“I’ll be honest with you, I met someone a few weeks ago and we’re dating. You’re sweet and a lot of fun, but it would be better if we remained friends.”
That was JB’s text to me, after several weeks of spotty communication and my trying to ascertain a day for us to get together. It was a punch to the gut. I knew something was up, because someone who wants to spend time with you finds that time and doesn’t put it off for weeks, but in effort to not give in to my desire to flee the moment something seemed off, I offered meager responses to his meager efforts to stay in touch. I did, after all, genuinely like the time we had spent together.
I’m not going to lie, I was disappointed. The disappointment, though, wasn’t so much because I saw myself falling in love with him or us planning our future together – there were very real signs that we would be incompatible in the long run – but because he was the only decent guy I had met online and I had an overwhelming sense of, well, what do I do now? I relayed the news to a few friends who made me laugh and feel loved, as good friends do in situations like these. I told them that I was fine and not that upset about it and that it was more a case of a bruised ego than anything else.
But, apparently, I was not that fine with it, as I laid awake in my bed that night. He met her a few weeks ago, I mused, which was when he stopped talking to me. So the minute he met her, he dropped me. Nice. After a couple hours of unsuccessfully trying to sleep punctuated by tormented thoughts, I threw back the covers and moved to my couch where I settled back to finish reading the, perhaps, presciently chosen Curtis Sittenfeld’s The Man of My Dreams. Sittenfeld’s protagonist’s struggle to figure out if she will ever find herself in a relationship that truly makes her happy hit all too close to home in those midnight hours.
At 4:30am I had a decision to make: meet up with my running group or renew my attempts to sleep for a couple of hours. I had originally planned to leave even earlier than usual for that morning’s group run because the weather had dashed my plans the night before and I wanted to get in a few extra miles. After waffling for a few minutes, I reluctantly pulled on my clothes, tied up my hair, and eased on my shoes. A run will make you feel better, I lied to myself, with my stomach in knots and my mind fuzzy from having been up all night.
The morning air was cool, but heavy with moisture and the trees rained down water that lingered from the previous night’s storm. I broke into a jog as I headed for the lakefront. Despite the sweat that immediately started pouring down my face and chest, it felt easy. I continued south on the path, mulling over the day’s events. Sometimes when I run – and particularly when I’m not listening to music, which is the case in the early, dark mornings when I want to be more aware of my surroundings – I tell myself platitudes that would otherwise seem trite and conventional, but in that moment give me the strength I need to go on.
It’s like this half-marathon training, I thought. It’s about putting in the work and trusting that it will pay off. You’ve suffered setbacks before. Remember when you hurt your ankle and could barely walk? And this winter when your calf was always tight and sore and you didn’t know why? You rested, you iced, you took it easy when you got back out there. Relationships are the same as 13.1 miles. It’s just one step after another, one mile at a time. Ain’t nobody gonna break my stride, nobody’s gonna hold me down…
I am not particularly eloquent on my runs. (I consider a run in which I don’t cry, vomit, or die to be a successful one.) My philosophizing tends to be of the Hallmark variety, but in the thick of my body pounding repeatedly against the pavement, it really does help. I really did start singing that song in my head and I really did believe it.
After a little over three miles, I rounded the corner to meet my running group. We headed back onto the path where I fell in step with two other girls. We chatted about grad school and social marketing, training runs and stretching, and did another three miles together. I had to wipe my face with my shirt and my ponytail dripped, saturated with humidity, but I never once thought about the stinging frustration of failed potential. We ran back to the meeting point and, as per our custom, exchanged hugs with all the other members before breaking off into our individual directions. As is also per our custom at the beginning and end of every run, we had circled together with our arms around each other’s backs to recite the Serenity Prayer. This is not a religious group, but one made up of people experiencing homelessness and volunteers, like myself, accompanying them on morning runs. The prayer reminds us of both the power we possess and the power we don’t. I often need that reminder just as much as everyone else.
The prayer was still on my lips and the song continued to play in the back of my mind as I ran home. Though the sweat had caused a blister to develop between my toes and a dense fog remained over the city that day, I felt amazing.