“Each time history repeats itself, the price goes up.” - Ronald Wright
My friend Hazel and I were talking a while ago about my ongoing struggle with being present and how I tend to live in the past or the future.
We were discussing an issue I was having with a guy I liked. Let’s call him Walter. I was describing our past and what could potentially happen in the future, but it could only happen unless things changed. I was going on and on about Walter, when Hazel stopped me and said “sure, but that doesn’t describe what’s going on now. You need to meet him where he’s at now rather than looking to the past to describe his future actions.” My breath shortened quickly after Hazel said that because I knew he was right. Let me explain.
I’ve made many (and I mean many) bad judgement calls in my dating life. I chose men who were clearly emotionally unavailable, disrespectful on the low, and who couldn’t return a simple phone call just to say hi. I felt like Walter wasn’t one of those bad judgement calls.
We met in gym class during my sophomore year of high school. He was 15, I was 16. He was cute, but kind and had a quiet strength to him. I, on the other hand, was loud and somewhat forceful in trying to get classmates (and teachers) to do the activities I wanted to do. Our interactions during gym were similar to those of any teenage rom-com: making fun of each other and testing each other’s limits. Over the next year or so, we started talking outside of gym class more, even though I wasn’t ever sure if he was actually interested in me. I thought “well he seems to respect me and he’s not pushing anything, but he could like me.” He also could’ve been scared of me because I won’t deny that I was a tad hostile in high school (the hormones and all).
Walter and I got close the summer before my senior year of high school. We had been texting on and off, but he was also friends with my next door neighbor so I saw him more often outside of school. The communication was a lot more consistent and I genuinely enjoyed his company. I didn’t want to make the first move as I thought it was way too risky, so I sat back and enjoyed the high I got every time his name would pop up on my phone.
As football season was quickly approaching in the fall, every girl was clamoring to get a guy’s jersey to wear for the upcoming games. That summer, girls strategized whose jersey they were going to wear for the upcoming fall season. Wearing a football player’s jersey was a sign of status as it meant that you were (usually) dating that football player or at least fucking him. Walter was on the team, so I figured I would at least get asked to wear his jersey considering how we were progressing.
After a brutal soccer practice one night, I met up with my homegirl Marie in a local ice cream place. We were talking about the upcoming football season and whose jersey we were going to wear (because as seniors we “needed” to have a jersey). She dropped a bomb and said “I got Walter’s jersey so we need to find you one to wear too.”
My heart dropped.
Were they dating? Were they talking too? Was he playing me? If I told Marie that we were talking, was she going to be mad at me and not be friends with me because she liked him? Can I even trust anything he’s saying now that he gave his jersey to my friend? These were the big important questions that my high school brain was trying to process.
She continued with “I know exactly the guy whose jersey you can wear. I’ll hook it up right now.” A day later she hooked me up with Jamie (read What I Learned From My Rock Bottom). A week later we began dating. Walter found out about Jamie and I on a football team trip where Jamie was talking about us to a larger group of teammates.
Walter and I barely spoke during the rest of the football season. We barely spoke the rest of my senior year of high school. We barely spoke in college when he came to the same college I was at with Jamie. If we did see each other on campus, the interactions were curt and cold.
Avoiding each other seemed easier, but I was hurt. I even felt used. My inner critic kept telling me that I should’ve talked to him about it and I put the blame on myself that I could’ve solved the issue.
In my relationship with Jamie, I didn’t think too much about Walter. That wasn’t to say that I didn’t wish him well, I had just put those thoughts away to focus on Jamie. Even after Jamie and I broke up in 2016, I had too much healing to do after the breakup and didn’t think about Walter. It wasn’t until this past September when I was cleaning out my Dad’s house and found a picture of us at my junior homecoming.
I wondered what he was up to now. I wondered where he was living. I wondered if he was with anyone. I wondered if he still thought about what had happened and how silly our former situation seemed now, especially with Jamie and I breaking up. Honestly, I felt like I had made a mistake and chose the wrong person all those years ago as I could’ve gone to Walter to clear up the entire misunderstanding. I felt like I chose to move forward with Jamie, and ultimately our 8 year relationship, rather than figure out what was going on with Walter.
