On top of every mountain
There was a great longing
For another even higher mountain
In each city, longing for a bigger city
"Stillness is the Move" - Dirty Projectors
Andrew was the type of partner who made me believe in karma. Like every bad thing I’d ever done, and every person I’d ever wronged, conspired against me and sent him barreling into my life to wreak havoc.
Loving him was a disease. An unintentional, accidental, disease. A mere byproduct of oxytocin. By the time I realized I / he / the whole thing was sick, it was too late. The disease was malignant. Fatal.
I was terminal.
Being with Andrew was more a test of character and resilience and less of a romantic endeavor. My patience, sanity, and eventually, my threshold for messy living spaces, were pushed to their limit on a daily basis. But it was nothing compared to the emotional torment he inflicted.
I suppose it started with music.
It was fall semester of our senior year at FSU when we started sleeping together. I was at the campus gym one day when he texted me.
“Skip the rest of your classes and come over,” he wrote. “Let’s smoke and listen to music and then I’ll make you food.”
I obliged, the first of countless times I would do so in our relationship.
We sat in his living room talking and listening to music, much of it original songs and beats and raps he’d created. He was animated, excitable, buzzing. It wasn’t an energy I’d ever seen in him before. Then again, we’d only been fooling around for like a month, what did I know?
I didn’t know the first thing about Andrew yet. I didn’t know that things were about to get much harder and much more complicated. And I definitely didn’t know then that, no matter how hard I tried, I would never be the catalyst for that energy, that exuberance, that drug-like elation, in him. Ever.
As promised, after we’d finished passing the joint back and forth and the music conversation had ceased, we went upstairs. We kissed as we stood in his room, a small space with only a bed, a desk, and, in the corner, a weighted piano keyboard, this inanimate object that I would soon have to compete with for Andrew’s attention.
I wasn’t thinking about the next five and half years as Andrew began to peel off my blue athletic shorts. I wasn’t thinking about music or the significance of our otherwise uneventful, lazy, afternoon. I wasn’t thinking about anything, really. We were young and stoned and together and we were still free of life’s responsibilities and obligations.
Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.
That was probably the beginning of the end.
an excessive enthusiasm or desire; an obsession.
Synonyms: obsession, compulsion, preoccupation, passion
I started to see him less.
He would hole up in his room for days. Ass in chair, headphones on, not to be disturbed. He didn’t want to talk. He didn’t want to eat. He didn’t want to sleep or party or have sex or just hang out. All he wanted to do was make music.
Whenever I did manage to tear him away from his keyboard, he was miserable, as was I. Andrew made it a point to look and act like a complete brat on the very rare occasion I was able to convince him to grab a beer or do something equally innocuous, which only made me regret ever asking him to participate in the first place. He hated doing anything I wanted to do because it meant that it wasn’t about him for, God forbid, five seconds. And if he talked it wasn’t much, just enough to complain or tell me he was leaving to make a new song, or, of course, to talk about music. His music, to be exact.
This boy who’d spent months trying to woo and win me over suddenly, after only a few weeks, had no interest in anything other than this one, singular, obsession. Which, as it turned out, had absolutely nothing to do with me. I was okay with that. I didn’t need Andrew to be obsessed with me. But what I wanted was for him to want to be with me, and he didn’t. At least, his actions didn’t say that he did. And that, I was not okay with.
Spending time with me was now a chore. Making me happy became an obligation. Doing (less than) the bare minimum as ½ of our crappy excuse of a relationship required a tiring amount of effort for him. And Andrew made that clear. I could read it on his face and feel it with every strained movement between us.
He didn’t “have time” to be a boyfriend (his words, not mine). He didn’t want to be a boyfriend (my words, not his). What he wanted was to be a musician. To be successful. Famous. To travel the world producing music. He told me that when his dreams came true, he wouldn’t miss his friends or his family. He told me that he wouldn’t miss me.
He told me this constantly. Nonchalant and aloof, the first and only person I’d ever romantically loved repeatedly reminded me that I was second best. Actually, no. I was less than second best, and that, given a lucrative enough opportunity to be a producer, his answer would, unequivocally, be “Yes.”
Yes, of course he would take the opportunity. Yes, of course he would leave me.
His answer would also be “No.”
No, he wouldn’t consider our relationship, nor would he miss me. He wouldn’t be sad or have any second thoughts or ever look back.
