BY COURTNEY EDGAR
I am that friend who always asks for relationship advice. You want your response to be something like, "Just leave him already, seriously can't you tell he's Just Not That Into You," but for the sake of my feelings you pat me on the head and say, "You're too good for guys like that, he doesn't know what he's got, but maybe he'll come around."
I'm that girl who sends you screenshots of texts and asks you if it's normal for someone you're seeing to respond to a three-paragraph message with a one-liner four days later.
I attach fast, squeeze on for dear life and try to never let go even as he pries himself away to feed me fewer and fewer crumbs from a distance. The crumbs become further and further apart but guys always make sure to keep the tiniest little spark alive. Blinking wearily, yes, but alive—and I cling to it desperately.
My pattern is: I give tons, which pushes men away; then gush even more, to try to keep them, which pushes them away further; and in so doing, I get less and less in return until the tiniest spark is extinguished—but not by my choice. No, I would actually accept less crumbs, to be honest. I could live for years on half a crumb, to be honest. And I'd still have so much love left to gush.
I "require too much brain energy," as G told me a few years ago. F told me a couple years later that he just couldn't "give [me] what [I] need." I'm "too available," B told me last December. I'm "intense," according to C.
I have attachment issues. Or as therapists like to call it: "co-dependence".
Makes sense—I didn't have the most comfortable and secure childhood (read: abuse, neglect, abandonment).
In the last few relationships I've been in I noticed that in the beginning I would get lured in with promises of fun activities that I'd never done before and since it seemed like such a romantic and novel thing to look forward to, I would hold onto that plan and turn it into a fantasy to strive toward.
I discovered recently that I love the fantasy of the plan long after I let myself stop loving the person.
With A, this past winter, we made all these plans about long-distance hiking. I had never gone hiking for real before, as surprising as it seems for a 27-year-old woman. We talked about where we would go in the spring and summer, which trails we would follow and what I would need for gear to prepare. He even went so far as to buy me hiking boots—just a few weeks before he broke up with me. We never went hiking, and the idea of never going hiking together is what broke my heart the most.
Then I went on a few dates with C, and although things didn't progress far after we defined a partnership and he soon started to show signs he regretted it, we did have plans from Day One to make pickles together. I had always wanted to make pickles and no one has ever wanted to make pickles with me, so when he offered me a home-made pickled carrot he had in his fridge and showed me the jar upon jar of preserves along the top of his cupboards, I asked him if we could make pickles together on our second date. He agreed and he seemed to be genuinely excited about it.
I searched up recipes and we decided that we would try out the spicy pickled dill beans recipe first. I thought it would be the most romantic thing I had done in a while. I thought it would be such a wonderful bonding experience.
But second date came and passed without pickles, then a bit over a week later, the third date happened which again resulted in no pickling. Our fourth date took place ten days later and also yielded no pickles, which was almost to be expected since there was very sparse communication in between the dates—but not for my lack of trying! I asked if we could make pickles the next time we saw each other and again he agreed via text. Then finally the fifth date came, the last date, and it was of course just as pickle-less as the previous ones, but this time with virtual radio silence between us in the time since last seeing each other.
After some quick morning sex I asked him if he thought we would still make pickles ever, and he said, "Yeah, of course."
But back at home a few days later, after sending him a message and noticing the response time taking days despite his being on Facebook often, I realized that the crumbs were happening again, I was holding onto a fantasy, and of course the bubble that held our pickling plans proceeded to pop within me.
Noticing these two examples, I started to think back to all my past relationships and it was then I realized I have this pattern. Each guy I've been intimate with had brought forward a quirky, fun, artsy, cool plan in the beginning (pre-date, first-date, or post-first-date) which never got fulfilled despite my asking and reminding and nudging, with ample opportunity to do so over the course of our courtship.
I wondered if it was a dating strategy for men, and then wondered why they would do that. I quickly answered my own question by realizing, oh wait, yes, because it WORKS. Or it works on girls like me, who hold onto crumbs for months in hopes for more, and imagine that if they hold out long enough, it can become a whole cookie in the future.
It works on girls who have attachment issues, or as therapists like to call it "co-dependence." Maybe there are enough of us to make it a dating strategy worth trying on all the females.
With A, I longed for the hiking plans. It was going to be the Adirondacks every weekend throughout the summer. We would become 49ers. When we read an article together about the Bruce Trail, we added that to The Plan. We also planned to start a vegan, gluten-free blog that was only about all the different kinds of pizza we could imagine, make and share. We would even start a photography company together that would focus on boudoir portraits when he was done with his night school program.
Alas, each plan remained Unfinished Business by the time the relationship ended four months later. And although heartbreaks always suck, what hurt me most and kept digging into me even weeks after I could see the end was near—upon us, past us—was just that Unfinished Business, unspent, never to be fulfilled.
I thought while crying: how will I ever go hiking now. I thought: why doesn't he want to hike with me.
With B, the plan had been taking sewing classes together and making dresses. We sewed a quarter of one together, which was intended to be for me, just two weeks before the crumbs started. When he started to show the crumbs and the distance and the fading away in communication, we had the skirt part done for the navy satin vintage-inspired dress I longed for. We never got past the cutting of the sleeves. That was when I saw the nudes he was soliciting via text which he explained was because, as I said earlier, I'm "too available" and he felt it "pushed us apart."
I thought while crying: how will I ever learn to sew, make a dress, have that dress. I thought: who will ever want to make a dress with me again.
With each guy—a new goal, project, dream conceived yet never allowed to grow past a sprout. There had been the vintage shop plans with S. There had been the short film plans with G. Each guy—another disappointment, and only because I believed in a shared goal that was most likely never really intended to be a real goal. Dudes say the darndest things when they're caught up in wooing. Before the crumbs come along anyway.
When a friend invited me to go hiking with her, a thought occurred to me. I could go hiking with the girls. Heck, I could go hiking with my SELF. I didn't need A to go hiking. In fact, I didn't even really need the hiking boots he had so kindly provided before he asked to have them back when we broke up. And if I didn't need A to go hiking, maybe I didn't need C to make pickles. Maybe I didn't need B to design and sew a dress. Maybe, the way to let go of all the accumulated heartache was to check off each item on my Unfinished Business list on my own.
Maybe their lack of love could inspire me to love myself harder, with the same intensity and devotion I had been giving away in full cookies to others—not crumbs—unrequited for so long.
And so it was that I turned over a new leaf and embarked on the journey of falling in love with myself. I let those hiking boots get caked with mud. I splashed in puddles and let the ooze sink right in. I'm taking a different path and it's a lot more peaceful than the rocky one I had grown so accustomed to.
I made the pickled spicy dill beans this weekend and it was the most romantic thing I've done with myself in years. Next weekend I'm buying navy satin for my future new dress that may turn out crooked and awkward, but I'm fine with that. I'm giving no more than I'm getting.
Besides, the truth is I am crooked and awkward, and that's super okay — I'm finally learning to be in love with that. Pretty soon I'll have put all these ghosts to rest.
I'm sure there will be more plans to add to the checklist with each new guy I date, but the only ones I'll be holding my breath for are the ones I know I can breathe life into on my own, with or without him.
Courtney Edgar is a Canadian freelance journalist and writer who likes to find magic in the mundane, or make it. Equal parts tender and shrill, she's a truth seeker, spinning stories about the things some people find spooooky. She writes about cultural and social issues news, short stories and personal essays on stuff that makes her heart flutter or makes her shake her fist. She tweets and instagrams from @marmaladedroppr.