When I first starting dating my (now) fiancé, I had a moment during one of our first dates where I struggled with a feeling that I have always believed didn’t devil me when it came to boyfriends – jealousy over an old girlfriend. We had been dating for several weeks when one night over a dinner of grilled mahi mahi and salad he casually remarked about a girlfriend from his past life. And not even recent past life, but way past life – college days past life, yet when he said the words “steady girlfriend”, I felt a curl of jealousy unfold up my spine like a hair stuck under my bra strap. Annoying, irritating and hard to reach.
At the time, I remember wondering furiously to myself, why are you feeling this way? I knew I had no reason worry about a memory of a girlfriend from over 20 years ago. And my fiancé isn’t one to drop comments like this to make me upset or be insensitive. It had nothing to do with the girlfriend, the comment he made, anyway. He was just sharing information with me about his life, and we were talking about something entirely unrelated. He made this comment in passing, yet my reaction was a feeling of jealousy.
Jealousy is such an ugly emotion, and no surprise here – I think it points to a lack of confidence, uncertainty and on a deeper level, a lack of trust. Why would I feel jealous of this memory of a past girlfriend if, somewhere deep inside, I didn’t worry that it meant my wonderful new boyfriend would compare me to the memory, and choose the latter? Jealousy also illuminated something else to me that night. Namely, I was in deep with this man. I really liked him…like, a lot, a lot. I realized that I wanted to be with him, I yearned to hear his voice when I woke up and just before I fell asleep and my hands itched to touch him when he wasn’t t around. In short – I had it bad, and that in turn, made me feel that I had something to lose. And let’s just go ahead and say it: I did! Thankfully, happily, wonderfully and yes – scarily, I had something to lose.
Although I knew I liked him from the moment I met him, our first few dates were all about us getting to know one another, and for my part, me soaking in all the little nuances that made him, him – his voice, his mannerisms, what made him laugh and what made him frown; how we fit together and how we didn’t. And while I certainly still didn’t know everything about him, at that point I knew enough to know that for me, I wanted to keep knowing him. And I was afraid that it all might go away because as most single girls can attest, the reality of dating is that sometimes even the best start can implode and unravel after a few months, leaving me in that precarious, in-between world.
One of my closest friends once very astutely pointed out to me that I have a bad habit of trying to straddle two outcomes at the same time by not ever really fully committing to one or the other. And she’s right. Privately I’ve always had a funny picture of myself standing on top of two fences, one leg going east and the other west as I furiously try to watch what is happening on both sides and adjust my stance accordingly.
Yeah, a disaster, I know. And so self-defeating. And so defeating to my new relationship, and so unfair to my new person. He had done nothing to make me think or feel that our relationship, new though it was, would do anything other than thrive. Of course I knew it could implode. It could end. It could one day soon just vaporize and be gone.
But I also knew it could also flourish. It could grow bright and strong in my life and become a rock-solid anchor that I can trust and rely-on. It could last forever and never go away. And indeed it did become that reality. He’s not just my boyfriend – he’s my fiancé. He’s keeping me! And I’m keeping him.
I think we all like to believe we leave our past baggage at the door when we are with someone new, but sometimes I wonder how realistic it is to believe this actually happens. Maybe a better way to look at this is to just own that unfortunately, all of us are lugging around a lot of fairly heavy shit, tugging and pushing it through every door we walk. It’s what we do with it once it’s through the door that really matters. Do we look at our baggage, open every zippered compartment or closed lid to gaze at what once was, or do we shove it back into the most dimly lit corner of the room, or better yet – the back of a completely unlit closet – and just leave it there. We know our baggage is there, we know it exists, but we could give a fig’s flip to ever look at, touch, see, remember or engage with it again. It exists, but so too does a new reality – the one that is building memories, and fun and excitement. The one where the only baggage we bring is our overnight bag – full stop.
I’ve got the right kind of baggage in front of me, here and right now. I probably won’t ever like it when my fiancé reminisces about women he knew in the past (which he almost never does), but when it happens, I know I like a memory way better than thinking about him reminiscing with this actual person in the present day. If he needs to talk about a steady girlfriend from college to me – the woman in his life who is staying – then so be it. I can only be grateful that she took care of the man I now have in my life, and that she was right for a while…but not quite right enough, and that he decided it was time to move on, and that his road led to me.
Selfish? Maybe. But true? Absolutely.