I’ve had a weird ache in my heart for some time now for my last relationship. It’s not the kind of ache that makes me wish I had it back, nor is it the kind of ache that makes me yearn for my ex. Since we broke up in October, I haven’t questioned once whether it was the right thing to do or not. It took me a long time (like, a whole year of back-and-forth) to come to terms with the fact that the relationship wasn’t going to be viable, and once I finally accepted that fact, the breakup was the most sensible thing I think I ever did in the whole time I was with my ex.
But, as with many ended relationships, there is still a small pang in my chest that makes me remember all those things that could/would/should have been. Despite the fact that there was often very little romance or deep intimacy between myself and my ex, there was a bond of friendship that held the relationship together through all the simple, day-to-day things we used to do together.
For quite some time, there was a glimmer of hope for a future together where he bought a house and we made it a home together. This glimmer of hope persisted even as I was mentally preparing myself for a future with someone who barely knew how to give or take a compliment, who couldn’t understand my need for more emotional depth from him, and who didn’t seem to want to give up many aspects of his bachelor lifestyle for something more coupled.
The ache I feel in my heart is for the loss of a friend and the group of friends he brought with him, but I don’t mourn the romantic partnership because it never truly satisfied me in the first place. I ache for the familiarity, the community, and the sense of belonging. When we split ways, every single friendship I made through him went right out the window. They weren’t unkind or cruel to me–they simply ceased to interact with me, and I with them.
For a long time, I was trying to make my ex the person I wanted him to be, through both subtlety and more direct requests, rather than seeing and accepting him for who and what he was. That sucks. It sucks because I know that if I had chosen to look at him honestly, I would have understood that despite his potential as a friend, he would never be the kind of lover I wanted or needed in my life. Our relationship would have barely made it off the ground before I realized it wasn’t going to work.
And yet, I spent so long trying to get what I wanted from him that I failed to let myself see what I was actually getting. I started to feel anger and resentment toward him for it, even though he told me at multiple points throughout our relationship that this was exactly who he was, and that he could try his best to give me what I wanted but that he probably wasn’t going to change his ways.
I mean, seriously, duh. DUH. I feel dumb for how long I tried to “find the middle ground” and figure out ways to get what I needed from him while making my own concessions, as well. I feel dumb for thinking it would EVER work to try to make him change. I feel dumb for thinking that I would ever change my own needs or desires to match what he was able to give. Physical intimacy outside of the bedroom? I can live without that, right? How about near-zero affection, no effort at asking me how I’m doing if I look stressed, or no inclination to ask me how my schooling is going? No problem, I can live without it.
Ahem. Yeah, right.
When I finally broke up with him for good this October, I apologized for the girlfriend I had become. I told him I was sorry for asking for things that we both knew weren’t going to happen, and allowing myself to become upset in the process. I apologized for asking him to act in ways that were contrary to his personality and acknowledged that he didn’t deserve to be with someone who was only going to grow more resentful toward him over time. And really, I meant it. I felt sorry. I felt upset with myself for turning into the kind of partner I never wanted to be. He nodded and said it was OK–he just wanted me to be happy, even if it wasn’t with him.
So, yeah, duh. I felt and still feel a little dumb. I spent so damn long trying to get his attention, where I could feel safe expressing myself to him and showing him how I felt more deeply while knowing I would be heard and accepted, and maybe even have such sentiments returned in kind. I spent so long trying to find new ways to “make it work.” I wanted so badly to feel that he longed for me, or that we longed for each other mutually. I wanted to talk about our future, about the house we would live in together, the garden we’d grow and the pets we’d have. I wanted to plan trips, talk boring stuff like finances, and maybe even talk about what it would look like to have a family someday.
But that was a dream I was having all by myself, based entirely on some other reality.
