It’s different every time, that first moment someone new disappoints you. When you learn that they’re just as human as the next person. Justin and I had known each for a few years and had been dating six months before we had our first fight. And it didn’t take us this long to have a disagreement because I was holding back, a pattern I’d had in previous relationships, so scared of conflict that I held everything even remotely controversial inside. No, it had been different with Justin. I just said things and he said his own back with nary a filter in place.
And somehow, it all worked for months and months, until one day we had our first fight. Well, if you could call it a fight. I’ve learned since that other people have a much higher bar than I do for “fight.” And would probably call what transpired as a disagreement, or perhaps an argument.
As I’ve written before, people are very devoted to their “fight” labels:
It seems that every time you talk about interpersonal conflict, you’ll run into people who are very devoted to their preferred labels. For example, on pieces where I’ve mentioned that occasional conflict is inevitable when dealing with other people, I’ve had readers say that they don’t have conflict with their partners, just disagreements.
When I’ve inquired more about the nature of these disagreements, sometimes they are quite heated. Unproductive. And some of them are dramatic, involving things like someone hurling a chair at the wall.
Sure sounds like something that falls under the umbrella of “conflict” to me. It sounds like it could even meet my ex-partner’s high bar for “fight.”
But not to them. Ah, disagreement, that euphemism. It really gets around. (Along with its sinister fraternal twin “argument”).
That Moment When Someone First Disappoints You
Anyway, there’s something about that moment that someone first disappoints you. (And vice versa, something about the moment when you first disappoint them.)
It’s always raw. Always jarring. To realize that this person isn’t perfect. They never were of course — but it’s something we often forget.
The only perfect person is one we don’t know well enough yet. Of course, of course.
But there’s something within us, and inside of me particular, that makes it easy to pedestal other people I admire. I’ve been trying to work on it the past few years, ever since I had a brush with being on the other side of it, when a lover pedestaled me and then became profoundly disappointed when their image of me didn’t match who I really was.
But I’m not quite there yet. And I certainly wasn’t there a decade ago, when Justin first disappointed me — and I disappointed him back.
And we were forced to find a way forward from that. To continue a relationship between two imperfect people. We were compatible in so many ways but not identical. And we could clash.
So we did find that way forward. And over the years, we would clash again. Mostly over small things — but occasionally there would be bigger clashes. More difficult ones. Ones that weren’t always easy to understand or resolve.
But we would find a way.
And I’ve never… not for a second… doubted that our relationship was worth the work we did. And I never doubted that we would eventually find a way forward, even if it took a while to get there.
You Never Get Used to Heartbreak
Other relationships in my life have been different. In those, when I’ve clashed, I would sometimes find that the other person wasn’t really invested in finding a way forward. Not one that wasn’t simply dropping it and pretending it had never happened anyway. (Something that I’m basically incapable of doing, pretending that something that happened never did.)
And in those relationships there wasn’t a way forward for us together. So those relationships had to end — because I can’t live like that. I can’t get close to someone who works that way. I can’t feel safe.
That was a disappointment, too. A different kind of heartbreak. For me, for them, for both of us.
In other circumstances, the other person was willing to work with me, but after we pushed for a bit, it became clear that the amount of work we had to do to get anywhere didn’t match our potential together. We were too far apart for it to work in a way that felt good to both of us.
And of course, this was its own form of disappointment. And yes, another kind of heartbreak.
That’s why heartbreaks hurt so much. You never really get used to them. It’s because no two heartbreaks are the same. Every one feels a little different depending on how it unfolds and who is involved.
The best you can do is recognize what needs to be done — and the best way to move forward from them — whether that means moving forward with someone or leaving alone.