Tom: “What happened? Why – why didn’t they work out?”
Summer: “What always happens. Life.”
– (500) Days of Summer
I owe two years of my life to a movie reference and a handful of glow sticks. I was working a club event for my internship, handing out glow sticks, and decided to have a bit of fun and put together a makeshift “FREE HUGS” sign. That was how I met Stacy. She took me up on my sign (and, with a couple of her friends, helped me get rid of the glow sticks I had left) and accused me of just trying to draw attention to it. I denied this, but did end up admitting that she was really pretty… Of course, being a perpetual smartass, I immediately followed this with “So you agree? You think you’re really pretty?” We danced until her last train home. We spent days messaging back and forth, planning to meet again. And again. And again. She was even the first one who, in Claire’s words, “stole what was rightfully [hers].” Of course, as your knowledge of present-day Spencer would suggest, eventually this too came to an end. (In other news: Aeris dies, Snape loved Lily, and Captain Quattro is A CHAR.) This is a story of boy meets girl, but it’s not really what one would call a love story.
Stacy and I had a relationship you might call turbulent, often because we were essentially opposites. One of the strangest things about me, where relationships are concerned, is that I obsess about freedom. I don’t want to feel like I need to spend all of my time with a significant other. Often when a relationship starts, I enjoy doing so; as you’re all well aware by now, I have a tendency to act like an heiress looking for a little glass vial. But the second it becomes something expected of me, suddenly I start developing a concept of balance again. I wouldn’t call it inconsistent, necessarily. Each of the two states is, fundamentally, about doing whatever the hell I want. But it is a difficult thing to reconcile with being in a committed relationship with another person. This became an issue in that her default method of dealing with stress (which she had a lot of, for various reasons) was to spend time with me. As time went on, the pendulum began to swing in the other direction, and I started to feel trapped. If I wanted any time to myself, I worried it’d be a fight. From that, I worried that if there were a fight it could be our last. (And in fairness, this was a thing she brought up from time to time, though not nearly as often as Claire. The single time that I did while we were together was about this, specifically, but more on that later.) Somehow, I was freaking out over both the prospect of having no space and the prospect of having too much space, at the same time. Even now, I’m still not really sure if this is a sign of how we were together, or if bringing out some of my crazier attributes is a part of being in a relationship that I should be more aware of.
Trust was an issue with us. Initially, she had a jealous streak, in large part because of what happened with her own evil exes, as I was the first one who didn’t cheat on her. It became most apparent with a friend that I made not long after we started dating, one we’ll refer to as Amber. Amber was a lot less like Stacy and a lot more like me. And Stacy couldn’t stand that; she thought that Amber was after me (when, in fact, she’s just more friendly toward the opposite gender than her own, much like myself), and that I’d leave her because of it, since apparently I would never want to just be friends with someone I could nerd out with. This same issue even appeared when Luke’s event started up, as she objected to my going solely on the chance that I might meet some cute gamer girl and leave her. (Never mind that Amber is a cute gamer girl, and that changed nothing. You could make an argument for Ramona, I guess, but we were never there at the same time, and I still had never entertained the idea of ending things with Stacy.) But while at the time thought it was just an issue on her end, it went actually both ways. I began to think that if I were open with her about other (platonic) attachments, she’d take them as threats just the same, and it led to keeping secrets in a general sense with anything I thought might cause issues in the relationship. She still doesn’t know that I tried to strike up a friendship with Ramona, for that exact reason. (And looking at it in this context, that effort was stupid as hell, and not just objectively horrible.) In a way, each of our inabilities to fully trust one another acted as a feedback loop. Much like with the concerns about space, the person I should have felt most comfortable being open with somehow became yet another person I worried about — that if she found out what I was really thinking, we’d fight or she’d even leave.
