Discuss: Lessons from the Inside of a Burning Match
Apr 20, 2012
As you grow older, one of the few constants in life is that your current self will look back at your past self–two or five or ten years younger you–and think, “Boy, she was kind of idiot, wasn’t she?”
You’ll grow and mature and realize that some of the things that you thought and some of the things that you did were just plain wrong. Sometimes you’ll laugh about it, sometimes you’ll cry about it, sometimes you’ll drown in the deep regret. And if you don’t, then you are either Mary Poppins (practically perfect in every way) or you should re-evaluate your perspective.
The truth is that as we age, we grow emotionally, spiritually and intellectually. Some more, some less. And if we’re lucky, the lessons learned along the way will inform and better our decisions.
When I was 16, I met a boy who was incredibly smart, handsome and funny. He was also wildly inappropriate, the kind of boy who fathers hate and grandmothers fear. But I spent the next few years nursing a secret crush on him, until one night, he admitted that he felt the same way about me. I almost died from the shock. (And thank God I didn’t, because my last outfit would have been jeans and a navy hoodie. My friends thought I should “dress down” for the one high school party I attended.)
We never got together he and I. At least, not in the traditional, socially accepted way. He was never my boyfriend. I was never his girlfriend. But we went to the same college, so for several years, he found his way into my life from time to time. He also found his way out of it, usually in fairly short order. Sometimes the damage was bull-in-a-china-shop, other times it was barely a scratch.
People who knew us were perplexed by what made us tick. On the surface, we were deeply incompatible. I was an introverted homebody whose idea of an exciting Saturday night was West Wing DVDs and Chinese takeout. Maybe cocktails at a friend’s house if I was feeling adventurous. While he was wild and reckless, diving headlong into whatever and whomever could sate him until the next thing came along.
But aside from all that divided us, we connected on some deeply personal level, in a way that I had not felt before and have not experienced since. A trusted friend once described us as two strings tuned to the identical frequency, inaudible to the human ear.
Like many people who feel that kind of passion but cannot make the day-to-day work, we were very good at hurting one another. I was armed with an acid tongue and a rapier wit. He packed a pistol full of indifference and a magical cape that allowed him to disappear into the ether as if he had never existed at all.
Even with 2,500 miles between us, we continued to pass in and out of each others lives. Though the damage one can cause from three time zones away is significantly muted. But in 2007, I had enough.
I didn’t burn the bridge. I Napalmed it. At both ends. Or so I thought.
Once someone has you like that, they’ll always have a piece of you. There’s just no getting it all back.
During the in-between years, I imagined how our first conversation would go about 654,327 times, give or take. The fantasy was exactly like the reality. We laughed. We yelled. We expressed our regrets, unable to believe that we had been talking around each other for so many years. We admitted that we still felt the same things that we felt over a decade ago. And when it was over, I sat in my bathtub with a bottle of Piper of Sonoma until the water was colder than my glass of bubbly.
We are still deeply incompatible on the surface, and too alike for our own good underneath. We are older and more mature, one of us more than the other–though I am sure we wouldn’t be able to agree on which. I can still say things to him that I can’t say to another living soul, and I can still tell him what he’s thinking before he opens his mouth to speak. Nothing has really changed, and yet, everything has changed because Belle 2.0 knows something that BetaBelle didn’t, something that I’m going to share with all of the ladies who read this blog:
“When it comes to men who are romantically interested in you, you should ignore everything they say and pay attention to only what they do.”–Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture
A conversation can feel like sustenance, like nourishment, like hope and possibility, and it can fill you so full that you take flight. But, a conversation is just words if the follow through isn’t there. You can feel something from the top of your head, to the tips of your toes, but if you’re not willing to act on it, it’s not really real. And at almost-30, I’ve learned the difference between a fantasy and reality. One you want, the other you need.
The hardest thing in the world is to let your logical mind overrule your heart. Hope and emotion are powerful motivators, but insanity is repeating the same behavior and expecting a different result.
This time, I didn’t need to flee from the flames of the burning bridge like Scarlett from Atlanta. Though I did stand there holding the match for a long time. But sometimes, it’s better to just brush the ash from your shoulder, and cross the bridge knowing that if the other person doesn’t follow, you’re better off alone. I suppose that’s the other thing I know now that my younger self did not.
Editor’s Note: I wrote this post several months ago and forgot about it. It might be too personal to share on this blog, but oh well. I’ll hardly be the first woman to talk about her past heartbreak on the Internet.