I recently met and got to know an amazing man. Let’s call him Mark. Mark is handsome. We have similar interests and beliefs. Our professional goals are aligned. He is respectful, funny, and still taller than me when I wear heels. Mark is great, but Mark is flawed.
Flaws aren’t necessarily bad considering that we all have them. Being aware of my flaws [and still discovering new ones], I try to always be honest with myself about them and actively work towards resolving them. This is a process that requires a lot of reflection, honesty, and self-discipline. And wine, occasionally. But it is a practice that I value deeply because I really want to be in tune with who I am for myself and for others. It is also something that I have come to expect from others. However, I constantly remind myself that self-awareness varies from person-to-person. What I find fault in, someone may consider it to be the best thing about them self. All I can do is get to know people for who they are and position myself [or completely remove myself] accordingly. This was the case with Mark.
Getting to know Mark was much like the start of many relationships in this modern technological age. He slid in my DMs. I only responded because he was not a stranger, and I felt that we’d had enough virtual exchange to warrant a more private conversation. Starting off, he admired how I expressed myself and the way we communicated. I found him to be a pleasant change from the men I was ignoring. We went from talking on the phone most nights to seeing each other as often as our schedules allowed.
The key to everything was pacing ourselves and communication. He hadn’t long gotten out of a tumultuous situation, and neither of us had a desire to be tied down. We enjoyed getting to know each other without obligation. Over time, Mark and I grew to like each other more, and we would catch a movie every now and then. Twice to be exact. But the movies must have been our kryptonite. On both occasions, we had disagreements that altered things. I don’t know what it is about a car ride that is so conducive for an argument. Maybe it’s the nitpicky things like what music is being played, wearing a seatbelt, or which route is quicker when you’re already late for the last showing of a movie. Either way, it went down on movie night!
“It went down on movie night!”
What I found to be my biggest frustration was our inability to handle small issues before they got worse. For example, if I shared something with Mark (usually food) and he did not say “thank you,” I’d feel a way. Some may call it petty; I just call it courtesy. In my opinion, how difficult is it to utter two simple words? His defense was that the “thank you” is understood. He feels that he is not an ungrateful person, and he is grateful for all that I do. To me, it was not yet understood because that’s something that comes with time. I did not feel that we had established enough history for me to know when he was grateful without saying it, and it reassured me to hear it. [BTW, I told him that “Words of Affirmation” is my primary love language. Acts of service is his.] His rebuttal, “Do you say thank you all the time?” My response, “I try to! And in instances where I didn’t say thank you, I should have.” Now let me assure you that this is not an unforgivable situation at all. It could have all been so simple.
However, this was not my first time expressing that he doesn’t say thank you. In fact, I have said that he gives off a sense of entitlement because he doesn’t always show gratitude and often “jokes” that he was going to get or do something anyway. That annoyed me because I did not know if he was really a jerk or that was just his sense of humor. Clarity would come with communication. Communication is what was lacking. If you’re joking, say you’re joking. I did not feel that I knew him well enough to discern when he was serious or playing. So make it plain. We had this exact argument on both movie nights. Both times I felt that Mark was dismissive and unwilling to address a situation that stemmed from something so minute.
“Communication is what was lacking.”
I have no doubt that I played a part in the breakdown of things with Mark. I’ll take full accountability for the times when I could’ve been less stubborn, more understanding, and a better listener. However, there were other things that I soon realized were beyond me. When we’re in those early stages of liking someone, everything is cute. We often miss important signs; women, especially. We tend to write off red flags as cries for help or a void that we can fill with our natural inclination to love and nurture. Thankfully, I’ve learned to view things for what they are and what they have the potential to be.
I’ve learned to view things for what they are and what they have the potential to be.
With Mark, I felt that the problems we had stemmed from his personal issues. I had begun to complain that he played too much. In fact, during our earlier conversations, he would joke that he played too much. So I guess that in itself was a warning. As time progressed, stuff wasn’t cute anymore, and I realized that this guy does play entirely too much. As mentioned earlier, I could never tell when he was serious. And he would never be serious in the moments that I needed him to be. These situations always ended with me seemingly being too serious or over-reacting in comparison to his light-heartedness. In fact, he eventually told me that I wasn’t a good communicator which was in stark contrast to his initial feelings. I could not effectively communicate during serious [to me] moments because by the time he finally stopped joking, he’s mad that I’ve blown things out of proportion. During our last conversation, Mark opened up and admitted that maybe he does play too much. He admitted that he could have given me more in the moments that I needed it; but he developed a playfulness as a shield against anxiety and feelings of depression that he was battling about where he currently was in life. BINGO! In his defense, that was not the first time he mentioned having such feelings. When he first mentioned depression, my response was to listen and allow him to fully express himself; but also taking time to ensure that he was not experiencing feelings that would cause him to do harm to himself or others. I advised him to seek counsel from a trusted source: therapy, his pastor, etc. My understanding is that he didn’t see a Licensed Professional Counselor, but I know that he’s a faithful church goer and confides in leadership there. He eventually expressed that he’s feeling much better and thanked me (I knew he could do it!) for my contribution to that.
As for me, I talked to one of my friends and explained that I needed to evaluate how far I was willing to go in that potential relationship, knowing what Mark revealed to me and the possibility of recurrence. Was this something I could live with? I was asking myself the right questions and seeking advice from someone who battled [and still does at times] similar mental states. But I did not have to make that decision because, sure enough, movie night #2 happened with Mark, and it was a mess. When I found myself having the final conversation with him about the nature of our relationship, I could no longer continue down the path I was on. I did not know if he would ever find fault in his behavior. I guess there was no need to if he was truly being his best self. Either I could live with that or not. But if by chance there was fault to be found, by the time he got to the root of his behavior that was already causing me so much anguish without a commitment, I would have been miserable. So we ended things.
“Was this something I could live with?”
A previous relationship had already taught me that there is absolutely nothing I can do about someone else’s ways if they are not even aware of their issues or not ready to do something about said issues. I could not allow Mark’s pain, and essentially his healing, to become my priority. He came with issues that were slowly revealed as we were met with conflict. I was able to pinpoint things that I was not so fond of before we committed ourselves to something that would’ve more difficult to get out of if I waited. I sympathized with his pain without taking it on. I was a listening ear, a sounding board; but only to the extent that I could handle.
I was not always good at this. I am the type of person that my peers call on for advice. People rely on my strength and judgment. It can be considered an honor to be revered among your friends as a haven, but it can also be very taxing. It’s a very easy way to lose yourself if you’re not careful. A good friend of mine had to remind me that I cannot pour from an empty cup. In addition to that, I believe that we can allow people to fill our cup with their own problems until we experience an overflow. That becomes what we are filled with and what we begin to pour into others. Thankfully, without even noticing, I developed a gauge of what I can handle when people begin to vent to me. By the time Mark came along, I had already learned how to distance myself from other people’s pain to prioritize my own wellbeing.
It’s funny because during our last disagreement (about his playfulness, of course), Mark told me that he wasn’t going to be walking on eggshells around me. He was going to be himself regardless. That statement angered me and inspired me at the same time. There I was sacrificing my peace in that moment just to exercise restraint with my words. I was furious that he didn’t hesitate to prioritize himself at the expense of my feelings. I was envious that he did what was best for him and his sanity despite what I had on my mind. So, I learned to do the same.