I started and finished In The Dream House recently, and though it didn’t affect me as much as A Little Life last month, it did made me ponder my own relationships. I then remembered this quote from The Fault in Our Stars: “As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”
Falling out of love is like the free fall of a rollercoaster: all at once, then slowly. You feel like you’re falling to your death and are leaving your stomach behind and forget you’re securely strapped in, that you won’t actually die. But for a quick second, you think you may just fall and die.
The start of my all-at-once descent was returning the gifts. Jewelry, clothes, knick-knacks big and small. Like the love you had for that person, you don’t know where to put it if not with you. I sold, gifted and gave away, shedding the memories with them. The love in each one. If the love disappeared all at once, the significance of these mementoes should as well.
The first-ever ring took the longest to disappear. I sold it a few months after the free fall, but it was one of the first things I replaced. I replaced it with another ring shaped like a half-moon. I wore it proudly not only because it was a Swarovski (I thought that made it and me better), but because I’d bought the femininity symbol piece for myself to wear on the same finger where once sat the symbol of our first Christmas as a couple. I’d gotten to pick that ring, so it was only right I’d get to pick its replacement.
Every day for over two years, I wore that half-moon sparkly statement piece. It had become a part of my daily routine even after I started dating someone else and he got me a ring that I also picked myself (a dainty crown). One day, the half-moon ring symbolizing my “single woman not by choice” status started oxidizing, the rust a sign of daily wear.
I eventually stopped wearing the half-moon every day, then I stopped wearing it all. Instead, I wear the crown every day, the meaning of that one different as it came from a different person but symbolizing the same thing: here’s a daily reminder of my love.
One day, I decide to wear the half-moon ring and the crown ring together. In an attempt to accessorize, I stack the half-moon ring on top of the upside-down crown on my right index finger. The juxtaposition of my single days with my new relationship looked fittingly fashionable.
After half a day, I hate it. the half-moon ring keeps getting caught on my clothes and makes pulling up my jeans after using the bathroom difficult. The crown sits as it’s told, barely there at all. My single days are well behind me, and any attempt to keep the mindset I had then is irritating to who I’m trying to be now.
Shortly after buying the half-moon ring, I cut my hair. The free fall of the rollercoaster, I chopped my waist-length, box-dyed, damaged hair to a shaggy long bob that sat just above my shoulders. I loved it when I got it, and more than anything I loved how it didn’t pain me to let the hair go. When I looked in the mirror and styled it curly, shaggy or with long-disused hair clips, I wondered what had made me so averse to short hair on myself for years. My senior year of high school, I got a disastrous haircut that took months to grow out, and I wore it in a ponytail every day because of how much I hated how it looked on me. A friend tried to curl it in an attempt to make me feel better about how it looked, but by the end of the day it had transformed into a bushy mess. When I looked at my post-break-up haircut, I wondered if I had just done it wrong back then, and that eight years later I finally knew what my hair wanted and how it looked good (I didn’t).
Two years later, I’m trying to grow my hair back. It’s barely reaching my midback now and the highlights I got with the chop are well gone. As if punishing me for the throw-away decision, it took the better part of those two years to learn what it wanted, what products it tolerates and how to style it to make behave for longer. “Earn my love,” it’s saying. “You want me back? Treat me better.”
My boyfriend loved the short hair. “It’s how I met you,” he says when I look in embarrassment at our first pictures together. But he didn’t see my struggle to navigate it short, like he didn’t see the struggle of making the half-moon ring work with the crown he’d given me. He didn’t see my struggle of re-learning how to be single only to unlearn it again when we got together. He didn’t see the clash of my trying to figure out who I wanted to be, that I didn’t want to be the same as I was in the previous relationship. He missed the all-at-once fall down the rollercoaster but is seeing the slow transition back to a new start.
During this transition, he’s seen the self-sabotage, but he’s far too kind to point it out. He reassures me that he still loves me, that he only didn’t text back because he was cooking dinner. Once, during a text conversation about our future together, he went as far to warn me that he was hopping on a phone call in case I didn’t hear back from him for a bit. That he is very much still invested in us. I wasn’t relieved when he said that. I was skeptical: I would have been relieved if he’d said he was finally having second thoughts. “Ah, there it is,” I would have thought. “I knew it was too good, too easy, to work out.”
The free fall and slow ride back to a new start is messy. Exhausting. Enlightening in some instances, sure, with the odd epiphany about my last relationship (no, it wasn’t very nice that he didn’t do anything when his mom made you cry in front of him multiple times; that wasn’t normal), but mostly exhausting. The self-doubt and self-awareness that often come hand in hand take the wind out of me just like they empower me: realizing that I stayed in a relationship two years too long makes me wonder if I’ve gotten too used to never asking for help, and what kind of partner that makes me now. But at least I’m working on it. And I do not wear the half-moon ring anymore.
“Yeah, you did meet me with short hair,” I say to my boyfriend. “But I hope you like me with long hair just as much. Because I like that better now.”
“I already do,” he says.