This is normal for me.
by Shaun Terry
I’m now gonna tell you about how I ruined things with Lily.
Lily and I met like seven years ago, I think. No, six. No, seven. Fuck it. Whatever.
She and I met because alcohol. That’s how grown-ups do, right? Anyway, we immediately started to like each other a lot. She made me feel waves of energy, like I was invincible around her, but it wasn’t all just hairs standing on their ends and attraction. Everything seemed much healthier than any relationship I’d ever been in. We understood each other in a profound way.
I only got to hang out with her for about two weeks before she moved to France for a year. She stopped back home after about six months, and we hung out as much as we could. It was incredible. Then, she went back for another six months before coming home again.
We’d Skyped most nights when she was away, but we realized that it was silly to be exclusive while we were worlds apart. She’d tell me about her adventures and whatever emotional issues she had with her mom, with boys, or just within herself.
There was an ex-boyfriend named Benjamin who was particularly troubling. She’d broken up with him just before leaving to France, and he really frustrated her. She’d loved him very much and she’d thought he’d loved her, too. I mean, maybe the guy did, really.
When they’d started dating, he was really open with her and made her feel really loved, but as time went on, he became more distant — neglectful, even — and they ended up breaking up several times. The sex had been good, he was a good enough guy, and they’d known each other since they’d been kids. He was her home, as they’d say.
Anyway, she gets back from France, and we’re getting more serious. Things are going really well. We reach a level of understanding with each other like we’d never reached with anyone else. When we fight, the fights are quickly defused and we end up making each other feel even better than we had before the fight. We leave each fight feeling closer and stronger than ever. They weren’t even really fights. They were just little arguments.
But we just know that we’re meant to be together. The sex is good, the communication’s good, we inspire each other, we hold each other accountable, we learn from each other, we adore each other. It’s wonderful.
Then, Benjamin calls her up one day and they talk for a few hours. She and I aren’t exclusive at this point because she’s just gotten back from France and she’s staying in the apartment at her parents’ house, three hours from me. We’ve been kind-of neglecting our responsibilities in order to talk and hang out, so things have really gotten pretty serious. Or at least, that’s what I thought. Maybe she thought the same. I dunno.
So he calls, and then I call because we were gonna try to get off Skype earlier than normal so that we could be responsible, but she’s been AWOL for a few hours. I call her just to say that I’m planning to go to bed soon, and she explains that she’s doing something with someone, but maybe she’ll be free in a little bit.
Her call ends a few minutes later, so we go on Skype. It starts out like a normal Skype call and everything seems fine, but I can tell that she’s upset, so she tells me that she talked to him for a few hours and that it upset her. It just made her uncomfortable. She’s living this life that’s so different from what she had always known. She’d had a community that she was familiar with as a kid, and this boy had been part of it, and now, everything was different and what was she doing with herself?
So we talk about that for a while, and it goes okay at first, but things slow down and she gets distracted by her cell phone or something. Suddenly, she just wants to go to bed, so we abruptly say goodbye.
We hang up and I feel awful for some reason, but I try to just let it go. The next day, I’m just feeling vaguely, mildly uncomfortable. So we’re talking that night, and she explains that he’d been in the neighborhood, so he had come over.
“Did you kiss him?”
“Did you sleep with him?”
“No, but close enough.”
I paused. I was emotionally prepared for it, so it only upset me so much. It bothered me, but we weren’t exclusive. It now seemed kinda weird to me that she and I weren’t exclusive, but she wasn’t breaking any rule. I’m not always that jealous and I appreciated her honesty. Maybe it wasn’t weird that we weren’t exclusive. Maybe I was just desperate and stupid.
Anyway, the conversation got weird and dark after that. She was really upset. She was suddenly confused about what she wanted. She wasn’t confused. She knew that he was wrong for her, but she also missed him. I mean, of course she missed him. I tried to tell her that her feelings were okay, but she didn’t want me to make her feel better. She didn’t wanna talk about it.
I was going to see her the next day, anyway, so maybe I’d just let her try and figure it out, try to let things settle. But I was pretty upset. I was feeling pretty insecure.
