From the moment I could date women, I’d date them. I'd date them, and then the relationship would eventually burst into flames. Call it bad luck, call it immaturity, call it me being a bad romantic partner. However you say it, you’re probably not wrong and I own that.
Ex-partners have had an affect on me for a long time. After a relationship failed, I would be back on the market ASAP to find someone else. I never took time to process the loss or think about what I could do better. I was just interested in finding “the one” and I wouldn’t allow myself to waste any time. #TedMosby
Annie and I actually met while I was dating someone else. We never cheated on our significant others, but our friendship and intrigue definitely had an effect. I remember seeing Annie for the first time and being completely floored by her in every possible way. To which I thought, “Stay away from that one. That couldn’t possibly be good for your relationship.”
At the time, my significant other and I had been together for about 4 years. We met because we both were in a cappella groups at James Madison University in the fall of 2008. She had a beautiful voice, a beautiful face, and a beautiful soul. I always admired her, even before we got formally introduced. But I didn’t do anything about it because at the time, I was seeing someone else (shocker).
It was only until that relationship erupted that I was freed up to pursue her. Around January of 2010, I was a worship leader and she randomly checked out my church on Sunday. My heart fluttered because not only did I have a crush on her, but I figured I could convince her to sing with me. Which is what happened and eventually, we began a very serious relationship.
We dated for a while. A long while. At it’s best, our relationship had highlights that are still some of my favorite memories ever. At it’s worst, our relationship was incredibly toxic. We’d fight frequently and viciously. We’d be manipulative to each other and use verbally abusive tactics to correct each other’s behavior. And still, we were completely devoted to the relationship (perhaps to a fault).
We broke up a few times before the final break-up, but somehow we always felt like we needed to get back together. Sure, we had our differences that caused a lot of strife. But it also made our relationship exciting. On top of that, the singing bond that we had really kept us together for a lot longer than it should’ve. Especially when we would sing together. It didn’t matter how badly we were doing. Somehow, singing together always helped me renew my love for her.
After graduate school, I moved to Chapel Hill, NC to start my career in student affairs. The distance was really hard on us and due to living completely separate lives, we started growing apart. When we’d visit together, it felt like I was dating a completely different person. The fights started happening more frequently, only it was different being so far apart. We couldn’t just make up or work things out, we often would just leave conversations angry/sad and then stew about them alone.
On top of that, Annie and I started to get really close. In our shared Bible Study, we were the secret progressives that would always chime in to say, “Wait, why can’t women be leaders in the church?” “What do you mean being gay is a sin?” And so on. When our collective group would adjourn, Annie and I would always hang back and talk about our life, theology, and How I Met Your Mother (before Annie saw that horrendous series finale).
On my own, I’d think about Annie a lot. I’d have dreams about her. These feelings felt like a double-edged sword. On one end, it made me really happy to think about her and be her friend. On the opposite end, I felt extreme guilt because while I wasn’t being unfaithful, it didn’t feel like I was being faithful.
One day, we (as in myself and my partner at the time) were Skyping after spending a blissful weekend together. That weekend, we had talked about the possibility of getting married and even perused engagement rings at the local mall. But even after all of that, she stated that she wasn’t happy. It was a frustrating conversation and things got explosive. At the end of it, we determined that we should break up. This time for good.
And that was it. A four year relationship was done after a 30-minute Skype call.
I wasn’t sure what to do, so I started making calls to my close friends about it. One of my best friends, Dan, recommended that I try out therapy. Therapy was something that I was always curious about, but just never had the courage to do. After this life-changing break-up, it felt like now was the time to really go for it. I really wanted to know what happened with my past relationships and why I needed love so badly.
So for the next year, I explored my romantic life through therapy. We unpacked a lot of baggage and processed a lot of hurt. Before I truly began to even understand my struggle, Annie and I started dating. I guess old habits die hard, right?
As I learned more about myself and my past, I incorporated that into my relationship with Annie. She was unlike anyone I had ever dated, which was perfect. Although we were very different, our differences actually complemented each other. Additionally, we were the same in a lot of ways, which helped us to cultivate a very rich friendship. In my wedding vows, I told Annie, “You’re so much more than the woman I’ve always wanted. You’re the woman I never knew I wanted! But more importantly, you are the woman I’ve always needed.” That sentiment is still true to this day.
It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, though. My verbally abusive tendencies popped up from time to time, only Annie never reciprocated. She would just call it out for what it was and I would be stopped in my tracks. Annie never allowed for us to enter into the toxic circle of conflict that plagued my last relationship. She’s so good at managing conflict and even when my baggage shows up in our marriage, we always work through it effectively.
On top of that, I continued to work on myself and be the best partner that I could be. I gained tools for my issues, learned how to resolve conflicts without anger, and grew to love myself more than I ever knew was possible. Maybe that’s why my relationships always failed. Could I really love someone deeply if I couldn’t do the same for myself?
My four year relationship with my ex may have been a failure, but it was the failure that I needed to really figure myself out. As much as I still feel hurt by it, I know that I owe her an incredible amount of gratitude. I couldn’t be who I am today without her. I wouldn’t be the husband that I am without her.
Exes can affect your marriage in a variety of ways. If you’re not careful, they can bring a lot of residual toxins into your new relationship. But if you’re intentional about it, exes can make your current relationships better. That’s what happened to me. While I still have scars and wounds, it’s been a true blessing because I’ve learned so much.
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Annie & Jack
Love. Marriage. Teamwork. Art. Offsetting the patriarchal footprint. These are some of the things we're thinking about.