I woke up this morning to an unexpected text.
“Hey, I’m really sorry to do this so last minute, but I have to cancel today….”
I felt a mild wave of disappointment, as my plans for the afternoon appeared to no longer be happening. We had plans to go to the beach— a small, secret spot an hour past Malibu. An avid surfer, he frequently ventured far up the coast to find pockets of uncrowded, perfect waves. I had been looking forward to it for days.
The text was surprisingly long and my groggy self, haven’t yet had a coffee or even stepped out of bed, struggled to decipher the rest. My eyes scanned the line, “I couldn’t sleep much last night…” and I assumed he was canceling due to fatigue or not feeling up to it – and while disappointing, was obviously understandable.
But I had jumped to conclusions too quickly. His lack of sleep was not due to his noisy neighbors. It was about me, about our relationship: “...because I started to realize that I want to be in a relationship that is headed somewhere serious and more long-term, and it would be difficult with us since we are in such different stages of life.”
My eyes jumped to different places in the long text, stumbling upon disjointed phrases in a desperate attempt to find an explanation: “I’m really sorry,” “that’s just where I’m at,” “I know this seems like it’s coming out of nowhere.”
It clicked; he was ending it.
And he was right, it felt like it was coming out of nowhere.
I am usually good at reading people. Most times, when a relationship- whether a romantic one or a friendship- has ended, it never felt like it was coming out of left field.
You see signs.
They take an extra hour to respond to your text. They don’t make plans to see you again. Their ‘hello’ is a little less enthusiastic.
But I didn’t see any signs.
In my defense, there may have been no signs to see. On the phone, he explained that he had come to this realization the night before. Fearful of leading me on, he told me immediately.
The last time I had seen him, I asked him the dreaded question: “what are you looking for right now?”
For context, he was older and out of college. Everything about his behavior and our conversations were open, honest, and incredibly mature.
As a college student, I had been taught to avoid this question at all costs. This question, in my experience, was the kiss of death. Not only did it imply that you saw the relationship as more than a hook-up, but it suggested a level of emotional attachment, which for many is terrifying.
But in this context, it felt safe.
We had already discussed everything. Every traditionally taboo topic, our past relationships, our pressing insecurities, or our relationships with our families had already been explored without hesitation– with a level of honesty that had honestly shocked me. After years of taking part in the college hook-up scene, where the game was always to care less, my brief time with him was so refreshing– almost like a sigh of relief.
I felt safe, so I asked him.
He said he was open to anything. He was open to something serious.
His response was just what I wanted. Despite the fact that I was definitely leaving Los Angeles after graduation, a fact that he was aware of, for some reason I was open to being vulnerable with someone, despite knowing that I would inevitably get hurt.
This was definitely unexpected for me. I had always been a pragmatist when it came to romantic relationships– something I had told him last week, in his sunny Santa Monica apartment.
He smiled in response, “I’m the opposite. I’m a romantic and I follow my feelings.”
But we had both gotten hurt. He, as a romantic, had pursued relationships with an impending end and suffered heartbreak because of it. Me, the pragmatist, had ended inconvenient relationships prematurely and asked “what if?” because of it.
So we both decided to do something different. To see if the other route would lead to different, happier endings.
I don’t blame him at all. In fact, I understand better than he probably knows.
For many, continuing a relationship with a looming expiration date is silly, even a bit sadistic.
I don’t entirely disagree. In fact, this whole day I have been thinking to myself that I should return to being a pragmatist. To play it safe.
But at the same time, I’m convinced that’s not really living. Really living is allowing yourself to be vulnerable even if it may not be realistic or convenient. We should be open to forming relationships, making memories, developing attachments, learning lessons, and saying goodbye.
Don’t you think so?