When I was in my 20s, my boyfriend at the time slid a note under my door.
He’d listed all the reasons he couldn’t be with someone like me. We broke up.
It wasn’t our first or our last breakup, but that list taught me something important.
My boyfriend and I were 20 when he slipped a folded-up piece of yellow paper under my door.
Unfolding the missive, I saw, in his handwriting, the title “Reasons Why I Cannot Be With Someone Like You.”
It wasn’t quite shocking; we were constantly breaking up and getting back together. I wholeheartedly participated in the breakups and makeups of our passionate — yet a bit shallow and oblivious — on-again, off-again relationship.
It hadn’t even been a year since I unfolded another note — his first to me — slipped under my door. That note had a rainbow drawn on it, with puffy clouds and a smiley face. It was very optimistic.
Those puffy clouds had turned dark, and I had in my hands the annotation of their contents — apparently all emanating from me and my insupportable ways.
Early in the list — which ran the length of the page — was the point that my boyfriend could not be with someone who did not return his Blockbuster videos on time. This weighed heavy on him, a movie fanatic. It might have been No. 1 on the list.
Shortly after that was a reason that has stuck with me: “I cannot be with someone who can only do one task per day.”
As I look back at this memory, it strikes me that I knew myself so well back then. I feel confident I was capable of doing more than one task per day, but this edict I had stated at some point was surely an early attempt to maintain routine and equilibrium — and possibly boundaries.
As I read this admittedly truthful inventory of my traits, I could still see some humor in being broken up with by a bulleted-pointed list.
Even many years later, the thought of the list makes me smile. It seems to me now like a prehistoric attempt at communication, the stone wheel of relationship conversations.
It was one of our many breakups
This letter wasn’t our first attempt at breaking up, and it wasn’t our last.
Our relationship was what many young, first relationships are: test drives of automobiles we’re just beginning to know the power, capabilities, and dangers of.
I wish I still had the letter — for its humor, but also for its insight.
Drawing boundaries, stating needs, and being who you truly are, for better or worse, are part of the necessary learning process of relationships. Sometimes we state those needs elegantly, sometimes not — but state them we must.
In time, it became apparent that both of us had an entire page, at least, of reasons we couldn’t be with someone like the other person. And I remember there were much more urgent reasons for breaking up — screaming fights, jealousy — that hadn’t even made the list. Our consistent breakups were also surely a clue about our hopes and needs.
I cherish the intent of my ex-boyfriend’s first attempts at clarity and self-determination in a relationship. When we don’t know how to do something, we do it ridiculously at first, and maybe for a long time.
Also, in the end, he wasn’t wrong — I never would learn to return his videos on time.
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