“Today is a typical Thursday for me, cleaning and getting things organized before I must go into work later tonight. Usually I would be out running errands as well, but with the first accumulative snowfall and no winter tires on my car yet, staying home is non-negotiable. Besides, who wouldn’t rather stay in sweatpants anyway? I love it. And I hate it. See, months and months of cleaning have led to this moment. The last two closets in the house.
Let me start by saying that my fiancé and I have been together for five months. We were together for less than two weeks before the four of us (him and I and our two kids ages 5 and 3) all moved in together under the same roof. It was an apartment that he’d had prior to our relationship, and with it, all the memories and baggage of past relationships. I’m not a particularly jealous person, per se, but I will say that I struggled with this fact in the early days of our relationship. How could I not when everywhere I turned, belongings of his exes were in all the rooms, and pictures on Facebook showed memories made for every holiday in what had now become my kitchen and my living room? He also doesn’t like to throw away anything.
Every time his latest ex’s mail came to the house, my body would run hot and cold at the same time. It wasn’t as if he tried to hide anything from me. He’s always been very transparent about his history and anything I might need to know that would affect our relationship now. But even with this transparency, it was still hard to fight off the feelings of inadequacy and not knowing where I fit into it, or where this was going. How could I prove to him and his daughter that the outcome would be different this time when all the places we went and events that occurred happened at the same locations as before?
Literally the only thing different about these new memories was me being in them. It made me question my own place in this new world and wonder what the future would hold for us. Every time I turned around, his daughter would start every new conversation with, ‘When she lived here, we did-’ He’s never kept secrets from me. He’s showed me the folder he still has of one of his ex’s artwork and sketches that she drew for him. I’ve seen the Christmas parties that he attended with another along with his best friends. It was eggshells for me in the beginning between trying to tell him that it bothered me, and not wanting to come across as jealous of past relationships or possessive over him now. He keeps reminders of the good times in past relationships. I never had one in the past that didn’t end in toxic physical or emotional abuse, so it’s sometimes difficult for me to understand keeping any proof of a past relationship. It took a few months to come to terms with this, and really understand it.
See, I’m not mad that he found love before me. If anything, I’m grateful that someone was there and loved his heart in all the ways it needed to be loved when he needed someone there. He has always deserved this, and it makes my heart happy to know that there were times that he didn’t feel alone in this world.
Now, back to the present day, despite it having been only several months, we both know each other’s passwords to every electronic device and website (or if we don’t remember, we can just ask). We can fill out paperwork for the other person and their biological child easily with minimal questions. We switch cars all the time for whoever needs the car seats. He has a very open ‘what’s mine is yours’ mentality, which has greatly helped in reassure my trust in this relationship. And that’s what has gotten me to this current point. I have permission to go through anything and everything I find and decide whether it is kept or throw away without having to ask him first. He trusts me to make those decisions and do with things as I choose. Sometimes though, my mind asks, ‘Do I realllllyyyyyyy want to do this??’
I trust him, I do. But opening up old envelopes and folders still makes me feel as if I’m going to pass out in nervous fear of not knowing what I’m going to find. It’s my mind always anticipating the worst, just in case there’s something that he hasn’t told me, as if this is too good to be true. This is my PTSD talking, and a reminder that my childhood and all other past relationships were like this. There was always ulterior motive, manipulation, and something more underneath every illusion. This right now is too normal, too easy, right?? It’s like playing Jenga and expecting to knock out the entire tower just by pulling on that single loaded brick.
Today, in getting to the very back of that last closet, I found something I hadn’t expected. Underneath the expected bag of women’s clothes, a doctor’s prescription under a girl’s name, and some female tweezers and bags, my world didn’t collapse.
Instead, I found understanding. Instead of finding little bits of every other girl in his past, I found pieces of every person my fiancé has ever been and grown from. I found an early essay he’d written for a class about a girl that he had loved, where he poetically detailed the highs and lows of their relationship, and what he acknowledged as healthy and unhealthy traits.vvI found evidence of the relationship he’d had with his mom years ago, and the way he was able to keep the peace and balance even when he was the only one capable of doing so. He didn’t have to, and yet he did. I found a letter from his daughter’s mom outlining her manipulation in trying to convince him that their love was still real and that he was the toxic one even though she chose not to fight her addiction to choose them in return. In every word, I felt the heartbreak and emotional teardown he must have taken away from it. I found earlier college admission letters, and that he was initially pursuing math and science before changing his degree to computer technology. No wonder he’s so good at math.
I saved a lot of the things I found and put them in my own box of personal letters and souvenirs of the past, just as a reminder that we are both more than our present day’s self. Maybe on a day that we both feel frustrated, I can pull these things out and remind myself of this younger version of him that needs this love more than his present self can express in the heat of the moment.
Everything I found today was a piece of him, something that developed his mind and soul into becoming the beautiful and amazing man that I fell in love with. Everything he has ever chosen and fought for in this life, continuing on with both his daughter, and my son and I now. The way he has never wavered in any of these decisions.
It’s knowing that both then and now, he’s not afraid of change and will always choose the path in school or work that will allow him greater things in his and our future. It’s knowing that he’s seen both sides of love, and knows what it takes to show someone this, and isn’t afraid to ask for what he needs in return. It’s seeing it over and over in the past, long before me, that he isn’t afraid of standing up for what he believes in, and that the size of those dreams has never changed.
Today, I not only fell in love with my fiancé, but everything he has ever been.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Stephanie Otis, 24, of New York. Follow her journey on Instagram here. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more stories from Stephanie here:
‘Really? Can I? I’ll be there at 2:30 a.m.’ He seemed surprised. He didn’t expect me to say yes.’: Young woman moves in with man she found on Facebook after chance encounter in McDonald’s, ‘I found a love I never knew existed
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‘I’m sorry I was a jerk. When the house is dark, I watch you breathe. I wonder if you know how much I love you.’: Mom feels guilt for being ‘imperfect,’ hopes kids know ‘I am yours, for the long haul’
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