The Ex-Fiancé: Actually, there have been 2

As I inch forward into the next romantic adventure of my life, I can’t help but glance back on the paths that I chose not to continue down. At 16 I had been one step away from being a military wife. A popular varsity football player got down on one knee, before going off to bootcamp, to ask for my hand in marriage. Yeah, we were really young, but it seemed to make sense at the time. The plan was to wait to be married until after I graduated high school. By then he would have a steady military career, and we could start popping out kids while we were still young. We would live happily ever after. Everything was going as planned until one night his best friend and I got drunk and I heard the words, “You’re a wonderful person and I think that you deserve to know that he’s been cheating on you.”

He had left his brand-new Pontiac Firebird in my teenage hands, and maybe I should have just kept it. But instead, the first chance I got, I drove it 4 hours to the base that he was stationed at and marched up to his dorm room while he was on shift. Rummaging through his sparse and neatly organized possessions, I quickly found the evidence that I was seeking — a stack of love letters from his girl-on-the-side, filled with explicit sexual acts. I swigged some more Southern Comfort straight from the bottle, ripped the engagement ring from my finger and threw it on the bed where I had scattered her letters. Outside a major storm was brewing in direct correlation with my internal turmoil.

I left his room to clear my head with a smoke. I remember standing alone, one hand clutching the cold wrought-iron of the railing and looking out over an empty basketball court. A thick darkness had taken over, the wind thrashed and howled as the clouds dramatically tore open, sending water violently down at an angle. My lighter didn’t work, no matter how many times I tried. The tears burst from my eyes as my anger gave way to an all consuming sadness. Reality hit my young 16 year old heart. I wasn’t going to marry my high school sweetheart. The guy who had taken my virginity and stolen my heart had betrayed and lied to me. I had been cheated on and mistreated and I hurt so badly that I wailed into the fierce wind. Just as my sobs began to hit a new level of distress a blinding flash of lightening and a deafening crack of thunder simultaneously hit. That fraction of a second hung in the air as reality was drowned out by white light and silence. My sadness was momentarily startled out of me. And then everything went dark. The power had gone out.

“Need a light?” a young gentleman asked, emerging from the darkness. I looked down to see that I was still clutching the railing in one hand and a smoke in the other. I thanked him as he lit my cig, the flame illuminating my tear drenched face, and he immediately wanted to know what was wrong. Over the course of the next several minutes, as the rest of the guys’ dorm spilled out of their darkened rooms, everyone heard my story of woe. And soon after that, someone brought out a battery operated boom-box and a dance party started with me as the honored guest. And this is where my soon-to-be-ex found me, sandwiched between a couple of guys, a smile smeared on my face. Needless to say neither of us were warm in our reunion, although at that moment he hadn’t yet seen the ring on the letters and didn’t know that there was much more to be upset about than his lady dancing with a bunch of guys.

To make a long story short, there’s nothing simple about a break-up, even one with such a clear-cut fuck up. He tried everything to get me back, including threatening to kill himself. But eventually he did one better. He sold that Firebird for weed and tried to deal as an MP. He was caught and thrown in military prison. Served his time. Was dishonorably discharged. Got out, got two different girls pregnant. One told him that he would never meet his child, and the other dragged him down to the courthouse to get hitched. And I walked away from it all having aged beyond my 16 years, thankful to have narrowly escaped whatever life that would have been.

10 years pass with several significant and healthy romantic chapters within them, each one teaching and shaping me. Having just ended a long term relationship and uprooted to the mysterious city of Portland, I definitely wasn’t looking for anything. And that’s probably why I walked into a coffee shop and fell head-over-heels in love-at-first-sight with the barista behind the counter.

We practically moved in together on the first date, since I was new to town without a home and he was in the habit of letting in strays. But more than just for convenience, we combined forces to create a wonderful home that we shared for several years. We managed to be honest and good to each other from the beginning, and that continued throughout the breaking-up process and beyond, into this new friendship that we are trying to create. A journal entry from the beginning of the end reveals my state of mind:

8–27–14 Our plan goes against our hearts, choosing logic and reasoning over love. Sometime in the last year since he proposed to me in the cute town of Winthrop WA, we came to the heart stopping realization that our visions for the future would be impossible to mesh together. I really want to buy a house, plant a garden, set down roots that may possibly involve offspring. He wants to sell his possessions, put a backpack on, and wander the world. We both deserve better than to give up our dream. And I already know, having cried every day for the ~6 months that he was hiking the PCT, that I can’t live in limbo, holding down the fort, while he goes out on his adventures.
We are ridiculously in love. Intertwined hearts, discovered soul-mates, mind-blowing sexual chemistry. And we work really well as a team. We have never let the sun set on an argument, never turned our backs on each other in a time of need. Supported and encouraged and unconditionally loved each other for 5 wonderful years. And we have no doubt that it could continue on as such. That’s why it makes it almost impossibly hard to break up a perfectly healthy and wonderful relationship.
But what else can you do when you see the future so differently? So it is for our future selves that we break our own hearts.

We took a little over a year to complete our break-up. It helped that The Ex-Fiancé moved to a different city, and I moved to a new part of town — a neighborhood that didn’t remind me of him around every corner. Although honestly this whole city really does. I’ve never experienced it without him, and it’s both exciting and terrifying to be at it alone. We continue to work at building a friendship off of a relationship, which is the opposite direction that things usually work. We’ve never been friends before, and it’s taking a lot of careful work as we maneuver around our broken hearts.

Now with two engagement rings safely stowed away in a box full of memories and could-have-beens, I am really hoping that “Third Time’s the Charm” is a real thing. The only direction to move is forward.

___________________________________________________________________Liked what you just read? This piece is part of a series called Men & Meals: One Woman’s Feast. I’ve challenged myself to 100 dates in a year and I invite you to Follow along!