This is going to be one post that I’m not sure I will encourage my hubby to read. It’s not that I have anything to hide (if anything maybe I wear my heart on my sleeve too much, too often). But when the past rears its ugly head (and let’s face it, the past is very often ugly) it frequently brings up memories that frankly you wish would have evaporated into thin air, leaving no trace that they had ever even existed.
Over 4 years ago I made a clean break from New York. If you’ve read my blog before then you know why. I had decided that I was stagnant. I was living in the same apartment that my ex and I had lived in for over a year together, the same apartment where we mutually broke up with one another on a Sunday night (funny the details that you remember), and was at the same job, socializing with the same people (though I loved them and still do), going to the same places, talking to my therapist about the same issues, and it felt like I was spinning my wheels (I think my therapist would have whole-heartedly agreed). I was stuck, and after a very telling conversation with my ex one day (who was still in my life in some iffy capacity… Perhaps that was part of the problem), it hit me: I would always remain stuck, always remain in the past, if I didn’t do something about it. Nobody was going to change things for me; nobody could. He and I had mutually parted because we were two very different people living two very different lives, and because we clearly wanted things from each other that the other couldn’t give. We weren’t going to get back together, and every block in the city seemed to remind me of the almost 5 years that we spent together. I hated seeing “our” Chinese restaurant on the corner, hated having to wear makeup to the grocery store just in case I bumped into him unannounced (he moved a few blocks away) and hated that he had even told me that once after we broke up he was with his new girlfriend and saw me from across the street (thankfully I never saw him). And while the thought of moving on (geographically and figuratively) was terrifying, I knew that if I was ever to find happiness again, I was going to have to bite the bullet and instill some serious change in my life. This realization was empowering and nauseating all at the same time.
So I chose Boston as my next destination. I packed up my stuff and moved to the city with very few friends in the area and no job. But the one thing that I did have (other than my parents close by) was a clean slate and an apartment where there were no sad memories. I cut up pictures, wrote a lot, found a job, reconnected with old friends and made new ones, and slowly put the past behind me.
Not long after that I met my husband, and we all know how that story goes (and it’s a good one). But I won’t lie, and anyone that says differently probably is: I thought about my ex from time to time. It was usually in the context of “I am so lucky to have SHL and what would my life be like if I had stayed with my ex? Would be divorced by now?” (To which the answer in my head was always a resounding “YES”). But occasionally I wondered other things too. I wondered if he ever thought about me. I wondered if he had cheated on me when we were dating (something that I never wondered about when we were together but once apart noticed the idea lurking in the corner of my mind when thinking about him). I wondered for the zillionth time how he could have started up a relationship with another so soon after we broke up and he moved out of our place (incidentally they broke up because she was cheating on him). I wondered if he had met anybody since then and if he somehow knew that I had found my love and that was I finally happy. I wondered a lot of things. Most I didn’t share with SHL because nobody likes to hear about their spouse’s old relationships, but once in a blue moon I would reference him. Sometimes it comes up because my ex was an avid tennis player and when my husband mentions how grateful he is that I am supportive of his career as a tennis coach (weird coincidence), it highlights what was wrong with the relationship that ended in my 20’s. I never doubt that I’m my husband’s priority, and I want him to have his own life, be happy in his career, have a passion and pursue it. I now understand that when somebody gives you what you need it’s very easy to want them to have those things. It was something that I never understood with my ex because I never felt that I was a priority to begin with.
Fast forward to a couple of days ago. I happen to check my Yahoo email account, which I rarely if ever do. I clicked on the last page of emails by accident, the ones that I had accidentally kept from years ago, and found pages of correspondence between my ex and I. Some when we were dating (and living together), and others after we had broken up. I read them, of course (my curiosity got the best of me) and memories came up that I hadn’t thought about in years.
