In the midst of relationship aftermath, the road to healing isn’t linear.
By Jamie Hudalla
Though I’m an expert on 20-minute relationships, I never thought he would become one.
For the first time, I saw the future with someone. The future – not a future, because once it infiltrated my mind, it was harrowing to rewire a different dream. I saw a wedding, both of us wearing flower crowns because he has better hair than I do. I saw a hole-in-the-wall house with offices full of Dante and Flannery and Wiman. I saw white-blond heads of hair nestled on a couch, watching “Secondhand Lions.”
It took only three months of knowing he existed, and I was sold on spending my life with him.
By now, you’ve labeled me an impulsive 21 year old. You’ve released a patronizing sigh, convinced I’ve been brainwashed by Christian culture. You’ve wondered how I could fall so fast. And you’re right.
It started with a feud, like any great love story. We were star-crossed, from two different worlds. Well, from two different Bethels. He attended the lesser Bethel College in a faraway land called South Bend, Indiana. Since Bethel University is 70 percent female, I had to get creative to find a guy.
We met at a five-day symposium at Wheaton College. He wore Hawaiian shirts and defended Rupi Kaur’s poeticity, which made him the Brad Pitt of my Hollywood. He liked Chance the Rapper and wanted to attend Yale. He told me I was going to hell because I had tattoos. I called him a heathen for theorizing his own version of purgatory.
We connected instantly.
I flew back home listening to The Mamas and the Papas, reading his poetry and staring pensively at clouds. I wondered what if. But no one struck up romances at conferences and dated long distance on whims.
Then the emails started. We sent more than 100, numbering and lettering our questions and responses because brevity wasn’t in our writer blood. A few weeks in, we Facetimed for five hours in the first sitting. A month in, we discussed Delta flights and 10-hour drives and entire weekends spent together. It didn’t feel real.
You ask, but in those brief three months, when did you start to envision marriage? Well, it was nestled in between our first Shakespearean smack-talk over a ping-pong match and the night we danced on the shore of Lake Michigan to John Mayer. It was underlying our first date: picking out ridiculous outfits from Goodwill for each other and eating lunch with a homeless man. It was caught in my throat when he asked me to be his girlfriend after reciting a poem he’d written.
I remember his jokes about inviting all the symposium participants to our wedding, but seeing those jokes as reality slid by without a mile-marker. That reality splintered 24 hours before he left Minnesota.
We sat on a sofa at my house, and the humidity caused our skin to stick to the leather. He broke our silence, mentioning something about the importance of honesty and intentional goodbyes and expressing healthy doubts.
“The thought of never seeing you again terrifies me,” I said.
He paused. “The thought of hurting you terrifies me.”
I knew it then. But I didn’t want to. We carried on for another two weeks. He Facetimed me at 7 p.m. on a Tuesday. We small-talked about book suggestions and hectic weeks. My lips worked to lift their corners, shaking with the effort.
“I can’t do this,” he said abruptly.
My smile collapsed.
He couldn’t do long distance. He had 60-hour work weeks. He couldn’t give me the emotional support I deserved. I was wonderful, truly, genuinely, but he felt wrong giving me scraps. He was sorry. So sorry, Jamie.
Part of me was blindsided. I still had the flower-crown, crap-hole house, “Secondhand Lion” idea of love in my head. The other part of me expected this. My self-pitying and cynical side that assumed even this kind of love couldn’t make it past one month.
I cried on the phone with my sister. She told me she wanted to punch him and I felt a little better. I cried on my roommate. I cried in front of the mirror when I saw my puffed-up face, which looked like I’d joined the cast of “Fight Club.” Then I cried some more.
The worst part: telling everyone what happened. Telling everyone this person who I broadcasted as “the one” had turned into public enemy number one. Except I wasn’t mad at him – I was angrier with the fact I couldn’t be mad at him. Because truthfully, he’s a wonderful human.
He wasn’t a mistake. He was bad timing.
My friends fed me Papa Johns and Oreo ice cream. My mom fed me verses about God’s plans. My sister fed me feminist mantras. I focused on their presence rather than the lack of his.
Yet there’s a stubborn desire to remain inconsolable.
I balanced validating my own emotions and understanding there are worse things in life than broken hearts. I’m over it one day then buried under it the next.
So I’ve decided to park in the pain. I check the time on the dash and automatically calculate Indiana’s one-hour difference. I sit on empty and wonder why relationships cost so much.