Monday, May 9, 2016
That bittersweet reunion in our apartment ushered in a new phase in our relationship: a confusing mix of I love you, we’re still involved, and you’re important to me, but you’ve been demoted from girlfriend. Imagine being constantly reminded that the person you trusted with everything has now placed a glass wall between you, dictating when you could get close and when you needed to know your new role, when it was alright to be intimate, but please don’t get so attached. I kept unraveling. I took whatever crumbs of attention I could get, mostly feeling happy that at the very least we were speaking at all, but also feeling my insides turn to constant dread. To me, every intimate moment felt like it could be the last time. I was a tangled ball of feels whenever we slept together and afterwards, I’d lay there in bed, wide awake, hearing him sleeping next to me while I wondered if things could ever be the same between us. I told myself to be okay with this unfamiliar stage, that perhaps we didn’t have to go down the same route everyone else did. That we could create our own version of what “broken up” looked like.
But it never felt like enough, not when I had gone from having all of him to barely having him at all. I’d make myself available whenever he wanted us to meet. I would get slapped with an insensitive comment only to dry the tears and come back for more. "Humble yourself," he said to me. "You may have taken a lot of hits, but it's a cross you're proud to bear. You keep throwing yourself into the lashes." Did that mean he needed to keep cracking the whip?
I spent four more months on top of five years still trying to prove my worth, still hoping that we could reignite whatever love we’d shared between us. This was made all the more difficult by the fact that a mutual friend, his best friend’s girlfriend 12 years his junior, had been filling in all the voids he might have felt. I tried to be understanding, I tried to be considerate, but it was driving me even more insane. As the summer bore on, the closer they became. When I’d lash out over being slighted, insulted, I’d turn around and apologize. I bought her flowers to make up for my rage when he said they’d be going to Burning Man without me. I pulled up skill after skill I’d learned in therapy to show how capable I was of changing. When he said I was destined to fail 100 percent of my attempts at change, I countered back with defiance. I was not going to let him dictate my future. But when she invited me out for coffee only to tell me I was manipulative and she couldn’t be in my life anymore, I was almost sent back to the hospital in a depressed and suicidal state. I felt like nothing was working for me. If I were to make it out at the other end of this, everyone will have left me by then.
After a month apart, he and I rekindled for no more than a passionate midnight tryst and a few days of texts. The mind-fucking continued. “I don’t know why you’re so irresistible to me,” he whispered to me in bed only to blame me for his attraction days later. “You’re dangerous,” he texted, suddenly annoyed by our flirtatious messages. “If you wanted my friendship, you’d leave your ego at the door. But you swing your sexuality around knowing how to affect me.”
When I continued to seek out ways to create a healthier relationship, a friendship, anything with him, he saw being kind to me as too big a burden to bear. I came with too many emotions, I was in “enemy territory,” I was “on trial,” "your feelings won't be accommodated," "you're trying to break into a space you'd been removed from." Why couldn’t we just fuck, he wanted to know. “We may have a lot between us, but it’s just fuel for the fire when we spark,” he told me. “I can’t return the feelings you give me and I can’t bear the burden of receiving your love without returning it. I don’t want your heart.”
I couldn’t understand why it was so hard for him to be nice when I was able to sit on the grass beside him, vulnerable, reaching out only to have him recoil from my touch. When I stormed out of the park after that last encounter in which he blew my mind by saying I needed to cater to that person he’d now fallen in love with in order to remain in his life, I knew without a doubt that a) I had finally grown to hate him and b) I had given this relationship every single ounce I had in me, and it was more than it deserved. There was nothing left to give.
I don’t know what it would have taken for me to have left sooner. I don’t know if I would’ve been capable of leaving my stubbornness aside and accepted that this person and his ego were too toxic and triggering. I’ve since been told over and over again that most people in my situation, in that relationship, would have reacted in the same way. That most would have left long ago, but instead I stayed and gave it everything I had. I flip back and forth between feeling like a martyr and an absolute idiot. I walked away having taken too much of the blame. I was the cog messing everything up. I had to change, get in line, submit, accept, permit. I had to do the work. I was the only one going to therapy so clearly I was the one with the problem.
It was so wrong and so unfair and I wish I’d had the strength to stand up for myself back then. I wish I had the guts to say that this situation was unhealthy for me and this person refused to give me what I needed in this relationship. That he hasn't wanted me for a very long time and I shouldn't have sacrificed my self-worth in order to make him stay. Do I still get angry about it? Yes. Am I sad? Definitely not as much as before. The respect they lost from family and friends after they ran off together with zero fucks given towards the people they were attached to is enough of a reflection on their character that I no longer feel the need to confront them about how hurtful their actions were towards me. Instead, I spent the fall and winter grieving and healing and while I know it’s going to take a long time to be fully repaired, I can acknowledge that I have better things going for me now. I might have lost someone in the process, but my life is so much fuller than before.