As told to Kara Horvath
Carley and I met in middle school in an American history class. She would not stop making fun of me. On the first day of class, she sat down right behind me and immediately commented on my clothes. “Your shirt is inside-out,” she grinned while twirling her shiny brown hair. “I wanted to let you know before someone makes fun of you.”
This statement was ironic! She made fun of me about it for the rest of the semester. “Nick, take off your jacket.”
The first time she said this, I stared at her confused. “Why?” I asked her.
“I want to make sure your shirt isn’t inside-out.” She winked and showed the same beaming smile every time.
We had one heck of a time in class together. Our friendship made history class so much more enjoyable. Throughout the rest of middle school and the beginning of high school, I grew attracted to her. There was more to the attraction than simply her looks. We had fun together. We could trust each other with anything. We became best friends. During the end of freshmen year of high school, I asked Carley to be my girlfriend. Without any hesitation, she said yes!
Dating in high school was easy. We both had a similar sense of humor and could easily spend time together since we lived in the same town. Because of the carefree nature of high school and no major responsibilities, our relationship was more about hanging out and having fun. This changed quickly when we had to make our first big decision together. College.
We were wanting to go to the same school, so we would not have to be apart. However, we both had different motives when selecting schools. I loved Ohio. She loved swimming. In the pool, Carley was a torpedo. She was one of the best swimmers on our high school swim team. Throughout junior year of high school, she had Division III colleges scouting her at swim meets. After learning she had potential to swim in college, swimming became a top priority in her search. A Division II university in Florida gave her an opportunity to swim for them. This opportunity was a no brainer for her. Meanwhile, I decided against remaining in Florida. My mom lived in Florida, and my dad lived in Ohio. By choosing a college in Ohio, I could visit my dad throughout the school year and my mom during the summer.
Reality hit when we accepted our offers. We were about to go from seeing each other almost every day to being a thousand miles apart. Because of the distance and the expenses of the travel between Ohio and Florida, people told us that we would break up doing long distance. My optimism wanted to prove those people wrong, but in reality, I was nervous about the decision to be apart. Honestly, I was not only nervous. I was terrified of the unknown in the situation. To add to my fears, this decision presented another challenge. Carley was diagnosed with a chronic illness in the GI tract, which related to stress, and was prescribed medication for it. I worried about what the extra stress of a long distance relationship would do to her. Carley’s dad even became involved with our decision. Prior to leaving for college, her dad looked me straight in the eye and questioned me. “Do you love her enough that you will decide to leave her if needed?”
Great. Now her dad showed his hesitation. I had no idea how to respond. Hopefully, he only asked me this question because of Carley’s recent diagnosis. I tried to shrug it off. Through the fears, Carley and I still loved each other, and since she was my best friend, she had to be the right person for me! Love does conquer all.
But, my fears came true. We both became stressed. We struggled to maintain communication over distance. It was like we did not know how to communicate outside of being together almost every day in high school. But, we would learn how to do it, right? Doesn’t love always work?
Miscommunication slowly led to fights. Our fights were only stupid ones, right? I reminded myself about how we would not be doing distance forever, so these fights should resolve once we settle down together. I started looking toward the light at the end of the tunnel, and my thoughts shifted to the future. During the spring semester of my sophomore year of college, I looked for a civil engineering internship on the West Coast, the place where Carley strived to live after graduation. I perused the Internet and job search databases for jobs on the West Coast with the mindset that this will be a great opportunity to have connections after graduation. I accepted an internship offer in Montana for the summer. Unfortunately, Carley hated this decision. I understand that our long distance relationship was already a struggle, but I was thinking about the future for us when I accepted this job. She remained angry that entire summer and still refused to effectively communicate.
“I want a to go on a break,” Carley eventually blurted.
This fight over Montana clearly was not a stupid one. I could not shrug it off like all of the other ones, especially now that we are “on a break”. She wanted this, not me. I do not see the point in breaks. They reflect a broken commitment, resulting in my uneasiness. Throughout the fall of my junior year of college, I kept thinking about this. I pondered ending the relationship all together even after 5 and a half years of investment into one another.
One October evening that same fall, I nestled in the front seat of my car with my mom on speaker phone. Although my car was parked in front of my apartment, there was something comfortable about being trapped inside of the car. My car was like an escape. Now, the comfortable interior of my car, the object that sparks invigorating sensations of racing from my childhood, separated me from the stresses of the outside world. The only person who I invited into this moment was my mom. Carley came uninvited.
Unfortunately, I could not get Carley out of my head. The stresses of our relationship continued to haunt me. “Mom, I am going to break-up with Carley,” I sighed while rubbing my beard.
My mom was immediately relieved! She thought that I was going to propose to Carley! Moments later, I arrived to the weight room and remained on speaker phone with my mom. It came clear to me that my mom rustled with Carley becoming a part of the family forever. I became curious. “What does the rest of my family think of her?” I pondered.
My little brother, who is still little to me even though he was in high school, was located in the same room as my mom. “What do you think about Carley?” I investigated.
Silence. I felt my heart thudding like it was intentionally punching my chest. I usually do not feel the vibrations in my chest although it is normal for my heart rate to increase when I work out. Sweat dribbled down my brown hair and onto my forehead. The night darkened instantly even though it was already 11:30 pm. The crisp October air pierced my skin as I felt it through the window adjacent to the leg press machine. I pressed with only a few more leg presses to go. Time passed. It seemed like forever, but the silence only lasted a few seconds. The phone crackled.
“Well,” my brother hesitated, “I don’t even know her.”
This statement resonated in my head like an I-pod set on repeat. In that moment, I had my “ah-ha” moment. Carley and I were dating for 5 and a half years and my little brother felt like he did not even know her!
So there we had it. The moment of truth revealed. My relationship with Carley flashed before my eyes, and every little fight and disagreement pieced together in a perfect puzzle. After I thought back to my internship search and our summer apart, I placed down the final piece to the puzzle that described our fights. They were not a result of miscommunication. Our goals in our relationship did not match. Carley does not value family and the future in the same way that I do. When we reunited that past August after our long summer apart, we were excited to see each other. However, that happiness withered away. It is easy to be happy with someone like her when you have not seen her in a while. But, then, reality sinks in, and the unsolved problems return. We got nit-picky with each other. This same cycle always happened after we experienced time apart. The discussion of kids came up. She does not want to have kids whereas I do. Even though I did not realize it in the moment, this conversation became the first piece of evidence to my claim of our mismatched goals. This particular time in August along with the decision to go “on a break” became the catalyst of my intentions to break-up with Carley.
Now, my little brother reaffirmed my decision, presenting my second and most significant piece of evidence. I really made an effort to get to know her family whereas she never made a real effort to get to know mine. With my two pieces of evidence, I felt like I was investigating a major crime scene, but this scene was in my head. I got too caught up in showing people that Carley and I could sustain a long distance relationship. There is more to love than proving people wrong, and it is important to remember what matters in the relationship.
As scared as I was to end a 5 and half year dating relationship with someone who I considered my best friend, I needed to act quickly. I called Carley while I was in my car after getting off work at the tutoring center. She already knew why I was calling before I could even say it. She took the conversation about as well as anyone could, which was horrible. She tried to convince me not to break-up with her, and I tried to make her understand I was doing it for her and not because of anything bad. The relationship was a poor fit, not anything negative. We talked for a few days after the break-up, and the same conversation kept repeating. She did not want it to end, and I really did not want it to end either, but I honestly believed it was best for both of us.
This story originally appeared in Facing Our Futures Beyond High School, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio.