Now I Know the Difference

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| This is the 398th story of Our Life Logs |


I grew up in the extremely religious culture of Draper, Utah, in the 1990s. My parents had a loving marriage and raised me to believe that family was the core purpose of life. Girls married right out of high school at 18 in my neighborhood, like an unspoken tradition. I thought I’d follow the same path. It was the common one, after all.

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Little me on horseback.

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I had my first boyfriend in eighth grade, and our love was sweet. I remember staying up on school nights texting until three in the morning and smiling every time I saw him walk into school. Sadly, we broke up our freshman year of high school for a million immature reasons. We were only 14, too young to figure out how to communicate effectively in a relationship. I still saw him from time to time at school but avoided him at all cost. I was mortified.

When my senior year rolled around, I was still avoiding my ex-boyfriend in the halls. I couldn’t wait to graduate and get out. I hated all the popular boys at my school and was excited to go to college to meet somebody new, someone who didn’t think they were something special because their parents paid for them to be a starting player on our varsity football team.

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Me in high school.

My best friend had asked her boyfriend’s friend to be my date to prom. I’d met him before; he was quiet, tall, skinny, and different. His green eyes lit up when he talked to me. I never thought the date would go anywhere, besides a fun time at a dance. But as prom night played out, I changed my mind. I liked the way he placed his hand on my lower back when we walked through a crowd of people. I liked that he wasn’t a stupid jock. I liked that he was smart and grew up in a different state. He had interesting stories and made me feel like I was interesting.

A few weeks after prom, we made our relationship official. We spent a lot of time together going to sports events with his family, hanging out at his castle-like home filled with expensive furniture and fancy cars. His world was completely different from the one I grew up in. His parents spoke of fraternities and sororities a lot. They both were part of these social groups and highly encouraged them. I saw the excitement grow in my boyfriend’s green eyes as he talked with his dad about the fraternities he might join in the coming fall semester at the university.

He was excited to move downtown and I couldn’t blame him. In fact, I wanted to move downtown too. I wanted to discover life with him and our next destination was The University of Utah.

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I got a job right out of high school and started saving every dime I made so I could live downtown. My boyfriend was already at the university taking classes and living in the school dorms. We didn’t see each other often, even though the school was only 25 minutes away.

I figured if I moved closer, things would be better. We would be able to see each other all the time, so that’s what I did. I found a couple of roommates to rent a duplex with me that was just a few minutes away from campus. The strange thing is, we still didn’t see each other a lot. There was always a fraternity event or a social he had to go to. Knowing that he wanted this lifestyle, I stayed quiet.

While he attended his social events, I spent most of my time working, saving money to attend a nearby community college. On the weekends he started inviting me to parties that were held at his fraternity. I hated parties. I hated pretending to be interested in something a group of strangers were talking about, but to be honest, these parties were one of the only times I got to see my boyfriend, so I agreed. In fact, I did more than agree. I wanted to impress everyone. I know the logic in my mind was pathetic and sad, but I was desperate at this point.

I smiled when he introduced me to his friends and pretended like I didn’t mind when one of his drunk friends ran one of his hands across my ass in front of him. My boyfriend seemed to like that his friends found me attractive. He wore me like an expensive watch.

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I still cringe thinking back to how long I acted like an expensive accessory. Months passed with this same pattern. On the rare occasion that we would hang out just the two of us, I would bring things up casually, “How about we skip the party this week and just do something the two of us?”

He would roll his eyes as if I didn’t understand the ‘real world’ around me. “I’m still new to the fraternity. I want to be at as many events as possible.”

I felt guilty after bringing it up every time, knowing that this was what he had always wanted. He was climbing the social ladder in his fraternity and the best way to do that was of course to be more than present.

I continued to go to the parties and the trips, “liking” the attention I got from his friends. I brought one of my own friends to a bunch of these events, mostly to keep me company as my boyfriend “networked.”

Then summer came around, and of course, he had big, extravagant plans that didn’t involve me. However, he was going to the city I was named after—Paris.

I waited patiently in Salt Lake as he traveled with a group of school friends. I worked all summer and had finally saved enough money to transfer from the community college I was attending to The University of Utah.

When he came home from Paris, he told me he wanted to see me. I was excited of course, I had missed him all summer. He sat down on my bed with me, pushed a loose strand of hair out of my face, and said, “I have to tell you something.”

I felt my stomach crumple like a wrapper inside of me. I didn’t speak, just waited for him to continue.

“I made out with one of the girls on my trip,” his words crashed into me like a brick wall.

I felt the weight falling on me and stopping me from speaking.

