My boyfriend, Gideon, turns 23 today.
We met when he was 17 years old in a sequence of events that could have easily resulted in an unrequited "missed connections" post on Craigslist had I not insisted that we trade contact information. Every day I am more and more grateful that I did this.
Our friendship progressed for a period of years, a time when I was embroiled in an abusive relationship and successfully hid it from most people including myself. That relationship finally ended in late 2013, and Gideon and I started seriously dating at the beginning of 2014.
I have many reasons why I love Gideon -- his selflessness, his kindness, the way he loves without restraint -- but I love him most because he saved me. That sounds hyperbolic, I know. If I read that two years ago, I'd have gagged and said something along the lines of, "Only you can save yourself."
My ex-boyfriend established this mindset, often telling me that every problem in our relationship and in my life was because of my mistakes. I was too loud. I was too quiet. I couldn't even do something as simple as order a pizza without enraging him. He also stole money from me, but that seems minuscule compared to the naivety he took.
When I met him, I was vibrant, funny and loud. After we broke up, I was empty, jaded and scared. I didn't want to trust anyone to help me through all this pain, so I tried to push it away in the hope that it would eventually dissipate on its own. I am not sure psychiatrists recommend this.
Reconnecting with Gideon, though, showed me that maybe I could trust another person in a way I thought impossible at the time. Gideon, too, had experienced abuse and understands the anxiety that comes along with it.
He's sat with me through panic attacks. He's tempered his mood during arguments to avoid triggering past memories for me. He's even opened up to me about his own history of abuse; while I treasure how much closer we are for sharing these things, I might be even more proud of him for allowing himself to be so vulnerable with me.
I know how scary that kind of vulnerability can be. It still scares me every day, if I'm being honest. But Gideon makes it feel so easy to talk about the past that I'm slowly becoming a person I'm proud to be, a person who can accept and learn from past mistakes without dwelling on them.
When I say he saved me, I mean it with every ounce of sincerity possible. He'd say I'm being silly for saying this, but I think he took a real risk choosing to date me. I wasn't fully aware of the abuse at the time, making it difficult for me to process certain emotions or verbally express myself when upset.
With his help -- and the help of an incredible support system that includes his family -- I've begun to trust people again. The angry, jaded 22-year-old he started dating has softened and given way to a more hopeful 23-year-old.
I hope this birthday is the best he's had yet, but more importantly I hope he knows how his kindness and patience have changed my life. If I can support him the way he supports me, this has potential to be the best year of his life so far.
And, hopefully, many more.
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Samantha Jones is a reporter for the Carroll County News. Her email address is CCNNews@cox-internet.com