Monday, March 06, 2006


Since I recently told a story about my important grad school boyfriend, Tom, that made many of you think he was a freak, I thought I might say something positive about him.

I know I've mentioned this before, but Tom and I had a long and tumultuous relationship. I met him during my first semester in grad school and we were friends right off. My crush was born the first time I heard him talk in class, though I already thought he was cute. I remember filing away some of his less appealing physical characteristics into the, "I could live with that category." It was, more or less, instant attraction on my part. I had a long distance boyfriend, though, and by the end of that semester, I had an in-town boyfriend (and an ex-long distance boyfriend). This was a complicated situation and I discussed it, in detail, many times with Tom and his friend, Kenneth.

Tom never asked me out, even casually, and I couldn't figure out why since he seemed to like me too. It turned out he was living with his girlfriend. Something he neglected to mention.

We both went away for the summer. Right after I got back, Kenneth invited me over for dinner and Tom called while I was there. He asked to talk to me and we were on the phone for a long time (wow, was I rude or what?). He let me know that his girlfriend had moved back to NY. I knew it was on because I was 100% single. We started hanging out a lot more and he put on the full-court press. I resisted for what felt like a long time. If I were dropping him off at his house at the end of the evening, I wouldn't get out of the car no matter how much he asked. Or if he dropped me off at my house and I let him come in, I'd push him out the door when things started getting intense.

That silliness went on for at least a month after our first kiss. Eventually, I gave in. I genuinely liked him and I was frustrated.

The problem was, he had that girlfriend in NY. They were in an open relationship, but I didn't like it. It wasn't what I wanted. I wanted 100% of Tom. I wanted to be his only girlfriend, not just his everyday girlfriend.

We fought about it a lot. And for that entire year, I would never say I was his girlfriend, even though he thought of me that way. We were friends. Sometimes we were sleeping together. Once we had a huge fight and didn't speak for a couple of weeks. I never expected to see him, we never made long term plans and I never assumed anything. I was very unhappy.

At the end of the year, we both went away for the summer. Nothing was resolved. He sent me a couple of postcards and I was surprised to hear from him at all.

The next year, I started dating someone new, but it didn't last long. Tom was around, but things were even more amorphous than ever. We were still friends and generally saw each other on the weekends, but there were never plans. There was still fighting. I knew I should let go of the relationship, but I couldn't. It was mostly not fun and I wasn't very happy with myself. We only slept together twice and maybe fooled around half a dozen times.

That year ended with a big blow-up, a longer period of not speaking to each other and a resolution on my part that I was done, done, done. I thought, "He's going to marry that NY girlfriend and I have to let it go." I thought I had.

The summer came and went and when I got back to Chapel Hill, I was seeing someone new. Tom and I were not hanging out, but he did ask me about my boyfriend once and seemed happy that I was happy.

Then for some stupid reason, I asked Tom if he were driving to NY for Thanksgiving. I was planning to go see my brother. Tom's roommate was also from NY and I figured they were driving together, which I thought made it safe. Tom hemmed and hawed and said that somebody might not like it if I drove up with them and he'd have to check. I said, "You need to get permission? It's your life and just say no if you don't think it's a good idea."

He said he'd get back to me and I remained pissed.

I broke up with the boyfriend at the end of October. I showed up at a party and Tom was outside, he said, "How's that boyfriend?"

"There is no boyfriend. We broke up."

"Oh. I'm sorry to hear that." Then Tom got drunk and followed me around the rest of the night, apologizing for everything that had come before. It pissed me off that he was saying all the right things but had to be drunk to do it.

A few days later, I was in the computer lab and so was Tom. He said, "Hey, Jamy, do you still want a ride to New York?"

I said, "Sure, maybe."

"Well, you know I said it might be a problem? Well, it's not a problem anymore."

I said, "It's not?"

He said, "No, there's no issue anymore."

"What?" I moved my chair closer to where he was sitting. I said, "It's not an issue? Why not?"

"It's not because we broke up."

The room started spinning. I was disoriented. Broken up? No, they were getting married. I was reconciled. There was no hope. We were never going to be a "real" couple. If we were lucky, we could make it as friends. I said, "No. No you didn't. When?"

"Yes. We did. About six weeks ago." That meant at the party, he was single and hadn't told me.

"No. Really? Really? I thought you were going to get married." I laughed.

"What? No. It's over."


"So do you still want that ride to New York?"

"Oh. Uh, yeah. Yeah, that would be great."

My next thought was, "What does this mean? Does this mean he is coming after me now?" In fact, that's exactly what it meant. Before I knew it, we were in negotiations. I asked advice all over the place. I didn't know what to do. Should I give him a chance?

Finally, after all that time, the thing I'd been waiting for, hoping for, longing for, was coming true.

But I didn't want it anymore. At least not the way I'd wanted it before.

I kept thinking. And Tom kept pursuing. And I finally told him that, ok, we could date again, but there had to be some ground rules, some conditions:
  • No regular contact with the ex.
  • Take things slow.
I think that was it. After Thanksgiving, we were a couple. He broke all the conditions early on. He pushed me until I gave in and I got cozy as his girlfriend. I caught him emailing with the ex after a month or two. I wasn't jealous, but I didn't like him lying to me about it. I didn't break up with him. This was our "going steady" phase. It lasted not quite a year, but the ending was ambiguous and drawn out, so saying "a year" is fair enough.

You know, when I started writing this, I wanted to share a sweet story about a surprise birthday party Tom threw for me when we were going steady. Instead, I dumped out a short history of our relationship. I am having a focus problem these days.

When I looked back at all the craziness we went through, mostly in the off and on period, but not entirely, it's hard for me to understand what I was thinking. Why I put up with his crap and why I kept going back to him. Why it was so hard for me to move on. But he was wrapped up in too, though maybe not as much as I was. It's funny, when I talk to him now, he seems to agree with my interpretation of events. But back in the day, he was always telling me things that I knew weren't true: like, that I couldn't trust him because I was jealous. No. I couldn't trust him because he lied. I never thought he'd get back together with the ex, in large part because I was sure she'd dumped him (it was the only explanation), but also because I could tell he was over her. I'd "overreact" because we had a weak foundation for trust because of his history of bad behavior.

But if he were so bad, why was I with him? Maybe because he seemed to understand me better than anyone else I knew. Usually, he treated me well. He cooked for me, took care of me when I was sick and adored me. We could talk about anything. We enjoyed each other's company. He was fun to be around.

That is, when we weren't arguing in public, I wasn't feeling excluded and he wasn't telling me to stop overreacting. Other than that, things were great.

Ah well. Maybe I'll tell that sweet story another time.

Some of you readers remember when Tom and I were together. Anything to add? Were we the worst couple ever or merely annoying? Sometimes I wonder.

Grateful for: the happy memories.
Drop me a line.

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