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Patrick’s first break-up with Rachel lasted all of two hours.

They were sixteen and had been dating for all of three months. She was his first relationship, he was her third. There were certain expectations Rachel had, and Patrick had failed to meet one of them. She had been dropping hints for a week that she wanted their first kiss to be at the spring dance. It was the spring dance, and Rachel had finagled the DJ into playing ‘their song’, James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful”. He hated the song, but she was adamant that all couples had ‘a song’, so he just let her pick.

As the song came to a conclusion, she closed her eyes in anticipation of their first kiss. Patrick panicked. He didn’t want to kiss her.

He fled to his pick-up truck, adorned with ribbons and streamers from the morning’s parade. Rachel found him and within ten tearful minutes, they broke up because she didn’t want to be with a boy who couldn’t kiss her.

She went back into the dance, presumably to find camaraderie with her single friends. Patrick stayed in his truck, trying to figure out why he didn’t want to kiss her. Rachel was pretty, popular, and really nice. She didn’t get his jokes, but she thought he was a really talented singer. Patrick wasn’t the most attractive boy in their grade with his baby weight still clinging stubbornly to his face. He was on the JV baseball team, but as a catcher, he didn’t get the same exercise as say, an outfielder or shortstop, so his middle was soft. Besides, catchers weren’t known for getting all the girls. All his friends told him he was so lucky to be with her and not to screw it up.

He tried to think about who he wanted to kiss instead. His thoughts briefly flitted to a couple of his male friends, but he didn’t linger on those subconscious suggestions. Rather, he concluded there wasn’t anyone else and if he were going to kiss someone, it was going to be Rachel.

Three hours had passed, and he had missed the whole dance. The students were pouring out of the gymnasium and Patrick spotted Rachel in her tight pink dress. He rushed out of his truck to her, pulled her in, and kissed her.

He felt nothing.

It was imprecise and unpracticed, but it did the trick. They were boyfriend & girlfriend again.

On the drive home, he wished he could take it back.


 

Their fourth break-up lasted nine weeks.

It was sophomore year of college and Patrick was studying in his dorm room. It was late. He could hear his roommate’s soft snores from his lofted bed. Rachel had gone out with her sorority sisters to a frat party that Patrick was thankfully not invited to. Not only did he have three papers to write, binge drinking was never his thing. Like most college students, he had tried it once in the first two weeks of freshman year but hated how it made him feel afterward.

The stillness of the dorm was interrupted by a frantic knocking, followed by Rachel loudly calling for him through the fireproof door. He hurried from his desk to find her in her party dress, her mascara running down her cheeks, and her heels dangling from her fingers.

She started sobbing, loud howls that woke Patrick’s roommate up, prompting Patrick to shuffle them out into the hallway where Rachel confessed she slept with one of the brothers from Sigma Nu at the party. It was consensual – well, as consensual as it could be when alcohol was involved. His whole hallway heard her as she lamented about how she was unhappy that since they had started dating three years prior, that they’d only had sex four times, the last time being after prom a year and a half ago.

Regardless, Rachel cheated on Patrick. They both knew he had to break up with her.

And he was relieved.

Patrick wished it had been him who had cheated on her with the brother from Sigma Nu. At least he would have been out having fun instead of alone in his room studying.

He never noticed he didn’t swap the fraternity brother for a sorority sister.

After two weeks of radio silence, she began texting him. They were a combination of nonsense letters and long, pre-drafted letters, begging him to give her a chance.

Guilt crept in. Was he too rash in breaking up with her? She loved him so much and it was his fault they weren’t having sex. He was never really in the mood. It made sense that she would seek that out from someone else.

Nine weeks and dozens of texts later, Patrick and Rachel had sex on the futon under his lofted bed.

He never sat on the futon the rest of the school year.


 

Their eighth break-up lasted three months.