This, he said, is what he really wanted. This is what he’d have to do to follow his dreams.
Never mind that there are people on this planet who have achieved and maintained and exceeded their wildest dreams while sustaining a healthy, non-emotionally torturous nightmare of a relationship.
Nah. ‘Cause fuck that, and fuck me, right?
No. Fuck Andrew.
I wrote him a long letter in early March 2013 and read it to him one Saturday night. I poured my heart out about how we’d drifted and how we were continuing to drift. How he’d allowed music to drive a wedge between us and how much it hurt me. How we were both freaking out about graduating in two months and what life would be like after college.
My throat began to swell as I canceled the backpacking Euro-trip we’d been planning. And it swelled tighter as I read aloud that I knew our relationship wouldn’t last, that we should just try to enjoy the last few months of college having fun together.
“I want to drink green beer with you on St. Patty's Day and listen to good music and go to the Rez and help and support each other because we're both freaking out about life. I want to be able to hug you when we both graduate and say that we fucking made it.”
He didn’t say much, but we embraced quietly in what I thought was mutual agreement, and then went out for pizza with Brendan and Thomas. I thought we were on the same page. I thought, naively, that things would be okay now that I’d cleared the air.
We never made it to the green beer.
When we broke up less than a week later I gave him a poem. It was about him, obviously. I’d written it months ago, when things were just starting between us. We were on the way back to Tallahassee from the Kennedy’s lake house and Andrew had seen me scribbling away in the passenger seat.
“What are you writing?” He whispered from behind the steering wheel, not wanting to disturb our friends who were asleep in the back.
“Nothing,” I whispered back.
At that point in my life I’d never read anything I’d written to another person before, and I wasn’t about to start then. We were all stoned, for one thing, and there were like, other people in the car, albeit unconscious, but still. No way. Andrew and I had only been hanging out for a few weeks. I didn’t want him to know I was writing poetry about him. He would think I was fucking insane. Which of course, I was.
He stayed at my place that night after we got back to Tally and asked me again if I could, pretty please, share what I’d been writing in the car.
Again, I obliged.
I’m sure it wasn’t a very good poem. Writing under the influence was never really my strong suit. But I’d meant every word I’d written. I felt them in my bones. I was completely, hopelessly, enthralled by Andrew and the effect he had on me, this sort of gravitational pull that I never realized existed.
I wasn’t in love with him yet, but I knew. It was only a matter of time until I was.
The next morning we parted ways to go about our respective Mondays. When I texted him later in the day to see how class was going, he said he hadn’t gone to any.
“I got an idea for a song,” he replied. “I’ve been making music all day.”
Like I said, by the time I realized I was sick, it was too late.
I was terminal.
It was pouring the night I drove my Mazda to his apartment. I knocked on the front door and both of his roommates answered.
They started to invite me in for a beer and to watch the rest of the game with them, but stopped short when they saw my face.
“Where is he?” I asked.
Without a word, Thomas pointed upstairs. I pushed past him and Brendan and ran up to the second floor, letting myself into Andrew’s room. It was dark. He didn’t see or hear me. His headphones were on and he was working on some song or another, completely oblivious to my presence -- as usual. I tapped his shoulder.
He stood up to kiss me, excited by the surprise visit, which only made the next part more difficult.
“I can’t do this anymore,” I said. “We’re cool and we can still be friends, but I --”
I couldn’t find the words. I’d never actually broken up with someone before and I had barged in, guns blazing, without any sort of plan.
“I love you,” I said, taking a deep breath. “But I can’t be your girlfriend. I just can’t do it anymore.”
My hands were shaking as I reached into my pocket for the folded up poem. I’d ripped it out less than an hour ago from my journal.
“I don't know if you remember this, but just, um...just read this when I’m not here,” I said, shoving the paper into his hand and turning away from him.
I rushed to leave, not saying goodbye to Thomas or Brendan on my way out, and drove home, devastated.
When he texted me a few hours later, I was awake on my couch, crying and ruminating and unable to sleep.
“This is so beautiful,” he wrote. “Would you mind if I used it in a song?”
excessively conceited or absorbed in oneself; self-centered.
Synonyms: egocentric, selfish, self-interested, self-absorbed, narcissistic, vain, conceited, self-centered
lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one's own personal profit or pleasure.
showing or feeling no concern for others' feelings.
