This weekend, I posted a photo on Facebook of Bryan and me together on our sailing trip. He promptly untagged himself. And I wasn’t surprised. He’d also untagged our Valentine’s photo together a month ago. And he never posts on my wall or really makes any indication of our relationship existing. It’s like I’m his secret non-girlfriend.
Having been on the brink of breaking up with him all week, I decided to call him to confront him for yet again denying any evidence of a relationship. I am normally a sane, rational, cool-headed person. When I operate out of the frenzied crazy place, it rarely ends well. But I was fed up. And he could tell when he answered the phone.
When I asked him why he’d untagged the photo of us in the Grenadines, he reminded me that he doesn’t like other people to know about all of his vacations because he’s being considerate and doesn’t want them to be jealous of his awesome life. There’s that humility coming through.
“I didn’t tag the location. It’s just a photo of us,” I countered.
“It’s clearly on a beach. And I’m Facebook friends with a lot of coworkers. I don’t want them asking questions about how I spend my vacation time.”
“What about our Valentine’s Day photo?” I asked.
“What about it?”
“Why’d you untag yourself in that one, too? Do you not want any of your friends to know about me?”
“No, I’d been asked by someone else to go to that Cirque du Soliel show, and I turned them down. I didn’t want them to see that I’d gotten tickets to go after all.”
“So I shouldn’t take it personally that you don’t want any photos of us to exist for public viewing?”
“Aurora, that’s not why I took down those photos. And anyway, why do you need Facebook photos to validate a relationship?”
I returned his cutting question with stony silence. He apologized a few seconds later. “That was unkind and uncalled for. I’m sorry.”
“I don’t need Facebook photos to validate our relationship. But it would be nice to have some evidence that you exist. You haven’t met ANY of my friends because you’re always busy, and some of them are starting to wonder. I got grilled at the happy hour after work today because I’d invited you, and you didn’t show up.”
“I would have shown up if you’d answered your phone when I called to see if you were there. I was actually planning on going.”
“You called me almost two hours after it started. I was on my way out.”
“Well not all of us can leave the office at 4PM.”
We moved to another topic, and soon I started to wind down the call, emotionally drained. “Well, have a good weekend” (He’d be out of town again). “Maybe I’ll see you sometime next week.”
“Why do you always say it like that? Of course you’ll see me next week.”
“Will I? I am never really sure with you.” Past boyfriends would always set up our next date at the end of the prior date so we both had something to look forward to and could rest in the assurance that we would see each other again, and soon.
Bryan responded, “Well, I want to see you, and you want to see me, so instead of assuming something negative, you should expect that we will make it happen.” Yeah, we’ll make it happen. Spontaneously. Last-minute. When it’s convenient for you, I thought.
“That’s the thing. I’m not sure you do want to see me,” I told him. I hadn’t planned to go there, but the conversation naturally moved in that direction. The gloves were coming off.
“Why would you say that? What does the empirical evidence tell you?” he asked me.
“Seriously? The empirical evidence tells me that you don’t want to see me and that I’m not a priority to you. Bryan, I went on a date with someone else tonight. And he told me seven different times over dinner that I was beautiful. He also added that I am smart, talented and a godly woman. He insisted that we take photos together to remember the evening. And there’s another guy – one I haven’t actually been out with yet – who texts me daily to let me know he’s thinking of me and wishes I were there with him. You don’t verbalize to me that I am cherished and valued by you. So the empirical evidence tells me that you don’t want to see me. Your words right now say that you do, but your actions speak otherwise.”
He paused briefly, possibly hurt, but masking it as always. “And when I asked you to come to that party with me after bible study this week? And then invited you back to my place even later that evening? Those actions communicated to you that I don’t want to spend time with you?”
“Actually, those actions surprised me –”
“Wow,” he interjected.
“–and I hoped they were an indication of a new direction for our relationship, but to guard my heart, I considered them an outlier until more evidence proved me wrong.”
“Actually, I’ve been thinking our relationship was going well and had decided to try something new. Why do you always take a negative stance?”
“It’s a defense mechanism. Believe it or not, I am a hopeless romantic and one of the most idealistic people you will ever meet. But because I am such an idealistically-minded romantic, I have been burned and disappointed by people my whole life. So I’ve learned to expect the worst to protect myself from further disappointment.”
“I can actually relate to you in your idealism and subsequent disappointment, but I have found that holding onto bitterness isn’t healthy for me, so I just decide to be happy and let the inevitable disappointments roll off instead of trying to protect myself from them. I like expecting the best. I’m not telling you how to be; I’m just telling you that I find it to be healthier for me.”
“And I’m just trying to explain to you why I operate the way that I do and help you understand where I’m coming from. I would probably operate less out of that defense mechanism if I felt more secure in your affection. In a successful relationship, both people need to be selfless and seek to meet the needs of the other–”
I continued, “–and I’ve communicated to you my need for words of affirmation, but I haven’t seen any change. Just the other day, you commented that I looked tan, and when I asked you if the tan looked nice, you missed the opportunity to give me a compliment and instead made some comment like, ‘You tell me if you think it looks good.'”
“You were fishing for a compliment,” he stated.
“Yes,” I confirmed, unashamed.
“And which is more meaningful, an unsolicited compliment or one that is prompted?”
“Honestly, Bryan, at this point, I’ll take whatever I can get! I can count on one hand the number of times you’ve complimented me in the past five months!” The exasperation came through in my voice.
“I told you on the sailing trip that you looked beautiful in your sundress,” he countered.
“Yeah, that’s one of the five.”
In response, Bryan told me that, in his life experience, he has come across a lot of people (“my mother, for instance”) who try to elicit a desired response by baiting him, but he is anti-manipulation and has learned not to respond to the bait in order to teach people that their negative behavior is ineffective.
I could psychoanalyze that to death, but… “And has that been effective on me? ‘Training’ me not to fish for compliments?”
“…Do you even want to date me? Look, if you’re just really not invested in this relationship and want to break things off, just tell me. I’d rather know so that we can start moving on with our lives.”
“I do want to date you. We hit a low point right at the start of the sailing trip, but we’ve come a long way since that night you sat in my car crying and telling me you regretted booking that trip with me. On that trip, we were never more than 50 feet away from each other. For ten days. And I think we learned how to be civil with each other even when one of us wasn’t in a good mood. I think we’re learning about each other, and our relationship is moving in a good direction. It’s not perfect, so there’s room for improvement on my part for sure, but I think it’s moving in a good direction. And… for the record… I like having you around.”
I smiled in spite of myself. Why can he so easily flip me from almost ending things to being bought in again? “Thanks. I like being around.” I think.