What I learned from a relationship that was never actually a relationship

I got involved with someone who was unavailable once. He was moving out of state, had just gotten out of a relationship, and was starting a new career in music. But I got involved with him anyway. And by involved, I mean I fell in love with him. It was a terrible idea.

I met Isaiah (not his real name) the summer before my senior year of college. I was getting back into theatre and was making a bunch of new and amazing friends, him included. He was a musician and mutual friends with the people I was spending the summer with. But he was also an aspiring writer and filmmaker which I found equally cool. He was just so cool. He had cool counterculture opinions, cool points of view on just about anything, and this really cool lack of care for ruffling feathers (which I later found out was more do to a lack of awareness than a lack of care, which I naturally found adorable).

He didn’t go to college because he had a library card and to him that was free education right there. He knew it was more important for him as a musician to focus all of his time an energy on writing new songs and finding places to perform them than it was to get a degree in music that would only make him spend all his time doing homework and listening to other people’s music. I got it. I was a music major once. It’s more for people who like to study the structure of music or who plan to teach it than it is for people who just like playing music as a passion.

He wasn’t planning on getting a “regular job” in music, he was going to be a musician. No degree needed for that. There aren’t entry level positions or required degrees to get a record deal, you just need to be good enough and catch the right person’s attention. He already was fully capable of writing music–really good music–and didn’t need four extra years of schooling to learn that.

Completely understandable, albeit a touch arrogant. But I supposed you needed a little arrogance to “make it,” which, of course, he knew as well. When I told him I dreamed of being an actor, he told me that I have to go for it. He said you just have to have enough arrogance to believe you can make it and you will. Because, to him,  it wasn’t talent that was separating the people at the top from anyone else. I agreed, and I went into my senior year feeling inspired.

I soon learned it takes less arrogance and more luck, connections, hard work, and willingness to be very poor for a very long time to pursue a career in the arts. But that’s another story.

He made it clear from the beginning that he wasn’t ready to be in a relationship, but that didn’t stop us from getting closer and closer—close enough to fall in love. We talked about our dreams as artists, our passions, we kissed, we talked everyday, we Skyped each other. He called me pretty and complimented me all the time. But as weeks turned into months, I wondered, why is this going on like this? If we act like we are dating, why aren’t we? What was the difference? Why was he willing to do all the things boyfriends do without the title?

So I asked him out. In a really cute way too. I’m hella romantic, in case you didn’t know.

And as you can guess, he turned me down. He talked about how he wasn’t in a good place to be in a relationship, that he made a lot of mistakes in his last one and if he was going to date me, he wanted to make sure he was in a good place so he could “do it right.” Though I was rejected, I felt oddly flattered that he wanted to work on himself so he could give me his best. Seemed like a good thing right? Not really.

We kept doing what we had been: acting like we were dating but never officially dating. The longer it went on, the crappier I felt. I started questioning his intentions. Was he just stringing me along? What was this to him? He sent me a song he wrote in which one of the lines was about a girl who “looked better up on a shelf.” I assumed that was about his ex at first, but soon I began to feel like it was about me.

You see the problem with relationships that aren’t real relationships is that they are refusing to give you the basic respect you deserve. If you make it clear that you want a relationship and the other person knowingly strings you along without the intention of committing to you, then they aren’t treating you fairly or considering your feelings. You can’t put a person on a shelf like a piece of pottery, and if you try, you’re going to upset a sentient being who has no intention of doing nothing with their life while you “figure it out.”

Of course, at the time I didn’t have that level of self-respect and wisdom to figure out what was going on right away. I innocently believed that this person was fully intending on getting himself together in order to ask me out soon. I repeatedly said I was okay with the lack of commitment because I was counting on it going somewhere.

But these situations only go on for so long until you get wise. After a few more weeks of pretending I was okay with a lack of commitment, then asking again for commitment, then being rejected, then attempting to be “friends” but acting exactly the same as before, I ended it. I knew as long as I loved this person who I wasn’t actually dating, I was keeping myself that was the true happiness that I wanted–someone who wanted to be with me as much as I wanted to be with them.

Walking away was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made because of how empowering it was. Whether or not this person could have turned himself around, I wasn’t being treated the way I wanted to be treated, and when that happens, you walk away. No matter how painful it is.

I could blame myself for staying that long with someone who didn’t want to commit, but that’s not productive nor the point. Sometimes we choose to see the best in people who aren’t great for us, but that doesn’t make us blamable. They are the ones who took advantage of someone’s kindness, and now we can walk away with the knowledge that we need to be more selective in who we grant our second chances to.

Maya Angelou once said, “The first time people show you who they are; believe them.” It reminds me that we shouldn’t expect any more than what someone has shown us. If someone has shown you they can’t commit, you need to accept that THAT is the reality of who they are. Their potential is irrelevant. How they treat you NOW is the only thing that matters, and if you don’t like it, you have to love yourself enough to walk away. After all, you can’t find something better until you move on from something that’s not serving you.

So now I’m in a better position to know what I am looking for and, more importantly, what I’m not willing to settle for. So at least there’s that.

[Image via NBC]

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