I thought I was feeling resentful tonight toward the man who, this time last year, was promising me everything but the sun and the moon and the stars… all while nearly sociopath-level (definitely Gaslight-level) lying to me about the status of his divorce (or should I say marriage?). But then I realized I’m just sad that what I thought was real wasn’t and that the person I thought was a friend was an enemy.
Looking deeper, I’m really feeling a bit of sympathy for him as someone who must have been so damaged and hurting and lonely that rather than being honest with me he chose to be selfish, thinking that his dishonesty would keep me around longer (I had started asking questions, making ultimatums, demanding answers; it must have felt very uncomfortable). Instead the lies came tumbling down like a poorly played game of Jenga, and his selfish strategy cost him everything, if everything in this context means ever seeing or speaking to me again.
At the time I was devastated; how could I not have been? You’d have to know the specifics of the manipulations and half-truths and outright lies to fully understand how completely undone I’d become over the course of just a few days. But that doesn’t really matter. Rape is a strong word, but I felt as though I’d been assaulted nearly every way possible save for actually being held down and forced against my will. If “consent” implies “informed,” I’d been misinformed for nearly 18 months and, for more than a year, I’d been made to feel as though I were the unfaithful one simply for doing things (for a couple of months) that people do when they are trying to move on from and out of a complicated situation with a married man: see movies and eat dinner and spend the night (platonically) with another man or two.
This is all almost a year ago now. In February it will be a year. So: a long time. It used to be that I wanted an apology or at least an explanation. He tried to offer both at some point in, I think, March. No. Strike that. He asked me to meet up with him so he could offer both. It was just a means of repeating the same things I’d heard a thousand times before, a ploy to get me to see him, so he could see me. Soon after I had to tell him to stop contacting me—that “I never want to see you again” means just that—or I’d go to the police (and his wife). The emails stopped. (I had already changed my phone number the day after the breakup. I was serious about my boundaries.)
I’ve given up the hope that I’ll ever get a true apology or satisfactory explanation, mostly because I don’t think he either understands the full extent of what he did (outside of how it affected him/what he lost) and—more important—he doesn’t know why he acted the way he did. But you know what? Ultimately that doesn’t matter. What matters is how I behaved in the relationship, how I got out of it, and what I learned from it.
Truth is, I was the one who let things go on far too long with too many unanswered questions and my instincts niggling at the corner of my brain telling me that something was off. I was the one who let my boundaries get dressed and then disregarded altogether. I was the one who didn’t speak up or stand up for myself. I was the one who didn’t walk away when the walking away should have been done…no matter how much it would have hurt. For all of that, I am not proud, but I am grateful for the experience because in retrospect I can see just how little I settled for, just how little I believed I deserved…and just how few crumbs I thought were feasts.
I give myself credit, too, for being able to walk away with determination and finality once the writing was not just on the wall but tattooed on the inside of my eyelids. There was a time in the not-so-distant past when a man’s pleading for forgiveness would have meant everything when weighed against anything I had to offer. One promise or sweet word, no matter how empty or shallow, and all of my well intentioned ideas about leaving would dissolve like sugar in a rainstorm. But not this time. It might have taken a few extra trips to my therapist and changing my number and being more stern than a good Southern girl is raised to be, but I did it. And have done it. Not once has it ever occurred to me to take him back. Not once have I wanted him back.
So here we come to what I’ve learned from the experience, other than that even 61-year-old men can still have the emotional maturity of a teenager and I still ignore my instincts? Well, that’s easy. I’ve learned that it’s okay (and even preferable) to walk away from a relationship that doesn’t feel right, isn’t working, or isn’t meeting my reasonable needs. And doing so has no reflection on me as a worthy person, either. After all, as Jen Sincero would have me say, I’m a badass! I’m still young, as in shape as I’ve been in 15 years, stylish, determined, attractive, driven, intelligent, and witty as all get-out. And I’m nice, too. (Unless you’re mean, in which case I’ll just leave you be.)
The two relationships I’ve been in since February are both ones that I chose to end. The first one, after three months, because the man wanted to change the boundaries of our relationship. I dare say he was stunned when I said that wouldn’t work for me, hopped out of his truck, and walked to the subway. He was still stunned a few days later when we met up so I could return his apartment keys, and he begged me to reconsider. “Boundaries are boundaries,” I said and told him to give me a call if he changed his mind.
The second guy just didn’t have a lot of time. When he was available, we were together, and we had a great time, but only once every ten days or so. He was hurt when I broke things off after four months… because we did have such great chemistry and fun together. But I want someone who wants to be in a relationship, not just someone to fill in the blank spots on another person’s calendar.
All of this is to say that the incredible heartbreak of February was pain that taught me not only how strong I am but also that I am capable of making healthy choices no matter how difficult they may be. I’m able to know what I want and hold on to that, even if a super-cute really-good-in-bed architect is begging me to change my mind. Because settling isn’t worth it. I don’t want crumbs and I don’t deserve crumbs. I deserve the biggest feast on the Eastern seaboard, and having seen so many crumbs… when it comes around I’ll be damn sure to notice.