A few years ago, I was sitting on my old therapist's sofa, running my fingertips across the purple velvet cushions, when she said, "He's never going to marry you."
She craned her neck the same way a parent does when trying to make eye contact with a petulant child. I continued to stroke the couch, focus my gaze on the nap and enjoy the ability to change the tone by moving my hand in the opposite direction.
"He lives in Alaska for a reason. Also, Paige, the issue isn't you. He will never end up with anyone. He's a commitment-phobe."
Listen, it isn't that she was saying something crazy. There were plenty of hints and signs throughout the years. I just chose to ignore them, instead focusing on the few times he gave me hope. Perhaps I was finally so worn down from the back and forth that I was ready to hear this. Maybe she just knew how to deliver the message. Either way, I finally cut ties with Alaska.
"It's so nice dating someone local," I said to Leslie over the summer, my relationship with E only a few weeks in. "Like, how novel to be able to randomly grab pizza with your boyfriend on a Tuesday night!"
"I think you were okay with Alaska because it protected you from dealing with a true relationship, something you just weren't ready to handle."
She was totally right. Except until that moment, I had never seen my part in that waltz. Not that I claimed I was an innocent victim. I did, after all, lace up my shoes and happily step onto the dance floor. But suddenly I saw how my own personal crap had driven my fate.
Last night I went out on a date. There was a little hesitation on my end. Something about his fondness for cruises and casinos that I couldn't connect with. But I showed up with an open mind. Oh, and also a forgetful one because I had to rifle through emails while idling in the parking lot because I had forgotten his name.
"Oh, I love New York!" he said when I mentioned the US Open. "Do you go there often?"
"I used to when I lived in Philly. You?" I asked before taking a sip of my cocktail.
"Yeah, I used to date a woman there. For four years."
"Wow, that's a long stretch for long distance," I noted, internally recognizing the irony of those words exiting my mouth.
"Sure, but it worked for me," he explained.
"Why, because you're a commitment-phobe?" I asked with a chuckle.
He paused for a moment, tilted his head to the side and then said, "Huh, I guess I kinda am."
There it was, his moment of realization. It's as if I had held up a mirror, revealing something he had never seen. Though, in all honesty, I stated the question in a joking manner. I had never anticipated that he'd avert his gaze, focus on his drink. That curious quiet between us? I shattered it by tossing my head back and laughing. I laughed and laughed, doubled over at the irony of sitting next to a man I met on a dating website, a man who just admitted he's a commitment-phobe.
"Wait, why is this funny?" he asked. "I'm just being honest. Isn't honesty an admirable trait?"
And then it was gone. He wasn't ready to see his part in his destiny. He was there and then he wasn't, quick to defend himself and explain things away. And that's all fine and good. I've been there. You have to really want to change in order to see it through. Exhibit A: my relationship with Alaska that ran years past its expiration date. He wasn't at a point to truly see things for what they were. The difference between us was that I was.
"Thanks for the drink," I said as we stood in the parking lot.
"Of course," he replied.
They were generic pleasantries shared between two people that would never cross paths again. On the upside, it was a reality we both embraced and welcomed, each of us turning on our heels and heading off in opposite directions.