When you're sideswiped by 8 words: "I don't want to be in a relationship"
You meet someone, you like each other, they shower you with affection, you let your guard down, you return the affection, and that’s when they drop the bomb: “I don’t want to be in a relationship.” It’s surprising, confusing, heart-smashing, even—and it’s only made worse when the relationship-fleer ends up a relationship with someone else.
You sit there bewildered thinking, but HE SAID he didn’t want a relationship?! What’s wrong with me that he wants one with someone else? The answer is nothing. There is absolutely nothing wrong with you. Or any of us. People will always come in and out of our lives and there will be times that our emotional attachments to each other will not line up perfectly and there is nothing wrong with that. Is it that easy to cope with? Oh hell no. But we should never let it dictate anything about our confidence in ourselves. I learned that through experience—the hard kind.
A few years ago I was dating someone who can best be described as a slow burn. We both moved pretty slowly towards getting closer in our relationship. Me as someone who has always been hesitant to move too quickly and him as someone who was older, set in his ways and traveled a great deal for work. At about seven months in, we were lying together on his couch watching TV and he had his head on my stomach while I ran my fingers through his hair. Without any prompting he suddenly voiced a slew of unexpected and sweet things including, “this is my favorite place to be in the whole world. Right here like this with you.” And squeezed me a little tighter. I was speechless. In the time I had known him, he was fun, nice, funny and smart. But mushy romantic he was definitely not. Which was why when he said these things completely out of the blue, it felt all the more meaningful.
Not even a month later, he told me it seemed like things were getting too serious and that we should take a break. Feeling utterly confused by this total about face in his behavior, I angrily pointed out all the things he had said mere weeks ago to me. He looked chagrined, shrugged and said, “I did mean it. At that moment.”
And I realized this was just another version of when the truth becomes a lie. Doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt. It really hurt. I had allowed all those things he said to convince me to really open up and (gasp!) actually consider a future. And it would be so easy to write him off as a jerk, which I guess yes he kind of is for not considering the implications of the things he was saying to me. But should we always fault people for saying what they think they know to be true at the time?
To be fair, I have not just been a victim. I have been the culprit. I had a boyfriend once whom I really cared for, but when he started talking marriage and children only four months into the relationship I began to panic. I knew emotionally I wasn’t at the same level and even though I liked him, I worried that he wasn’t giving me enough time to catch up to his intensity. Out of an assumption that I would get to that place, I initially remained silent about it. Because there was nothing “wrong” with him. He was sweet, caring, thoughtful and smart. But something WAS wrong. I wasn’t in the relationship I wanted. I was in the relationship HE wanted.
One night he told me I was the most amazing girl in the whole world and if I’d let him, he’d love me forever. When I left his apartment that night, I sobbed the whole way home. Like kindergarten-snot wailing and crying. I knew I didn’t feel that kind of love in return for him and his sincere words made me feel terribly pressured and that I was an awful person for not being able to reciprocate.
I had no choice but to break it off. He became irate and demanded to know why I had said I wanted a relationship when clearly to him it seemed I did not. And I had no helpful answer, except that when I had said yes to being his exclusive girlfriend I DID mean it. At that moment. I would have never otherwise agreed to it.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want a relationship. I didn’t want one at the speed at which he was directing it. We were on two different relationship timetables that were somehow not syncing together. It went from fun and lovely to feeling like I was suffocating in it, trying to live up to an expectation of a girl who was ready to get married. Solely because I had said I wanted a relationship. And I wasn’t ready. Or he just wasn’t the right guy. The night that I cried hysterically was my gut instinct jumping up and down waving red flags in my face that I should not be reacting this way to someone who wants to “love me forever.”
I’ve always tried to date by the mantra “say what you mean and mean what you say.” We all should. I do think it’s important to take into account that minds can change, people can get hurt, hearts can be broken. That’s life. All we can do is apologize for any hurt we’ve caused others on our path to self-discovery. And if we’re on the receiving end of the heartbreak, we can do our best not to internalize the pain and blame ourselves. It’s not us, it’s not even them. It’s timing.
As for the people who hurt us by saying things they don’t actually mean? I think we can all agree ain’t nobody got time for that.