Posted by: itneverrainsinseattle | November 24, 2009

How I Fell in Love (Thanksgiving 1996)

Okay, kids. Here’s How I Met Your Mother:

We went to the same University. We were not part of each other’s social circles, but our circles overlapped where we both were a part of the same student organization. Okay, okay… it was the marching band. Yes, I was in the marching band. We were both in the marching band. “There was this one time at band camp…”

No, no there wasn’t.

Anyway, we were both in the band. We were both highly placed in the band staff — she auditioned for drum major her senior year, in fact, while I was… um, in a different highly visible position. In other words, despite the very large size of our marching band, we were aware of each other. But, as I said, we didn’t travel in the same circles.

After graduation, we kept bumping into each other. Walking down the street of our alma mater’s town. At a hockey game in a different major city. At a reunion event. And we said, like people do: “You know, we should get together some time.”

Then, one day we did. It became a day-long walking tour of the city we were then both (coincidentally) living in. She was leaving town within a couple weeks to return to our alma mater for grad school. So, of course, we began a long-distance relationship. This was years after graduation, and I’d already had a couple of Long Term Relationships by this point. (But, not long distance relationships. Except briefly. But that’s another story for another post.)

Flash forward a couple of years, and we’re finally living in the same town. My start-up company has been growing super fast, and one of my business partners decides to hire her as soon as she expresses an interest. (This is, in fact, how she manages to be able to move out to the town where we end up in together.)

Like most long-distance relationships that suddenly become in-town relationships, we have difficulties fully engaging. The fact is, our LDR was a bit problematic. So, she’s working for one of my business partners (out of his home; we hadn’t yet consolidated into one big office), I’m growing my own team (and busy as hell at work — it is a start-up, after all), and I’ll also mention that another one of my business partners hires my housemate, who is also a friend of mine from University.

Do you hear that music starting up in the background, my friends? That’s country music. Oh, yes, my friends… the soundtrack of this part of my life is country music.

Thanksgiving. 1995 1996. Penny and I celebrate the holiday with our respective families. She in East Bumfuck, Pennsyltucky; me with my mom and my maternal grandparents in Florida. (I’m not revealing too much by saying my grandparents lived in Florida, am I?) Oh, and in case you’re wondering, yes, my Dad and my Mom were (and still are) married to each other; but Thanksgiving falls on hunting season, and he was out trying to bring home some venison while my Mom and I visited my grandparents. My father didn’t get along so well with my grandparents, but that’s another story for another time. In-laws. Yes, definitely a topic for another post.

I remember the moment well, even if I’m vague as to whether it was 1995 or 1996. The moment: I’m standing in the little passageway that connects their tiny kitchen with their huge dining room on one side and living room on the other. Florida houses all have this particular kind of smell — I imagine it has something to do with the constant use of air conditioning and the compressed dryness of what would otherwise be muggy air — and the candy dish was filled with this excellent powdered-sugar confection that my grandmother made called “Reindeer Chow”. I’m on a cordless phone, calling Penny to wish her a Happy Thanksgiving. I’m feeling kind of bad, because our relationship has been a bit strained at this point.

(My grandparents and mother are outside by the pool out back, and are out of earshot.)

Penny is likewise able to speak freely, and she does: either I need to start showing her some attention, or we’re going to have to break up.

Okay, I say. You’re right, I say. I’ll try harder. I will.

She’s specific about the ways I’ve been neglecting her. She’s specific that she wants more attention. She’s standing up for herself. And I can get with the program, or she’s going to move along. She had thought that things would get better once we were living in the same town, and she feels like she saw more of me when we were on opposite coasts.

I feel terrible. Because she’s right, of course.

So we end the call. And the more I think about it, the worse I feel. This is my third Long Term Relationship, and it’s falling apart. And the blame rests squarely with me. And what of my previous LTRs? What did they all have in common? Me.

Was I going to be a better person? Was I going to straighten myself out and be the kind of Man she could rely upon? Or was I going to float from one mediocre relationship to another and never fully connect?

I felt empty. I felt lame. I felt guilty. It’s not so much that I had done anything wrong — I hadn’t cheated, hadn’t lied, or anything like that. But neither had I done what needed to be done to make it work. I was a Lame Ass Boyfriend.

Could I be the Man she wanted and needed? Did I want to be that man?

That day, I began asking myself a lot of hard questions. That day, I planted some seeds in my own head. I wasn’t actually in love with her. But… I could be. And I wasn’t the Man she needed, but… I could be.

I planted the seeds and didn’t even realize it. I started thinking about wanting to be a better man; about being worthy of an adult, loving relationship. And my thinking gradually shifted not from whether to do it, but how to do it.

I had the opportunity. Penny said so! I had the ability. I knew so.

It was with those first few thoughts, those first few steps, that I began to change. I began to shift my momentum from a being guy who didn’t commit to being a guy you could count on. A guy who could love.

What I didn’t know at the time was that Penny had already checked out. In fact, she already had her next boyfriend lined up: my housemate, who had been wooing her (unbeknownst to me) for some time. She gave me The Talk as a (presumably) graceful prelude to our inevitable break up.

And as the weeks ticked by, and I gently increased my efforts to be the Attentive Boyfriend, she pulled back a little further, which led me to try harder, which led her to pull back further. The classic “Passion Trap.” And that is how I started to fall in love, and learn to become the Right Man for the Wrong Woman.

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Responses

  1. I have to admit, I keep seeing one common thread in the relationship tales of those of us who have divorced or are facing divorce. I, too, pressed forward with a relationship that I knew wasn’t right because I felt that was what I was supposed to do. And I divorced because I was tired of doing what I was supposed to do and making everyone but me happy.

    And I have to admit, I have discovered that I am happier on my own. The kids are happier. Our life is fuller, richer. Eventually, when we start making the RIGHT choices, things fall into place. It fits. It works.

    Give it time.

    • Nicki, yes, that’s exactly what I did. (That’s the subject of my next post, I think.) I did what I did because I felt I was supposed to. And even at that, i could have stayed in this relationship (or, at least, it would be harder to get out) if I at least had my affection returned. That was the problem all along, but I marched forward because, well, I said I would. I was trying to be the stand-up guy, the guy you could rely upon. But her heart wasn’t in it, and here we are.

      Thank you for your encouragement. It’s reassuring to hear that things have a chance of going right after being in a wrong situation for so long. (That doubt has been another reason for dragging my heels.)

  2. It sounds to me like she was playing you for a chump. It’s what my wife did to me, and I let her due to emotional weakness. That’s why I can tell you the month, day, date, and time when I knew that I had to break up with her – and didn’t. Can you say the same?

  3. i love that line. The Right Man for the Wrong Woman.

    I feel like that was me and Church Boy. He was definitely the right guy…but i was not the right woman.

  4. […] “We’ll have to get together,” we said, as people always do after a chance meeting like this. And, of course, we didn’t. Until we kept bumping into each other over time in different cities, under different circumstances, and eventually, we did get together. I’ve already told you that part of the story. […]


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