It's unsettling watching a sinking ship from the shoreline. You feel a sense of morning for the people aboard, but the emotion is detached and distant from your heart. It doesn't consume you or weigh heavily, it just clings.
A friend of mine recently found herself on a sinking ship. A sinking relation-ship. And I watched from a distance as she clutched at the floating shards of hope.
Let's call her Catherine and him Jamie.
Catherine's boyfriend moved halfway across the country last autumn, but their relationship was precious enough to be tested in the dark waters of long distance. They had been inseparable before his departure and seemed to be the epitome of the perfect relationship: always clinging to each other, always smiling, always sharing tender looks of endearment. Hidden beneath these outward displays of affection was a stagnant relationship full of tension and broken communication. None of us had any idea.
The first few weeks boded well for the two of them. Catherine was filled with hope and gushed to me that the distance might be the best thing for them. She claimed she could focus on her final year of school and really hone in on herself and her future while he started his. They talked every night and texted every day, but - like it always does - the honeymoon phase came to a screeching halt. He "got really busy" with work and "couldn't manage" to send her a quick text until he went to bed at 4 AM, by which time she was asleep and couldn't reply until the morning. Their relationship wasn't just in limbo; it was non-existent.
Fast-forward a couple of weeks and my friends and I began receiving odd texts from Jamie. He wanted to know how to break up with Catherine, but begged us to keep it a secret until he "figured everything out." Even though we kept our promise to Jamie, Catherine sensed something was amiss and began to hover in a constant state of unease, waiting for goodbye.
He came home at Thanksgiving and somehow managed to assure her that everything was as it had been and that they were stronger than ever. This satisfied her qualms, but as concerned friends, the rest of us weren't so sure. We watched her carefully after he left again and noticed that, like before, she slipped into a lackluster version of herself. Whenever she talked about Jamie it was to say he hadn't called, hadn't found the time. Again they had lost their relationship, but wouldn't admit it.
Months later and she began saying things like "I know we have to break up someday, it's just not the right time." It's just not the right time...We tried to make her see that it would never be the right time. There would never be a perfect day to end it all. She said it didn't feel right. We said it never really did. She said she wanted to let him do it. We said to just get it over with. She said she knew she cared more for him than he did for her, but that couldn't be a reason to say goodbye. We said that was reason enough.
The back and forth continued for hours on end and at each turn she pushed the thought of a breakup away. She couldn't bear to think of it and therefore refused to. Their love was hollow, but she chose to cling to the shell.
There was nothing I could do or say to convince her to let go so I just watched from afar as her relation-shipwreck drifted farther and farther apart on a wide ocean of silence. I realized that it was easier for her to clutch at the wreckage instead of letting go and becoming submerged in loneliness. She was afraid to sink because she feared there would be no one else to rescue her.
Barely staying afloat and waiting for the looming storm to overwhelm her would not stop the heartbreak, but she would be able to breath for a few hours more.
That's when I realized that their relationship had never lost anything. It had only ever been a shell. They had always been happy because they had never fought. They had never fought because they never wanted to hurt or be hurt. They had never hurt, but they had never loved.
They had never trusted and just swum like maniacs for the horizon and whatever lay beyond.