July 12 – this year would have been 25 years since my first date with PhD.

That’s just an insane statement partly because I don’t feel that old, but we did meet when I was 22, and partly because we’ve been broken up for nearly 8 years. 2015 feels like so many, many life times ago. My life has changed so dramatically.

Yet, I still feel sadness over PhD. What a waste of love, of memories, of connection, of time, of support, of laughs. These are my lingering thoughts after all this time, even though I now know that our relationship was all built on sand.

I met PhD in 1998 just a month or so after I graduated from college. Meeting him was the last nail in the coffin of a 3 year relationship I had with an exchange student from London that made it all the way to betrothed before I woke the fuck up and called it off.

That summer, I dreamt of playing soccer again. It was my favorite sport growing up, but I had stopped all organized sports at age 16 after knee surgery. It was a co-ed summer soccer league and I randomly got assigned to his company’s team when they didn’t have enough women sign up.

I didn’t have a job right out of school. I really had no idea what I wanted to do, so was waiting tables at a brewery/bar/night club downtown. The day of our first soccer game, I waited on two of the company executives at lunch. They recognized me as soon as I walked on the pitch that evening and I was glad to see a few familiar faces. I didn’t notice PhD, but he noticed me.

The after game ritual was to go to a midtown bar for beers. As the weeks went by, PhD and I ended up spending more and more time chatting. We hit it off pretty immediately, but physically he wasn’t really my type. His mother’s Scottish side made him a ginger – add to that pale skin and a techie desk bod. But he was taller than me, which is always a rarity, and extremely well read, curious and talked about things I had no idea of. I later found out he was separated, but technically still married when we met. Well, I guess I technically still had a BF at the time.

The season was winding down and so were our post-game bar hang outs. I learned some time later that a female co-worker he confided his smitteness of me to encouraged him to make a fucking move. He asked me on a date – watch the World Cup Final on a big screen at their offices. It fell on a weekend so we would be there alone.

It wasn’t a fancy office. Late ’90’s tech company in a downtown district. Employees all had their own offices, but with games and free food in the common areas and a big projector screen TV. During halftime, we went outside on the fire escape for a smoke and had our first kiss. After that it was on pretty fast.

I moved in to an apartment a restaurant co-worker was leaving that just happened to be across the street from a three bedroom apartment he, his sister and brother decided to rent together. Brother and sister enrolled in a local college. PhD and I spent nearly every day and night at one place or the other. Two months later, I got a more career-focused job as a fundraising assistant at the local Boys & Girls Clubs – a place I had volunteered at for a college course.

By Christmas, his brother wanted to move closer to campus and his sister dropped out and went back home to their parent’s house. So PhD and I got our first apartment together a few blocks away, and lived together for the next 17 years.

Of course, we had countless adventures and amazing times together over those 17 years. We traveled a lot – Toronto, Vancouver Island, Montreal, Puerto Rico, Munich, Hawaii, Singapore, Hong Kong, Vienna, Berlin, New Orleans, Las Vegas, Santa Barbara, Chicago, and many other US and European cities. We moved to Manhattan in 2002 after 9/11 and then California in 2007 so he could purse his dream of getting a PhD in physics.

We also went through very heartbreaking times. In one single year, his sister who struggled with mental health issues and then addiction died at 32, she was my age. Nine months later my dad, age 66, died suddenly and then one of our rescue cats that made both moves with us died.

I supported him with everything I had in me at the time – money, love and encouragement – not only in the early days when he wanted to quit smoking, but through the PhD, which took nearly 10 years in all. He quit his job as a web designer in NYC to do his science and math undergraduate requirements so he could apply to graduate school. His undergraduate degree was in computer art and design so he needed the math and science for physics. That was the first two years. He took out loans for the classes and books, and my salary paid the bills and for the vacations.

Since he was a non-traditional student in his mid-30s, there weren’t many programs that would take him, but a university in CA did. I amazingly got a job that was actually a step up in my career at the same university and off we went from Manhattan to the west coast. I was also doing my MBA at the time so crammed in four summer classes before we left and finished the final credits in CA before walking in 2008.

The transition to California was hard. We were in our own weird bubble. Too old to hang out with the beer pong-loving mid to late 20 year olds of his program and too young for the 40-somethings with kiddos at my job. But we both found our way there for seven years.

I taught myself how to culinary garden, started a food blog and taught cooking classes at the local food co-op. I moved up in my career, wrote chapters for fundraising books and spoke at a few conferences. He excelled at school and got a prestigious summer appointment in Arizona.