And after reading pages and pages of emails, the feeling that I was left with was that we never really knew each other, and that saddened me but it felt evident. It was clear that he was out night after night (mostly playing tennis) because so often the emails that we would send each other while at work said things like, “How was your night last night? Did you win your match? How did you sleep? Sorry I wasn’t awake to say goodnight.” It was like two ships passing in the night, instead of a partnership where you really feel present with the other person. I was reminded that I never really felt like I was losing even a little part of myself when I was dating him because, well, I wasn’t. In order to lose a piece of yourself (which sounds worse than it is) you have to fully commit yourself to another. You BOTH have to make sacrifices, and compromises. And though I didn’t feel as though I lost a part of myself to my boyfriend at the time, it felt like I lost myself entirely… But not to him… I was just lost.
It left a pit in my stomach, mostly because I was reminded that I had wasted so much time on a relationship that didn’t help me to grow, that didn’t nourish me, that didn’t satisfy me (at least not at the end). I used to mourn that time in my 20’s, thinking that it was time wasted when I could have been finding another, maybe getting married and doing other things with my life that I felt I was prevented from doing because of this relationship (and I take responsibility for being so stuck, though it’s painful to admit). But now I remind myself that although I didn’t marry until my 30’s, I needed that time to do some real growing before I could meet the person who was right for me. And SHL and I both agree that when we met we were at a place in our lives where we could give ourselves freely to the other. I for one know myself so much better now than I ever did in my 20’s, which in the end I believe has made me be a better partner for him (timing played an integral part in our love story. We were ready to meet). We had both done a lot of evolving in our lives and realizing that has, I think, helped me to try to value the fact that although it felt like a lot of pain in my 20’s had to take place for me to find SHL, it was just the path that had to be taken in order to find each other.
So that was 2 days ago. Today I got an email from a friend of mine who used to live in NYC and who I’ve been friends with for almost 10 years. “Guess what?” She wrote. “I just saw on Facebook that an old friend of mine from years ago just got engaged to your ex!” Gulp. It had been over 4 years since he and I had spoken, and I had never (not once) asked anyone about him, googled him, Facebooked him, or anything of the sort (I have to admit, I was pretty proud of myself). I had a feeling that once in a while he would look me up because I would get a glimpse of him here and there (once on Facebook as a friend “suggestion” –not request– and once on LinkedIn, and since I had never put his name into a search and he wasn’t in my address book– Nor do we have any mutual friends– I thought perhaps he had searched for me). And although I’m writing about the times that I thought of him, for the most part I just didn’t.
Now I have this piece of information, and I wonder if it’s me who can’t handle the truth. The truth that maybe he never loved me the way that I thought he did (which is something that I wrestled with for a long time after the breakup when he started dating someone else so soon after he moved out). The truth that I would have been such an unhappy woman had we stayed together. The truth that maybe I loved him for the wrong reasons. The truth that I spent years with this person chipping away at my insides when I could have been meeting new people, traveling more, and feeling more energized and confident enough to focus on and make changes in my career… Instead I remained stuck. Unhappy. Not myself. But I can’t blame everything on him– I had the power to do these things for myself, and yet I didn’t (at the time I felt powerless. Blame it on poor self-esteem). In turn, I have to focus on how much I learned about myself that perhaps would have been difficult to learn otherwise (what did I learn? That I’m strong. That I’m resilient. That I’m worth more than what I had been given by that relationship. That I could be happy on my own. That I still wanted to find love. That I still believed in love. That being happy on my own would serve me a purpose greater than I had ever imagined, and would only strengthen my confidence and my core when I met my husband. That sharing a life with my husband is actually what I was meant to be doing all along). And so maybe the thought of my ex, the memories, and this new piece of information simply made me feel strange because it’s a reminder of the fact that I didn’t really start finding out who I was until after we had parted. Because it wasn’t until I had gained some distance that I could really get in touch with the truth, my truth. And I wonder, if you’ve never had your heart broken, can you truly appreciate when your heart feels whole again? Because that’s my truth, and that I can handle.