At that moment I did what anyone would do and I slid into his DMs. I wrestled with what I was going to say for hours as I didn’t want to come across awkward. I wasn’t even sure if he was going to answer. I literally put the phone down and walked away for a few hours because I was terrified of the response.
Hours later, I checked Instagram and saw he responded. We engaged in a brief, friendly conversation that ended when he was traveling out of the country. I was genuinely happy for him and everything that he was doing and had already accomplished. I continued on with my normal life, glad to know that he was doing well.
This was until I saw on Insta stories that he was home for the holidays months later. I thought “let me try one more time” and I summoned up my courage to shoot my shot to ask him if he wanted to meet up when I got into town. I again put my phone down and walked away, but this time for the rest of the day. He responded and we exchanged numbers while I was in the airport later that night. We agreed to meet at a local spot to watch the Browns game when I touched down. I grinned from ear to ear not fully knowing why.
The morning of our meetup I was calm. I went through my routine of preparing for the day just like any other day: a glass of warm water with ACV, a yoga flow early in the morning, and some simple affirmations. I thought about how much different my morning routine is now versus the last time I hung out with him. I don’t even think I had a routine back then. I took a moment to pat myself on the back for this.
Later that morning my sister drove me to the spot we were meeting. As I got out of the car and slowly moved towards the entry door to walk in, I became incredibly nervous. My palms were sweating, my hands were shaking, and I couldn’t think straight. I saw him sitting at the end of the bar closest to the entrance door which gave me less time to get my shit together. I softened when I saw him. We embraced in a longer than usual hug and I felt lighter. Woosah.
Prior to walking in, I had created a scenario in my head of it being extremely awkward after not speaking for 10 years, but both of us eased into the conversation. As both of us started to relax, I told him I had recently met up with Marie and we laughed about the entire jersey situation. He seemed confused and asked “what jersey situation?” I replayed the entire story to him of what happened after he gave his jersey to her and how I was upset with him. He sat in shock, mouth agape from the new information I was sharing with him. I was more surprised that he didn’t know any parts of this story.
After he got over the initial shock of what I had told him, we spent the next 3 hours that afternoon putting the pieces together of the larger misunderstanding. We talked about how stupid we both were, how everything could’ve been solved with a simple conversation, and how everything seemed to align with us at that very moment. The fantasy of what could’ve been was intoxicating and we could’ve sat there all night, but I had planned to meet my family for dinner. We agreed we would meet up later.
After dinner he came by my Dad’s house. This time around things were much lighter and we interacted with ease. We went down to the basement and turned on another football game, but I couldn’t even tell you who was playing that night. Riddled with deja vu, we continued to play out the fantasy we had created earlier in the day. Everything was moving so quickly and neither one of us hit pause as it was easier not to. I told him I was going back and forth in my head about moving this quickly, but that same quiet strength I was all too familiar with was hard to resist.
I wasn’t sure what I wanted from this new situation and I don’t think he did either. I knew I liked him, but I didn’t want to get ahead of myself. Rather than wondering what he was thinking, I asked him where we were going to go from here. I hit him with the “what are we?” question.
He said that being in a relationship isn’t his priority right now. He said he didn’t want to go into limbo, but he wanted to keep in touch. I obliged, even though I knew I wanted more with him. I obliged, even though I had a feeling that it meant that he wanted to keep me around to hook up with me when the situation presented itself. I obliged, even though I knew we were going into a state of limbo. Regardless, we parted ways at 4 in the morning, with a promise to stay in touch.
Walter had already planned a trip to NYC the following week and we were in regular contact the week leading up to his trip with flirtatious texts. I told him I would love to see him when he’s in town if he had time. He said he would let me know and get back to me. I obliged and we continued texting.
We were texting and talking on the phone regularly when he got into town, but there was no mention of seeing each other. His trip was only 3 days, so on the 2nd day I wasn’t sure what was going on, so I asked bluntly if I was going to see him. He said that it probably wasn’t going to happen, so I obliged and said I could hopefully see him next time when he was in town.
Well, I obliged until I started to feel some type of way.
