Before we were dating, back when we were just friends, my ex once told me that I had “perfect skin”. I don’t remember how it came up as we were driving in my car, or what we could have been talking about that led to that lovely, albeit somewhat unbelievable, compliment. But it stays with me. At the time it was just one of those nice things that someone says that you don’t particularly agree with, but are happy to hear anyway. No, you deflect, no I don’t at all. But secretly you’re pleased. You want to believe it is true.
When we started dating a bit later, I remembered that passing comment, so insignificant at the time, but now, with the attached meaning that hindsight provides, hanging like a sort of albatross around my neck. He thought that I had perfect skin. What if he saw this blemish on my chin, or these lines on my forehead? He must expect that he will always see perfect skin, and what if someday he can see that I most definitely do not have perfect skin? If he thought my skin was perfect, what else needed to be perfect? My hair, my clothes, my body?
So I tried to give him what I thought he wanted to see. Makeup-covered, cutest outfit-wearing, blown-out-hair me. Beyond that, I attempted to BE who I thought he might want to see, might want to love. I tried to be casual (I’m not), I tried to play it cool (nope, not that either) and I tried to seem like the most perfect, has-it-all-together girl he could have ever met (not even a little).
It didn’t take very long for that to crack. There was the time I got a stomach bug on our first trip together. That splintered the image a little. The time I drank too much and cried drunk tears in front of him. That didn’t help the façade. Or when I finally admitted that I really cared, that I wasn’t casual or cool or any of those things he may have thought I was. The crack became an actual break.
Three months. That’s how long I could sustain this persona I had created for myself. That’s how long it took for the real Katie to make an appearance. That’s how long it took for him to realize that the real Katie was not what he signed up for, and not really what, or who, he wanted at all.
When that relationship imploded for the second time, about three months in again for the second time (as so many before it had as well), it broke me.
The heartbreak, certainly. The pressure of starting over, again, absolutely. But mostly it was the idea that maybe no one would ever be able to be with me for longer than this trial period. That no would decide to keep me for longer than the standard 90-day return policy.
That no one could actually love the real Katie.
It was a dark moment in time, full of confusion and doubt, despair and fear. After so much pretending, I didn’t know who I was anymore. Or how to be someone who somebody would want. I didn’t know if that was even possible.
But from this breakdown came the breakthrough.
Something clearly wasn’t working for me in relationships. Some pattern seemed to be repeating for me regardless of what “type” of guy I dated. Somehow I wasn’t achieving that real, true, lasting connection with anyone. Someone was preventing me from making it past the three month mark.
Or the “trying-to-be-the-perfect girl” version of me at least. That version was always destined to crack. It would always come up short. It was always doomed to fail. Because it wasn’t real.
The real Katie is very sensitive, and very clumsy, and gets pimples, and has frizzy hair and cares too much most of the time. The real Katie does weird Rain Man-esque things like separate candy by color and only eat the orange ones and memorize numbers and check United miles obsessively. The real Katie likes classical music and Lifetime movies and so many other things that no exes ever knew about.
Maybe if the real Katie showed up at the beginning things would be different. Maybe if there was no façade, if there was nothing to crack, things wouldn’t break. Maybe someone wouldn’t return this real version after three months.
And maybe, just maybe, someone WOULD love real Katie.