Marrying My High School Sweetheart Would Have Sucked

I had to break my engagement to avoid my parent's mistakes

Note: This post deals with the subject of abuse and self-harm

How I Broke My Engagement And Saved Myself

My mother and father met through a mutual friend because of a shared adoration for Persian poetry. They married young, against the will of all their friends and family, utterly sure that everyone around them just didn’t understand them. They were married for twenty years, nineteen of which they spent miserable. As a result, my childhood was full of fights. And when I say fights, I don’t mean those things where people are tense at the dinner table. I mean, the type of fights where I hid behind the couch and tried to cheer up my little brother while my parents threw things and screamed so loud the cops got called. I mean, the type of fights where it’s a cold war and one parent pulls you to the side and shares intel on the horrors the other parent has committed. I mean, the fights where if you interfere you get locked into a room for twenty-four hours or spanked or banned from attending the eighth grade class dance.

As a teenager, I was an expert at disassociating. I wasn’t a super big fan of reality, so I retreated into the realm of science fiction and fantasy. It was a land where I could be a knight, or cast a spell, or fall in love with a handsome someone (en route to saving the world). I read books during my mile long walk to school. I hand-wrote the Punk Rock Love Poem on all my notebooks and studied it every day. Eventually, I went to college to get a degree in poetry. I was determined that being in love was as close to magic as the real world got (and, to be fair, there’s something to that sentiment). Which means anything that looked, tasted, felt, or smelled like love could get me in a tizzy. Meanwhile, I had zero frame of reference for what a functional relationship looked like.

Shortly after my parent’s divorce–right at the end of high school–I met a pretty young thing named Jake* at the local parking lot/hangout. I thought I’d found my soulmate. We had a galaxy of stars in our eyeballs for the whole first year that we dated. We waited for Valentine’s Day to have sex, and ate strawberries with whipped cream as a nightcap. I cried because I “felt like we had become one.” Another night, I got super drunk (accidentally, by the way don’t mix antibiotics with Smirnoff Ice) when a group of neighborhood kids snuck onto the elementary school rooftop. I blacked out, threw up, cut my knee open, and nobody could get me to climb down. I walked off the ledge of the school. Jake caught me and carried me home and cleaned me up and wrote love notes for me to find in the morning. In the summer we did acid and went to see an exhibit at a museum and frolicked in a park and giggled to ourselves and felt superior because our world was full of rainbows. That intensity, over many, many, months is how I ended up with an engagement ring on my finger. (Granted, it was $40 from the flea market, but still.)

Here’s what I had to ignore to “follow my heart”: the looks my parents gave me when I told them Jake was a high school dropout with no career goals. That my friends (literally) cursed him out for ignoring me during conversations. His reputation as a womanizer and drug abuser. The fact that he was high when we met. The ambiguous texts from strange girls. That his own mother called the police on him and sent him to juvie. That I had to keep the engagement a secret because I was afraid of the backlash. 

And ignore it I did. The arrogance of my late teens, mixed with my imagination-as-a-survival-tactic, were a potent elixir. I didn’t trust what adults had to say about relationships, since they clearly didn’t know any better than I did. I didn’t trust people that said love wasn’t everything because boring and sensible wasn’t my style. I wanted fire, not warmth. I didn’t know how to have a disagreement without raising my voice, and yelling seemed totally normal. I defended him because I believed in second, third, and tenth chances. I figured we were meant to be and everything else was just a speed-bump we’d get over, together.

But no matter how hard you try, and how thick your blinders are, reality has a way of sneaking in. I finally started to notice things. Things like how when we’d have fights, he’d tell me nobody would ever love me again. Or like how when he was dissatisfied about our sexual frequency (hello, finals week) he would compare me to other, more available, girls (including his most recent ex). When I’d ask him about his life goals, he’d tell me I was spoiled and had everything handed to me. He didn’t really sleep much, but when he did, he’d guilt me for having to wake up to go to class. We experimented in the bedroom, and when he overheard me talking about it at a social event, he said I was emasculating him and proceeded to drink a whole bottle of liquor by himself and break things. He regularly punched holes into the wall. He was so stressed he used to have epileptic fits after we fought. After a particularly bad fit he woke up with amnesia, so I called 911. When he came to, he was pissed I’d called an ambulance because he didn’t want to pay for it.

When we finally broke up, three years into the fiasco that I thought was true love, I was utterly broken. My voice flat-lined. I stopped sleeping (or was sleeping all the time). I acted like something died. It had, and it hadn’t. The dream of the future? The high-school-sweetheart married-for-life bit? The young-wild-kids-make-good story I’d already written in my head? I had to burn it all. That chapter closed, the ring returned to me (I had paid for it, duh) in a tender letter that might have meant more if I hadn’t found out about all the cheating.

I’m now twenty-seven years young. At my age, my mom was about to get pregnant with me. She’d been married six years. She stayed married for fourteen more. She hated all but the first. I saved myself from making that exact mistake. It’s funny, how sometimes, when we run away from something as hard as we can, we’re actually running into it at full speed from the opposite direction.

Reality likes to remind me there’s no quick fix to healing, and before you can change, you have to admit to your unhealthy patterns. It turns out I’m from stubborn stock. But letting go of Jake, and that secret engagement, was the first step to being ready for actual commitment—and, there’s a whole lot of steps left. Will I get married one day? Sure, maybe. But not to a fantasy. Those don’t last long.

*Names have been changed

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