But now 10 years into our relationship, we were in decline – I just wasn’t aware. That year of sudden deaths was never spoken about, and while we lived together, we lived as friends and roommates.

Our sex life was shit. I would masturbate in the shower rather than have sex with him. We never talked about that either. I went to therapy to talk about it instead.

I had lingering, long term body issues that had started at age 15. I struggled from time to time with self-abuse and most days I limited myself to 1,000 calories while working out 6-7 days a week. I was self-conscious in anything I put on and would never dare wear a bathing suit. I routinely binged on food and alcohol on the weekends and then restricted myself all week long to lose the weight.

We never talked about all that either. He binged along side of me whenever I did and then every other day I wasn’t until he was approaching 40 – then freaked out and started exercising.

While in AZ, he was free for three weeks. Free from the responsibilities of home. He met a whole new set of people from across the country. When I came to meet him at the end of the program, we went to brunch with a number of the other program participants. The moment I met the blond from the Pacific NW, I had a feeling. He had already mentioned her a few times. I was familiar – the exact way I casually mentioned PhD to my London BF the summer I met PhD and London and I were breaking up.

Although he never admitted anything, when he came back he was different. Fired up. No longer patient with my body issues, self-abuse and lack of sex. Yup, he fucked her and then stayed with me another seven years – my guess is because he knew where his financial bread was buttered. With his very not generous graduate student stipend of $2,000 per month, he needed me to help him finish his PhD.

He graduated in the summer of 2013. I had put in my notice at work and was heading to culinary school. It wasn’t long before he got a job and moved to the big city. He found a furnished studio and I was in an apartment about a 90 minute drive away.

I noticed pretty early on that when I couldn’t get a hold of him by phone or text he was in the same location quite far away from his studio. Thanks, Find Friends!

We would see each other whenever we could fit it in with our crazy, different schedules, but the times together became shorter and shorter. He was starting to want to go back earlier if he visited me, and made excuses so I would have to leave early, if I came to see him.

The next year was slow, drawn out and painful.

I frequently asked if he still loved me. Several times I even asked if he was cheating. There was only silence or obfuscation.

I was mad, frustrated, impatient. Then I met Wino in a local bar. I wanted to fuck the shit out of him. The next time I saw PhD I told him I wasn’t sure what the fuck was going on with him, but that I wanted to see other people – be separated. He didn’t say much and I wasn’t asking permission.

A few months later he finally admitted it. It was a younger woman from work. They had been seeing each other for months – likely longer than he confessed to.

We didn’t break up. I naively wanted to know the underlying reasons and to see if we could repair our relationship. I didn’t know ENM existed then. For several months, we continued to see each other and I continued to ask questions. He continued with the same silence and putting me off.

I walked with my culinary degree in September 2015. Both our families flew from the East Coast. It was horrible. No one knew what was going on and as soon as I walked into the apartment after I finished class one day, there were his parents on the couch. I said hi and quickly ran upstairs making an excuse of getting out of my chef clothes when really I was trying to get out of their sight before the tears came.

We got in a fight the night before my graduation and he left me at the bar. The next morning, hung over and newly drunk and high, I hopped in the car with my culinary classmates and we sped off to school for graduation. I received two of three culinary awards given out, losing the highest GPA award by just a few points. I was proud of myself, but trying to keep it all in. I stood for the required photos with him, but avoided spending any more time with him than I needed to to keep up appearances.

Soon after, I left for three weeks to the East Coast to my family’s beach house in southern NC by myself. We had never taken separate vacations since we started dating so it was a red flag to our families. Before I left, he told me to think about what I wanted to do with our relationship. I’ll never forget how odd that sounded to me like he wasn’t in the relationship with me and didn’t have a say or an opinion. It told me all I needed to know. For nearly a year, I was trying to talk to him about everything, but it was like talking to a brick wall. How would I be able to possibly salvage and repair our relationship on my own? The answer is I couldn’t so when I returned in October, I planned a weekend in the city with him and then told him I wanted to break up.

We spent the next year actually breaking up. Separating everything from finances to furniture to the cats was slow and painful. He never talked any more about his feelings, the reasons, what he wanted. I jumped in to a rebound relationship as a distraction from the grief.

I last saw him nearly two years later when the very last thing connecting us was my name on his bank account. I went to the city to meet him. We had a drink first and then went to the bank. He only talked pleasantries – surface-level facts about his life and surface-level questions about mine. I captured that entire story in this post: “A Church, A Court Room and Then Good-Bye.”

Eight years later only that sadness remains.

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