I don't know if it's because of the New Year, the way that Facebook reconnects you with your past, or the fact that I will turn 40 later this year, but I've been thinking a lot lately about how my life may have been different had I made different relationship choices along the way. I used to say that I lived my life with no regrets, that every choice had led me to where I was now and and played a part in making me the person I had become. While I still believe that my past choices and actions have played an important role in me becoming the person I am, I can no longer say that I wouldn't change some of them if I had the chance. I think back on my romantic relationships, and I wonder what (and who) I could have avoided had I made different decisions.
One of my first serious boyfriends went to another high school. He was a nice guy and was older than me. He asked me to his junior prom. I remember shopping for the perfect dress and learning all about strapless bras and full skirts. I was all set to have my first prom experience with this nice guy when I met a "bad boy" who planted the seeds of doubt in my mind and heart. Just one day after the prom, I broke up with the nice guy and started to see the bad boy.
Now, those who knew me during my high school years know exactly who this bad boy was. We dated for nearly two and half years. We had some really good times together, but I would have to say that most were bad. He was controlling, possessive, and jealous. I was insecure and made excuses for his behavior. My friends could see that the relationship was unhealthy, but I was too headstrong (or too helpless) to get out. In college in upstate New York, surrounded by new friends, and excited about my future, I was able to end the relationship weeks into my freshman year. Sadly, I gave him a chance to "just be friends" a couple of years later and paid for that decision with bruises and a vandalized car.
From that point, I seem to have entered into a pattern of dating a good guy, becoming bored, leaving him for a bad boy, getting sick of said bad boy, and going back to dating a good guy. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. The details of each relationship matter little, though I used to analyze the hell out of them, trying to figure out what went wrong, why I couldn't foresee their demise, and wondering when and where I would finally find "the one."
I thought I had found "the one" for a long time. He was the last (and perhaps baddest) of all the bad boys. He was that special mix of bad boy on the outside with the soul of an injured, little boy on the inside. You know the type. He's in all the movies. He's the rebel with a cause, the boy from the wrong side of the tracks, the starving artist, the tortured soul. He's unbelievably good looking, deeply passionate, and even more deeply flawed. You're drawn to him like a moth to a flame, knowing that he will most likely completely consume you, destroy you, kill you, but you can't help yourself.
We met when we were fairly young--21 and 22. And we officially dated twice, though we tried to get something going at least four other times. I knew that things would never work between us, but it was hard to give up on the dream, to let go of the "what if." Though my official answer had something to do with turning 30 and wanting to go back to the South, he was largely to blame for my decision to leave Fort Wayne. We were "talking" again just before I made up my mind to go. I knew that I would have to physically distance myself from him if I ever hoped to emotionally and spiritually separate from him and from what he represented for me.
Of course, you all know that I stepped off the dating merry-go-round over 9 years ago. And, happily, I ended up with a good guy. He was patient and strong enough to wait it out while I healed from the wounds of the past, and he's never once let me down. The boredom that used to play games with my mind is a distant memory. He's my intellectual equal and my best friend. We laugh at the same stupid stuff, and we accept each other as we are. And, yes, while he is "the one" for me, I now realize that the problem with my past relationships wasn't actually who I was dating, but was who I was.
I see now that what changed had a lot less to do with whether a good guy could keep my interest or whether a bad boy could change his ways and a lot more to do with how well I knew myself and what was important to me. Instead of constantly trying to adapt myself to the situation or the guy, I needed to figure out who I was and find someone who actually liked that person. I only wish that I could have figured all this out sooner than I did. Don't get me wrong. I'm happy to have found my current partner and don't wish that I could have found this clarity and made it work with someone from my past. I only wish that fewer people could have been hurt along the well--the good guys who deserved better, the bad boys who had feelings despite their rough exteriors, and me.
And, in case you were wondering. The first guy (my prom date)...he's married, has five kids, and is one of my Facebook friends.