PQ 17.3 — What guarantees do I want from my relationships? Are they realistic?
There is no such thing as a lover’s oath.
“You know,” he says. “The way you’ve been acting lately, it really worries me.”
“Oh?” I say. “Why does it worry you?”
“I hate admitting this,” he says. “But I’m worried that you’re going to break up with me.”
It’s not what I expect him to say. And maybe it isn’t the kindest response, but the sheer surprise at hearing these words makes me laugh, before I’m even aware that I’m doing it.
“What?” he says.
“I wouldn’t just break up with you out of the blue,” I say. “If I had a problem with you, I’d deescalate first. I love having you around. I really enjoy your company.”
He looks at me incredulously. And he’s quiet for a while. I just snuggle him and let him think.
After a few minutes, he asks me if I want to see a video on his phone, and I tell him okay. The entire conversation for me floats into the ether.
But I later learn that it stuck with him — and in a way that I didn’t intend.
Over the next few months, a comedy of errors transpires. Everything keeps going wrong. He starts to say things that hurt my feelings, and when I try to address them with him, he’s wide-eyed and unresponsive. He doesn’t seem to even grasp my explanations on a surface level, let alone take them to heart.
His focus seems to be smoothing everything over. Paving over the bumps in the road. Rather than building something with a stable infrastructure.
So I begin to deescalate. I formally tell him this and pull away from him a bit with time and closeness. He doesn’t deal well with this.
He seems put out when I need to travel out of state for a funeral. Focused on the inconvenience to him and my other partners.
I want to scream in his face, “SOMEONE JUST DIED!” Shake his shoulders. But I don’t.
Instead, I tell him I’ll be in touch with him on the trip via text and let him know how things are going.
But as I’m walking him to the door, he says to me, “Oh, so when you get back…”
“Yes, I’ll let you know when I get back,” I say. “I’ll keep you in the loop.”
“No, not that,” he says.
“When you get back… hot tub?” he says, flipping both of his index fingers into guns.
And in that moment, I’m gutted. He knows it’s only been two hours since I found out my grandfather died. And yet his focus is on inviting himself to take a dip in my hot tub after I get home from the funeral next week.
I close the door feeling like I’ve made a terrible miscalculation.
He continues to resist deescalations. Any measures that would take us back into a more casual dating place. Or even play partners. A place where maybe we can make sense having a relationship where we don’t constantly misunderstand one another and get our feelings hurt.
So I’m left with no choice. I have to break it off.
And while we’re having the breakup talk, he brings up that conversation we had earlier, some months back. When I’d reassured him when he was worried. Except he didn’t hear or internalize the “I’d deescalate first” part. All he’d heard was “I won’t break up with you.”
He tells me that at the time I’d said it that he wondered how I could make assurances like that. That it seemed like an overclaim. But that he’s known me not to be someone who says things they don’t mean. So he’d taken it to heart.
And that now he’s feeling quite betrayed.
And I’m faced with a choice: Do I explain everything from my point of view and risk another misunderstanding? Or do I let him think that his frustration with me is righteous?
Which one is better? Which one will help his heart better heal?
This post is part of a series in which I answer each of the chapter-end questions in More than Two with an essay. For the entire list of questions and answers, please see this indexed list.