All of this being said, we weren’t nearly as much of a disaster as all of this might suggest. Most of the time, it wasn’t so much chaotic as… ordinary. (Admittedly, this is in part because I’m not much of a romantic.) We really did enjoy being around each other, even if it did feel like overkill from time to time, and being together really was good for both of us. She had someone that was willing to challenge her to look for the better in people (at least, I hope she sees it as such), and I had someone that was willing to challenge me to be more open. In fact, in spite of hating that I was still hung up on it, she was the first person to really push me to talk about Emma, to a level of detail I didn’t really want to look at, much less discuss. If anything, the issue wasn’t that the relationship was bad, or that one of us didn’t love the other, so much as it was that we as individuals weren’t really right for each other. (Mark Manson has a great article about this, btw.) Admitting that, though, would’ve meant letting go, and neither of us was ever really ready to do that until some time after things had already ended.
What ultimately led to our eventual fate was a disagreement on what each of us wanted somewhere down the line. Specifically, I came to the conclusion that I’m not interested in having kids, or settling down in general. It sort of comes with the whole obsession over freedom. She, on the other hand, was (and remains) convinced that she needs to be a parent at some point, and for her part, she kept believing that I’d eventually change my mind on this. Soon, whether we should keep going when we wanted different things became a recurring conversation (though not a constant one). About once every month or two, I’d guess, we somehow ended up talking about the possibility that we should end it instead of pushing the issue off until later. Personally, I could have lived with the idea. I didn’t care much for the prospect of losing her, but I’d have rather broken up and been able to remain on decent terms than have it blow up at some point and never speak again. (These are scars from Emma showing more than I’d have generally allowed them to.) What I couldn’t live with was this feeling of never knowing where we stood, and as it went on I started to feel like we were on borrowed time. I didn’t actively look for anything else, but I confess, I did start to check out where the relationship was concerned. One of the last conversations we had about how we should think about breaking up, about a month or two before we actually did, was one I started — one that wasn’t about how we should, but rather about how I couldn’t keep wondering what was going to happen to us. We decided that the next time one of us brought it up, it’d be because it was going to end — no vague discussions, no uncertainty, and no backtracking. This being said, the topic continued to come and go, and instead of keeping to what we’d agreed on, we both came toward breaking points. I actually started having serious thoughts about having this discussion for real, and she started craving the attention that she felt I wasn’t putting into the relationship anymore. One day, a guy named Emilio struck up a conversation with her, and about a week later she did to me what she always expected me to do to her. A conversation and a confession later, and our relationship was over.
Of course, things are never quite that easy. Just like our previous conversations about ending things, Stacy wanted to get back together. I didn’t. Ironically, Amber factors into this; in spite of Stacy saying my friendship with her would end our relationship, it simply became a part of why I didn’t want to go back to it. I’d spent months trying, and failing, to prove to Stacy that I wasn’t going to leave or to cheat on her just because I met someone I shared an interest with. Even so, she wouldn’t let up on this until Amber was both married and leaving town, yet she turned around and did the exact same thing. The double-standard, of all things, was the part of being cheated on that I actually had a problem with. And between this and her trying to make us into a couple again, I felt even less like I could take her at her word. Meanwhile, as always, I couldn’t deal with the idea of just cutting off contact, even in spite of this, which made me feel like I had to at least consider the idea or else lose her entirely. After all, the events surrounding our breakup were pretty uncharacteristic of her, and I did still want her around in some way. Still, I felt trapped again. It seemed as if the only way to avoid losing that connection completely would be to humor her and going through the motions of a relationship again, even if I was just sleepwalking through the whole endeavor. Eventually, things boiled over, and I told her exactly how little I cared for the current situation — how I didn’t truly enjoy spending time with her anymore, and why — namely, how tired I was of everything we did turning into a discussion about our now non-existent relationship. Then, suddenly, I had all the space I’d feared, and not just all the space I’d wanted.