The last semester of college was coming to a close and Patrick was anxiously waiting for acceptance to several MBA programs he applied to. All of them were prestigious – he was top of the class in the undergraduate business program – and all were out of state. It was originally an unintentional decision. The schools he liked just happened to be far away from home.

But as the acceptance letters rolled in, he began to imagine starting life anew somewhere where no one knew him. He could have a fresh start and not be weighed down by obligation or assumptions. He could explore and become the person he always wanted to be, whoever that was.

Call it a slip of the mind, but he had become so caught up in the fantasy of his new life that he neglected to tell Rachel he was even accepted anywhere, let alone that he had selected a school that was the furthest geographic choice. He kept it secret for as long as he could until she opened his registration packet that had arrived in the mail.

The fight was explosive, and when Rachel left, he understood why. He had made a decision without her. It had been their best streak yet, going thirteen consecutive months without breaking up.

He felt sick over the whole mess. He hurt her, the woman who knew him better than anyone. They had been through so much together. She was the only relationship he knew, and it was so easy. He wasn’t even sure where he’d go to find a new romantic partner. A bar? A club? Online dating? What if he repeated the same pattern with another woman?

It took him four months to save the money, but as they were taking photos in their graduation robes, Patrick got down on one knee and asked Rachel to marry him.

She said yes.

Two months later, they moved across the country together and Patrick watched the possibility of a new life slip away.


 

Their fifteenth break-up was going on six months.

Wedding planning had been an ongoing effort for over five years, stopping and starting again with each and every break-up. By the third year of engagement (and the eleventh and twelfth break-ups), both of their families had resolved that they would believe they were getting married once they were literally declared husband and wife in front of them.

Unsurprisingly, planning for a wedding with an indefinite date was very, very stressful. Every year details changed either in quality or style or price. This time, Rachel went up two cup sizes due to her hormonal birth control, so her dress had to be completely refitted.

(Patrick’s friends privately congratulated him on Facebook regarding Rachel’s growing bust. He never even noticed.)

Patrick, too. He’d gained at least ten pounds since getting back together with Rachel seven months ago. Rachel loved when he was huskier, saying he more closely resembled the boy she fell in love with twelve years ago. He hated seeing himself in the mirror, seeing his hips getting fleshier, his stomach getting a bit rounder.

During their breaks, he was able to exercise and eat the way he wanted with running and a strict calorie count. When they were together, she’d cook heavy, carb-heavy meals and all his spare time was filled with wedding planning. Me Time was replaced with Us Time.

With Rachel, Patrick was perpetually stuck as the sixteen-year-old boy who ran from kissing a pretty girl at the dance.

The wedding date was drawing near, and he still hadn’t chosen his groomsmen or best man. He had a shortlist, but every time he looked at the list, he felt nauseous. His top choice for best man, Justin, had recently started to infiltrate his dreams. Patrick would be standing at the altar and instead of Rachel, it was Justin who would come around the corner in the most impeccably tailored suit. And Patrick was so happy.

Yet Patrick wasn’t in love with Justin. Justin was his friend. He wasn’t marrying Justin. He was marrying Rachel.

And it was when he’d remind himself of that, that’s when the anxiety would start.

It was day six of arguing over their guest list. Much of the list was at a stalemate. Without Patrick’s bridal party choices, a lot of the list was up in the air. If he chose more high school friends, they’d have to account for hometown guests. If he chose college friends, they’d have to worry about everyone flying in from across the country.

He was on the edge of a panic attack when he left the apartment to get some air.

When Patrick was stressed and needed to get away, he would go to this tiny single-screen arthouse movie theater two towns over. They would play films from all different genres and decades, all on actual film. The quaintness of the venue really spoke to Patrick, giving him a sanctuary to relax and be himself. It didn’t matter what they were playing; Patrick was there. He had a punchcard to fill.

Paying no mind to the title of the film, Patrick went inside and took a seat. He wanted to be taken away to a place that wasn’t wedding planning.

