I never thought I’d be the girl that just…fell. I think falling can be good, like when you take a voluntary leap into the unknown, yet somehow, you accept whatever it is you’re about to get yourself into. You free fall for a while and just before you hit the ground, you yank your parachute. It lifts you up, and suddenly you can see the entire world from a distance. Everything make sense because you have the time to absorb it. The fall. It’s a gradual one. That was the girl I thought I was. That was the girl I always wanted to be.
I had no idea I’d become a girl who fell in a completely different way, a girl who let another person blindfold her before pushing her off the ledge.
I met Ben during my freshmen year of college. After a weekend filled with cheap beer and greasy pizza, I volunteered to carry the mountain of pizza boxes crowing the doorway down to the dumpster. Awkwardly, I balanced the towering boxes above my head, against my petite frame, and wobbled blindly down the hall. When I reached the elevator, I pushed the button and waited. The elevator door slid open and as I stepped inside, two boys charged out of the opposite hallway door and made their way around the corner toward the stairs.
I briefly made eye contact with one of the two boys as I stepped inside the elevator, holding my leaning tower of pizza boxes. Just as the door began to close on our momentary eye contact encounter, a hand quickly slid inside of the door, bouncing the elevator door back open.
“Need a hand?”
“I think I’m okay, thank you.”
“I’m Ben.” He stepped inside the elevator and lifted the boxes out of my hands ignoring my answer to his question.
“I’m Carley…” My voice trailed off. It was the first real look I’d been able to get of him. He was handsome, blonde, and tall enough that the pizza boxes barely grazed his chin.
“Are you new? I’ve never seen you around.”
“I just transferred here.”
We made our way down to the dumpster and he tossed the boxes in.
“See you around.” He flashed a smile at me and crossed the street.
And we did. It was like a horrible montage of perfectly ordered scenarios, set to a cheesy, acoustic, Jack Johnson song. We saw each other around campus, quite often actually. We always exchanged friendly passing hellos in the hallway, short elevator rides on the way to class, and across the room waves in the cafeteria. Eventually we began careless small talk, which turned into real conversations followed by continual hang outs, and genuine laughter. We actually had a lot in common, from music preferences to where we’d grown up, in small wealthy beach towns populated by surfers and sea lovers.
We clicked, effortlessly.
As things like this often go, Ben and I eventually became a romantic comedy gone horribly wrong, with no clear boundaries and no clear official relationship established. We were “Ben and Carley” and that’s the way it was. For the next two and a half years we became an on again off again fiasco. Two and a half years of lunch dates at the local café. Two and a half years of tipsy dance parties, clumsy hand holding, and promises to visit each other at the end of every school year.
Two and a half years of truly believing that deep down, he was a good person.
And he was.
But there is a difference between being a good person and being the right person.
You see, he wasn’t a bad guy at all; he was actually a great guy. He made me laugh and he made me feel adored when we were in each others company. Unfortunately, a pattern developed, and this pattern surfaced and resurfaced. Here’s how things went: After months spent together it would get to the point where things were verging on serious, and then the closer we became, the further he would disappear.
Just like that.
And I felt stupid.
And I felt used.
And then I felt furious.
And then I moved on.
I ignored the text messages, and the attempted approaches on campus. I ignored him in front of his friends and in front of my friends. I pressed “ignore” when I saw his calls coming through, even if I knew he could see me avoiding his call. I deleted text messages and flaky apologies. I rejected the puppy dog eyes at parties, and his friends trying to explain his behavior. I moved on.
Somehow, when I least expected it, after space, distance, and clarity, Ben would charm his way back into my life. It always started out the same: A kind gesture, a compliment, and a proposal to hang out. It was usually lunch at that local café, filled with lighthearted catch ups and how have you been’s. It was harmless, except it wasn’t.
It wasn’t harmless at all.
It was toxic, because I had myself convinced that I didn’t care.
And the worst kinds of lies are the ones you feed yourself.
The viscous cycle would begin again. We would consistently hang out, watch movies, hold hands, and have long conversations. I met parents and siblings, and heard family stories. I let myself fall off that cliff even faster and harder than the time before. He would be kind and caring for weeks, and without warning, he would eventually become distant and cold right before I hit the pavement.
During the last week of our sophomore year, we threw a surprise party for a close friend. Toward the end of a night filled with mixed drinks and sneaky kisses, one of Ben’s friends referred to me as his girlfriend, and the appalled look on Ben’s face was enough to make a person want to crawl into a cave. It was apparent that I wasn’t good enough. I grabbed my coat and headed for the door, making my way back toward my dorm in the pouring rain. Surprisingly, Ben chased after me.
“I’m sorry!” He shouted.
