I had a dream a few days ago that I was at a high school reunion, but all my classmates were still high school age—no one had aged. You know, typical weird dream stuff.
Attending this reunion (in my dream) was the first guy I ever dated. He was my boyfriend from around age 16-20.
Since that dream, I’ve been thinking about that relationship, mainly because I haven’t thought about it in so, so long—this was almost 20 years ago! It feels like a different lifetime. Like it involved different people—not me. Definitely not the “me” I know today.
Also, when I think back to that relationship and my friends at that time, I have fond memories. However, I think my ex feels the opposite. He probably hates my guts.
Why? Because after dating for nearly four years, I broke up with him in a cold, cruel way. And here’s the thing—because I was so afraid to feel pain and hurt, I rationalized what I did. At the time, it made sense to me. I didn’t think it was hurtful because I explained it away, in my head.
I didn’t know ANYthing about how to be in a relationship. I was so young….I think back to some of my behavior and cringe.
For example: when we first started dating, I would slug him in the arm all the time. Yeah, I’d sorta playfully (but kinda hard) punch him in the arm or chest.
One day, a mutual friend said to me, “Why do you punch him all the time? It’s so weird.”
It hit me like a ton of bricks. I hadn’t even realized what I was doing. I immediately felt so embarrassed for doing such a strange, weird thing.
But now I know why I did it. Have you ever heard the saying that “little boys pick on girls they like”? Like if a little boy pulls a girl’s hair and is mean to her, it means he likes her? It was kinda like that. I didn’t know how to deal with my feelings for him soooo….I punched him in the arm? [cringe]
I saw sensitivity and sentimentality as weakness.
So if he said something funny, sentimental, or teasing, I’d punch him in the shoulder. A healthier reaction might have been, perhaps, to laugh, smile, tease him back, or allow myself to feel the warmth of friendship/love/camaraderie/whatever.
I also remember that I would tease him (and I would put myself down) any time either of us said or did something sentimental. Endlessly. It was always done as a joke, though—a joking accusation or eye roll. This deflection of emotion seemed harmless at the time, maybe even cute, but it had deeper implications later.
I was simply too afraid to let myself feel feelings. I didn’t want to be vulnerable, I guess. Showing you care for someone opens yourself up to hurt. At least this relationship taught me to stop being that way in the future.
It’s only now, I mean seriously, almost 20 years later (!) that I’m thinking about this whole thing again. I didn’t fully process it at the time. Some of the memories are vague, some are totally gone, but some are still there.
So, after around 3 and a half years of being together—both of us were then in college—I decided that I didn’t want to be together anymore. I don’t remember why, but the reasons aren’t even relevant—I guess the relationship had run its course. The problem was, I’d never ended a relationship before. I didn’t know how.
I was so scared about feeling hurt or hurting him that I ignored that possibility that we could even be hurt. I feared intense feelings so much that I pretended those intense feelings didn’t exist.
Somehow, I thought that after dating for nearly four years, he’d simply be fine with me breaking up with him. That it would be no big deal. I honestly thought that!!! Well, I tricked myself into thinking it, without even realizing it.
I left for a semester of study abroad. I remember thinking, when I left, that it was probably the end of our relationship. I thought he felt the same way. I thought he knew that it was over.
Running away to another country gave me an easier way out, too. I thought time away from me would make it easier for him, almost like our relationship would fade. Seriously, at the time, this all made sense to me! I wasn’t trying to be hurtful. I was trying to avoid hurt for both of us.
There are a lot more details that I’ll leave out for your sake, dear reader. But I eventually broke up with him via phone from another continent. I was so cold and matter-of-fact. Remember, I’d also convinced myself that he knew our relationship was pretty much over. My attitude was like, “You had to know this was coming, it’s not that big of a deal.” And after a couple emails we never interacted again.
It hurts me to admit all this now. It was so unfair to treat a good person that way. He did not deserve that.
I just kept rationalizing things over and over. My ex would be fine! And this was a big one: I didn’t believe that someone could be hurt by losing me.
As a functioning adult, it is difficult to explain this thought. I had such low self-esteem that I didn’t believe my breaking up with someone could hurt them that much. After all, it was just me. I wasn’t that great. And remember—I didn’t believe in sentimentality or sensitivity….so no one should be hurt by me leaving.
This is difficult to admit now. I think it was all a defense mechanism to avoid feeling pain, hurt, and feelings in general.
This brings me to the point of this very long, very personal post.
I am regretful and sad for causing someone pain. We were both immature and did some dumb stuff as teens, but essentially he was a good, kind person who did not deserve the pain that I inflicted so callously.
This entire story made me realize that if I had just been more aware of my feelings, if I had been taught that being sensitive and showing love in a sentimental way was ok instead of a weakness—that entire relationship would have been better. Instead, I ignored any hint of sensitivity or vulnerability because I saw it as a flaw. He had to suffer due to my emotional ignorance.
I think most of us eventually learn that you can’t love someone if you don’t open yourself up to being hurt. Therefore, if you think vulnerability is a weakness, and you avoid it all costs, you can’t have a meaningful relationship with someone.
This is why it’s so important for people to learn that sensitivity is not a weakness, flaw, or a solely “feminine” trait. I especially hear, from highly sensitive men, about how they were taught to suppress their sensitive feelings as boys. Not only can this lead to poor relationships, it can lead to psychological and behavioral issues.
So, you can see that even me—the stinkin’ host of a podcast and website about sensitivity—used to think tenderness was dumb. Talk about doing a 180! Now I embrace sentimentality and allow myself to enjoy it.