I didn’t want to write this. For as long as this has been going on, I’ve avoided discussing it, but I don’t think I could say I truly moved on without it. And I am ready to move on. Last year the longest chapter of my adult life came to a close; longer than college, longer than grad school, longer than any professional project. My relationship with Matt ended.
We were an It couple; a reliable duo always in tandem. Presidential campaigns came and went, a few nations were rearranged on atlases, and a rover landed on Mars, and through it all Mary and Matt were a unit of measurement. We were together long enough to acquire holiday traditions, accumulate years of running gags, and to travel the country. We survived three moves, nightmare roommates, two schools, multiple bands and albums, unemployment, crippling debt, two health crises, a family intervention, and even one breakup. You could say that I had faith in us for better or worse, in sickness or in health. I may be at a place now where I can sound clinical as I dissect its closure, but don’t let that minimize your perception of the impact this had on me. Losing my rock was a devastating reality regardless of how stable or unstable that rock may have been.
It’s not difficult to understand why we got together at first. There we were at 24 & 25, two single-and-ready-to-mingle musicians brought together by chance on an obscure project. We met twice a week to make art (already an intimate endeavor). Sharing little in common with our families, colleagues, and even most of our friends (at the time), we bonded hard and fast. We found each other attractive, sure, but we also shared intellect, nerdy interests, political leanings, brooding outlooks, and short term goals. It’s easy for twenty-somethings with this much in common to fall in love. So few logistics and long-term planning come into play. It’s not until later in a relationship–long after most tie the knot–that the hot burn of new love fizzles out and youthful optimism and naivete wear off; where things like long-term compatibility and partnership become real questions… And a testament to my faith in us: that it took so long for my commitment fog to dissipate enough to ask these real questions.
What constitutes long-term compatibility? At 30 I can’t say for sure. I can only relay what I understand in contrast to where mine failed. We looked good on paper. Our interests were similar. But, they were tangentially so; they never intersected. We would like the same music but never the same bands. We liked the same film genres but never the same movies or tv shows. We liked videogames but never wanted to play the same ones. We liked to travel but not to the same places. We liked to go out, but not to do the same things when we got there. We had strong attention to detail, but never on the things we each felt mattered. Most critical of all, I think: we had similar goals but never the same priorities.
With each passing year it should have become easier to fit into each other’s lives, not increasingly difficult. Time together was forced and often silent. It was a duty of schedule that we fulfilled before returning to our preferred passions and pursuits. It was a costume that we wore to events when we could hardly participate in the same conversations for want of differing company. Everything was routine, and dates were exciting things that you did Platonically with other people. Trying to make us work felt like throwing a pebble into a well and listening for it to hit the bottom, but I wanted to keep trying to rescue us because I loved us. He may even have tried too. I don’t want to know because it doesn’t matter now.
What made the breakup difficult to understand and cope with at first was that ultimately there weren’t any “he did this” or “she did this” to tip the blame. We were incompatible in the long-term through no faults of our own (although we worked long and hard on each other to find ways in which it was our fault). The fact of the matter is that sometimes two good people with good chemistry isn’t enough to sustain a lifetime together. Commitment alone does not get you over the finish line, and sometimes quitting the race before you hate each other is the right choice, as difficult as that choice may be to hear.
In the long-term, I need more than a buddy. What I need is a partner. That requires long-term compatibility, the definition for which seems like a moving goalpost as I get older and which of course is highly nuanced and subjective depending on who you ask. Whatever this mystical conglomerate of traits looks like for me, though, I am wholly determined now to demand it. I think real partnership requires an intersectionality of similarity, sacrifice, and general goodness. A partner should want to give of themselves to you, not just show themselves to you.