In the U.S., a large component of our social façade is building and maintaining a positive image. People share what they want to share. This selectivity often leaves all the gloom-and-doom, not-so-conversational agony something to be ashamed of, something to hide.
This is even more evident in social media. The same way everyone is annoyed with your happy engagement pictures, they also don’t want to see you crying in the bathroom post-breakup. I’m a believer in women celebrating their failures and channeling pain into something positive, “pulling a Taylor Swift.” Whether it’s that job you didn’t get or, in my case, the wound of a long-distance breakup, I’ve discovered that when things aren’t going your way, it’s therapeutic to tell your story. And since I’m not Taylor Swift, this is how I’m going to do it.
B.P. (Before Poppet)
Ever since I was a kid growing up in Illinois, I’ve always been attracted to things I didn’t understand. In high school, I tested into Spanish 5, a class that didn’t technically exist. It was just me sitting in the corner of Spanish 4 reading Don Quixote. In college, I partied my way into a large clique and joined a sorority, continuing my interests in places and men that were different than what I was used to.
After graduation, I interned at a successful ad agency in Chicago, where I still work today. I came in early, I left late, and I ate the free cereal for lunch and dinner. And at the end of the summer, I got the job. I sometimes cried in the phone closet when I felt like I had no idea what the hell I was doing, but I never stopped trying. And naturally, I grew up. I got the hang of it. I liked people and they liked me.
In the summer of 2013, I was a year and a half in and had recently been promoted to more of a “pre-teen” level. I was still broke, but I made enough money to pay my rent, fuel my shopping addiction, and take random flights to San Francisco, Mexico, Lake Tahoe, and New York. I was feeling pretty good about myself, and that’s usually when it happens. When you’re in a good place and you aren’t looking for it.
It was Lollapalooza weekend and I was at Corcoran’s Irish Pub in Old Towne, Chicago. I had been indulging in cheap mimosas all afternoon, celebrating my promotion. As the evening progressed, I noticed the man next to me at the bar had an accent. Liquid courage in full effect, I greeted him with “Ello Poppet” in a British accent. He was Irish, but he thought my attempt was cute, nonetheless. I told him about my work celebration and he mentioned he was a musician. Oh a musician, I thought, one of those types. There’s a lot of musicians in town this weekend, dude. But soon Poppet and I were bouncing to Old Town Ale House, where we sat together alone until close, chatting about everything from favorite movies to my mother’s cancer battle.
He liked me because I didn’t know who he was and I didn’t care. I didn’t really care to know. It was about me and Poppet and our bubble in the universe — from the beginning to the end.
What’s With All the xx’s in These Texts?
The next day, Poppet texted to say he had a Sunday Lolla ticket for me. I was lying in bed at the time, nursing my hangover. I’d had a pleasant night and we had a connection, that’s for damn sure, but I wasn’t totally over my previous breakup a few months prior, and I knew this new, interesting person didn’t live in Chicago.
After a few back and forth texts, I started to notice all these xx’s at the end of his messages. Why is he kissing me so much in every single text? I later learned it was an Irish thing. I turned him down, but we became pen pals for the next year.
Wanna Go to London?
Flash forward to April 2014. Poppet had messaged me saying his band was planning their annual Chicago trip that summer, and asking if I would be around. I had dated other people in the meantime, and I really didn’t think twice about seeing him again. He followed up in May to say he was no longer coming to Chicago, but it was for a good reason: His band had signed a record deal with Island Records U.K., so they needed to stay in London for the summer. Would I wanna go to London this summer? I immediately said no.
But I woke up the next morning and told him I had changed my mind. I’m 25, single, and it’s 2014. Get on that damn plane and do something crazy. That day, I booked my flight, and I was set to make the craziest first-date move I had made in my life.
My Mother’s Tumble
My mother was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago. She has always lived a healthy life (minus her Diet Coke addiction) and hadn’t even been to a hospital since she gave birth to me 25 years prior. Then one day she complained that her knee hurt. She assumed it was from exercise, but the doctor told her it was a swollen lymph node. Tests showed she had swollen lymph nodes all over her body, and they tested positive for non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. She was Stage 4.
After an extreme clinical trial at Barnes Jewish Hospital, she turned around in a year. She was weak and miserable, but was a fighter against all odds. God had helped her, not just science, but she was still battling the disease and the journey wasn’t done yet; it still isn’t. She had been complaining that one of her chemo drugs had been giving her vivid dreams. One night, my dad noticed she wasn’t in bed. She had slept-walked over a railing and fell 10 feet into the downstairs living room. She had a broken arm, nine broken ribs, and a fractured skull, and she had to have emergency surgery to stop her from hemorrhaging. For the first few days, she was in an induced coma. During the two weeks I spent sleeping in a hospital chair under extreme stress, one person was there for me — a person who barely knew me, Poppet.
