The night before my first day of classes at Barnard College, I called my boyfriend sobbing. I’d transferred there from Lewis & Clark, a move equally motivated by him as it was by the start-up I’d been working on.
That summer, we’d rented a house together, taken classes at Lehigh University, split grocery bills, and grown herbs and tomatoes in the backyard. We talked about getting a dog.
I was in love in the way that is equal parts madness and delusion. I made dinner every night and vacuumed like my self-worth depended on it. I was intent on everything being perfect. But things were unraveling far before we turned the key in the lock and moved in to the little house in Bethlehem, PA.
I’d found out a few months earlier that he’d cheated on me. I had known that something was up. While he was in the shower, I looked through his Facebook messages. For months he’d been talking with a girl that we’d both worked with. They weren’t just chatting. The words, two years later, are still burned into my memory.
“I can’t wait to take you out on a proper date.”
“I need to see you soon, I feel so held back and tied up here.”
“I bought the flights!”
Yeah, he’d bought flights. While he’d been telling me that he didn’t have the money to visit me in Oregon where I’d been in school that year, he’d bought tickets to Arizona. To be fair, they were tickets that he didn’t use. He said, begging me to forgive him, that he felt so bad at the airport that he couldn’t bring himself to get on the plane. I curled up in a ball on the bed and refused to let him touch me. I asked him if he’d ever physically cheated on me. He said no. My mind started to whir.
I was difficult, hardheaded and tough to deal with. He put up with me. I couldn’t let this guy go. I had to find a way to forgive him. It was probably my fault that he’d gone looking for someone else. I wasn’t caring enough. This wasn’t about him. I had to fix me.
When, a few months later, I learned that he had physically cheated on me early on in our relationship, I went through these same steps. I convinced myself that I had to forgive him. I even agreed to move in with him, and that’s how, at 19, I found myself vacuuming orange shag wall-to-wall carpeting.
Unfortunately, telling myself to forgive him wasn’t enough. It took months, but at my desk the night before the first day of classes at Barnard, I finally realized that my ability to forgive didn’t stretch that far and that being unhappy in the relationship wasn’t my fault.
I’d like to think that I’m a pretty forgiving person, but there are situations in which my forgiveness falls short. For the first time, I’d found one.