It was Memorial Day weekend when I decided to take him up on an offer to spend a few days at his favorite Buddhist monastery in the Catskills, where he loved to meditate. It was dark and rainy, and the bitter cold crept up inside us. We hadn't packed properly so we wore all of our clothing at once to stay warm. We ate bland vegan meals, prepared by monks, at cafeteria tables in complete silence. We were split into groups, where—huddled together—we were prompted to open up to people we'd just met. Somehow, Travis was never in my group. Nor, obviously, was he with me when our meditation groups were segregated by gender.
I’d sometimes look over to him, but he was never looking back. When I retreated to the women’s cabin, and he to the men’s, strangers undressed and crawled into twin beds in silence. I tried to be a trooper but I was a fish out of water. Instead of feeling Zen, I felt lonely and isolated. Even though I was with my boyfriend, I wasn’t really with him. Travis never texted at night to see how I was doing, or even to make light of the fact that we were sleeping separately, in bunk beds with strangers—something we'd both find hilarious under normal circumstances. I shut the lights and pulled the thin, scratchy blanket around my freezing body.
The next morning, unable to hold it in any longer, I told Travis I felt uncomfortable. "I feel like I’m in a soup kitchen," I said, "if the soup kitchen were in a Buddhist drug rehab. During a hurricane." I tried to keep it light. I didn’t want to nag him; I wanted to communicate. I made the mistake of thinking that because he was my number one priority, I was his as well. I was wrong. The retreat was his priority. And by extension, he was his own top priority. I was just along for the ride.
Then he obliviously announced in a whisper, "I'm going on the walking meditation.”
For the next half hour, I pouted like a child. I felt abandoned. When he returned, I led Travis into the woods—the only place where we could speak in a normal volume—and the floodgates opened. I explained that I'd tried to be strong for him, but I felt lonely and alienated, and I needed to feel closer to him. He watched me with detached awe. (This, he later explained, was mindful observation.)
Eventually, he offered a half-hearted hug. "I don't think I can stay here," I confessed. "Do you want to leave?” he asked. "Will you be upset?" "Well, I'll be disappointed," he said. His blue eyes were devoid of sympathy, broadcasting a subtle scorn instead. So I agreed to stick it out for two more days. He accepted without putting up much of a fuss. The next 48 hours were more of the same.
Back in the city, good old Ian contacted me. I revealed my feelings about Travis taking me for granted. His distant behavior. His disregard for my loyalty, nurturing, trust, the space I gave him. He didn't seem to appreciate it. He didn't seem to care. "And what’s more," I told Ian, "I have no one to turn to for perspective. I've never met a single person in his life. Come to think of it, he's met exactly one of my friends. And it's been nine months. I just wish I could speak to someone who knows him. Anyone."
"Well...Jennifer knows him," Ian replied, referring to the ex I'd spotted all that time ago in Ian's photo. We looked at each other. "No, that's a terrible idea." "Well, maybe..." "I can contact her." "Okay...actually, no." "No, of course that’s a terrible idea."
A few weeks later, unbeknownst to me, Ian would contact Jennifer (with all the best intentions). And that would be the beginning of the end. Word got back to Travis, who chastised me. "But Ian took it upon himself after I nixed the idea," I pleaded, guilt-ridden. "I don’t know how I can ever trust you again," was Travis' cold reply.
For three hours, I panicked. Then my phone buzzed. It was Ian. He'd spoken to Jennifer again. "I have something really bad to tell you. And I'm sorry."
One of the scary things about being the delusional party in a doomed relationship is that the end comes suddenly. You're blindsided. You haven't had time to prepare, to process. When I met Travis, I was in a great place, mentally and emotionally. I was ready to meet someone wonderful and have a meaningful relationship—and I was forthcoming about it. I'd already had my eyes on the prize way before I'd ever slid onto that barstool in the West Village.
"You are my joy," I'd remind Travis constantly. But here’s the thing: Despite the loving daily notes, the conversations, the sharing, the cuddling, the bond we were building—despite all of that, I was not his joy. It had never occurred to me. The signs were all there, but I wasn’t looking for them. I had lost myself so thoroughly to the idea of love that I was divorced from the reality of it.
Ian cleared his throat, preparing to be the bearer of bad news. "So, Jennifer says she and Travis never really broke up." He paused. "She said they've been seeing each other on and off this whole time." I felt my face heat up, and I'm certain that if I had not been sitting, my knees would've buckled beneath me. To add insult to injury, Jennifer had lived in my neighborhood, a mere 10 blocks away. Which mornings, I wondered, did he leave my place and march directly to hers, telling me he had an appointment or some work to catch up on?
I didn't need to hear much more. In that moment the fog lifted. In the weeks that followed, it all started coming together. Travis had never introduced me to one person he knew in all the time we'd known each other. He never came close to saying, "I love you." Come to think of it, I can't think of one genuine compliment he'd ever paid me that wasn't somehow backhanded or self-serving. Not after the first month, anyway.
From what I'd gleaned through Travis' many candid stories, he was an opportunist. And I was a nonjudgmental (read: gullible) confidante, a warm body to sleep next to after weeks on the road, someone to boost his ego. He was looking for some temporary comfort. I was an easy target.
But it took me a while to realize what I was not: a victim. Sure, I was way too trusting of someone who hadn't yet earned my trust. Sure, I ignored obvious red flags. Sure, I gave my own emotions and needs a backseat so I could focus on his. But I chose to do those things.
Yes, we shared a sense of humor and a mutual attraction. But as I imagined a future with him, he lived for instant gratification. He wasn't open to falling in love, though he told me otherwise when he knew I wanted to hear it. He was just passing through. And you know what? I wasn't falling in love with him either. I hadn't even really known him. I was simply in love with the idea of love. And that's a dangerous trap.
During our last call, I confronted Travis about the ongoing affair. He stayed mostly mum. "What do you have to say for yourself?!" I demanded.
After a short pause, his voice lowered a few decibels into an unfamiliar monotone. He replied, "I'm not a bad person. I'm a good person who does bad things."
Even in the final moments, it was about him. It was always about him.