The first time you broke up with me, it caught me off guard.
It didn’t really register at all at first. Not in the moment. You said the words—kind, sweet, logical words that cited equality and fairness—but I wasn’t really listening to your words. I heard you, your words seared into my subconscious, but I was too busy holding you, feeling your hands on my body, kissing you, crying with you, and our hearts pounding.
I nodded and agreed, too distracted by everything I was seeing and hearing and feeling to listen. I kissed you goodbye, letting our lips linger too long, letting my hands flow magnetically toward you as you pulled away, letting my eyes follow you as you drove away. I walked back inside and began searching my room. I caressed the silhouette you left lying there, feeling the still warm outline of your body as I made the bed. I missed you immediately, even though you hadn’t truly left yet. And then I replayed your words and I realized how stupid I had been to nod and agree, to not really listen.
I listened then, as you boarded a plane and flew away. I listened as I went to work and ate and did all the things that were expected of me. I listened, though you were no longer speaking and I could no longer argue and the moment had passed.
You were wrong. You were right, but you were wrong. Your words made sense. They were strung together properly by every law of grammar. They fit into sentences and flowed in a logical progression. Each word was chosen carefully, illuminating your salient points, and building a perfectly functional argument than no sane person could deny.
I listened, then, all day. I listened as I went through the motions. I listened as I called friends and family and informed them of our apparent demise. I listened as I wrote you letter after letter that, much like our relationship, had an infinity of wonderful beginnings, but not a single semblance of a proper end.
Relationships like ours don’t end like that. They don’t end with an easy contractual handshake, sign here, thanks for a great time. They don’t end simply because one day we wake up and say crap, this doesn’t make sense in the grand scheme of things oh well. And they don’t end with simple goodbyes and a little bit of distance anymore, not in this age where technology helped us bridge thousand of miles and months apart more easily than ever before, especially not when we had bridged that distance for months already, from the very beginning, against all odds.
I searched my room that evening, but no matter how hard I looked, I couldn’t find the tattered remains of my heart lying on the floor. I hadn’t kicked it under the bed or shoved it in a closet. The dog hadn’t found it and used it as a chew toy. And certainly, I hadn’t cleaned up the mess; there didn’t seem to be a mess to clean up.
Because I couldn’t find my heart, I decided I needed to recreate the crime scene. I thought about our conversations leading up to the previous night, our doubts and fears and the way just being beside one another made them fade so easily. I replayed your words and tried to reconcile their properness with how wrong they felt. Your words made sense by any measure of logic, but love is not logical. It defies logic and drives me mad; after all, only a mad man could ignore all reasons we couldn’t shouldn’t or wouldn’t work and believe our love is enough to sustain us.
I could still hear your heart beating a million miles away. I could still smell you on me, sweet and warm. I could still feel your hold on me, firm yet gentle and kind. I could still see your eyes singing to me, playing me a dazzling symphony even in darkness, even with my eyes closed.
It was then I decided we couldn’t possibly be done. This couldn’t possibly be it. How could we go out with a whimper? How could we give up something so good so easily?
You called it denial. You called it absurd. You said it didn’t make sense.
And you smiled, and laughed, and though your words didn’t say it, your eyes and your actions told me you still loved me too.
The second time you broke up with me, it took weeks.
In some ways, it started the moment our first break up ended, the moment I said to you it’s not over, it can’t be over. The distance meant we couldn’t get back together, not physically, not in the same time zone, not by any true measure of the phrase “back together.”
You said we’re not together. I smiled and nodded and said sure we aren’t. You said you didn’t think it was a good idea that we text every day. I said not if you want us to be broken up. I continued to talk to you every day. You said you weren’t sure things were going to work. I agreed and said who cares, isn’t love enough? You said no, it’s not, but your eyes disagreed.
It’s not like me to be the illogical one. It’s not like me to be the incredible optimist who thinks love can conquer all. Though you hammered me with doubts, you were the only thing in the world I wanted.
I lead a transitory life, seasonal employment, a constantly shifting landscape of jobs and people in a town that revolves around a university churning through students and juxtaposing the strong solidity of the Rockies with the roiling turmoil of a 4-year populace. I’ve been here long enough to have watched businesses come and go, start-ups thrive and disappear, and entire communities of people that helped define here for me vanish into the great wide open. I live in a world of doubt, of uncertainty. I’m mired in the unknown and only through a combination of willful ignorance and force of will do I continue day after day to move forward.
Every once in a while, the questions build up. I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t, can’t have a five-year plan, let alone a one-year plan. I have no idea where I’ll be working, where I’ll be living, how I’ll be surviving in six months, a few weeks, tomorrow. In those moments, I feel like my life is an utter mess, that nothing is certain. At its worst, I’m unsure how to keep going, though I’m equally unsure how to stop.