The time had come. It was August, I was packed and my hair and outfits were on fleek. When I landed, went straight to the restroom and didn’t want to come out. I was so anxious. It finally hit me that I had flown to another continent for a boy. What if he sucks? I had a plan B, but what if he’s awesome? I was so nervous my fingers shook while I put concealer under my jet-lagged eyes.
As I exited the terminal, there he was, holding a sign that read, “Ello Poppet!” All my fears washed away. “What took so long, did they lose your bag?” he asked. This is going to be fun, I thought. This is fucking living.
Poppet was supposed to catch a flight later that day to Dublin to play some tunes for his grandparents’ 60th wedding anniversary (swoon, how sweet). Which meant I had to befriend the roomies and be alone for a while. We parted ways and after only a couple hours, he called to say his flight had been cancelled and he couldn’t go to Dublin. He was on the train back to London. Thanks, universe.
Each day was a different adventure. We were a proper team. Whether it was seeing a play with friends, making friends with strangers, a museum date, eating ice cream in Hyde Park, getting our portraits drawn by an artist, or a touristy Thames cruise — many bottles of Malbec were drank and hands were held. We were cheesy romantics taking the city by storm. What I liked about Poppet from the get-go was how extremely special he made us both feel when we were together. We were high off each other.
About halfway through the week, we had “the talk” at a rooftop bar. I remember responding in complete honesty, “I’m willing to do whatever I need to do to make this work, even if I don’t live here.”
“Me, too,” he said.
The days that followed were even better because there were no doubts or pressure about what we were we doing. It was no longer silly or crazy. It was what we wanted, and we loved it. The day of my flight home, we grabbed breakfast at a small café. I remember noticing that he was acting weird, a bit quiet. I asked him what was wrong.
“My poppet is leaving today, what do you think is wrong?” he answered.
Each minute passed was another minute closer to the saddest tube ride I’ve ever had. In the airport he followed me to security, and said a phrase I would hear many times after, “You got me.”
I sobbed breathlessly through airport security, not caring who saw. I was leaving Poppet. Nothing else mattered.
The night after I got home, I received a drunk dial: “Are you thinking this is a one or two year thing, cuz I’m not. I’m thinking this is a real thing.”
I never had any doubts. I knew we were equally mental.
The First Chicago Visit
Poppet kept his word. Within two weeks, he was stateside and I was ecstatic. I couldn’t wait for him to see my world. Cubs game? Dinner at the Hancock? The Bean? Obviously.
The first day he arrived he brought me a present, a necklace, and gift-swapping became our thing whenever we saw each other. Romantic dinners were had and lakeshore walks taken. He met my friends, and we spent long, fun nights out. I booked him a music studio where he could practice on the days I had to work. He loved that, and knowing how much he was enjoying himself made me happy. This was going to work.
After the first visit, I booked a trip to Ireland over the holidays. Poppet came two more times. He met my parents, who were fully supportive. At this rate, he was coming once a month in between the album launch and band obligations. Again, it felt like this was going to work. We had trust, we had great communication, and we had fucking plans. Every day I woke up to a good morning text. We talked on my walk to or from work. We had the type of friendship that no amount of distance could hinder. My cell phone bill was outrageous, but it was worth every penny.
Meeting the Parents
The first time I went to Ireland was a lot of firsts for me. It was the first time I had been to Ireland. It was the first time I was going to spend Christmas without my family. It was the first time I was going to meet someone’s family who I could see a future with. I felt so welcome and so loved. Irish Mammies are the type who butter your scone and warm your feet for you. I grew closer to him through seeing where he grew up and what shaped him into the person he is today. Poppet showed me around like I was American royalty, when really I was nobody special except the girl who had his heart.
At the beginning of the visit we drove down to Killarney for one of his shows. It was the first time I was going to see him do his job. I remember being so proud and more attracted to him than I had ever been before, not because he was a great musician but because he was the same exact person I knew. Nothing phased him except wondering if I was having fun, if I was doing okay. It was never about him, he always put me first. It was that humility that I respected him for.
One of the nights we had dinner with his grandparents and cousins. I had the pleasure of sitting next to his Grandad, a brilliant and interesting man. I passed the test with flying colors, and I felt like I belonged.