This relationship is a bit different from most of the other entries here, in that several of the things to take away from this, on some level, came up in the course of the relationship itself (or at least the breakup and our interactions that followed) rather than by my tearing it apart after the fact. They also have an interesting parallel to the things I learned from Ramona where the disaster with her showed a lot about how my being a bit twisted has affected my actions (mainly why attachments make me do the wacky), my relationship with Stacy has shown a lot about how my being a bit twisted has affected my desires. Of course, this does raise the question of why it took me two months to put it all into a coherent sequence. Anyway…
- Trust issues can come in a lot of forms, some of which are less obvious than others. I never thought Stacy would go behind my back, but that doesn’t mean I felt like I could share my secrets. I sometimes believed that if she knew what I was really thinking, she’d take it to mean more than it was, and it would turn into a fight that I wasn’t interested in having. Trouble is, I didn’t actually acknowledge that (or a few other things, for that matter) until things had already ended. Instead, I just kept getting hung up on the fact that she didn’t trust me. And yes, I’m aware that not trusting her to trust me is an attitude rife with contradiction. Even so, she was one of the few people I allowed to get close that I trusted not to just… leave. And for what it’s worth, she didn’t. But even in this, she’s an exception; with most others that I feel this strongly for I start to feel withdrawals as soon as I get even the hint that someone is pulling away. This being said, they both stem from the same thing. While Stacy’s trust issues can be tied to one act — infidelity — mine are less… specific. Mine are tied up with rejection, in a broader sense. With her they just manifested differently, as I worried that saying the wrong thing could be a tipping point for her. As much as I can say that I trust people to be there when they already are, actually doing so when it’s not apparent is a lot harder.
- I’m pretty sure at this point that I’m poly, or at least interested in non-monogamy of some sort. It might just be further evidence that my sense of attachment is screwed up, but on some level I can’t see one connection being at the exclusion of others, and if something were to develop simply pretending it’s not there would strike me as… a bit dishonest, I guess. This isn’t to say that I’m looking for the harem ending, necessarily, but if I were the type that wanted only one person, there are events that wouldn’t make any sense, like the fact that Stacy’s simply sleeping with someone else was the only part of our breakup that didn’t seriously bother me, or multiple instances in which I’ve been interested in more than one person at a time (see also: Ramona; if I’m being honest with myself, Amber probably fell into this category at one point as well), or my in inability to see myself ever wanting to settle down and get married. (At the time, it was because I think I’d have wondered just what I could have been missing out on if I settled down with the first uncertifiable girl that I got together with. But in hindsight it’s probably more than just that.) Honestly, even with the breach of trust, admittedly a much larger issue, I might have been able to live with that if it were the kind of relationship in which I had the space to at least ask these questions.
- As much as I crave acknowledgement from others, I have an odd aversion to the concept of being pushed to spend time with people. I’d initially thought this was just a Claire thing, but while she might have been its origin, it seems to extend to people with a lot more more… balance than her (or me, for that matter). Truthfully, I’m still trying to figure out what to do with the disconnect between the two.
- Know what you want. More specifically, know what you’re willing to compromise on and what you aren’t (in a relationship or otherwise), and realize that both will occasionally require making difficult choices. Each of us had equal, yet opposite desires for where we would want a relationship to go, but we both cared more about holding on to the other than about acknowledging that we were trying to keep something going that didn’t work. (Ironically, by the time I was at a point where I was willing to make a difficult choice, Stacy had told me about her evening with Emilio.) Yet again, the idea of the hedgehog’s dilemma shows up here. We were already in positions to be hurt by each other, but we chose at least having each other over the alternative. It was the easy route, and we took it as long as there was one to take, leaving the (increasingly) more difficult path for Future Spencer and Future Stacy.
Stacy’s tale is unique in another way — it doesn’t really have much of an ending. At least not such a definitive one, anyway. It actually seemed to two months ago when I started writing this, as she’d talked about cutting off contact. (There’s been backtracking on that, too, though I’m not complaining this time.) For a while, I thought that I’d have to write a much more depressing epilogue to this, but thankfully I’ve been able to strike an entire rant about the inevitability of things ending (as well as depressed musings about Emma that probably would’ve accompanied that). But I digress. We got to talking again a few months after things ended and have actually been able to act like people who enjoy each other’s company once in a while. She’s since met a guy that (unlike me) she may very well have a future with, and since our end I’ve forced myself to go out and actually make some friends (even if still by crazy random happenstance), as well as have a few more misadventures to tear apart in the process. And she and I will probably keep being very different people, but at least now we can be on friendly terms in spite of it.