So, I’ve been in this long-term relationship – five-and-a-half years, to be exact – and things haven’t been going well recently. To be honest, it’s been a rocky relationship from the start, and I can only ascribe its duration to my own complacency, oft-misplaced loyalty, and perhaps a mutual recognition of tenacity. There have been good times, no doubt, but also a fair share of bad times, and throughout it all, a nagging sense of boredom and of things left undone and unsaid.
When Johnson and I got together, I was 22 years old and coming out of a nasty patch; I latched on to him with enthusiasm. He was a foreigner in my hometown, we were both looking for some security, and the mutual benefits were immediate and obvious. It didn’t take long for me to invest my heart and time, shrugging off the occasional errant suitor in the face of Johnson’s promises of longevity and fulfillment. If I was good and devoted to him, he would be good to me, and together, we would go places.
It didn’t take long before I could see we were going to have problems. He had a roving eye, as is his wont, and I was going to have to fight to remain in his affections. Over the years, other pretty girls came and went, but I continued to declare my commitment and one by one, they dropped by the wayside. I wanted to prove I was dutiful and in it for the long-haul, but sometimes the frustrations of all this struggle to stay visible and important overwhelmed me. I didn’t understand why we couldn’t just sail on an even-keel; maybe we weren’t so well-matched after all, and I should be seeking attention elsewhere.
Johnson wasn’t dumb, though, and when he sensed that I was considering jumping overboard, he turned around and said, let’s take you to Europe. Going to his homeland had always been an unspoken promise, and just when I was starting to lose faith, he came through. With renewed vigor, I packed my bags and said so long to my friends and family – I trusted him to look after me as long as I pledged him my continued loyalty and for a couple years, he was as good as his word.
Still, it was hard. I started to feel as though all the problems we had at home were magnified under the stress of my expatriation. I could no longer reach out for the daily support of my own people and I think he knew that with my limited options, he could throw his weight around more. It was easier for him to belittle without reproach, easier for him to deny me and hold me down. I’d have to watch him flirt with other girls, elevate them, and grind my teeth in silence, because now I was dependent and without convenient recourse.
It wasn’t all bad. As always, he could be bright, fun, considerate, and rewarding. The question, as it had been for years, was how bad is too bad? How many days in the sun make up for weeks in the cold? A smile on a bad day could fill me with hope, and more importantly, we had such a shared history on which to draw, memories and inside jokes. When he went through a rough time, I was there alongside him, and when I was wan and drained, he still stood next to me, at least in body.
He’s always been smart enough to hold out a little something for me, so that when I’m at my angriest or saddest, there exists a whisper of a promise that things could be different, if only I gave a little more. But it seems like it’s always up to me to be different, to change, to work harder at things, and I wonder, when does he start to make concessions? When does my voice get heard? When I do everything he asks, he hardly notices, and when I fail to live up to his expectations, I am sick with his disapproval. When I make suggestions, it is met with the barest of recognition and a vague insinuation that my needs are less important. However true, we were supposed to be in this together.
The last year, I’ve risen many more days than not with a heavy heart and the knowledge that this isn’t right. While I believe I’ve upheld my end of the bargain, it becomes more and more difficult to immerse myself in the relationship as my feeling of injustice grows and I worry I’ll never break the surface, but be held under until I drown. The disconnect grows wider and my apathy more apparent – it’s hard to respect someone who’s not treating you well, even if the abuse is muffled. He promises he will change and though I stopped truly believing long ago, I cling to the remnant shred of security on offer and hope that the occasional laugh will see us through. It’s been a suffocating way to live.
This all changed six weeks ago. I was surprised to find that it took a real shock to loosen my grip on Johnson, even though my thoughts were filled with leaving him on a daily basis. I wonder how long I would have trudged along with all these emotions otherwise. Another five years? Maybe two. I can’t say for sure. What happened is that Johnson sat me down and told me he could no longer meet my needs here, and he wanted to send me back home. Call it a forcible long-distance relationship.
But I’ve tried to do everything you’ve asked of me, I said. I’ve tried to make this my home, to be a better partner to you. I’ll take care of you even if you go to your first home, he assured me, but by now I had learned not to trust him. He hadn’t fulfilled his promises anywhere, and now I was here and dug my heels into the ground in which he’d planted me.
