I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart: I am, I am, I am.
-Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
A few months ago, my excellent adventure partner/BFF/boyfriend and I decided to part ways. After four and a half years of solid growth, we found ourselves in a spin cycle constantly working the same argument. Like a stained shirt, we kept throwing it in the wash, hoping that with enough conversation and counseling, it would work itself out over time.
As many relationships start, it felt epic and vast with an expanse of glittering possibilities. We began to imagine our future together and share our personal visions of what we wanted for ourselves and what we wanted for us as a couple. Eventually, as our relationship matured, we had decided which dreams would become goals and assess the necessary steps it would take to attain them.
It is difficult to strip away the details of what eroded our relationship, but it forked into two dominant themes: finance and marriage.
To my advantage and my detriment, I habitually make decisions of consequence off of my guts and emotion. When we had first met, my dreams had no shape or vision, but I was living in Hawaii and I knew what I wanted to pursue: painting and surfing. He, on the other hand, had very tangible and very ambitious dreams: live securely and comfortably off of passive income and not be geographically tagged. He had an active savings strategy, various investments, and had started studying for the GMAT. Shortly thereafter he left for Houston on a scholarship to get his MBA.
With myself in Hawaii and him in Houston, the distance threatened to shatter our budding relationship, yet the thought of abandoning my lifestyle to move to Texas was repugnant and even more so for a boyfriend. After much consternation and “put a ring on it” conversations from my parents, as habit would have it, I threw caution to the wind and found myself in Houston.
As our relationship matured, the difference in his pragmatic and fiscally on-point approach to life and my foolhardy “everything will be okay” attitude surfaced. The more serious we became about being with each other, the more angst he expressed about my job and financial mindset. I was/am not a spendthrift, however, I had very little grasp of my student debt and approached it with a “take it to the grave” attitude — I had no financial plan past the current moment I was alive. Given my lackadaisical attitude toward finances, he felt a deep and justified anxiety about our future and resentful of having to parent me into financial awareness — things which I should have already brought to the table.
We fell into a cycle of the same discussion: he needed me to get a career-job before we got married, and I would not give up my art for a boyfriend. He seemed to want me to redirect my aspirations as an artist in exchange for financial stability. I became resentful of these conversations and felt extremely vulnerable after uprooting my life and adopting his. Eventually these conversations rolled into heated arguments in which, for the next year, we were pitted against each other.
After many months of quarrels, counseling, and tears, while I intensely desired to hold onto my position on marriage, I saw the wisdom of his concerns and describe this paradigm shift in my post, Where the Heart is Fickle. By the time he graduated, I had a budding freelance career and we were both cranking 10-14 hour days in hot pursuit of our dreams. Soon after, I landed a career-job in LA, where I am located today.
Throughout this time, marriage continued to be a point of contention for the both of us. I had started to become embittered that I was stewing away in Houston for an indefinite amount of time, being prodded to change my attitude, change my lifestyle, and shape my shapeless dreams into his. I felt that he kept asking for more without giving me the certainty of a future together. I eventually gave him an ultimatum: move forward or move on; he had 11 months — until my 30th birthday.
We were engaged for a year with no official announcements. We would briefly discuss the wedding, but without interest or stoke. I eagerly wanted to feel the buzz I imagined other couples felt, but stifled my excitement when confronted with his lack of enthusiasm; it was like a giant steam roller that slowly leveled my heart and crushed my budding joy. I felt at a loss — I didn’t know what else I could do to prove that I was worthy of being his wife.
In our relationship, I carried the vices: I drank more, smoked more, cursed more and had more hard edges. If original sin existed in our relationship, it is the part of me that is fiery, rebellious and unpredictable. Those qualities which he loved about me were the ones that he could not live with. The sweet taste of the fruit came with the bitter knowledge of knowing my chaos could not reconcile with his structure.
To this day, he continues to work 12-16 hour days in Houston, travels to Hawaii for the Air Force, and is constantly networking to ferret out new opportunities. His dreams are slowly shaping themselves into reality, and he exemplifies the work it takes to make it happen. He drove me to consider facets of my life that were unexamined and gave me the courage and confidence to grow in ways I was resistant to. I am most definitely and directly a better person because of him.
I do not believe we have a choice in how we are loved by the ones who love us. His highest expression of his love for me, was to make sure we were stable independently and jointly. Through the rigidly structured nature of his school and career, he boxed in his whimsical and free spirit while giving me space to grow, and through that we grew apart — I fell in love with the white unicorn who climbed mountains, swam across channels, and jumped out of airplanes; I never wanted to change the man I had met. Although I feel lingering bitterness for not being loved just as I was, I am grateful to have been loved by him.
“You’ll never be as pretty tomorrow as you are today,” said my father as he pondered upon my new found singledom. These words felt harsh and saddened me. I am 31 years old and while I like to approach my life with optimism, somewhere deep inside, I know there is a horizon. As I think about the sun that approaches the horizon, I understand that in time, it will set upon my beauty and my athleticism, and as it moves across the sky, the cynic inside me keeps adjusting the ratio of single to married men in favor of those that are married. As this ratio changes, I realize I may never meet the person that I fall in love with.
With these thoughts lingering in the shadows of my mind, they point me in one singular direction — to be complete within myself. To truly love and be truly free, is to shed my dependence of affirmation, financial stability, and admiration from others. The eventual setting of my physicality will bring rise to my intellect and new curiosities. Whether partnered or married I must be complete.
Today, my dreams are simple & ordinary: I want to live in a place where I have access to surf, time to pursue painting, and most recently, and with urgency, financial stability. I am not a collector of things, do not have a burning desire to retire early, or have a need to travel the world. After navigating through a challenging childhood and a decade of bouncing around the country, I have found who I am: I like being productive, I like my habits, and as long as they include surfing and painting, I am thoroughly content.