Part One: The Mindfuck and the Mending
How do you make someone else care about your breakup? As far as I see it, there are three options:
Use broad strokes to talk about your experience, so it’s universal and relatable.
Go into poignant detail so people are attracted to the car crash that was your relationship, showcasing your exact, unique pain.
I fidget with my coaster as my date goes on excitedly about beer. I mean, beer is fine, whatever, but it is the primary basis for his decisions: outings chosen based on tap offerings, vacations coordinated with breweries, beer beer beer. We've been dating about a month and a half - far longer than I've been able to tolerate anyone else, and I guess that’s something. He is sweet and straightforward in that engineer way, and while I try to take comfort in that, I can’t. I know this isn't going anywhere.
You probably wouldn’t recognize me on this date: taking the conversational backseat, asking questions, lethargic. Still, there is a peace to hearing to him drone on, and a certain amount of relief comes from not having to try to reproduce the ball of excitement, the whirlwind of happiness that resulted from being in proximity to you.
I wonder if this is how you felt on our dates. Being around you was like speed for me. Though we often went to bed when grandparents would still be partying thanks to the joys of Sleepytime Tea, some nights we stayed up laughing or drinking or other partaking in other hedonistic pleasures - and waking up next to you meant I wouldn't feel tired all day. Being around you made me electric, and I'm sure the way I barreled through story after story, gesturing excitedly with my hands, may have left you time to check out like I am doing now. The world just seemed so much more exciting, and I was always in a rush to tell you about it.
I miss the urgency, and the preening of being someone that you listened to. That's what I miss the most: the way you made me feel. I love who I am when I’m with you but I also hate following you around for scraps of affection.
I am so fucking tired of writing about you. I wrote when I realized I loved you - like, really loved you - and how elated/terrified that made me. (It published on Valentine’s Day - we had broken up because you wouldn’t spend it with me.) I’ve written about how I’ll keep going and how I have faith that everything will be okay, but the truth is it’s just not okay without you. There is a vacuum since you left. It’s cliché, and I should be smarter than this, but it’s been months. I simultaneously want to scream this not-okayness at you and hide it from you, from everyone. You don’t deserve to see my pain.
After a certain point, it’s embarrassing to still be sad. Especially when you treated me so badly.
Here is a list of things to heal your broken heart:
Exercise! Get those endorphins going. (Done. Didn’t help.)
Go out with friends, and be around people you love. (Done. Didn’t help.)
Do something for yourself! Take a walk, take a trip, eat some ice cream. (What can I do that won’t remind me of you?)
Try going on a few dates. Best way to get over someone is to get under someone else, amiright? ;-) (srsly?)
If you’re really having trouble, try seeing a therapist. (Done. Not helping.)
Give it time - time heals all wounds. (I know this is my solace. But I’m still waiting.)
I’m doing all the things I’m supposed to, so why does it still hurt?
I feel like you stole my voice. I can’t write about anything real - I don’t know if I’m just too scared the dam on my emotions will burst at the slightest opportunity, but every word on the page is a struggle. I write about restaurants and jewelry and things that won’t make me vulnerable again.
I don’t want to fucking write about you, but maybe it’s the only thing that will make this better.
Here is the story of our first kiss. We met on Tinder. It took me a while to swipe right but your quirky description made me laugh. We agreed to meet for a glass of wine. It is still vividly etched in my brain: Sunday, 8pm, black and white maxi dress, a wine bar I later found out you hated, you dancing around your Ivy League education. When we left I off-handedly remarked you should not look at my filthy car and you then insisted on walking a lap around it - you were not one to be denied, even then. The date went okay. But our continued stream of texts afterwards made me feel fluttery.
A few days later, I went on another first date. The guy was a big-shot music producer in town for a festival. It was not going well. I snuck off to the bathroom to text you. I said my friends were going home early. You suggested meeting up. “The night is young, like me.” (I later found out you changed out of pajamas to come meet me.)
I returned to the producer and made my excuses, then sprinted to my car only to inch my way across town in maddening traffic. Finally I slid into a chair across from you. It felt like relief. I don’t remember a single thing we talked about. At some point you reached across the table to hold my hand and the entire rest of the world disappeared. Suddenly it was 2 a.m. and the bar was closing. We walked out the door, holding hands, you kissed me fully, urgently until abruptly we broke apart, headed in our separate directions, not looking back.
The problem with dating someone brilliant and scheming, like you were, is that I am still unsure what was real and what was calculated. I know everything you do is deliberate. Did you truly love me, but keep me at arm’s length to prevent getting too attached? That is my preferred explanation, but even with my desire to believe, I know it is foolish. Did you strategically limit your time with me so I would put you on a pedestal instead of relaxing into the mundane intimacy that constitutes something real? Did you see our relationship as a game to see how many times I would come back?
Did we have fun, or did I bore you? Do you think about me now, or are you wrapped up with a girl better suited to help you take over the world?
You never said a harsh word towards me - you always said I was perfect. You called me your best friend. I wonder if even that declaration was a ploy - you certainly didn’t act like a friend. Why did you hide me from your family and friends, if I was perfect? Why did we never spend consecutive days together? You dodged real answers and I am left thinking I didn't know you at all.
That was the most frustrating part about you. In contrast to my concerted efforts to show you all of me, you actively kept me guessing. There’s nothing I would put past you. You probably see this as a strength.
There is only one thing I know for sure. Even if you couldn’t stop thinking about me, even if you were hurting like I am, you would NEVER reach out to me. Never. That transfer of power is beneath your pride.
And that, I think, answers my underlying question.
But I know all of that and I still miss you.
