I hung up the phone after a recent and frustrating conversation with my ex-husband, and I stared blankly at the wall. “Wow,” I thought to myself in awe. “That guy was once what I thought my checklist was." How could I have ever been so wrong, so misguided, so stupid?
Love is odd, and relationships are even more odd. You might think the two are synonymous, or that you can't have one without the other, but that's not true. There are plenty of people in love who aren't in a relationship, and they may never be together. Take a look around at couples you know, and I'm willing to bet that half of them aren't what you would describe as the “perfect couple.”
Whether they fight all the time, or they just seem like friends without a spark, there is something missing. I can say with confidence that my ex-husband Jeff* and I definitely fell into the latter category. We just didn't realize it at the time. That didn't stop us from getting married, though.
I met Jeff in my early 20s through my best friend. She had gone to high school with him, and back then, he was warm, charismatic and funny, which are all qualities I am very drawn to. He wasn't lacking in attention from other females, either. I remember actually feeling a little intimidated by how "experienced" he seemed to be.
I consider myself somewhat picky, and it takes more than just being attractive for me to be interested in a guy. But, he immediately piqued my interest. Remembering all this now and comparing to the present state, it seems laughable or imagined.
We didn't get together right away. He was involved with someone, and I dated someone else for a few years shortly after meeting him. We remained in the same group of friends, though, and we had minor flirtations throughout the years. I knew he was attracted to me, and he knew I liked it when he flirted with me. Jeff was ready and waiting when my relationship ended.
I had left my boyfriend of three years and was absolutely crushed. Initially, I planned on hooking up with him. I wanted a quick fling on the rebound. I'd finally check him off my list, feel better about my breakup and move on. As they say, the best laid plans often go awry.
Within two weeks, Jeff told me he loved me, and I quickly reciprocated. I was in a confused haze of excitement for something new, mixed with pangs of missing my ex. I pushed off any negative emotions and focused fully on my new relationship, convincing myself I didn't love or miss my ex-boyfriend anymore.
I have always believed in signs, and I told myself this is what was obviously meant to be. At 23 years old, Jeff had a good job, a beautiful place of his own and seemingly had his sh*t together. Meanwhile, my ex couldn't even be bothered to pick me up a birthday card that year.
I looked back over our history, from first meeting Jeff and being instantly interested to how our friendship had evolved over those three years. Now, we were in love. After a month of dating, Jeff asked me to move in with him. The voice in my head told me this was my future, and I said yes. Somehow, my heart never fully caught up.
Jeff and I were together for six years. After four years, we got married. Ironically, once we said “I do,” everything in our relationship that was already lacking fell apart. So, where did we go wrong?
Here are the major warning signs that we — and so many people — unconsciously ignore in their relationships:
1. We thought we would find something in each other that we were lacking in ourselves.
Jeff and I were so young when we started dating, and we didn't even know who we were as individuals. There was so much growing left to do.
Be assured that all people change over time. The key (and challenge) in any relationship is having a strong enough foundation to help the other person grow, while simultaneously allowing yourself room to flourish. If you still like each other after the changes and challenges life is sure to present, you're luckier than most. Some couples survive the ride, but many do not.
2. We were always better friends than lovers.
So many couples mistake lust, the highs of new relationships and heightened emotions for love. Infatuation can turn into love, but real love takes time.
Love is patient, and love is kind. This is all true. Friendship is a great layer to have in a relationship. In fact, it's necessary. But so is passion. After all, who wants to be married to their roommate?
3. We were more afraid of giving up than being happy.
After you spend a considerable portion of time with a person, you have a natural attachment, even if you're not as happy as you should be. The realities of life — having a family, shared expenses, etc. — all factor in when you consider a possible breakup.
Sometimes, the reality is, it's not as easy to break up, even if the choice would make you happier in the long run. History can hurt you.
4. We were comfortable.
Laziness should never be an excuse for preventing your own happiness, but many married couples assume their life has been decided. Who wants to get divorced? With shared custody, larger expenses and many other factors, life is complicated. Sometimes, the grass isn't greener on the other side.
5. We only went off the checklist.
How many people have a list of must-have qualities that their future partner or spouse would ideally have? When you find someone who seemingly fits that description, it's a match made in heaven, right?
This is true sometimes, but not always. Chemistry, compatibility and passion should be ahead of any other qualities. An imaginary list does not equal a soulmate.
6. We loved each other, but we were not in love.
I loved Jeff, but I did not feel the deep-seated warmth in my heart or a desire deep inside when I was with him. We were friends. Sometimes, we were barely even that. There is a very distinct difference between the two, and if you ever have to question if you're in love with someone, you aren't.
Jeff and I have been divorced for nearly seven years now. And in hindsight, it was honestly the best thing to ever happen to me (though it didn't feel like it at the time). For any couple who is considering marriage, be sure you're not so stuck in the routine of your relationship that you neglect your own happiness. Real love is always worth the wait.
*Name has been changed.