Ben was one of the best conversationalists I’d ever met. He was also an incredible storyteller, an even better listener, and he could make me laugh like no one else. We met at a grocery store. Technically, we first connected on a dating app, but hours before our initial date, Ben and I literally bumped into each other at the Whole Foods in our neighborhood. He was there buying deodorant for our date. I had just finished dance class and was running in for a drink. He spotted me, recognizing me from my photos, and we started chatting, then parted ways to get ready for the evening. Shortly after I left, I get a text from him, “You’re just as beautiful as your photos.”
We continued to see each other for two months and had the most fun adventures — from us going to the driving range and taking bets on who’d hit the caddy cart first, to a day trip to the Indiana dunes, a salmon cook-off (his smoked versus my raspberry chipotle roasted salmon), badminton on the beach (we weirdly both played in high school), leisurely bike rides, romantic boat rides, lazy brunches, strolls through Chicago neighborhoods, homemade tortilla and ceviche-making (#seduction), movies in the park, ping pong matches, and parties with friends. There was also incredible romance, affection, and chemistry.
I was at an event last month with an tremendously talented poet named Najwa Zebian. She shared, “When you feel truly seen by someone, you let your guard down and you’re vulnerable. We get attached to that feeling of authenticity with someone, often more than our feelings for the person themself.” The French novelist Marcel Proust offered a similar variation over a century earlier: “It is our imagination that is responsible for love, not the other person.” With Ben, I unleashed my inhibitions and my imagination, sharing parts of myself that I hadn’t with anyone else. I remember one of the times we cooked dinner together — we were at his dining room table and I love to be rubbed so he was massaging my thighs and there I was with this incredible guy and he had just cooked me dinner and was rubbing me and I was gazing into his gorgeous blue eyes when all of a sudden I blurted out, “Ben, I need to tell you something.” I looked at him and confessed, “All I want is for you to eat that corn salad off my body right now.” Matter-of-factly, without skipping a beat — true Ben style, he replied, “Oh, you’re into sploshing.” I didn’t even know what sploshing was until he mentioned it. I just thought I fantasized about my body being treated like a platter and getting food eaten off of it. And I say this jokingly but the truth is, I was totally myself with Ben. I didn’t realize until Najwa spoke those words that most of us go through life hiding aspects of ourselves much of the time. And Ben was no exception.
About a month into our dating, I learned that Ben was just out of a two-year relationship and “not looking for anything serious.” I asked him if he needed time, space, or both. “Time,” Ben replied. My ego was a little bruised but I figured I’d continue to date other men and move him down a peg on my priority list. The truth was though, none of the guys I was seeing made me feel even a fraction of what I felt with Ben.
For me, one of the ultimate aphrodisiacs is incredible conversation and it came effortlessly with Ben. He was always telling me about something fascinating he’d just read or would respond to a question in a way that pushed my thinking. One evening, after we’d spent the day together on a boat, I asked him what he loved so much about being on the water. He told me about how in Catch-22, one of the main characters does things that are boring as a way to prolong life by seemingly slowing time. “There’s a luxurious feeling to spending a day on a boat with nothing to do,” Ben replied. I loved his thoughtful explanations, his unexpected answers, and the creative, quirky way that he viewed the world. Towards the end of our dating, the texts came a little less frequently and usually would start with a, “Sorry for the late reply.” One of my responses was, “All good- some guys just have a longer refractory period.” Ben replied at lightening speed, “But when I finally do respond to a text, I’m incredibly passionate it.”
Our last date together started with a walk hand in hand, then cocktails & delicious conversation overlooking the city and sparks in the bedroom. And in the kitchen. Nothing unusual or out of the ordinary happened that night, but after it, Ben disappeared, he ghosted.
I had forgotten how much it hurt — missing his touch, the way his texts put the biggest smile on my face, the tantalizing anticipation of our time together, knowing how much I turned him on, and the intoxicating feeling of being turned on too. In that moment and in the days that followed, I felt this horrible mix of embarrassment, sadness, and loss. It’s easy to blame yourself and beat yourself up when someone you’re dating rejects you and instantly erases you from their life, especially when it happens without a conversation or closure. While I still have moments of missing Ben, more than anything I’m grateful for the motivation the experience gave me to reflect, grow, binge-listen to Beyoncé, and become a stronger version of myself. Below are the top 10 lessons I learned from my experience with Ben that made the heartache worth it.
1. A person’s incredible qualities and the attraction you feel is never reason enough to continue dating someone. Most important is how they treat you and that they choose you.
2. Let people into your life gradually. Our time is the most precious thing we have. No matter how much we think we like someone early on, at every step of dating the other person needs to earn our time along with our trust.
3. In dating and in life, scarcity leads to settling. The best thing you can do, even if you’re developing strong feelings for someone in the early stages of dating, is to continue to date other poeple. Abundance and options always help you to uphold your standards.
4. You’ll never be good enough for a person who isn’t ready or right for you. Don’t waste your time trying to figure out why someone isn’t interested. Don’t spend your energy trying to convince someone of your value. Ignore what you can’t control because so much of who we are gets filtered through the lens of someone’s past and their current blueprint. Focus on the parts of yourself you can improve, spend your time and energy meeting new people, and bring your best to the people who matter.
5. Self-awareness is knowing what you need in a relationship. Self-respect is valuing yourself enough to communicate what you need and not settling for anything less. People value us only as much as we value ourselves. Never compromise your standards just because you like someone in order to make something that’s not working work
6. Go into experiences without expectations. Enjoy them for what they are, not for their potential.
7. Consider: Would I regret spending this time together, expressing this emotion, or investing at this level if things were to end tomorrow? If the answer is yes, as it was for me in moments with Ben, you’re probably moving too fast and making someone a priority who hasn’t earned that role yet in your life.
8. You never need someone to give you closure. No contact is closure. Disinterest is closure. Closure comes from within.
9. No dating experience is ever a waste of time. Even relationships that don’t work can be amazing teachers. They teach us about others but most importantly, they teach us about ourselves — our strengths, our blind spots, the areas that we can grow, and the standards that we have for the people in our lives. Responding to a break-up by reflecting, learning, and growing is always the answer.
10. Sometimes it takes a heartache to realize you’re worth more than you were settling for, and when you know how much you’re worth, you stop giving people discounts.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
By day, Leah leads the influencer marketing division of a national marketing association. In her spare time, she’s a relationship dynamics junkie who’s authored advice on love and dating for media outlets including YourTango, Daily Urbanista, ManTalks, and more. Outside of work, Leah loves dance classes, boxing, podcasts, fro yo, The Mentalist, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and rocking out to her favs — Beyonce and Bruno Mars. You can connect with her on Twitter at @LeapCast.