Synonyms: heartless, unfeeling, inconsiderate, thoughtless
It wouldn’t be the last time we broke up, just the first. For anyone keeping track, hopefully the third time really is the charm.
The music obsession continued for a few more years, although the intensity of the obsession varied.
Sometime in 2015 he started a side project with a friend, setting out to build a mobile app that would connect musicians wishing to collaborate on projects. That obsession took precedence over music. And once again, me. We broke up for the third time (the second being some time after graduation), and I moved out of our shared apartment in Austin.
(You can read about Break Up #3 in "I Said Yes" and "Because the Only Way I'll Get Through This is By Laughing".)
I was furious with him for always putting his endeavors before me, but I was more furious with myself. I naively thought that once the music obsession had run its course, the same tired song and dance would be over. I wouldn’t have to play second string to that fucking weighted keyboard or some random melody that popped into his head, dragging him out of bed at 4 AM.
But I was wrong.
Because, you see, it was never really about the music. Or the app. Or the video game he was creating or cryptocurrencies he droned on about or the business ideas he had or the work he brought home each night and hunched over each weekend. It was just about being obsessed with something. Anything.
Some people have an addictive personality and take drugs or gamble money. For Andrew, his drug is the addiction itself. His obsession is being obsessed. He gambles on himself and, in the process, is willing to sacrifice everything, me included, for the big win: Success -- whatever “success” is to him at any given moment.
Last Thanksgiving we had a huge fight about this elusive thing of success. Music had become a long-abandoned afterthought (he sold the thousands of dollars worth of equipment he spent years accruing). His focus and view of success was now about his career in the tech industry and as a software programmer.
We’d managed to smile at each other on Thursday and play hosts as all of our friends ate turkey and pie in our living room, but the next day it all came to a head.
We sat on our balcony as Andrew spent hours unloading months (or years, who knows) of pent up resentment toward me. How he was on a career path taking him somewhere but that I’d been at the same dead-end job for almost three years. That I didn’t work hard, at least not hard enough in his eyes, and that my writing and this blog didn’t count for anything.
He said he felt like he settled with me. And for me. He said eventually we'd have nothing in common because he would inevitably be more successful than I would. And make more money than I would. And continue to grow and improve and learn and move up in the world, and that I would be in the same spot, envious of his accomplishments, spinning my wheels.
Andrew was the type of partner who made me believe in karma.
“What’s going to happen one day when I introduce you to my CEO, or I am the CEO, and someone asks what you do?” He asked. “You’re going to be embarrassed.”
I wasn’t letting him off that easy.
“You’re, going to be embarrassed of me,” I corrected, my voice even. “In fact, you’re embarrassed of me already,” I said. Andrew shook his head, vehemently denying this. But I knew the truth.
"Why do you even want to be with me then?" I asked.
"I don't know," he sighed, exasperated. "I keep thinking you'll change."
God, I missed the music.
"I still want to be with you in spite of all of these things," he said.
What a guy. My knight in shining armor...
I remained calm throughout the verbal attack, mostly because I just needed it to be over, and I knew it wouldn’t be over until he’d gotten it all out and said what he needed to say. It was almost fascinating how much my partner seemed to hate about me. I kept prodding for more reasons as to why he now found me unattractive, imploring if there was anything that he even liked about me anymore.
I guess I’m a sadist.
The validity of his statements was irrelevant. It was the animosity with which he spoke about me, someone he claimed to love, that stung. He seemed disgusted by me and was cruel with his words and careless about the way he delivered them. He spat his tirade on the bright and sunny Friday morning after Thanksgiving, and I chose to remain the bigger person, enduring all of this anger and negative energy directed at me and only me.
I broke down by Saturday afternoon.
After running a few errands I came home and barged into his room. I spoke calmly at first, telling him that he said some really hurtful things. Inevitably, I got so heated that I was eventually crying, full on screaming at him in a way I'd never done before.
“You think I don’t know I’m a fucking loser?” I yelled. “That my life isn’t going anywhere? I don’t need you to tell me that, okay? I already know!”
Andrew just swallowed hard and stared at me.
“You are a HORRIBLE person! Do you know that? You know that right?” I said. “Answer me!” I screamed.
“Yes.” His voice was small.
