody wants to love at the cost of themselves.
Which brings me back to the couple we had dinner with that night. They announced their engagement to us then. It was a surprise to my ex and a "really? fucking really?" to me. Like I said earlier though, I couldn't be mad at them. Couldn't be jealous. If I had an engagement to announce, I would have felt trapped by it. It was one hell of a cherry on top of our shitty sundae though. I can't remember what else my ex said to me that night, offhand because he didn't care about hurting my feelings. He wanted to come out on top even though the entire night seemed to be about him pouring out his self-pity and having that reciprocated with all of this couple's good news. The gentleman in this perfect couple was one of my ex's college friends. The lady was his fiance. He was tall, dark, and handsome, funny, gentlemanly, kind, fucking gorgeous and a business analyst. She was an accountant, I think. Perfectly capable of making a lot of money. She was driving down to Belgium for several months for work until she quit, for whatever reason, and was now taking Dutch language lessons. She was blonde, beautiful, strikingly intelligent, and she was the headstrong one between them, it was clear. She spoke her mind about anything and everything and her soon-to-be-husband was right there with her, yet not submitting to her. Perfect. Power. Couple. I made a comment about them after-the-fact about how she wore the pants in their relationship. My ex was faster than a speeding bullet to dismiss this, as if he didn't want to admit it were possible, or maybe he wanted to think less of his former classmate, but couldn't. He said that they both did, which I kind of agree with. Pants-wearing is no longer a term in my mind that equates to superiority. Whatever they had, they made it work. And all the power to them, for being able to go through life with your equal, as an equal, living and loving like the world belongs to just you two.
I found myself looking at their wedding photos online today. It doesn't take long to find a photographer's website when facebook tells the story for you. They're stunning together. Absolutely beautiful. And you can see how much passion and care for each other is in their day-to-day to be in pictures like that. I don't wish them all the best because they don't need my wellwishes. Wherever they are in the world now, whatever they're doing, is what they want in their hearts to do, next to the person their hearts have always been searching for. Before I met the rebound that I thought almost destroyed me, maybe losing this person who I thought was the love of my life was when I really dodged a massacre. I used to envy this life. All lives. Couples. Rich people. White people. I never failed to find a way to be insignificant. I might never have that seemingly perfect European lifestyle next to a gorgeous, intelligent, respectful European man to make everything happen. What's important to note is that I don't want it. Their whiteness doesn't make them better. Their monetary success doesn't make them better. Their privilege doesn't make them better - and the reason they have all the power is because they don't see it that way to begin with. They are allowed to be happy without passing judgement on others. THey are allowed to be happy no matter how unhappy anyone else is. I'll never be white, blonde, or that confident or self-assured. I'm not less of a person because of it. I'm not less of a person with or without a partner who wants me to shut up and follow him. I don't feel unworthy on double-dates anymore. I feel a lot better not going on them at all.