You Can't Fix Him, And You Don't Want To
In my 23 short years, I've had quite the crash course in relationships. I went from a long-term high-school boyfriend, to casually dating around, to a long-distance engagement and breakup, to finally finding the right guy for me. Through almost all of it, I was yet another woman who believed I could change men; that if I just tried hard enough, I could get them to make changes that would "fix" the relationship.
Whether it was their hobbies, friends, political leanings or level of interest in the relationship, I incessantly tried to correct the things I didn't like. I even tried to correct myself if it was my attributes they weren't keen on. If I saw red flags, I whipped out a can of green paint and spent more time covering them up than it potentially would've taken me to find someone new. When I wasn't The Fixer, I was The Romanticizer, where I - you guessed it - romanticized the few positive aspects of the relationship to justify spending so much time fixing. And for what?
Well, at the time, I would've said it'll be worth it. Once all these things change, we'll be perfect for each other and have a perfect relationship. It just doesn't sound right, does it? But I believed it, and I almost married someone under those circumstances.
He was in the Navy, which meant we were apart for most of the time we knew each other. I know, I'm off to a great start here. We were together for about nine months, but had maybe spent a total of four weeks in the same city when we decided we'd secretly get married during his next visit home. Now, why did such an analytical person like myself make such a hasty and, frankly, terrible decision? Let's rewind a bit.
He was persistent, funny and charming with a contagious smile. He always told me I was smarter than him, but in a way that came off like a compliment. He was a joker, and it seemed impossible that he'd stay mad very long. When he was deployed (which was a lot), I only got to talk to him for maybe 10 minutes each day on the phone, so there was plenty of opportunity to miss him. Basically, I knew the bare minimum about him to begin with, and didn't see any whopping red flags, so I cruised through the relationship hoping I never would - in fact, I actively tried to avoid finding them. If we entered territory that seemed remotely touchy, I'd crank the wheel in the other direction. Politics? Religion? Anything controversial in between? Nope, we're getting worked up. Let's just keep gazing into each other's eyes via video chat and tell ourselves we're soulmates. However, that strategy was short-lived, and it wasn't long before we were arguing over those topics. Some of the time it would end in understanding, and others it would end in him rushing me off the phone (or into a new topic if we were physically together).
As crazy as it sounds, the more time I spent with him, the more disagreements emerged. If he was back at base with more phone time, or in the same city as me, we were suddenly at each other's throats over the most trivial things. But when he was deployed, he was the best boyfriend ever. Go figure. When we barely had time to speak, it was, "Wow, you're so smart and I love it," and when he was home, it was, "You're too smart for me and you make me feel stupid." Somehow, I didn't pick up on this pattern. And what better way to cleanse a relationship of its flaws than to get married? We were real experts.
He was going to come home and marry me, then leave the Navy and buy a house with me in the following months, despite his itch for travel and undeniable eagerness for promotion in the military (red flag, Carly. Red flag). It was all planned out, and I swallowed any last hesitation I had about our compatibility so I could live out some fairy tale of softening up a rambling military man and transforming him into a settled husband. Well, at the time I truly believed that would be my future, so I was blindsided to receive a phone call from him two weeks before the courthouse wedding...saying there wouldn't be one.
That's right. I had just left work and was sitting in my parked car, staring off into space, trying to process the words that had come out of his mouth. I asked what he meant by, "I can't do it." Turns out, he was running from the whole plan, not just the marriage aspect. The move, the exit from the Navy, the house, the relationship. All of it. When I asked for an explanation, he said he had to go. Click. Naturally, I was distraught. I spent weeks trying to think of what I'd done wrong. Sure, there were things we disagreed on, but what did I do to deserve being hung up on and completely ignored for two months straight? Yep, two months. I suddenly had to figure out a life plan from scratch, and it hit me like the bus from Mean Girls that I was on my own. The juxtaposition between the funny, charming guy and the one who argued with me and put me down was too much to analyze. I couldn't decide which version of the relationship was more true, and I would've given anything to know what he was thinking. Did he move right along? Did he even feel guilty? Why hadn't he called?
Though I wasn't at peace with why it happened, I knew someone who was willing to end things that way wasn't right for me. So I eventually stopped overthinking and moved on. For those of you wondering, he finally reached out with a request to meet up and talk things over. Though I shouldn't have granted him that, I decided to let him say his piece. Shockingly, we didn't end up getting together because he stopped responding...again.
About two months later, I walked into a bar with one of my friends and spotted a hunk in a white T-shirt. Luckily, my friend had the guts to lead me over to the pool tables, which was where he was hanging out inconspicuously (but also super conspicuously because he was so cute). He walked straight up to me with a handful of quarters and asked if I needed them to play a game of pool. I motioned to my purse and said, "Thanks, but I have plenty of quarters." Nice one, Carly. He looked fairly disappointed with our exchange and went back to his group, just before my friend punched me in the arm and said, "What are you doing? He wants to talk to you!"
I felt like a proper ass, and decided to approach him and hope for the best. Within 30 seconds, I was perfectly captivated by every inch of his being. When the night began, I wasn't even sure I had the energy to go out, but suddenly I could stay up all night if I needed to. We talked and talked and talked, until the only thing stopping us was the bartender announcing last call.
Today, he's my person; not just the person you think is your person until someone cheats or the arguments set in, but the real deal. How do I know? Every single thing I've learned about him has made me love him more, and I wouldn't "fix" one bit of it. I used to think relationships required constant construction and frequent fights were inevitable, but from the moment I met him, I knew I was dead wrong. In fact, I remember thinking: How is someone actually this great? How are we not fighting? I even started looking for potential problems because it just seemed too good to be true, but I found nothing. Then, I realized I should stop combing through the relationship for conflict and just enjoy it. The last thing I needed with such a great guy was to drive him away by creating issues that didn't exist - in other words, a self-fulfilling prophecy that would've ended with me wolfing down ice cream in bed, alone. When he came along, I permanently retired The Fixer, and he hasn't tried to change me, either. Sure, he probably thinks I spend too much money on candles and I can't entirely relate to his video-game hobby, but that's about as juicy as our differences get.
Looking back on my almost marriage, all I can say to the almost husband is: Thank you. While I was busy forcing a square peg into a round hole, he was realizing more every day that we weren't right for each other. Not even a little bit. We certainly liked the idea of being together, but an idea of love lasts about five minutes in the real world. If the relationship had continued and The Fixer was in full effect, both of us would've become crappier versions of ourselves, filled with more indignation each day. His execution was horrendous (seriously, if you're reading this, get it together), but giving it the ax it was the right choice. For months, I thought I'd never forgive him, but it turns out he gave me the best gift I could ask for - someone I intend to spend the rest of my life with simply because of who he is, not who I asked him to be.