Your Ex-Lover Is Dead | Part 3 | Trying Again
I didn’t waste time. I had had this feeling only once before but I knew what it meant. I was desperate to feel better and I had patiently waited for the spark that signaled a connection that might help me heal. It was here and I wasn’t going to let it slip away. I made it clear I was interested and when he followed suit I decided to cut to the chase and suggested we leave together. On the cab ride home we swapped tales of relationships past and other taboo and messy subjects one doesn’t generally touch this early on but the adrenaline of a night out, a new attractive partner and a generous helping of alcohol fueled us. He told me he was fresh out of a breakup with a woman he had been with for four years. My heart sunk; I had a strange knack for setting my sights on newly single (read: unavailable) men. I figured this meant that by sunrise he would be long gone and I would never hear from him again but I was so desperate to feel close to someone so I tried to ignore the fact that disappointment was, most likely, inevitable.
Back at my apartment all the boldness I had exhibited at the bar was gone and I found myself feeling shyer than I had been in a long time around a man. There was no loud music to gloss over clumsy conversations, no dim lighting to hide imperfections, the confidence-boosting effect of the tequila was slowly wearing off and reality was closing in. I was acutely aware of him closely surveying the contents of my apartment and I suddenly felt exposed. I was fragile, emotional, maybe even unstable, and I was terrified that my apartment would somehow reveal this to him and he would run for the hills. I decided to pre-empt; put the best possible bright and shiny spin on my dark and twisted emotional state. I gave him a Coles Notes version of my last relationship and break-up, my unemployment and my current lack of direction. Surprisingly, none of this seemed to scare him. He smiled, reached for his phone, hit play on Love in the Future and laid me down on my bed.
We woke up to pouring rain and as we lay in bed he kissed my shoulders, ran his fingers over my eyebrows, my eyelashes and my lips. It felt like the sun shining down and warming your face in the middle of a cold and bleak winter. I eagerly soaked up every ounce of it. By that afternoon, he had sent me pictures of his family dog and his niece. By mid-week, he had confessed he couldn’t stop thinking about me and wanted to know more. By the next weekend, we were back together and I was meeting his friends.
He was different than the last. He had all the appearance of a true grown-up, a man who took responsibility. He was a homeowner, who showed me around his house with pride; pointing out all the improvements he had made with his own hands. He gave me peppers he had grown in his own garden. He had tenants, a stable career he seemed passionate about and a solid relationship with his family. He had a touch of OCD; a personality quirk that made me smile every time it manifested. He was ridiculously handsome, his friends were quick to tell me what a ‘good guy’ he was and for reasons that I couldn’t fathom he seemed to be fixated on me.
We saw each other often. He cooked me grilled cheese and soup for dinner when I had a bad week. He sent me songs and good morning texts. We spent weeknights in bed together watching TV as the cold weather set in; never making it through entire episodes before we became too distracted by each other. We would meet up at bars on the weekends and party with friends. In the morning, he would take me out to his favourite neighborhood brunch spots to cure our hangovers with coffee and waffles. He held my hand when we navigated crowds, he put his arm around my waist when we crossed streets, he picked me up for dates and drove me home when he could.
I struggled desperately to open up to him but every time I attempted to share parts of myself the words got stuck in my throat. I couldn’t trust him and I didn’t know why. Was it my broken heart? My fear of getting hurt? Did I know deep down these were things he didn’t really care to know? Was he finding subtle ways to keep the distance between us? Was it him? Was it me? Was it us?
I decided to try and find the strength to test the waters. I’m not sure how it finally happened but in the early hours of the morning after a long night out, liquid courage in tact for both of us, we finally took a deep breath and dove beneath the surface. He spoke about his past relationship; how the break-up was more difficult than he had initially let on, how he had pulled back and started working long hours instead of talking to her about their problems. I asked him why he had stayed in the relationship, why he didn’t just talk things out with her instead of pulling back and if he had ever thought that she was the one. He was clear with only one answer; she was never the one. I couldn’t understand the concept of spending four years with someone you never saw a real future with and I reminded myself that I was falling quickly for a man who was all too capable of pulling back and changing his mind for reasons he couldn’t articulate.
He turned the tables on me and asked if I had ever felt that strongly for someone, if I had ever envisioned a future that seriously.
‘Yes,’ I said ‘I think I have’.
I confessed that I had glossed over the reality of my last relationship and the damage it had done. I told him I wasn’t sure he really cared to know the details and that maybe I was afraid to share them.
‘Why would I not want to know about your life?’ he asked me.
‘I don’t know’ I replied.
‘You loved him?’ he asked.
‘Yes’ I said.
‘And he broke your heart?’ he asked.
‘Yes’ I said.
‘What a jerk’ he replied.
He kissed me and undressed me and there was the sun again in the middle of the coldest winter. He stopped for a second.
‘Your ex is an idiot’ he said as he looked at me.
The implication that he would, that he could or that he should be different hung heavy in the air and I think it scared us both.