It was a low-budget indie film about a young man, unhappy in his relationship with a woman, who unashamedly falls in love with another man. Their romance is epic and intense, loving and sweet, emotional and raw. Watching it, Patrick felt as if his life was finally in color.

As the credit rolled, he wept.

He finally saw himself reflected back at him and it scared him.

He didn’t sleep for three days.

During lunch on the third day, Rachel asked him about his groomsmen choices. Patrick closed his eyes and he allowed himself to see the movie’s ending, the protagonist and his romantic interest living happily ever after. He welcomed the dreams he’d been having about Justin. He thought about what he really wanted.

He wanted to marry a man. Have children. Grow old together.

With no preamble, Patrick broke up with Rachel. She cried, asking what it was she had done. He repeated that it wasn’t her, it was him. It wasn’t her, it was him. It wasn’t her. It was him.

All of his things were packed in his Sonata under an hour.

It wasn’t until he was a hundred miles away when he exhaled. And then, he laughed. A loud burst of laughter he hadn’t had in a long, long time. The weight was off his shoulders and he was free to fulfill his fantasy of becoming the person he always wanted to be.

Four hundred miles away, Patrick finally pulled over to a motel. It was a small motel right off the interstate that had a five-star rating on Yelp. He checked in with the dark-haired girl at the front desk and settled in. He needed to find a place to live and a new job.

In less than a day, he found a job with a local real estate agent who couldn’t pay much, but he did have a spare room in his house where the office was. The job wasn’t difficult, but he felt good doing it. There were many small business owners he began giving consultation sessions to after posting an ad in the local café.

Then he met David.

And then he got to know David.

Suddenly, he saw himself as the film’s protagonist pursuing David. He dreamt of David walking down the aisle. He wished he had had sex with David at a college frat party. He wanted his first kiss to have been with David as they swayed together at the spring dance.

After David kissed him, he finally knew who he was and who he was meant to be.


Patrick’s only break-up with David lasted two days.

There was going to be a day when Patrick would have told David about Rachel. He would have explained their whole relationship from start to finish and in the end, David would know exactly how much he meant to Patrick.

Instead, Rachel did it for him.

After David found out, he said he needed time to think. Patrick understood. It was a large secret, hiding an ex-fiancée. There was a certain assumption that when two people were together for four months that they would have disclosed their dating history. But it never came up. There was never the right time. For Patrick, he was so happy with David that he didn’t want to invite the skeletons of his past to play.

So, he laid in bed, staring at the ceiling, his phone resting on his chest. Every vibration surprised him, and he’d scramble to see if it was a text from David. There were emails from suppliers, snaps from his sister, messages from his mom.

Then, just as he thought all hope was lost, he texted. He wasn’t coming to work the next day. Patrick’s stomach dropped. He had a feeling that would happen, David being unable to see his face after what happened. He wanted to beg David to give him a chance in person.

But Stevie was taking him to a spa in Elmdale where they would utilize a honeymooners’ package she had purchased for Jake and herself. He told David he deserved the trip, and mazel tov to the happy couple.

David didn’t text back that evening.

The next day at work was brutal. The store was not just a reminder of David, but it was David, right down to the name. Patrick couldn’t escape the hollowness he felt from the day before. He wanted to wallow, but he kept reminding himself that it was just space. They were going to get back together.

In that moment, it felt all too similar to Rachel.

He needed to break the pattern.

Writing and deleting the text a dozen times, he finally asked which spa specifically. Crystal Elms Lodge & Spa in Elmdale, David replied.

The store closed early that day as Patrick drove to Elmdale to hand-deliver a bottle one of David’s favorite red wines with a note. He made sure he wasn’t going to bump into them, so he was still giving David his space. The wine was arguably more a joke for his two best friends.

As he drove back, the nerves settled in. Was he invading the space David asked for? Was the wine too much? Would David think he was being pathetically clingy?

That evening, just as Patrick was setting his alarm for the following day, David texted.

Thank you for the wine. It was perfect. <3

Patrick’s only break-up with David lasted two days never happened.