He thinks I can’t find a new boyfriend, I thought. He thinks he’s broken me down so much that I will roll over and agree to this decision he’s made without my input. So when a friend called and asked if I was interested in meeting some new men, I said okay. For the last six weeks, I’ve been out with four men, none disastrous, and one in particular was promising.
I had no especial hopes for Pierce when I met him the first time a month ago. On paper, he was a reasonable prospect but lacked Johnson’s international sexiness and seemed a bit, well, boring. On the other hand, he lived in the same neighborhood, which was convenient, although potentially awkward, and had an established respectability that Johnson lacked. With virtually no expectations, I was pleasantly taken aback by how… nice he was in person. Warm, comforting, engaging. We talked eagerly for over an hour, exchanged emails, and quickly arranged a second date.
I was nervous for our second meeting. Subsequent dates with two other prospects had fallen flat in comparison, and although both guys wanted to see me again, there wasn’t anywhere near the same chemistry and comfort I felt with Pierce. Compounding my nerves was Johnson’s sudden scrutiny – he’d taken to watching my comings and goings with interest, and commenting on my outfits. Don’t you look nice, he’d say, darkly. I would flub a denial, but wanted to say, yes, yes I do look nice, and how nice that you’re noticing me now that you’re losing me.
My second date with Pierce was three hours and excited me like I hadn’t felt since my early days with Johnson. The encounter felt ripe with potential for a real relationship, something more nourishing than I’d experienced in ages. Pierce’s email promised me such. He asked me for a third, final date and said he wanted to be serious and exclusive.
I still went out with one more guy, but mentally, I was moving into Pierce’s house. The connection was there, the comfort was there, and I started to surreptitiously shift my possessions from Johnson’s. Pierce had downsides, as does everyone, but as an overall package, he was most attractive and more importantly, he valued me. Having felt taken for granted for so long, I was exuberant, and not beyond throwing a joyful wink Johnson’s way as he studied me with suspicion. I finally allowed my full understanding of Johnson’s pettiness to bloom in my mind, now that I had an exit strategy. Thinking back on it all, everything suppressed cracked the surface and I could hardly stand to be in Johnson’s company. As soon as Pierce and I made it official, I was gone; I was already slipping away.
Our third date was Thursday and while the chemistry still hummed, I began to worry something else intangible was off. There was a hesitation with Pierce uncharacteristic of our previous meetings. He promised to call Friday and didn’t, which was most unlike him, and the seed of worry in my mind took root over the weekend.
When I hadn’t heard from him by 5:00 today, I sent a casual email. He called ten minutes later, and told me he’d met someone else and despite his promises to me, wanted her to be his partner. It was like being trapped under a rockfall. I made a few appropriate noises, hung up the phone, and cried silently on the bus.
I think what’s most upsetting is that this event has shaken my faith in my desirability, just as I was gaining some confidence. I thought we were getting on so well – there really seemed to be a connection, and there was a stated promise of a commitment. I’ve been rehearsing my breakup speech with Johnson in my head for the last two weeks, had already told my parents and select friends of the positive change in circumstance, and now… I feel acute disappointment and embarrassment. I had built up a mental picture of a new and healthier life and had one foot in the door before it was unexpectedly slammed shut.
My friend has already emailed me the details of a new guy, but I am exhausted from sneaking around and from the emotional output of the last few weeks. That I must go in and face Johnson on exactly the same uneven terms I’ve been fighting and start over with my search, once again, makes me want to sleep. I think it will take a couple of days to rouse my spirits, at the least, but I don’t have the luxury of time.
If it’s not become obvious to you, this has been a clumsy and mixed metaphor about my job situation. Having only worked for one company in terms of my career, I tend to think about it in terms of a long-term romantic (abusive) relationship (or an addiction). I have the next six weeks, if I play it right, to find a new position, or my company will send me back to the US, despite the fact that I have been on local salary for the last year-and-a-half. I’ve got a visa, a live-in boyfriend, and my apartment to contend with and tonight, this feels like a pretty devastating setback. I hope everyone else had a better day.