The next morning some of my tension was released but I was still unsure of our relationship and afraid that revealing my broken heart and my desire for a deep connection had placed too much pressure on us. We went for breakfast and then picked up tea and coffee for the walk home. We strolled the neighborhood looking at houses and cutting through deserted schoolyards. It was a cold morning but the sun was shining brightly and when we got back to his house we sat in the chairs on his front lawn with our faces in the sun. I smiled as I thought about how it was exactly the way his touch made me feel. We sat there for a little knowing it would probably be our last chance to sit outside before the temperatures dropped and the Canadian winter took hold.
‘I’m going to go inside and do some work on a few spreadsheets’ he announced ‘Do you want to come in?’ he asked.
‘Can I?’ I answered his question with one of my own. ‘I mean only if you want me to. I won’t stay for long. Just to finish my tea’ I said as if I was apologizing for taking up too much space in his life. I was terrified of overstepping and crossing that line that had a funny way of setting off alarm bells in the male brain.
As I pushed myself to open up to him, show him how I was feeling and slowly tear down the giant fortress I had built around myself, I think I eventually did cross that line. Slowly the good morning messages stopped appearing, texts started to go unanswered, dates were more and more spaced out and sometimes cancelled. It wasn’t enough for me. I knew it and he knew it. I wanted to talk about it and he wanted to avoid it.
Our last date was quiet. It was a few days before Christmas. He came over, tired from a long workday. We dimmed the lights and lit candles, I gave him a gift, a card and some home baked cookies. We got into bed to watch a Raptors game and he drifted to sleep. When he woke up I had switched the game, which had quickly become a lost cause, for a Christmas special.
‘I just want to watch Rudolph, it’s my favourite, and then we can go to bed?’ I said.
‘Sure’ he smiled. He put his arm around me as I lay down on his chest. He woke up the next morning to go snowboarding with friends. It was cold and early so I stayed wrapped up in blankets while he got ready.
‘You can’t tell because it’s dark, but I’m pouting because you’re leaving so early’ I informed him. He laughed, kissed me on the forehead and walked out.
Days rolled by and I knew he was taking up too much emotional real estate in my heart for someone who was taking up so little space in my day-to-day life. So I hit send on a carefully crafted text designed to start a conversation I felt certain would end our relationship. I lay down in bed, closed my eyes and braced myself as I waited for him to take the out I had handed to him. Instead, he insisted he didn’t want to stop seeing me and I was floored because no man had ever fought to keep from losing me. I was so happy I could suddenly feel tears streaming down my face.
‘Let’s chat more tomorrow, sleep tight hun’ he said. Soothing words and pet names were his go-to tricks for ending uncomfortable conversations. I agreed to press pause on the discussion but not before I did something I had never done before in a romantic relationship. I asked for what I needed from him; I didn’t ask for the world, I asked for the basics. I’m not sure he understood that, for me, getting the basics would have meant the world.
The next day he didn’t call me, he didn’t text me, and he didn’t show up at my apartment. Sometimes silence is the loudest sound in the world and, this time, I heard him clearly. So that night, before bed, I drafted a goodbye text and went to sleep with tears streaming down my face for a different reason. In the morning I woke up and hit send.
Our words were kind and respectful. Our messages were full of ‘I understand’s, ‘I’m sorry’s and ‘thank you’s. But I didn’t understand, I wasn’t sorry and I wasn’t grateful – I was just disappointed and hurt. It was an unsatisfying good bye – I didn’t get to see him, touch him or hug him. I didn’t get to look at him, watch him say the words and read his face. I could only stare at the messages on the screen of my phone beside a small photo of us smiling together on Halloween. To this day, I don’t understand how or why he went from 100 to 0 real quick and it still bothers me.
I revisit this relationship often. I work and re-work each moment; a terribly painful habit of mine. Sometimes I reflect on his shortcomings; how he couldn’t give me what I so desperately needed and sometimes, but only sometimes, that eases the disappointment. Other times, I reflect on my hesitation and how he may have read it and I become filled with doubt, guilt and a terrible, nagging feeling that things could have been different. Sometimes I think about all the ways I believe I wasn’t enough. I dwell on the fear that every new woman who captures his attention will have everything that I didn’t and he will give her all of the love, commitment, time and attention he withheld from me. Other times, I try and feel grateful that, for a short time, we helped each other patch up a few of our broken pieces with gentle touches and soft kisses. Maybe that was all we could ever be to each other and maybe that’s ok but it still doesn’t feel ok.
This is the tricky thing about trying again. I have told myself a beautiful, albeit painful, story about my first love. I have wrapped it up with a pretty bow and when I allow myself to open it, as I do from time to time, a soft and warm glow emanates. I can smile for a second with a bittersweet mixture of fondness and sadness but I can smile nonetheless and then, I can wrap it back up and move on with my day.
Life after heartbreak is different; this story is full of hesitation, doubt and fear and when I try to wrap it up odds and ends jut out from every angle so that I can’t pick it up without getting hurt.
But this story is also filled with a few other things like courage, vulnerability, strength, respect and, as a result, a great deal of pride.
I am proud of my ability to share my vulnerability with another person.
I am proud of the courage it took to ask for what I needed.
I am proud of the strength it took to walk away from a relationship that wasn’t everything I wanted it to be.
I am proud of the respect and kindness we maintained for each other through it all.
I am proud that we tried again.
... and, one day soon, I’ll try again, with someone new.
And, whoever you are, wherever you are, I can’t wait to start writing a new chapter with you …