20 years: The space between being ex-lovers, not being friends, and finding peace…
I recently learned that my ex reads my posts. I write about a lot of things, but sometimes, I write about him because there’s so much damage there. I’ve held it in for years.
I’ve always been a person who never wants to hurt anyone’s feelings. I suffer guilt really easily. I’ve always been one to put my own feelings behind others. I’m what’s called an over-functioner. I’m a caretaker. I’m an overachiever. I’m a nurturer.
But what that also means is I neglect myself a lot. I get swallowed in by other people’s needs and wants and demands on me. I’m a giver.
I’m in a tricky situation of falling back into my people-pleasing way because recently my ex reached out to me. At first, to demand that I take down my articles. Then to invalidate me by saying I was “wrong also,” which would disperse blame off of him for the horrible things he did. Sure, I wasn’t perfect. I said things. I reacted, but in the balance of right and wrong, of betrayal and distrust, abuse and neglect, it is decidedly weighed heavier from his direction.
One of my major problems with him was his avoidance. When he’d screw things up, instead of fixing them with me and never doing it again, he would rather just leave. He’d avoid me until he returned again, and my resentments would linger and fester from the problems that he never fixed in the first place and the pile would just add on. My trauma bond to him was like an addiction that made saying no to him nearly impossible. He was my drug, my high. Sometimes, it felt out of my control because my body would associate certain feelings with him — the lows of rejection and the highs of love and sex.
But all throughout our relationship there were a lot of lies. So many lies. To me. To himself. To cover insecurities and anxieties and childhood trauma. He was just so accustomed to half-truths throughout his life as a way to dodge trouble and repercussions. I don’t know if he actually knew how to fix problems, or whether or not he had the self-awareness and skills to build healthy relationships. Where things should have brought us closer together, it made him push further away. All of our struggles, the things I was trying to make happen for the both of us, on the one hand, he wanted it, but on the other hand, he didn’t want it with me because my overachieving-ness was too much for him to handle.
Oh, I know how hard it can be to be with an overachiever (even for one who constantly held back so that he wouldn’t feel threatened), especially if you don’t feel great about yourself and you hold a host of deeply buried insecurities and sensitivities that you try to pretend aren’t there. Everything I tried to do, he took it as a personal slight even as he tried his best to pretend that it didn’t bother him.
And as a way to cope, he used avoidance tactics. He was a taker, an under-functioner, and one very broken individual.
As I do my own work on myself, it’s allowed me to see him more clearly — although it does not absolve the things he did. For my part, when I was with him, I suppressed who I was a lot so as not to upset him, although it still did. I think if we hadn’t met when I was 18 and if we were to meet now, I don’t know if we’d actually like each other very much. For one, I’ve stopped giving a damn about holding myself back for other people’s approval of me. I’ve fully embraced all parts of my Hermoine Granger-ness.
Finally, he texted me and said that he’s sorry for the hurt he’s caused me. I think there’s some genuineness there, although I don’t know exactly what he’s sorry about. Maybe all of the sorries are just too many now. It would take another twenty years to say sorry for every instance of betrayal and hurt. I fully don’t intend to hear from him again, which will be for the better. I still know that the mature response I imagine in my head coming from him is the same as always: just a figment of my imagination. The real him has a long ways to go.
Sometimes, I have dreams of him, both good and bad. The good ones, he’s the young man that I fell foolishly in lust with. He represents the things I miss about being with a man and being in a relationship. The bad ones are him as I saw him last — this high-strung, catty, petty, drunk stranger who went out of his way to dehumanize me and drown me under even greater darkness than I was already battling.
He’s married now and he should focus on that. Why contact me? What’s the game here? Does he really want to make peace? Because if he does, it won’t come easy and it certainly isn’t going to come on a platter of “here, take some of the blame for my shit behavior.” The last six months (almost 7 years ago) I spent with him were the ugliest I had ever seen him. It felt like he was being vindictive and purposely trying to bring me down and crush me under. Nothing he’s done since has proven to me that there’s been any change — not that he and I interact on a regular basis. In fact, we’ve only spoken two times in the last 4 years — but I think he still plays games whether he’s aware of it or not. Call me and then block me. Text me and then block me and then unblock me to text me again only to block me again. Games.
The horrible thing is I can feel myself being pulled back into the game. I can feel that adrenaline rushing back, like a crack addict with their first hit after years of sobriety. The body is a tricky thing that way, but even within my own struggle, I can feel empathy for him too. These emotional pulls — without the self-awareness to understand what’s happening — are dangerous. They pull you into memories of things that simply aren’t the full picture, they lull you back to a past that should remain in the past. And if this is true for him too, this explains his hang-ups on his ghosts of girlfriends past and why they were so pervasive all throughout our relationship. This hangup of his made it so we were sunk even before we could set sail. I won’t let it happen to me again.
I know that he sometimes misses me. He even said he still loves me, although I don’t think he truly knows what love is when it pertains to me. He spent so much of his time trying to leave me behind and then coming back and then leaving again. How can that be love?
I’ll admit that I sometimes miss talking to him too, but I know that is a dangerous slippery slope full of triggers and landmines. It’s not worth it to call him up to talk about the latest Star Trek or what I’m doing, where I am, see how he’s doing, where he is. It’s dangerous ground. It’s just something we can’t have. Neither one of us are strong enough for it to remain uncomplicated. It’s heartbreakingly sad because this is a person I spent half my life with and it’s a shame that it’s come to this. The truth is I can’t separate the person I once loved from the person who violated everything that was me. They are one and the same. So while I miss the handsome, nerdy young man who was my moon, my stars, my whole world, I don’t miss the man who threw me out onto the streets with nowhere to go when I was suffering the worst depression of my life.
If you’re reading this, I hope you know that in those young years, you were enough for me. There wasn’t anything to prove or to run from. I just needed someone on my team to work with me. Young me loved you wholeheartedly. I tried my best to be a good friend to you and to be good family. I know my idealism clashed a lot with your demons and your dysfunction and that often gave you a lot of confusion. I remember all the times you’d tell me how good I was and why you should love me but that you just didn’t know why you couldn’t and why you couldn’t be good to me. I didn’t know why either back then, but I think I get it now.
I don’t know if I can forgive you for all that has transpired, but I don’t wish you ill anymore either. However, we’re better off leaving well enough alone. I don’t think you’re willing to do the work to actually make peace with me, which means any contact in the future is pointless. Besides, your focus should be your wife. Not me. At this rate, what’s the forgiveness for anyway? What would it mean except to satisfy yourself?
Find a way to move on and to really let me go. I know there will always be a part of each of us that will miss those two young people living on the poor side of town, huddled together under a Mexican blanket in our freezing apartment during those northeast winters. Those formative years meant a lot to me, but I also remember the endless nights I cried waiting for you to come home when you never did.
I’m not sure what you want from me. Maybe you don’t know for sure either. Maybe this is just the habit you have with your fears of losing people and letting go but also not being able to allow anyone close either. I don’t know. That’s for you to know and figure out.
Regardless, this back and forth game you’re playing isn’t good. Say what you need to say and then let it rest and move on.