It probably won’t surprise you to learn I’m not the same woman I was 20 years ago. Or 10 years ago. Or even 5. After all, change is constant. Inevitable. People do it all the time.
There are different kinds of change, however. Changes we undergo by way of growth and maturity are synonymous with the natural evolution of our individuality.
Self-discovery is the name of the game, and a pivotal one at that.
Coming into our own is a full-bodied experience, a sort of metamorphosis. We develop a sense of style, find new interests. Our tastes fluctuate and expand.
Even some of the things we once considered important can become obsolete. We hitch a ride with time as it rolls by, adapting to our shifting surroundings and the people we cross paths with, applying what we learn along the way in order to cultivate the best lives we can from within our best selves.
Yet conversely, deep down at the very heart of us — what lurks beneath all of that change — largely remains unaltered.
For me, it’s undeniable. Personality traits I’d developed as a young girl are the same traits I possess today. I carry the same disposition.
Same core beliefs. Same smile.
Same laugh. Same mannerisms.
Same lean toward shyness and vulnerability. Same work ethic.
Same passion for creativity. Same once-I-get-to-know-you-I’ll-wear-my-heart-on-my-sleeve take on intimacy and affection.
Same desire to have the love I give, returned.
One trait which is inherent in all of us is the inability to control who we fall in love with. Well, actually, it’s not really a trait.
It’s a blessing and a curse.
Which reminds me of a fraternity party I attended during my sophomore year in college. The house reeked of cheap beer and desperation, and was swarming with cringe-worthy PDA, resulting in my embarrassing run-in with a support beam (courtesy of my horrified gaze upon a pair of coeds doing the bump-n-grind to Tone Loc’s Funky Cold Medina).
A man came to my rescue armed with bedroom eyes, a tissue for my bloody nose, and a Clark Gable-esque accent that did strange and inexplicable things to my insides.
He was chivalry-on-a-stick, wasting no time in inspecting my nose, my jaw, my face, my hands … offering to take me to the infirmary even after I repeatedly vouched for my overall health and well-being. Eventually, he gave up the fight, insisting instead on escorting me back to my dormitory.
As we walked, I fidgeted with the tissue in my hands, which wasn’t a typical Kleenex but one of those cotton handkerchief fandangles engraved with his initials. I felt like Scarlett O’Hara, minus the ringlets, petticoats, and penchant for fainting.
He was prim and proper, a senior with an arrogant air about him. He spoke in sharp-tongued formalities, like he was negotiating a business merger. He wore loafers, slacks, and a slim-fit shirt with cuff-linked sleeves. He stuck out like a sore thumb against the backdrop of a campus notorious for its toilet paper teepees and haphazard vibe.
He was smooth. Aloof. Cavalier. He bore overconfidence in a way that suited him, along with a dimple-forming smile that made me silently curse it for being so endearing.
So naturally, I wanted him.
Oddly enough, he wanted me too.
So it began…
…And on it went. For eleven months. One month in and I knew I had fallen, but I was too deeply immersed in the punch-drunk euphoria of “new love” to see what was happening in front of me. Or rather…
We had a lot of fun together. Insane physical chemistry. His seriousness coupled with my silliness somehow made us click. We never argued. Never tired of each other’s company. It was, by most accounts, a match made in heaven. With one exception.
He wouldn’t … LET. ME. IN.
Four months into our relationship, I began to notice things. Like his propensity for changing the subject whenever I asked about his family, his dreams, or his plans for the future. Or how his eyes glazed over if I shared something personal about myself. Or the way he recoiled each time I tried to hold his hand or put my head on his shoulder.
At first, I swept it under the rug, believing my devotion would eventually make him less resistant to my bids for intimacy.
But it didn’t.
Six months in, we were still spending a fair amount of time together, though it was always on his terms, around his schedule, or at his convenience.
I knew he was fond of me. I knew we shared a mutual attraction. I knew he appreciated my company. But beyond that, I had no idea if I mattered to him or if he loved me or if we had any sort of hope for a real future together.
He wouldn’t open himself. Not even a crack.
I didn’t know what to do. I loved this man and I told him so. Once. Nine months in. Predictably, his response was to change the subject, a dismissive gesture that left me feeling diminished. That’s when I became paranoid.
Despite his constant presence in my life, he never wavered in his proclivity to self-protect and it really began to mess with my head. As such, I turned into someone I barely recognized — a miserable, resentful, unreasonably needy person who felt like the distraction but never the poetry.
Eleven months in, we attended an engagement party (oh, the irony), where I made the acquaintance of his ex-girlfriend, whom I liked immediately.
When she looked at me, it wasn’t with the bitterness or jealousy you’d expect from an ex, but rather, with a sympathetic expression that spoke from experience. When she pulled me aside to ask how things were going, my misty-eyed “not good” said it all. Yet I continued to talk up a blue streak until I finally spilled the words I’d been harboring for months, a sentiment only she would understand.
“I’m not sure if I can do it anymore.”
She then squeezed my hand and told me I didn’t have to.
So I didn’t.
It broke my heart a million times to say goodbye though, eventually, I made my peace with it. I had no other choice.
I couldn’t even be angry at him. He was a good man. He never lied to me or claimed to be anything other than who he was. I loved everything about him except for the emotional armor he seemed intent on hiding behind.
It hit me in retrospect that I’d never witnessed him showing affection during our time together. Ever. Not toward his friends. His parents. Anyone.
I have to admit, this made me feel marginally better.
It’s incredibly difficult, even maddening, isn’t it?
To love someone who keeps their heart guarded. Because even if they do love you with every fiber of their being, they’ll never admit it, never show it, never tell you, and you’ll never know it.
For a person who thrives on intimacy and genuine affection, it can become not only emotionally debilitating, but ultimately unbearable.
If you’re in a relationship with someone who is either unable or unwilling to return the love you give, my heart truly goes out to you.
If you’re clinging to the hope that this person will one day “come around,” it’s vital that you trade the waiting for an arrival at the point break realization that change may never happen. Then you’ll need to decide if you can accept the relationship in its current state without wading into the expectation of it becoming “more.”
Some people are perfectly content in their emotional unavailability. They are the way they are, and whether there’s a reason behind it or no reason at all, it doesn’t matter because they’ll never change simply because you want them to.
It doesn’t make them bad people, or even unkind. But it does, in most cases, guarantee their incompatibility with those who crave the free and mutual exchange of unconditional love.
Feeling like the sole passenger in a relationship built for two is a tough spot to be in, an equation to which there is no right or wrong answer. Whatever your conclusion, whatever change you wish upon your partner, it won’t come from prayer or begging or convincing or ultimatums.
This kind of change, the kind that serves to alter a corner of the crux of another human being, won’t happen unless that person really wants it. Not even the power of love can inspire such a change since it can only come from one’s self.
I know what you’re thinking…
But it’s not. Not really. Loving someone who is wrong for you isn’t a character flaw. It happens A LOT. Accepting the truth, even the brutal variety, can be quite liberating.
I still think about Mr. Prim and Proper every now and again. I hope he’s learned that showing love doesn’t make a man weak. I hope he’s found his happiness, just as I have.
If you’ve gotten this far and are still in a quandary over what to do about your own Mr. Prim and Proper, the best advice I can give is to follow your instincts. They will rarely lead you astray.
How you found him is likely how he’ll stay, and the only person who knows if you can live with it is you. If you can’t accept him as-is, rest assured there is someone out there who can.
And trust that the right guy will come along at the right time.
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