The reality was that I was dating someone a year younger than me who came into the relationship with no sexual experience, who often wanted to spend more time alone than with me, who couldn’t understand why I felt like I had to try to compete for his attention with video games and friends, and who rarely spoke in terms of daydreams of the future. I was dating someone who didn’t think to ask me how my day at work was because he didn’t have any interest in talking about his own day at work. I was dating someone who would respond to my cries of stress or overwhelm with, “keep a stiff upper lip about it”. I was dating someone who fell asleep on me during a serious conversation where I told him I felt like I wasn’t being heard by him, and that my vying for attention made me feel childish.
I don’t think he’s a bad person at all. In fact, I think he’s a great person who is (or was) fairly clueless about how to act in a long-term romantic relationship. Based on what I know about his experience, I was a “first” for him, for a lot of things. That can be exciting, but as I’m nearing my 30s, I’m not exactly interested in teaching someone emotional intelligence or how to say “I love you” unprovoked. It was never going to work, and despite my stubbornness, I’m pretty sure I knew that from the start.
Those things are painful to think about at times, which makes this weird ache for the relationship all the more frustrating. I know I’m not longing for what we had, nor do I want to be back in that situation–so what, then? Again, I think it’s the familiarity I had with that relationship, and the friends I left behind. He was, after all, a great friend to me, and we had a lot of fun times together despite our differences. He never threatened to leave me. He was stable and secure in his own right, even when I didn’t want to see it.
I’ve spent a lot of my adult life leaving, or in some cases, being left. Ever since my childhood home was sold in 2007 and my high school sweetheart (now ex-husband) cheated on me the first (but not last) time, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to find where “home” exists. I know it’s probably not a specific location, and through trial and error, I know it can’t be contained within another person. But with this most recent ex, I think I’m feeling some weird ache for what I thought my home could be, for what I wanted but knew I’d never have.
And I think that’s where a lot of my recent feelings of fear and hesitation are coming from, especially when I think of this new guy I’m seeing. Our relationship is strong, and I’m definitely not lacking the affection, closeness, or experience I wished for in my last relationship. But he is 13 years my senior, a father to a teenage son who lives quite far away, and he’s operating in a state of uncertainty about whether he’s going to remain here in Minnesota for the long-term, or whether he’s going to make his way back to his home state of Indiana to be with his family when all is said and done.
I feel him being pulled toward Indiana. I also feel him holding on to me and holding onto Minnesota with fear and apprehension of letting go. We’ve become very close over the past few months and despite the differences in our life paths, we’ve intersected each other in the nicest, most harmonious way. I know I can’t (and shouldn’t) predict the future, but I’m scared of setting my heart up for another shattering if and when he decides he needs to leave.
I can’t ever know what’s going to happen, and I’m trying to keep my mind focused on the immediate reality I’m living in: tomorrow, he’s meeting my mom and stepdad over dinner. He’s flying out of town for a wedding this coming weekend, while I stay home to tend to my school work and the creative writing group I run. I can’t think too much further forward, or I’ll start making plans without actually checking with him first. And that’s where the trouble begins, I think.
So this ache I have for my past relationship may not be for the relationship at all, but for the feeling of stability and reassurance I had with my ex. I was ultimately the one who needed to leave, and I did, but I know I could’ve had consistency had I stayed where I was. I decided to leave that behind.
But that’s what moving forward with life is all about, no? Making ourselves uncomfortable and casting aside the things that don’t serve us, consistency and stability be damned? Maybe. And so far, despite being a bit moody about it, I know I made the right choice, and I’m glad that I did.
But I do wish for some way to know that I don’t have to keep wondering about what’s waiting for me around the corner. What’s going to change next, what do I need to prepare to let go of, or who do I need to say goodbye to now? It gets tiresome. Maybe next year, once I’ve graduated my program and turned 30, I can finally start looking forward to a little bit of predictability and consistency in my life. I might even be able to have a regular morning routine, complete with enough time to read the news with a cup of coffee. Isn’t that a novel idea…
Anyway, I’ve rambled quite a bit here. It’s late on Sunday, I’m disappointed in losing an hour this weekend, and I’m more than a bit sad that Monday is just around the corner. Hopefully the week goes by quickly and without as much stress as the last. We’ll see.