I sat in my house that evening with my Dad at a loss for words. I found myself feeling completely defeated. I was now 0-2 with engagements. I felt a sense of shame and embarrassment surrounding me. What were my friends, neighbors, and co-workers going to think about this? Regardless of the circumstances our of relationship, it was going to be hard to convince others that I wasn’t completely the one to blame…after all, I now had a track record. This wasn’t the first time that I had a girl from Florida move into my house and then make a desperate running escape shortly after. I worried about the reaction of those around me. I wanted to curl up in a ball and hide.
Internally I accepted a lot of responsibility for her unexpected departure. I had been extremely critical of myself during our time with each other, and this wasn’t going to be any different. The timing of her decision made me feel as though my gambling relapse was to blame. Perhaps she was afraid of committing to me because I had acted so irresponsible with money? Or maybe the sheer magnitude of it all was too much for her to handle? She had never really exemplified the ability the persevere…she was much more comfortable with walking away from a problem than with dealing with it. So while I had always “hoped” that she would stand by me through thick and thin, her decision to flee the situation should not have come as such a great shock. I just felt awful about the fact that my habitual setback ended up being the straw that broke the camel’s back.
I remember attending the second Gambler’s Anonymous meeting a night or two later. I swallowed my pride and decided to share my story with the group. It was hard for me to get started…I had a lump in my throat and I was finding it hard to summon the strength the face the shame of the situation. But eventually I was able to get through it, and I quickly learned that the people around me would pass no judgment…in fact, they were all incredibly supportive. Most of them had experienced relationship issues as a result of their personal habits as well. They gave me some great advice. I decided that night that I never wanted to allow gambling to lead me down the road to destruction again.
But in the days that followed, I constantly found myself having the urge to place a wager. And I realized that it did not have a thing to do with money. That led me to a bit of self realization. I only wanted to gamble so that I could focus my attention elsewhere. I knew that if I were to take action on a Major League Baseball game that evening, I could spend my free time researching the pick and then find myself completely absorbed in the game that night. It was a tactic that I had developed to escape from reality for a bit. My addiction was being driven by anxiety and depression as much as it was a desire for money. In fact, it always had been. I never thought that I’d make a lot of extra cash wagering…I just wanted to pay off some debts and find myself in a more comfortable situation. It was the anxious apprehension about the debt that initially fueled my desire to bet. And now, it was depression, loneliness, and shame that was introducing the stimulant.
But in spite of looming temptations, I managed to keep myself on track. I wouldn’t allow myself to give in, and with every passing day it became easier and easier for me to resist those subtle urges. I began to feel like a cloud was being lifted from eyes. All of a sudden I could see things clearly again. I found myself making peace with the breakup. Honestly, I realized that our relationship had been a mistake all along…I just didn’t want to admit it. And while I still missed her quite a bit at times, I found a sense of relief in my solitude. I had been on edge since her arrival in Pennsylvania a year earlier. It felt as though a giant weighted had finally been lifted from my shoulders.
I had put everything that I had into my efforts to save that relationship, time and time again. The hardest thing for me to move past was the fact that even my most resilient attempts at compromise and salvation would always come up short. I was a fixer and I always believed in the goodness of people. I didn’t walk away or get discouraged often because I usually felt that with a conscious mutual effort, anything could be accomplished. But sometimes, things were out of my control. I had an extremely difficult time accepting that. I hated losing and forfeiting my hard work.
As the Spring turned to Summer, things got a bit easier for me. I had decided that I needed to keep myself busy, and thankfully I had one friend in particular who picked me up and forced me to start living again. We hadn’t really spent much time hanging out in several years, but we were both trying to move past broken engagements, so I think that we found a lot of comfort in each other. We met for Happy Hours, played golf, and spent lots of time out running around, living. It felt good.
I also connected with a couple of good people from my hometown who got together regularly to play basketball. And I began playing in a Sunday softball league with my neighbors. Those were both great outlets for me because they kept me active and involved. If I was busy, I would be far less likely to fall into a pit of depression and anxiety. I continued to run and workout on a regular basis…I knew very well how important the exercise was with regards to me maintaining a sound mind.
I certainly was not in a rush to be engaged again, but I was relatively eager to meet someone new. If nothing more, I felt that it would help me to take my mind off of the past. And I was fortunate to date two very attractive and sweet girls over the course of 6 months following my breakup. Unfortunately, my heart was not yet ready for anything serious, so nothing further developed with either of them. But I did have a lot of fun with them both, and I would still consider them to be friends of mine today. I wish them both the best.
As the Summer pressed on, I realized that I was coming to a crossroads in my life. I was beginning to feel as though the past was making every effort to hold me hostage. My house was something that I had been extremely proud of initially, but lately I was beginning to resent it. I was working at home from a remote office and all day long I found myself facing the images of past experiences there with my ex-fiances. I couldn’t escape it. Everywhere I looked I was reminded of something…even the good memories now led to pain. I needed a change of scenery. I couldn’t move forward in my life without it. There was no way that I could bring another woman into that house…
By the end of August 2009, I had sold my property. It was a very bittersweet moment for me. I was excited to move on, but I was deeply saddened by everything that I would be leaving behind. I had put a lot of hard work into that place…I grew up in it. It wasn’t easy to say goodbye. I remembered my grandfathers’ generosity and couldn’t help but feel ashamed about how I was leaving things. I had acted completely out of character at times by literally gambling with my future, and I had failed multiple engagements under the roof that he had provided for me. And now I would leave things in pieces, with very little to show for it…I would walk away with unfinished business. But I felt at that time that it was what I had to do.
So I began investigating my living options. I was not in love with the area where I was living, so I searched for alternative destinations that might be suitable for my career and my personal preferences. I settled on Philadelphia and Washington, DC. My best friend from high school (who had been living in South Carolina) was going to be accepting a new job offer in the DC area, so we contemplated getting a place together. Eventually I spoke to my boss about it, and have gave me the go-ahead. But in the end, I decided that it probably wasn’t the right decision for me at the time. My buddy understood completely.
Philadelphia appeared to be the destination of choice. I’m not sure why I thought I wanted to move back to the city that I had left only three years earlier…I guess it was “single Matt” speaking to me. I checked out a couple of condos for rent that were located directly on the Delaware River on the eastern side of the city. They were beautiful, but would I have enough space for all of the things that I had accumulated the past couple of years in my house? Nope, I’d definitely need to downsize. And I’d need to prepare for a hefty rental payment each month..the city was far more expensive than the suburbs. But even with my lingering doubts, I was finding myself pretty sold on a particular unit as I got ready to make my decision.
And then at the last minute, I decided to make a second visit to some new construction apartments in Wyomissing, about 20 minutes south of my house in Berks County. I had done a hard hat tour of the property when it was still in its initial phases of construction, but I hadn’t seen the finished units. When I arrived, the leasing agent showed me a corner apartment with a very open floor plan. It was a one bedroom, one bath, with den. The set-up was perfect. It was on the second floor overlooking the pool and it had a balcony, fireplace, and French doors in the bedroom. And it had adequate storage for all of my things. It just felt right to me.
I went home and analyzed the numbers and the logistics of the move and quickly decided against Philadelphia. I’d be staying in Berks County, at least for the time being.
It wasn’t my Utopia by any means, but it was home. And home was where I found myself most comfortable. It was where my family was, and it was where I could regain strength and move forward. It was undoubtedly where I needed to be to begin the next phase of my life.