Jeff came next. At a week or so under two and a half years, He remains my longest relationship to date (probably because most of it was long distance--we went to different colleges, although who knows?). Jeff was (and still is) a great guy.
He went to the same high school as I did, although he was two years ahead of me. He was tall and thin with curly black hair (yes, I have a physical type... I get over it in later relationships...). We always had a playfully flirtatious friendship based on a bizarre shared sense of humor. He would yell, "Smurf!" at me when he saw me walking down the hall, and I would look around in amazement, asking, "Where? Where?" He loved to make puns, and I would gamely roll my eyes at them. When he went off to school in Philly, we kept in touch through e-mail and a linux chat program run by my crazy techie dork friends at Blair called "ytalk".
Over Thanksgiving break of my senior year (his sophomore year of college), we got together to go hang around the Rodin art exhibit at the downtown DC galleries. I saw the first original plaster version of The Thinker, which is much smaller than you'd expect it to be, and flirted mercilessly. By the time he returned for winter break, we were a couple.
Although a large percentage of this relationship was conducted through instant message and telephone, out of necessity, we saw each other on breaks and taking Amtrack trips every couple months. Jeff did tai chi and majored in Astrophysics. He had a habit of trying to correct all of my bad habits, like my tendency to apologize for things that aren't my fault (which I kind of appreciate now) to the awkward, heavy way I walked when I was overweight (which I still don't). Jeff encouraged my punning ways and introduced me to writer Spider Robinson. I learned how to be a girlfriend mostly from Jeff.
My adjustment to my first year of college was torn emotionally because of my continued commitment to Jeff. By the time I became fully enmeshed in my St. Mary's life during my second year of school, got over a long term depression, and lost a lot of weight, we were growing apart. Jeff was applying to law schools, a radical departure from the astrophysics he had been studying. I was switching from a focus on theater to a love for English. I turned vegetarian and started doing yoga.
I became concerned about my place in his life. I began to suspect that rather than love me, Jeff loved the idea of having a smart, pretty girlfriend. Whenever he realized how intelligent I was (like when I started taking Linear Algebra class "for fun"), he would get nervous--like it was ok for me to be smart, but not ok for me to be smarter than him.
And I met another Tom.
This Tom was not my physical type at all, except in height, but he was funny as all hell and sweet beyond belief. We became good friends, but I found myself thinking about Tom often.
I was smart enough to realize that my feelings for Jeff were not as strong as they once were well before anything with Tom came to fruition. I was not content to fill a role. I wanted to be loved for who I was (still do). I took a job on campus for the summer studying Optics with my Physics professor and went up to Philly for the last time to say goodbye to Jeff just as the year was ending. There was a lot of crying and cuddling and talking. But then, it was over.
The shock of ending a relationship that had lasted so long took awhile to get over--but my crush on Tom grew and he did become my next boyfriend...
Jeff and I have stayed in touch on and off over the years. I wish sometimes our friendship was still strong. I always think of Jeff as my most normal (psychologically... I'm only really attracted to quirky, strange people) ex-boyfriend. I was even going to visit him (he's a practicing lawyer still in Philly now) before my departure to South Korea.
But then he dropped a bomb on me one day this summer. He confessed that he had a very serious addiction that he is now in treatment for, and while he has not gotten to the apologizing stage of his treatment (you know the whole 12 steps thing?), he told me it impacted the years we were dating a lot.
So much for normalcy.
I've thought a lot about it, since he told me. About how someone with that pathology as my norm-reference for relationships could explain some of my own unhealthy relationship behavior since then. About how much courage it took him to tell me that, so many years later. About how fucked up I was (psychologically) during the time I was dating him, although both of us were fully aware of my depression and the issues I was working through at that time because I'm that kind of pathetically open person, and how his being there for me might have been a way for him to avoid dealing with his own problems. About what might have happened if I hadn't broken up with him (I don't know that he would have broken up with me...). About what our relationship would have been like if we'd spent more of it in each other's presence instead of in different cities...
Maybe when we have a relationship like that, we forever leave a little piece of ourselves with the person and forever carry a little piece of them with us. Maybe it's arrogance to assume that healing after a break up means we are "over" the person who was such an important part of our lives for so long. I spend a lot of time and energy trying to prove how "over" my exes I am--for what reason? My life after each relationship will never be the same as it was before that relationship. Why not acknowledge and embrace the interdependence of humans in this world?
Because, quite frankly, the thought of being with some of my exes reviles my inner being. I don't have many "what was I thinking?" moments, so much as, "why the hell didn't I see that then?" moments. But to be honest, I couldn't have seen it at the time. For whatever reason, that time in my life had a blind spot that has since been illuminated...
More thoughts to come.