I woke up in the middle of the night feeling queasy. What was supposed to be a great New Year’s Eve the next day turned into food poisoning with my head in a toilet for 48 hours. My face was green, I was shivering, and as much as I curled my hair and put on red lipstick, I couldn’t hide that I was deathly ill. I had to miss the ceremony, but Poppet picked me up later to take me to the hotel and reception.
On our way, Google Maps was a bitch and we got lost. We were lost together in a giant green field with a locked gate. Proper horror story material. I remember laughing and crying nearly simultaneously — I was in pain, but it was funny that this would happen to me. Naturally. I posted up in the hotel room, and Poppet came back before midnight, also now feeling ill himself. As terrible of a day as it had been, there was nowhere it the universe I’d rather have been than sick in bed with the person I loved.
The New Year
After I returned to Chicago, Poppet called, concerned about when he could book his next trip. I could hear the fear and worry in his voice. It was the first time we had ever really had an issue with not being able to see each other. The band had a ski trip coming up, and he opted out of the beginning to come to Chicago instead. One of many examples of him making time and putting me first. After a night out with my friends, Poppet got sick and plugged my toilet and flooded my bathroom. I called my Dad at 3 a.m. asking what to do. L to the LOL! Not impressed. After a movie and a Shedd Aquarium visit, we only had to wait about a month until I would be there for his big Dublin arena show, to celebrate my birthday, and to go on our first romantic vacation together — Paris.
The Big Show and Birthday
On Valentine’s Day I got flowers, which made my entire office pod jealous. I had gone shopping and packed for the trip well in advance. I was so thrilled. When I went to Dublin in February, I had lunch with a friend of Poppet’s who was married to his best friend. She was delightful. It was so nice to make plans and have a girlfriend in Ireland. That evening, I went on a party bus with the band manager’s girlfriend, another gem. This whole fitting in thing was starting to happen, with all the girls supporting our relationship, too.
After the show my jealousy crept in. Or maybe it was the whiskey shots. I started to feel alone, and I wandered around by myself drunkenly and aimlessly. We ended up getting in a 4 a.m. argument, about what I couldn’t tell you, other than that I was delusional to be angry about my perfect boyfriend doing his job and entertaining his fans. I felt so dumb the next day. But it was my birthday. I got beautiful earrings, a homemade card, and some silly inside-joke gifts.
We had a birthday dinner alone where Jay Z and Bey apparently dine in Ireland (I’m pretty sure I sat in her seat… ), followed by meeting his lads at a pub and going out after to Whelan’s. Again, we were a proper team.
London and Paris
I had an informational interview in London at my agency’s office. It went so great, and I couldn’t wait to tell Poppet. We went out to pizza followed by drinks later in the night. The future seemed so close.
We woke up the next day and caught the Eurostar to Paris. We had a cute hotel, fit in a lot of touristy activities, ate so much food, and took lots of Eiffel Tower selfies, frolicking around with my favorite person.
When we got back to London, the beginning of the end was about to rupture like Mount St. Helen’s.
We arrived at the London house and I needed to pack and be up early for my flight home, but there was something in the air that didn’t feel right. Poppet seemed to have his routine down pat, and I felt like an outsider looking in. A lot of emotional thoughts come to mind right before I’m about to leave for a flight, but this was different. As we made dinner, I remember being short with him. This whole long-distance thing was hitting hard, and I was starting to doubt if I could actually live in London.
I snapped, asking him if he expected us to live on holiday for the rest of our lives. He said no. I told him I was tired and “just wanted to go home.” I think that statement struck a chord.
As we were in bed, I remember starting to cry, saying I didn’t feel like I belonged in this house. It felt so unfamiliar, because we had barely spent time there, which made me sad. I remember saying, “It’s not like I am here that much, so guess it doesn’t matter.” When I couldn’t sleep, we played the “ABC” game. We both barely slept.
As we walked to the tube at 5 a.m., he mentioned he didn’t sleep at all. He was acting distant, which was so apparent, because our entire relationship we were always so close. Then asked for a cigarette, another indicator something was wrong. A cigarette at this hour? Sober? We kissed at the airport, and he said it could be a while till his next visit because of his March U.K. tour. It was the last time I saw him. I got on the plane, and for the next eight hours worried that something in the universe had just shifted the unshiftable.
The Worst Landing I’ve Ever Had
When I landed, I immediately texted Poppet as I always do. I did damage control, apologizing for what I brought up the night before. I hated that we didn’t leave on a perfect note. He said he was exhausted, still hadn’t slept, and he just needed to rest. I was jet lagged and terrified. I knew something wasn’t right.
