Posted by: Kate | January 12, 2009

Mr. Right

I received information over the weekend, of a simple and not-secret sort, but that hadn’t presented itself to me in the past nine years.  To wit: my ex-fiance married a mutual acquaintance of ours.  It wasn’t a surprise to me, because I was aware of her interest in him when he and I were together.  And I’m happy for them, unequivocally so.

Seth was – presumably, still is – a good guy.  My mother loooooooved him.  He was courteous, and smart, and liked to go dancing.  I was with him for two years, give or take, and we meant it when we got engaged.  And I still can’t tell you why we didn’t work out.  It was my choice to end the relationship, actually twice because we got back together briefly when I learned of Willem’s infidelity through college.  And I still can’t quite articulate why it didn’t feel right, except that it didn’t.

Oh, this sounds complicated, doesn’t it?  Don’t worry – it is.  The short version is, he and I started dating during my sophomore year, got engaged the following summer, and broke up a few months later.  I broke up with him, because I was attracted to Willem and have always had a philosophy that cheating is a symptom of a bigger problem in the relationship.  Why would I even be thinking about this other guy if things were OK in my current relationship?  And things weren’t OK, though, again, I could never say why.  We didn’t argue, we enjoyed each other’s company, but I always had a sense of vague unrest.

I think a lot of it was due to the fact that he had very strong family traditions – not religious in nature, but things like, Thanksgiving always happened at one particular relative’s home, Christmas happened at a different home and they had to watch the National Lampoon’s Christmas movie and laugh uproariously as though they’d never seen it before, summer vacations happened in a specific spot in a specific town on the Cape… it was comforting, and enveloping, and I had a sense of losing myself, somehow becoming subsumed within his own expectations and beliefs.

This is largely due to my own issues; I was still swimming through the darkest parts of PTSD because I had not yet started seeing a counselor regularly, so my own sense of self was already shaky – easily lost within someone else’s lifestyle, I suppose.  But I think he played a role too, though not a malicious one (don’t think cults and brainwashing here, that’s a different friend altogether) – he just found such comfort and stability in his traditions that he began to have a hard time seeing those aspects of me that didn’t quite fit in with them.  Like the fact that I was studying psychology and wanted to go to grad school for criminal justice, of all things, and at that point in my life had no plans on being a stay-home mom, like, ever; later, when I was in grad school full-time, he didn’t know what I was studying, because it wasn’t relevant to his expectations of me.  Like the fact that I have a circulation disorder that makes it impossible for me to stand or swim in cold water, so his traditional beach spot on the Cape was basically unusable for me and their beloved downhill winter sports were painful for me.  Just little things, all the time, that built up to an overwhelming sense of “not right.”

So, in the fall of ’96, we broke up, and I started dating Willem.  Seth and I remained friends for the next few years, which drove Willem absolutely insane, and I found out later that, on one occasion, Seth went to the frat house to sit Willem down and tell him that I was sleeping with both of them at once (well, not that kind of “at once,” but you know).  I’ll grant that it took cojones for him to visit Willem on Willem’s turf and make accusations against Willem’s girlfriend, but seeing as how those accusations weren’t, technically, you know, true, I was less than thrilled.  Still, we were friends.

Fall ’98 rolls around, I was living in Boston, alone, and Seth was the only person I knew from college who was also living in the area.  We had gotten together a few times, always platonically, nothing dangerous there.  Then I found out Willem had been unfaithful since about the first weekend of our relationship, and my world got, shall we say, shaken up a bit.  I broke up with Willem, firmly enough that I began seeking a restraining order when he wouldn’t stop calling me, and fairly soon was back together with Seth.  Not the healthiest decision on my part, perhaps, but he was a good guy and treated me well and I was just broken.

A few months passed, and I started to realize that I was still in love with Willem, as much as I really didn’t want to be, and I also realized that things still were just not quite right with Seth.  We could have made it work, I think, but the only way I could figure out how was to largely abandon my own personality and preferences in order to fit into his world.  I might have been able to do so once upon a time, but by this point I was deeply involved with a good therapist, and was starting to figure out how to treat myself a little better.

It all ended with me, once again, breaking up with Seth and going back to Willem.  This time I owed Seth money, which I couldn’t immediately repay, so I returned my engagement ring and gave him my computer, believing that they could be sold to cover the amount I owed.  We stayed in touch for a short while, but it was clear that Seth wanted to convince me that Willem was not the right guy for me.  And I could never quite figure out how to convincingly say, “Look, you are a truly great guy and I love you.  But we’re not right for each other, and this guy who just broke my heart and is kind of a jerk, he and I are right for each other.”

The last time I spoke to Seth was shortly after I found out I was pregnant with Emily, in the fall of 1999.  I know it hurt him to hear, but this pregnancy was such a clear sign that I needed to let go and move on, really sever ties, if I wanted my relationship to work.  And, for reasons I wasn’t quite clear on, I really, really did want it to work.

So, no real closure, and certainly some bad feelings, at least on his side.  I have some guilt for the way it all went down, but not for the ultimate decisions I made.  I never heard from him again, and likely won’t.

Throughout those years of chaos and tumult, Seth had a friend, D.  (As an amusing side note, she dated one of Willem’s fraternity brothers through college, and I used her ID to get into the bar for the three years that I was going to bars before I was 21.)  She never much liked me, and I always used to tell him, “Seth, she doesn’t like me because she wants you for herself.”  And he would laugh at me, disbelieving, and the conversation would end.  But through Facebook, seeing a friend’s list of friends, there she was – with his last name.  Sure enough, they married, and now they’re both living in his hometown, running his family’s business.  They have a son, and they seem happy.

And I am so relieved.  I always wanted him happy, even when I didn’t think I was the right girl for the job, and I wasn’t surprised to hear that they ended up together.  I’m glad he has a good life, and is presumably fitting into his old family traditions and roles just like he always wanted to.  And seeing where they’re living, what they’re doing with their lives, almost provides me a glimpse of what might have been.  Because I suspect he would have ended up exactly where he is, no matter who he’d married, and I think that’s what he needed to be happy.

I would never have been happy in that life, not fully.  Not while staying true to myself.  So I have had a huge sense of relief, as though I’ve received proof that I made the right decision when I took my wedding vows.

It’s all strange, sort of alternate-universe-feeling, and nobody can pretend that I’m perfectly, 100% happy right now, as I sit home unemployed and anxious about various health issues.  But I have the potential for happy – I’ll post about the house we visited yesterday, ohhhhhhh was it gorgeous – and have absolutely no regrets.



  1. Thats a good ending.

    My sister ran into my ex-boyfriend (we dated on and off for 3 years before I met my husband). He was sitting alone in a dive bar drinking. I felt relief that I was with my husband. The ex turned out to be a major loser. Whew.

  2. So, when are you writing that book?

  3. My college boyfriend and I were a bit like that. “Good on paper,” was, I think, the term they used on Sex and the City. We had lots of mutual interests, could spend hours discussing philosophy and drum corps and music composition. Sexually, things were well matched. His dad liked me, my folks liked him.

    One day he just up and said, “I don’t think we are right together.” And to my surprise, I agreed completely. It still hurt, but it was no shock to me. A month later things started to get interesting with Mike, and the rest is history.

  4. “Because I suspect he would have ended up exactly where he is, no matter who he’d married, and I think that’s what he needed to be happy.” — I dated a guy who was/is exactly like this too. And he’s married now, and I assume happy, but it all turned out exactly in the way HE wanted and planned … and I think it would have no matter who his wife had been, which is why I couldn’t be that person.

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