When we met, my life was in order, my world momentarily clear. You were the one element of uncertainty. The rest of my life seemed to finally be on track, and here I was holding on to this bubbling cauldron of uncertainty. By any sense of the term, I was bewitched.
You watched as autumn tore me asunder, as I scrambled and clawed and held on for dear life. The clarity of summer has waned with the leaves. But in that time, you were still there, despite my doubts, despite my fears, and despite the odds. You held me and sat with me as I came out the other side and winter began. You saw me run from one job to the next, my sanity in question every step of the way. And I began to see you as certainty. I invested even more deeply.
How does that happen? How do I fall so much further in love than where we began? When we lay there, toward the end of our first week together, our hearts pounding, happiness around us, I can remember popping the bubble. I listed my fears, my worries. I told you to seek someone else, to figure out what you wanted. I listened to your heart pound and wondered how you could love me so much, so much more than I loved you, so quickly, even as I told you this would not, could not do.
During that slow methodical plod through our second break up I heard so many of my arguments from that first week thrown back at me. All the doubts, all the fears, all the uncertainty. Even ones I hadn’t given voice, that hovered on the edge of my subconscious. And every one of them correct, accurate, and completely irrelevant because love.
There was a difference between that first week and the second break up. When I cited my fears and worries in the first few weeks, I had no evidence to the contrary. I was in freefall, spinning out of control. Now, after months together, all the data pointed toward the most wonderful, most functional, most healthy relationship I’ve ever had. It was unprecedented.
The mark of a good scientist is that she records all her data no matter how much of an outlier the results. You kept citing what ifs, possibilities, previous or other examples of failure, of paths divergent. I agreed with every one. And then I ignored them because I was still collecting data and you had proven yourself to be an outlier already. All the logical arguments in the world couldn’t sway me.
But it wasn’t your logical arguments that eventually did sway me.
“I’m tired,” you said, “of waking up and crying.”
My heart fell at those words. Everything in our collective world had been good. Even our break-up, the one that didn’t quite take, was good. When we spoke, my heart fluttered. When I looked at you, even beamed onto a screen from a thousand miles away, I felt like you were right there. When we were close like that, my entire world melted around you in the most wonderful way. And it appeared as if I still did the same for you. Our relationship was pure joy and contentment.
But this, this wasn’t happiness. It wasn’t kindness. It wasn’t pleasure or supportive. When the messages ceased or the screen turned off, I was left riding the high. For you, what I couldn’t see, was your world crashing in around you once more. Suddenly, following my heart and hurting you were one and the same. And that wasn’t acceptable.
Hearing those words, understanding your pain, I knew I couldn’t be a catalyst anymore.
Here was an opportunity for me to be angry with myself, to be disappointed, to convince myself that we finally had a reason to end the relationship: that I had treated you poorly, even if only in one regard, even if only for a minute.
We stopped talking. The silence was painful.
I thought of you every day, resolved to keep quiet, to not hurt you more, to let things die off with distance and time. I struggled to stay angry enough at myself, to keep my determination going. And it worked. Days, weeks, a month passed. Silence every day. Heartache every day.
I allowed my world to grow grim in your absence in hopes that you could move on, that you could learn to deal with the ever-present crush of the world. Every day I missed you and wondered if it was working, if you felt better, or if it was as painful for you as it was for me.
I tried being angry at you. You were fighting so hard against your own desires. I could see it in your eyes that you loved me. I could feel it in your voice. Even as had you railed against my stupid romanticism, it was apparent that your heart agreed with me. Why fight me on this? Why fight yourself?
But I couldn’t be angry with you. All your arguments and fears were valid, if unproven. If this is what you needed, an end to us, then I had to respect that and give it. We had long ago discussed the head and the heart being at odds and how we both struggle with that. During our second break-up, I let my head win.
How do you reconcile the hopelessly romantic notion that love can conquer all with the sudden feeling that even the best love is fucked up, unhealthy and painful? That was even harder for me. If love couldn’t overcome the odds for us, when everything was so good, then how could I ever believe in love again.
I really thought that our second break-up would stick.
A breakup doesn’t need to be a knock-down drag out fight. It doesn’t have to be an emotional explosion or the end of an era. It doesn’t even need to be two-sided, though it helps. All it needs is a good reason. Our first break up didn’t have a good reason. For our second, hurting you, even once, was reason enough.
I told myself that love was a waste of time. I tried going out with a couple of girls I found attractive, but I felt nothing, less than nothing. I mired myself in that misery, but only found the world dulling around me. Not loving you anymore was not only difficult, but it was costing me in other ways.