I felt like if he didn’t want to see me while he was in town then he should’ve straight up told me. We could’ve chalked up that night over the holidays to having a night of fun and both of us could go our separate ways, but he had said he wanted to “keep in touch” and continue talking. I had this familiar feeling of being used and hurt like I was in high school, so rather than obliging to the situation, I spoke up and voiced what I was feeling.
I thought “girl, let’s switch it up this time so that you’re clearly communicating your feelings with him unlike last time.” I thought by being more direct, I was remedying the situation 10 years ago because I had the chance now to be more direct. I thought in being more vulnerable with him, he would be receptive to it because I had the chance now to be more vulnerable vs 10 years ago. I thought telling him that I wanted to see him would make it clear that I wanted more and that it would eradicate what happened 10 years ago. It didn’t quite turn out like I had expected.
Walter’s response to my vulnerable texts was cold, harsh, and detached. He said his friends that he was with didn’t ghost him like I did. He insinuated that I left him 10 years ago. He told me that I was smothering him now. I backpedaled because I didn’t know what to do or what to say. I didn’t want to upset him even more because this felt all too familiar from the sinking feeling I felt when Marie told me she had his jersey. I didn’t know what to do so I obliged with what he was saying and backed down.
We spoke infrequently after that as I wasn’t sure how to feel after our exchange. I didn’t want to be more of a disturbance to him. I blamed myself, yet again.
I know I made 1 crucial error with him (twice). My mistake was that I wasn’t meeting Walter where he’s at in the here and now and I created a futuristic fantasy in my head based on our previous experiences. I was predicting that he would be receptive to my feelings based on our past when he was telling me in the here and now that his feelings took precedent. I predicted that he would want to pursue something with me based on our past when he was telling me in the here and now that it wasn’t going to happen. I predicted he would want to see me because he made time for me back in high school but he was telling me in the here and now that that isn’t the case.
But why was I blaming myself? What was the story I was telling myself that led me to believe that I had created this problem for myself?
The first things I needed to realize were this:
I had to fully comprehend and understand that my feelings were valid.
I had to fully comprehend that I had every right to ask “what are we?”.
I had to fully comprehend that I’m entitled to clarity to any situation that I’m participating in and/or investing in.
What I realized was that I wanted him to like me so bad (again) that I didn’t meet myself in the here and now; rather, I looked to my past to determine my future actions. In the past (as much as I put on a brave face), I was terrified of rejection which led me to my actions of “obliging” and not wanting to rock the boat by either ignoring the situation or not saying anything which made things worse.
In the here and now, I’m bold and know what I want. In my current situation with Walter, I believed that the “here and now” Walter is the same past Walter I wanted to be with. I understood how I came across harsh because I had made the situation all too real, while admittedly, I was playing into the fantasy too.
While I was quick to admit where my faults were, Walter couldn’t seem to accept my here and now. I’m not the same person from 10 years ago who will back down when being challenged; who will play games and be unintentional with the people I give my time to; or who will disappear when a problem seems to get too difficult.
How many times do we do this with situations or people in our everyday life? How many times do we romanticize certain situations or people, only to be disappointed by a smoking gun that contradicts the facade? How often do we hold space for people that aren’t ready to hold space for us? How often do we not stand up for ourselves in relationships when we know we expect more?
We become inundated with the past or the future, that we forget to live in the here and now. Moreover, we create a fantasy of what “could” happen versus what is actually taking place. We become disconnected from reality because it’s easier to live in a fantasy.
I’m not saying that it’s easy to recognize this and remain objective by any means. I could’ve changed my reality by hitting pause before sending that DM, or that text asking him to meet up, or even at that ice cream place with Marie when she wanted to hook me up with Jamie. But I didn’t.
It’s been historically easier for me to live in multiple fantasies because bringing them back to reality would mean that I would need to be vulnerable and open myself up to criticism of my own reality. I’ve had to do the work to be present and real and open simply because constantly creating false expectations and fantasies was driving me insane. It was costing me my piece of mind.
Walter on the other hand wasn’t there yet.
I wanted him to be, but he wasn’t. If he wanted to give me his jersey he would have. If he wanted to talk to me about what happened and not wait 10 years he would have. If he wanted to see me when he was in town and make space in his here and now to truly move forward with me into the future he would have.
I had to come back to living in reality because living anywhere else was getting way too expensive.