My addiction to romantic drama—and how I overcame it
When it comes to relationships, I used to be what you’d call a drama queen. I’d like to blame this on years of starring in school productions of West Side Story and Fiddler on the Roof, but really, it’s because of my first real boyfriend and how I allowed him to shape my perceptions about what dating should look and feel like for far too long.
Remember the pouring rain kiss in The Notebook when Allie and Noah reunite? We totally had one of those. We had been flirting on and off for months and finally found ourselves having a fun, romantically charged conversation through the windows of our cars in the middle of what seemed like a monsoon. I complained about the awful weather and he joked that kissing in the rain was one way to put a positive spin on it. Minutes later we were outside, completely entangled in each other, and getting soaked in the process. When you’re 23 and have a kiss like you’ve never had before? Well, it’s very easy to romanticize everything about that person, and to think that what you’re feeling is the physical manifestation of that most mysterious phenomenon: love at first sight.
We worked in the same office building, and in the beginning of our courtship, I would throw myself out of bed each morning, carefully curate an outfit, and meet him in the parking lot to walk from our cars to the elevator banks. Sometimes, throughout the day, we would catch up (and make out) in the stairwell between floors. It was an intense physical attraction, and nothing like I had experienced before. I assumed that we were equally swept up in the fairy tale, and that’s how I decided that I no longer wanted to be a virgin and was ready to say “I love you” for the first time.
He ended up saying it first, about four months in. That, coupled with the epic kiss, made it tempting (at first) to overlook the not-so-cinematic elements of our relationship, which seemed to comply with Newton’s Third Law: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. If he cancelled on me when we had plans to go to a concert, he’d apologize by making me dinner and watching my favorite movies. If he disappointed me with a weak excuse about why he couldn’t come to an important dinner with my family, he’d bring me to one with his, and proudly parade me around to his parents, brothers, aunts, and cousins. We had arguments where I’d insist that his last-minute cancellations contradicted his constant I love yous but he’d convince me I was overreacting.
The fact that he was the first person I had ever slept with contributed to my blind faith. Admitting he might not be the right guy for me would also be admitting that I had made a mistake in placing my trust in him.
When his repeated actions suggested he didn’t want to be in a relationship (or suggested was carrying on more than one at the same time), I would back away, only to be swooped back in with tearful voicemails, expensive gifts and plaintive begging. It was all so over-the-top and emotional, it made me think that the price for flying so high when we were happy was being prostrate with grief when things went wrong. Of course, I wanted to believe he was sorry just so that I didn’t have to feel terrible.
After two and a half years, I finally ended it. He showed up one night, apologizing for the latest indiscretion, and I was just exhausted. I finally realized that he was capable of separating the physical from the emotional, even though I couldn’t. I asked him if there had ever been a point where it had just been the two of us, and he couldn’t look me in the eye. It was the punch to the gut that I needed.
Unfortunately, the precedent was set. For a long time after, it was difficult for anyone to live up to him. Actually, that’s not exactly accurate. What I mean to say is: I was quick to dismiss guys who didn’t make my emotions veer crazily from ecstasy to despair like he did. A guy who called when he said he would? Boring! I preferred guys who lived far away, or had just gotten divorced, or who were dealing with their own emotional barriers. It was total self-sabotage, but it was familiar.
It seems ridiculous that a relationship that hurt me so much was in my mind a litmus test for how I was supposed to feel. The truth is, the first is always the first, and sometimes he or she will occupy an unearned amount of territory in your heart. I knew that my ex had not been good for (or to) me, but it took much longer for me to realize that the highs and lows I experienced with him were also unhealthy. I still craved that exuberant, hormone-driven, over-the-moon feeling.
After a couple years of dating again, and a lot of maturing on my part, I ended up meeting a guy who made my heart flutter every time I saw him. Naturally, I immediately expected him to let me down, or worse, because that was the price of euphoria. It never happened. Did we fight? Of course. But did he ever cheat, lie, or manipulate me? Never. And yet, somehow, we were happy!
I know now that drama is a substitute for deeper emotion. If you need it, in any relationship, there’s most likely something lacking. And when you have it in abundance, like I did, there isn’t any room left over for love. Now my drama quotient is met every Thursday night when I watch Scandal. Grand gestures might look enviable on TV or in the movies, but in real life, all I really want is someone who I can really depend on.
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