I sent you a birthday gift with a note. It was the least I could do. I told myself that it meant nothing, that it was just something to focus on, something with which I could commemorate our time together. After all, you changed my world, for the better, and then, by an emotionless Vulcan standard, for the better as well. After all, better to give up on love if it will never work than to hold on to a false hope.
You sent me a thank you text, though I expected none. I replied distantly, hoping that you were happier without me in your life and trying to keep it that way.
I expected that to be the end of it. I expected a return to misery, to determination, and to my world crumbling around me one more as spring and another season came to an end.
Instead, a few days later, I got another text from you. Then another. And another. And suddenly, we were talking again. Not a lot, but enough that the door I thought I had closed and locked, the one with all that hope and romance hidden away beneath it, cracked open a touch. Our conversation was sporadic, but I could feel I still loved you. When I finally saw you again, albeit beamed from across the continent using advanced technologies, I could see you still loved me too, despite your words, your avoidance of the issue.
I still didn’t understand why we had ended things the first time, and I knew we had fought against ourselves to end it the second. If we couldn’t try things again, I at least needed to understand why it was so important that we both suffer. Give me another shot, I said, or crush me and make me understand that it’s over.
I wanted to believe that love was enough. I guess I should’ve known better.
It all seemed so promising. You seemed to be listening to my questions, my arguments. I seemed to be making a case. I would push, a little at a time, for another chance. And all I needed from you was a little bit of feedback, just one word saying yes you still love me, or even that you still like me.
But all I got from you were doubts and fears. Every conversation I had with you was painful and a struggle. I developed tactics to ignore your naysaying and stay positive. I told myself I was chipping away at a wall, and little by little I could bring that joy we had back into or lives. I tried to lift you up and keep things light and fun. But every once in a while, my façade cracked just a little.
You said your life is a mess. I smiled and laughed and said, “welcome to adulthood.” For the first time, our age difference, our life stage difference, the same one I pointed out as a fear initially, was palpable. My life has been a mess since midway through college. I found the paths I thought I was taking weren’t paths at all. The world is an ever shifting landscape that’s difficult to comprehend, let alone make sense of. You, on the other hand, have been on a plotted course with only minor deviations, and only now, with the world in front of you and an overabundance of uncertainty, do you feel the brunt of what most people are dealing with every day.
In my uncertain world, I’d been clinging to you, hoping that you could provide me with a little bit of stability to tide me over until things work themselves out. Not once did you feed my hope. Not once did you tell me what I was doing was right or proper or ok. I didn’t give up because there was nothing else in my life sustaining me but that hope. I grabbed every non-failure as a success, twisting it to fit my needs. I told myself I was helping you believe in love again, that I was lifting you out of whatever river of doubt and uncertainty you had entered.
I realize now I was a rock tied to your ankle, dragging you down while you were trying to swim in a current.
When you revealed you were coming to visit, I was ecstatic. Whenever we were together in the same place, face to face, our troubles always melted away. In my mind, just getting that chance again could’ve been enough to sway you, the final piece of evidence I needed.
You were still non-committal. You still gave me nothing in words. But when I looked at you, when I saw your eyes, I could see there were still feelings there. Despite what you were saying, I could tell that just being together would make the difference.
I counted the days. I thought of ways of ensuring we’d see each other. I threatened grand romantic gestures. You met me at every turn with doubt and uncertainty, all perfectly logical, perfectly reasonable.
After days of pushing, arguing, spending hours questioning if my actions were in any way sane, you agreed to see me, if only I would take a step back and trust you. For me, this was the first moment of certainty I’d had from you in months, the first positive in emotional eons, and I readily agreed.
Less than twelves hours later, the rug was once again yanked out from under me. That certainty I’d been craving only lasted the night. Waiting for me with breakfast the next morning was an extremely long text saying how upset you had been, how you hadn’t slept, how you weren’t happy with my pushiness, and how you still weren’t sure what you wanted.
This was how our third breakup began.
The problem with being such a wonderful, intelligent person is that you’re rarely wrong. You always make sense, despite your worries to the contrary, and as a logical person myself I love that. Your long note was spot on. It matched all the things I hated about how I had been acting toward you and showed that I should’ve been more respectful of your needs and desires despite the difficulty. I appreciated the way in which you laid everything out so clearly and directly, and I couldn’t fault your argument.
So I promised what I could: I’d keep myself in check, but I wouldn’t give up.
Still, I felt heartache and doubt. My fragile veneer of positivity had begun to crack, and I could feel it breaking apart beneath the strain. Pulling me one way was my desire and love and hope. Pulling the other were my fears, especially that I was causing more pain than pleasure, my doubts, especially that I was wrong, that I was misreading things, and my sadness, that even were we to get the chance to be happy in the moment once more, it would just be dashed when you left again.