I came to the door, and she let me in with a sullen look on her face. Things were not okay. She didn’t hug me, didn’t kiss me. I wanted to reach out, but I knew not to. We barely got inside the door.
I was scared.
“He doesn’t love you like I do. He’s comfortable. Like he said, he sees you as ‘inevitable.’ He doesn’t want to work for it; he’s not interested in that. He doesn’t know how to love you, and maybe that’s got as much to do with his emotional needs and yours as it does with his level of maturity. Maybe more.
“It’s not his fault. He’s not a bad guy. He’s a great guy! You know what? He’s a fucking peach, but he’s not going to make you happy. He doesn’t know how. That’s not his fault: he wants different things from you. You speak different languages from each other, really.”
By this point, I wasn’t quite yelling, but we’ll say it was borderline outside voice.
“I understand that you’re familiar with him. I understand that you love him. I know that you want to feel that closeness that you’re used to, but it’s not just that. Don’t you see it? You want him to make up for the pain that he’s caused you. You want him to do better, to do all the things that he was supposed to do the first time. You think to yourself, But maybe this time, he’ll be different. Maybe he’ll finally SHOW me that he loves me. Maybe he’ll finally give me what I want and need and he and I can finally make each other happy.”
“Hugo.” By now, she was upset with what I was saying. I was scared, but I was being selfish. She thought it was okay that she was feeling what she was feeling, that it was inevitable, but I wanted to help her see some obvious, universal truth. I was being condescending, patronizing even. I wanted to show her, but I guess it wasn’t my right to show her. Maybe I was wrong, anyway. I never really got the chance to find out.
“Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this guy’s different from all the other guys who took love for granted and failed to show the woman he loved what she meant to him. Maybe he doesn’t love you so much as he just wants the comfort and affection that you provide. Maybe he thinks he loves you, or maybe he loves you in a certain way.
“You said that he sees it as a game, but why should this be different? If he was always just trying to be the one holding the power, why wouldn’t it bother him that you’re moving on? Why wouldn’t his stupid human brain trick him into saying things and doing things that would make it seem like he feels the way you want him to? Why wouldn’t it be the case that he’s desperate to have you back, but not because he wants to make your life better, but because he wants to have a little bit of ownership over your heart, as he’s always done in the past?”
I think that I was actually crying by this point, but I didn’t even realize it. Lily was really freaked out. I could see in her face, in the way she was standing that she really just wanted to leave. No. She wanted me to leave. I was in her home.
“I can’t stand the thought that we made it this far, that it’s so obvious how right we are for each other, and that you’d let our love die.”
Of course, that didn’t go over well. I immediately drove the weekly three-hour trip home. Bob Seger’s “We’ve Got Tonight,” came on, and I started crying, sobbing loudly. I don’t know why. The song’s not particularly sad, not particularly touching, certainly not relevant.
I was sad. I was angry, actually. I knew I’d fucked up. I knew she’d break up with me and I realized that I was actually very much in love with her. That’s stupid. Was I really in love with her? For how long had I been? I knew I’d been fighting it.
I wanted to make her feel better, but I knew the more I tried, the more I’d freak her out. I didn’t know what to say or how to act about it. I was scared.
I’d been really childish and I couldn’t blame her.
I spent the next few weeks freaking out. I took an excessive amount of time off from work. I nearly got fired, in fact. I spent most of my time sitting down or laying down, watching videos, reading books, not eating. I lost thirty pounds in two weeks.
Lily moved to New York to be with this guy named Benjamin. For the first two or three months, I would call her or email her and tell her that I loved her and that I was sorry. She wouldn’t pick up or wouldn’t respond because, as it turns out, they were too busy fucking. They were fucking a lot, and it was going really great for them. Lots of orgasms.
Then, as I later found out, about four or five months into their relationship, it started to get bad. He’d ignore her for days at a time, and even when he didn’t, she didn’t feel any emotional connection to him. Same as last time. They broke up after about eight months. She moved back home and never talked to me again.
This is normal for me.