“Hi. You’re cute,” I said. I was dressed as Squirrel Girl, and he was wearing a Venom T-shirt. Our eyes had locked across the dodgeball court at Pan Pacific Park, where our superhero-themed teams were playing in a Halloween tournament. He shyly smiled.
Turns out we both lived in Palms, only blocks apart. That evening he walked over, and we pretended to watch “Stranger Things” while getting to know each other sans disguises. He had dark hair and broad shoulders and was just my type. I got lost gazing into his blue eyes. Both self-professed INTJs (introverted, intuitive, thinking and judging) in our late 20s, we quickly began spending all our free time together, showering one another with compliments and attention.
Lee wanted to know everything about me, and I opened up like a flower blossoming toward the sun. Growing up in a single-income family in Whittier, I’d shared a small bedroom with two older sisters. Our father designed the weekly Albertsons grocery ad while our mother home-schooled us.
“My passion for dodgeball is rooted in soccer, which I began playing at age 4,” I told him. “I was an all-star on the field, but my teammates all attended school together, so I always felt like an outsider.”
As for him, he had moved from Wisconsin to L.A. to attend film school at USC. He grew up with access to more resources than I could fathom. His parents paid his tuition and rent, and they even paid for him to travel. Our upbringings were very different. It was easy for me to see him as a superhero — my superhero.
We had been dating for eight weeks when he told me that he loved me. We couldn’t get enough of one another. Only 12 weeks in, he whisked me away to meet his parents at one of their vacation homes — this one nestled deep in the mountains of Montana, just a stone’s throw from Glacier National Park. They greeted us at the arrivals gate with open arms, and my heart swelled.
He was a huge football fan and had annual Rams season tickets. I couldn’t care less about football, but he acted like the seats were a big deal so I pretended to be impressed. Before SoFi Stadium opened, I attended games with him at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, just to spend time with him. It felt good to be on his team.
For my birthday, he gave me a gorgeous gemstone necklace. As I opened the gift, I saw the receipt slide out of the box, advertising the thousands he had spent. When he saw that this upset me, he fumbled for an explanation. “I mean, I wasn’t sure you’d like it. You might want to return it.” I was jolted, but I reassured myself that his intentions were good. In the springtime, a connection helped him get hired by a major tech company. Along with a well-over-six-figure salary, the new role seemed to come with a sense of ascendancy. I watched as his ego inflated.
Around the same time, I was anticipating a promotion at my public sector job. I was stunned when I didn’t get it and came home in tears. He came over and briefly held me, then looked at his phone and shifted uncomfortably. “Can I leave? My roommate brought home takeout. My dinner is getting cold.” I was hurt that he didn’t stay to comfort me, but I convinced myself I couldn’t blame him. I was a teary mess after all.
However, as time went on, these inconsistencies and subtle jabs continued, amplifying my confusion. “I thought you’d be excited! Besides, you’re not paying for it,” he said after upgrading our seats for our flight to Wisconsin. The edge of superiority in his voice made me wince.
He also took me to a film-school friend’s wedding and then ignored me for much of the night. When I confronted him about it later, he told me that he’d once had a fling with the bride. I began to seriously question the relationship. What happened to my superhero?
We often did yoga together in his living room, following along with instructors on YouTube. When I suggested we try a class in real life, his immediate response was: “Heck, no! I don’t want people watching me.” I didn’t mind YouTube yoga, but when we practiced together, I usually found myself wanting more.
One evening after yoga, he left to pick up food from Natalee Thai. His roommate emerged, and we started chatting. Upon returning with his pad see ew, Lee began slamming dishes around, passive-aggressively communicating his annoyance that my attention hadn’t immediately shifted back to him after his return home. I could no longer ignore my intuition. It was clear this guy was no hero.
Packing up every artifact that reminded me of him, I debated for a split second before tossing the necklace he gave me into the bag of belongings I’d later shove at him across the table. I didn’t want to sell or keep it. I didn’t want any piece of him remaining in my life.
The next week, I started taking yoga classes at the studio he refused to attend. After class one day, there was an announcement for an upcoming yoga teacher training. Teaching yoga had never crossed my mind before. Ending the noxious relationship had turned my world upside down, and I was in need of grounding. I signed up. The three-month intensive training was exactly the healing environment I needed. There was even a superhero pose! (Now I teach weekly classes for brave yoga students who are ready to be seen.)
A year after I ended things with Lee, my stomach dropped when I realized my dodgeball team was up against his at the Westchester Recreation Center. With laser focus, I waited for an opportunity to snipe him. As the ball flew from my fingers and spun precisely toward his shin, I smiled. His head hung heavy as he walked across the court to take his place in the out line.
The author is an industrial-organizational psychologist, yoga teacher and doting cat mom. She lives in Los Angeles. She’s on Instagram: @claremudra
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