The next time we spoke he was in an “I’m turning 30 next week” straight-up crisis. He was speaking gibberish. Nothing was making sense, other than that he was at a breaking point. He said he wasn’t happy with himself or his career at 30, that his bandmate had just purchased a house and he had no means to buy a house and that he can’t keep spending money to be on holiday in Chicago. He was spiraling. It was as if being upset with what I said, with himself, and feeling lost meant he needed to cut out the person he was closest to. And that’s exactly what he did.
When I landed from visiting three countries with him, I was heartbroken and alone. At first, I tried being supportive. I understood coming to Chicago once a month wasn’t an easy ask. Maybe I was in shock and that’s why I initially handled it so well. Or maybe I thought we would reach some kind of compromise. I was always raised to believe you never regret being kind, so that’s what I did. I was kind, and I waited. In the back of my mind, I knew it was temporary. I knew this wasn’t a judgment of his character. It wasn’t over for us.
A couple days later, I received a novel of an email explaining his love for me, but that at the moment he didn’t see how he could move forward. An email?! As a writer, I understood that sometimes it’s easier to express your true thoughts on paper, so I looked past the vehicle through which my heart was destroyed, but I was a mess. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, and I skipped work. I had never felt so much disappointment in the person I trusted most. I was furious, and I felt robbed. Even through the pain, I shipped him a birthday cake to Dublin. I wanted him to know I still cared. I cared that he was turning 30. I cared he was lost. As much as I hated him and as much as I disagreed with his justification for such a serious decision without any sort of in-person discussion, I cared that this wasn’t easy on him either.
It took a good month to start acting sane again. I went on a girl’s weekend in New York shortly after the breakup, which actually made my broken heart feel worse. You can’t escape your feelings, even when you go to a different city. He kept telling me how sorry and sad he was. He told me how much remorse he felt, and that he thought he might be making the biggest mistake of his life. He told me he couldn’t fix it “now,” and that he needed to concentrate on himself and his music for the next six months. I kept hanging on that “now.” To me, it still didn’t feel over.
When you are trying to avoid something it seems to appear everywhere you go. Everything reminded me of the failed relationship I was certain was going to last. It just had to be St. Patrick’s Day, with Irish flags flying high for weeks and the river dyed green. I went to a happy hour and a friend’s friend brought along her boyfriend and his buddy — both Dubliners, both the same age, both huge fans of the band. And finally, my favorite, the Art Institute of Chicago, my favorite museum, had a huge Ireland exhibit, accompanied with street signage, bus shelter ads, and billboards all over downtown. If it was green, it was dead to me.
After the silence was unbearable, I thought I could take a crack at being friends. Just as long-distance relationships have a low success rate, so do friendships with people you might still be in love with. But contact seemed better than no contact at all. After some funny text exchanges and laughs, I was like, yeah, I can totally be the coolest ex-girlfriend ever. I’ve been so nice. I’m so cool. But after a while, you begin to fall back into the same conversations and inside jokes and keeping tabs on each other like you used to do, and really, you aren’t being friends at all. You’re being who you always were, without any sort of commitment.
Once I realized that, I started to get annoyed. You can’t have your cake and eat it, too, I thought. If you really cared about me, you’d be with me, but you aren’t, and for your own selfish reasons. You are an infant, I thought. A 30-year-old Benjamin Button infant. That’s the day I had to stand up for myself. I couldn’t be friends this soon. There’s a fine line between being friends and being on good terms. I’d say we’re on good terms with a healthy side of friendship.
When You Start Dating Other People
I no longer cry when I wake up in the morning, and I no longer look at my phone wondering if things will change. I have accepted the fact of where we currently stand. With the advice of some friends, I’ve been on two dates, both of which didn’t measure up to the extreme, passionate, unconventional love fest that just recently ended. That’s the thing about dating. It’s annoying and it’s hard work. It’s like a drunk job interview, and there’s a good chance that job isn’t a good fit. The thing about long distance is that 75 percent of it is the joy you feel in your mind and your heart, and 25 percent of it is the actual experiences you have with each other. Like a drug, you have to wean yourself off that happiness and replace it. I’ve replaced it with work, I’ve replaced it with friends, and I’ve replaced it with new goals like Muay Thai kick-boxing. Above all, I’ve replaced it with myself. I’m a better person than I was eight months ago. I’m not the same person I was when I got on that plane, and I have a night out at Corcoran’s and a London plane ticket to thank for it.
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