"I am a good person. I am a good girlfriend. Just because I'm not motivated in the same way as you doesn't mean I'm lazy!" I shouted.
"You don't fucking deserve me. I don't deserve this!" I said. "Do you even feel bad?! Because you should feel bad!"
"I do..." He said. "That's why--"
I turned away, cutting him off. I walked to our bedroom closet, gathering all of the Christmas presents I’d been hiding from him.
When I returned to the doorway of his room I started throwing the gifts at him one by one, still screaming and justifiably hysterical.
Unfortunately, the gifts were just various items of clothing and not a new set of kitchen knives or tornado of meat cleavers.
It’s probably the closest I’ve ever come to experiencing a rage blackout.
Being with someone that intense and driven is not the way it is portrayed in movies. There’s no witty script or perfect lighting. There’s no poppy soundtrack, no sidekick best friend, no sudden “I can do this” revelation followed by a montage of you in a spin class symbolizing your journey to emotional healing.
That motivation and drive is sexy, but it’s not always sexy. And it comes at a price. Most importantly, it doesn’t just last for an hour and a half, in a fictional world, on a screen. It exists every day, in the real world. And it lasts for life.
People think they want to be with a James Franco or Donald Glover because they’re insanely talented and weird and fine as hell. But they’re also individuals who never stop working. They’re method actors / filmmakers / college students / college instructors / published authors / painters / performance artists.
And that’s just Franco.
(Donald Glover is an actor, writer, director, comedian, and producer, as well as a singer, songwriter, and rapper under the stage name Childish Gambino, and as a disc jockey, he performs under the name mcDJ.)
Most of us get upset when our partners have to work a little late or opt for a night out with friends, because it cuts into time spent together and the latter usually means they’d rather spend their free time away from you. Now imagine choosing a significant other who will choose their obsession over you, every time. It’s emotionally exhausting, and it never stops hurting your feelings, even if you support them.
Especially if you support them.
Accept that you will be their biggest cheerleader and most loyal fan. Accept that they might be the type of person who needs that constant affirmation. Someone to feed their ego and encourage them of their creative genius.
Accept that they will come to you, always you, whining for support even though they don't deserve it.
You have to accept that you will be loved differently, and that much of the time, you might not feel loved at all.
Accept that you might have to completely redefine what you’ll accept as love, or what you’ll take in its place.
Accept that you will be lonely sometimes. That while other couples are picking out pumpkins or clinking wine glasses in dimly lit restaurants, you may be listening to the 427,000th iteration of an original song or explaining to friends why you're riding solo tonight.
Accept that it will force you to constantly evaluate if you love your partner, and if that love is enough. If all of the horrendousness and bullshit and ups & downs and struggle is worth it.
Accept that these are questions you will ask yourself every time you go to bed alone or spend a New Years Eve fighting instead of getting wildly inebriated and fucking. They are questions you’ll ask yourself after every fight, every break up and almost break up, and after every reluctant reconciliation.
Accept that you may never know the answers to these questions. I still don’t.
Accept that this is the price you will pay for creativity, mania, obsession. For drive and desire and big dreams of big success and even bigger houses.
Accept that this is the price you pay for Passion.
For the record, I got a job as a copywriter less than a month after that Thanksgiving fight. I still work there. I still moonlight as a freelancer. I still get paid to write. I still contribute to this blog, and it still means something to me. It still "counts" to me, no matter how infrequently its updated.
Andrew’s comments about me were not without merit, but they were unkind. Being with a person so hungry for something is undoubtedly an emotional roller coaster that not everyone finds appealing. But if you let it, it can push you. Motivate you. Give your skin that extra layer of thickness.
It can force you to face harsh truths, no matter how cruelly those truths were shoved down your throat. It can ignite that ultra-competitive flame inside of you to prove to your asshole of a boyfriend that he's wrong about you.
I know this, because Andrew was wrong about me. I may not be manic, but I am motivated. I'm driven and I have every intention of being successful in my own right and within the parameters of what I define as successful. I may not treat the people I love in my life like shit to get to where I'm going. I may not make as much money as a software developer. My life may not be as plastic and beautifully fake as an Instagram "influencer."
But I'm smart. I work hard. And I am a great fucking girlfriend, even when Andrew doesn't deserve to have one.
I'm in this game, too, and I'm fucking slaying it.