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I have this problem: Commitment scares the shit out of me.

Maybe it’s because I’ve never lived in one place for more than 7 years on and off. Maybe it’s because the longest I’ve ever had one single job was 14 months. Maybe it’s because my longest “relationship” of 3 years was on and off and never labeled with an official title. Or maybe these are all symptoms of the illness.

In terms of dating, although I am looking for that person to be in a fabulous, long lasting, loving, passionate, supportive, caring, trusting, adult, exciting relationship with, I tend to lean on the side of “let’s just have fun and see what happens.” Where this may not lead [ever] to serious relationships, it does bring exciting and passionate love affairs into my life. And where I see many of my friends bored with their significant other, or in a rut, or doing things out of obligation, I tend to live the life off of the pages of a steamy romance novel complete with wild sex, racing pulses, and elevated emotions. My love affairs seem to never stagnate, which I think is a good thing, but maybe it’s because we (myself and Mr. Whoever are both guilty of this) keep one foot in and one foot out. When they end, it’s not a break-up. Without discussion we spend our time like it could potentially be the last night together if one of us happens to meet the one. But then neither of us meet the one. So the affair continues until something else stops it.

Once upon a time [in 2007] I thought I was going to marry the man I was seeing. We were living together, we were “doing what we wanted” and what we wanted seemed to be not seeing anyone but each other. We talked about our lives together in the future and made plans for our adult life. I really thought he was it. Then one day, out of nowhere, he told me in the spirit of our honest relationship that he had slept with a girl we both knew the previous weekend while I was out of town. When he told me he really expected that I would be cool and understanding about it. I was anything but. I didn’t know how to react so I did what any 22 year old would do. I threw him out of our home after tears and arguing. Before he left, I remember standing on our porch walking him out, numb from crying and saying to him “I hope the sex was worth it.” To which he responded through teary, hurt eyes “It wasn’t.” I thought I knew him. I trusted him. I had instincts about him. I loved him openly with my whole heart and soul. It turned out I didn’t know him at all. Three years later, he married that girl he cheated on me with.

Maybe he’s to blame for my commitment issues.

The moral of this story is that because I’m terrified of this happening to me again, and because I have a hard time trusting that my instincts about men are accurate, I am realizing that I push feelings away before I have a chance to live in them. I deny real feelings the chance of fully blossoming in the open air, and because of this they are forced to grow slowly but ever-surely in hiding, deep down where my brain can’t wipe them out. Feelings, when real, will find a way despite your best efforts.

Ben has been gone since December 12th. His absence was by far the hardest thing I’ve had to face in a long time. The hardest part about it was that I couldn’t understand where the pain and the sadness was coming from. We were talking all the time and I was looking forward to our conversations with the lightest of hearts. But, in between, I was so so sad. And angry at myself for being so sad over a love affair that was never meant to last. Then it occurred to me: This pain I was feelings was a broken heart. I apparently had much stronger feelings than I had previously realized and it took a while to figure it out. My heart was broken because a man I had accidentally fallen in love with was far, far away from me to potentially never return. And if he would return in the future, it wouldn’t be for me. I wasn’t who he wanted long-term. I knew that up-front. I should have been ok. I was the only one to blame in this situation. I was the reason I was hurting.

To make a long story short, I just recently realized all of this. I’m slow on the uptake, apparently. As a result of finding this truth inside me, the other day I had a hard talk with Ben. I told him that I love him. I told him that I’m having trouble moving forward since he’s left. I told him that although I can’t imagine my life without him in it, right now I need space. I need time. I need to not be in contact with him for awhile.

His reaction was perfect, of course. Very understanding. Very supportive. Very positive about this not being a permanent situation and that we will be in touch again at some point. Very reassuring that this is not the end of our friendship and that I am as important to him as he is to me. As we hung up the phone, he sounded so serious and he said “We will talk sometime in the future, Joan. Be well.” I had done a relatively good job of keeping it together until the line was disconnected. As soon as I hung up the phone I sat on my bed sobbing. What had I done? What just happened?

Then something amazing happened; I fell asleep in tears and woke up the next morning with a sense of relief. But, let’s be clear: it is not relief from knowing that contact for the time being is severed. No, not at all. That is not it at all. It is relief from finally acknowledging how I’ve been apparently feeling deep down and coming clean about it. Like a sinner making confession to her priest, I confessed and was granted absolution. I feel light as a feather after months of unknowingly carrying around a mystery weight. The weight is gone and I feel great. I’m healing.

I still need some time to break the habit of relying so heavily on Ben, but I am now confident he and I can and do have a place in each others’ lives in the future. He will happily always have a place in my heart. He inadvertently in this experience has really taught me to not suppress how I’m feeling and not to be scared of it. To be honest with myself about my feelings for other people and not to be afraid to acknowledge my feelings out loud. And most importantly that feeling something doesn’t necessarily have dire consequences. If you love someone, tell them. This world needs more love. And for this, and all the countless other things he has taught me without realizing it, I am grateful. I don’t know if Ben still reads this blog, but Ben, if you are reading this: thank you.