“She asked me to come up to her room with her, but I said no,” he added, as if I should have been grateful to him for not having sex with her when he easily could have.

I stood up angrily and paced my room, trying to organize all my emotions that were wizzing around in my mind. “You made out with another girl in the city I’m named after?” My words came out colder than I thought, but I didn’t care. It was the first time I had ever been truly angry with him. The first time he had ever felt like he might actually lose me.

He started begging me to forgive him, promising that things would be different and we would spend more time together. I enjoyed the attention—it was the first time in our relationship that I felt like I had any power.

Of course, I forgave him. Of course, I stayed. I continued to go to the parties in a haze, hoping things would get better. He would get extremely drunk and say things to me like, “This party would be so much better if you weren’t here.” Moments like this made me wish he would have physically hit me, that maybe it would hurt less. Instead, I let his words wrap around me slowly, making me feel trapped and worthless.

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My family had noticed that something was wrong for a while but I never listened. I thought I knew better than they did until my mom turned to me one day and said, “You’re going to be all alone in a big empty house if you marry him.”

I’m not sure why that sentence hit me as hard as it did. I knew how badly I wanted our relationship to work. I hated the idea of failing at a relationship with somebody I loved. But the idea of spending my life as someone else’s accessory made me sick.

So, I finally ended it.

Leaving a three-year relationship was harder than I thought. The one positive, though, was that I was used to being alone. However, that didn’t stop my unhealthy behavior. I found solace in drinking heavily but always regretted it. Every time I was drunk, I made up excuses to call or text him. After a few weeks of calling him drunk and crying, I finally found the last bit of self-respect that was dangling from a thread inside of me and deleted his number.

Then, instead of drunk phone calls, I filled the void inside of me with dating apps. I thought if I constantly talked to strangers, then I would forget about my ex-boyfriend. This plan worked for a while until I realized my internal issues from my last relationship were following me into my new relationships. I was so insecure about not being enough for someone that I would pretend to be a person I thought they would like to spend time with. No matter how hard I tried to be the perfect girlfriend, my relationships always failed the same way. I started to believe that nobody would ever love me as much as I loved them.

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A year of failed relationships followed me until one day, I came home to my apartment and found my roommate hanging out with a group of his old high school friends. I looked around the room and felt my heart stop when I met eyes with my middle school boyfriend. What on earth was he doing in my apartment? I still remember the awful blue velvet suit jacket he was wearing. They had just left a wedding reception.

After that night, my roommate’s old buddies started coming over more often. We would all hang out together and I would listen to their funny stories about all the wild nights they had after graduating high school. It wasn’t long before I started noticing myself wanting to be near my middle school fling. We have been together ever since.

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With my current boyfriend.

My insecurities, however, didn’t go away automatically when I started dating him, but he helped me through them. He has shown me what it feels like to be loved by someone unconditionally. He makes me feel so secure that I’ve found what I love to do in this world all over again. I started writing more and even finished my first novel during our relationship. I’ve never felt more independent and successful in this life.

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I used to compare my idea of love to books, Disney Channel, and romantic comedies, and because of that, I believed in love at first sight. Turns out, that’s exactly what I got—sort of. My current boyfriend claims that the first time he saw me in our seventh-grade health class he couldn’t take his eyes off of me. Okay, maybe he didn’t say those exact words, perhaps he said something more along the lines of, “We met in the seventh grade but you always forget that. We had health class together.”

I still don’t remember having that class with him. But I do remember all the school nights we spent texting, telling each other all the hidden parts of ourselves. I’m so glad that my middle-school love has returned to my life to teach me what being in a healthy relationship feels like. Now I know the difference, and through my story, so do you.

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 This is the story of Paris Smith

Paris, 24, is a current student at The University of Utah, earning her Bachelor’s Degree in Writing and Rhetoric Studies. Looking for a future of settling down and having a family, Paris stayed with a boy who treated her badly for three years. It wasn’t until her mother pointed out the hypocrisy of getting married to someone who’d make her unhappy did she finally leave him. She feels confident and secure in the happy relationship she currently resides in. She has grown her hobbies, aspirations, and dreams, because she now sees her own worth rather than seeking it from others. Paris enjoys reading and writing fiction. She loves to go to Barns and Nobles every Sunday, and has just self-published her first novel, The Devil and His Many Colors. She hopes that her story will help other people in negative relationships find a healthy way out.

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Paris holding her self-published book, 2019.

 

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This story first touched our hearts on June 6, 2019.

| Writer: Paris Smith | Editor: Kristen Petronio |

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To protect the privacy of the storyteller and those involved in this retelling, some of the names may have been changed. (1)

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