“No, you’re not.” I yelled back without turning around.
“What do you want from me?”
“I want you to care!” Finally, I turned around to face him.
“I do care!”
“Stop!” I screamed.
“I’m not good enough for you, Carley.”
“I know you’re not!”
The rain poured down on us as we stood face to face addressing our feelings for the very first time. Frustrated, I shouted, as he tried to be the person he thought I wanted him to be.
Ben told me he wanted me to visit him over the summer. I’d heard this one before. It was an ominous phrase not to be trusted. He asked if he could see me on the last day of classes, before I packed up and went home. I told him that I would be in my dorm packing, but I would be happy to grab lunch at that spot in town if he gave me a call. He told me he’d call me at 1:00, and I told him not to make plans with me if he had no intentions of keeping them.
I finished packing before noon, and I waited.
By 3:00 it was clear he was not going to call, so I said goodbye to all of my friends and drove two hours home.
I cried the entire way.
Again, I felt stupid.
And I felt used.
And then I felt furious.
And then I moved on.
Junior year I moved into a house with four friends. They of course asked how things with Ben and I had panned out, and I gave them the ol’ I hope I never see him again speech. Ironically, that day after moving into our new home, I ventured onto campus to pick up my books. Sitting on a bench with his feet resting nonchalantly on his skateboard, sat Ben with his friends. I tried to ignore him, but he called out my name. Immediately, I spun in the opposite direction. I developed tunnel vision on the nearest building, in which I did not even have class, and picked up my speed hoping he would not catch up to me.
He showed up on my doorstep two days later promising he’d changed.
And he had changed…for like, two months.
It was pure bliss. After every two or three weeks I sat back on my heels and expected him to run, and each time, he surprised me. The new mutual exclusivity was hard to believe at first. My friends were in just as much shock as I was, thinking that maybe he really had figured it out. He took me out to dinners and walked me to class every day. He carried my books. He told me that things were different this time.
A storm, of course, was on the horizon. We were mutually exclusive, but we still weren’t anything. I wanted to know that the games were REALLY over.
On a Saturday night in November, Ben stumbled into my apartment after a night of drinking, and passed out on my bed. Around 2:00 in the morning, my phone rang. I noticed a girl’s name on the screen who I had not met before. Not wanting to know the obvious answer, I let the phone ring and tried to fall back asleep. Of course, the phone rang again, so I picked up. The confused girl on the line asked if Ben still planned to spend the night with her.
The next night, Ben and I met up at the library to study. I was uncomfortable the whole evening, and despite Ben’s attempts at carrying on like things were normal between us, I had nothing to say. I didn’t want to play games, I was sick of the chase, I just wanted answers. After nearly three years of pretending things were fine, I decided something needed to change, or I needed to leave. I was tired of being the girl that he kept letting go. I grabbed by bag, stood up to leave without saying a word, and Ben followed me out the door.
“What’s wrong?” He asked.
“I need to know something.”
“Sure, what’s up?”
“What we are.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, we’ve been doing this dance for almost three years, Ben.”
“What do you want me to say?” I could sense his resistance to the conversation.
“I want to know if we are dating.” The band aid had been ripped off, I thought the worst part was over.
“I can’t do this, Carley.”
“I think I deserve an answer.”
“I’m sorry. I can’t give you one.” He responded.
Everything was clear.
“Then we’re nothing.” I answered.
Ben took a step toward me, and hesitated. He went to speak, and stopped himself. For the first time in almost 3 years, he was both remotely and briefly cautious with his actions. Instead of fixing things, instead of explaining himself, he turned around and walked away, leaving me standing there alone.
I sat down on the stone wall next to the library and watched him walk away from me.
In my head, my own voice echoed, turn around, turn around, please turn around…”
And he didn’t. Not once.
I guess I’m sharing this story because I deserved better. It didn’t matter that everybody and their mother knew that Ben wasn’t good enough for me. I was stubborn. I blatantly disregarded my own feelings in the midst of my feelings being disregarded by somebody else. I was caring a lot about somebody while taking absolutely no time to care about myself. That should have been the first red flag, but there were many more that followed
There are people holding onto the hope that that the person they are seeing will figure things out. They fight “the good fight” and wait patiently for the day that the light bulb will go off. They believe against all odds and advice that things will change and the person will love them back. Sometimes, it’s not enough. Sometimes you’ve done everything right, you’ve done more than you should, you’ve waited out the rain and it only rained harder.
Just remember, YOU are enough, and you shouldn’t wait three years to figure that out. YOU deserve the whole world and there is somebody out there who is going to give it to you.
If you keep chasing the person who is never going to give you what you need, you risk losing the person out there who wants to. Or worse, you risk losing yourself.