I started counting down the hours til I got to see you the moment your flight left the ground. It’s very hard to count down the hours when you haven’t told me when I’ll get to see you, but I found a way. We talked, every day, and I didn’t push or nag or ask.
Every night, I went to sleep wondering if you were going to see me at all. Every night, I listened to your words play over and over in my head. Every morning I woke up afraid that today was going to be it, that you’d decide it was a bad idea to see me, that I wouldn’t hear from you again.
It ate at me. For the first time since our second breakup, I felt truly miserable, in pain. When you would ask where I was or what I was doing, I couldn’t help but wonder if you weren’t just avoiding me. When you mentioned your plans for the day, I couldn’t help but remember how the same plans had never meant you didn’t have free time to see me previously. On my end, I had nothing but free time to worry and fear, counting down the days until you left again.
The first few days, I knew you were busy with family. I brushed aside my worries and tried to be patient. A week passed, and still you hadn’t even brought up the prospect of seeing me. While I didn’t let it appear in our chats, I was effectively a nervous wreck. Nothing mattered in my life but seeing you.
And then it came. The message that you wanted to meet. You suggested lunch. I countered with dinner. If you had said let’s just start with lunch, who knows where we’d be now. Instead, you reluctantly agreed.
Reluctantly is the key word. I was already full of doubts. I started to wander down the philosophical paths of whether you wanted to see me or if you were only doing it because I had been bugging you or if you felt sympathetic to me and were just throwing me a bone. I don’t want to be a “nice guy,” the one who feels entitled to you because of my work. If you don’t want to see me, don’t.
We started to discuss specifics about timing. Suddenly you had an appointment, previously unmentioned, in the late afternoon. You asked if lunch would work. To me, if felt as if you were trying to place a time-limit on us, an escape route. It felt as though you didn’t really want to see me, and the doubts flared up fast. I tried to keep them in check. I mentioned I didn’t like the idea of a time-limit and could be flexible for dinner.
“Okay if you don’t mind and really really want to do dinner,” you replied.
And that’s when I broke. Those doubts, that uncertainty, the fear that had been building for days, weeks, months. for months, you had hammered me with your doubts while I tried hard to ignore my own. And with two reallys and the impetus on my desire, I broke.
I knew I loved you, but I no longer knew how you felt. You had insinuated in the past that you felt as though you were using me, and I responded by telling you I had been used and I know what that’s like. I was certain you weren’t using me then. In that moment, however, staring at your text, I suddenly wasn’t certain about anything with us.
If you had simply said “I’d rather do lunch;” if you had stopped at “okay;” if you had, at any point in the last several months, used the phrase “I’d like that” in regards to seeing me, perhaps I wouldn’t have succumbed to ocean of doubts I had collected.
Instead, I broke.
I don’t want to be a charity case. I don’t want a sympathy date. I don’t want to have goaded you into seeing me or spending time with me no matter how much joy both of us might get out of it. I deserve better than that. I know you’d agree when I say I deserve to be wanted, especially in equal measure. And I didn’t know.
So I responded, in the moment, asking if you wanted to see me and asking if we should bother.
I immediately regretted it. You have every right to be confused, every right to not know what you want. You deserve better than some asshole who pokes and prods and questions you and has difficulty trusting that you want to see him. It doesn’t matter if I love you and you love me. It doesn’t matter if we’re good when we’re together.
For you, that was the final straw. I don’t blame you. My words were juvenile and dickish. You response, while not immediate, was quick and clear. I hate that I hurt you. I hate that I couldn’t hold back any longer. And I hate that we won’t get that second chance anytime soon and likely not at all.
That is what a breakup should feel like: rage, pain, tears, and a better understanding of myself and my flaws. I was despondent immediately afterward, hurt, in pain, and angry, finally angry. Not with you, but with myself. In a perverse way, that made me happy. For the first time in months, I had something definite, uninhibited, and clear from you. Finally, I had a reason for us ending. I was glad that reason was me.
In our first weeks together, we discussed that you didn’t know what you wanted. When we broke up the first time, it was primarily because I asked what you wanted and where you wanted things to go. When we broke up the second time, it was because you couldn’t reconcile what your heart and your head wanted and I couldn’t stand causing that inner turmoil.
You still don’t know what you want. Your last message said as much. You have every right to not know, to take your time to figure that out, and to explore your options. I know now I can’t convince you or help you solve that issue. I feel as though trying only makes things worse.
I would say that this is how our third breakup ended, but who am I kidding. In reality, this is still our first breakup, isn’t it?