Here is an example of how much you invade my life, in a given day. I wake up. If the sun is shining, I remember you telling me that I was beautiful in the morning light. If it’s raining, I revel in the fact that the weather matches my mood until I remember you extolling the virtues of staying in bed with a good book and red wine, despite the fact that this is not something we ever did together. Eventually, I have to drag myself out of bed and face another day without you.
I go to work. It is mind-numbing. There is no clever message or stupid internet meme from you to brighten my day. Sometimes I read The Browser, which you introduced me to, subtly mentioning it would make someone smarter if they read it every day. Every time I read one of those articles, especially the more obscure ones (cleaning up the Ganges, for instance) I wonder if it’s something you would enjoy and then try to suffer through it in an effort to better myself.
When work ends, I go to yoga. We are asked to set an intention for practice, which I used to use to send positive energy your way. It’s stupid hippie shit, but I did it anyway. I try to do a headstand, which I haven’t been able to do since I burst through your door after I succeeded for the first time, excited to show you. Or maybe I go on a Tinder date. This one I chose because he’s foreign like you, this one because he speaks Spanish like you and went to Harvard, which you never did. It doesn’t go well, but I wasn’t enamored with you after the first date either, so maybe I’m being too harsh?
When I get home, I cook myself something that is inferior to what you would make. If I go out, I wonder what you would think of this strange lifestyle that I live now, as a food writer. Whether the Jew would be impressed by the scads of free food, or the snob would look down upon it. And of course, going to bed stirs memories: the safety, the restful sleep, and the ability to roll over and put my arms around you. Things I haven’t experienced in so long.
I often sleep sideways now. I don’t fit of course - I don’t have a California King like you did - but when I can't bear to see emptiness instead of your lumpy form, it helps, somehow.
Here is a list of things I can safely do without crying:
Watch one of three TV shows: Bojack Horseman, RuPaul’s Drag Race, The Great British Bake-off
Read any and all internet articles
Snuggle with my cat
You can imagine, the rest of the world is a terrifying place for me right now. Can I listen to the radio? Can I safely drive? Can I trust my own thoughts to not betray me and turn to you at the slightest provocation?
No, I cannot.
We weren’t inseparable, in fact, as two only children, we were very separate - his stylish townhouse was a good 15 minutes closer to downtown than my little condo. But there was a constant stream of texts, snaps, memes, GIFs, and many drives at 11pm just to be in bed together.
On our first Halloween he brought over pumpkins to carve and a fall-themed cocktail with pomegranate and rosemary. He made me elaborate dinners with duck and lamb. In November, after one of those late-night drives, he drunkenly told me he loved me, then shied away when I didn’t immediately say it back (it took me two days). It is one of the only times I’ve seen him raw, I think.
He took me shopping for my first Christmas tree and accoutrements - the ornaments I picked out were blue and silver and he joked I made a Jew-tree. We took selfies in front of it with my cat, and I asked if I could post them on Facebook - he said he hoped to get there someday. Then right before New Year’s, he broke up with me.
He said he was going to move away for business school, and after that be based in New York. He didn’t want the attachment. We’d been dating for three months and I didn’t yet understand his resolve. I argued. He was talking almost two years in the future, and I’d never dated anyone that long. I wanted to at least try.
Within a month we were back together. Thus began the mindfuck.
The reason I didn’t say I love you right away is because I have been too loose with the phrase in my life. Most boyfriends say then love me, and I say it back out of duty, not wanting to make them feel bad. But was it true? Usually not.
I made a decision, after getting my heart broken half a year before meeting you, that I only wanted to say it when it was true. I didn’t want to say it until I could see myself spending my life with that person. I was at that point.
When I said I loved you, I meant it. The question is, did you?
I don’t want to drag out all the details of our relationship. But there are a few key points to remember:
We dated for approximately a year and a half.
During that time, I did not meet any of his friends or family.
His parents would stay with him for weeks, during which time I did not exist.
We never spent more than 24 hours together, meaning we never took a trip as a couple.
He had moved in with the girl he dated before me after three months, and introduced her to his parents.
The chances of him being there for me was about 50/50.
Due to reasons 1-6, I broke up with him several times.
I would always come back, without begging or fanfare, because there’s no one in the world I’d rather spend time with.
You must think I’m an idiot. It’s okay - I do too. And we haven’t even gotten to the worst part. But here is the problem: He is the most interesting person I’ve ever met.
We both made a game out of language. I had to re-read some texts to write this. They make me laugh in a way I still haven’t done since he left.
And not just the texts from him, but my own too - I sparkled while I was in love with him.
Once, at an incredibly hipster brunch, he mistook a floating lump in some coffee for yak butter, something he had tried.
He had taste: books, cocktails, acclaimed foreign movies, a cheese board. He was four years younger, but we joked he was more of an adult than I was. It was true, though.
When I was alone and nervous in Santo Domingo, where he lived for eight months some 15 years earlier, he was able to direct me from memory to one of the best restaurants on the island, then tell me about the ecological impact of the dish I ordered.
I could give thousands of examples and never escape judgment from the previous list.
I could give millions of examples and never encapsulate how I felt.
I’ve tried so hard to logic my feelings away. Believe me. But there are also facts about him that I can’t forget.
And logic has its own problems. Who am I supposed to date after you? Someone who speaks less than five languages? Someone who doesn’t know what yak butter tastes like? Someone who didn’t get two promotions at once? Someone who cares about me and supports me? That seems less important.
Maybe I’m not so good with facts either. After all, I kept dating you.
There is a part I’m not ready to tell yet. But here goes.
After he left for grad school, he stopped responding to me. It was crushing. I plotted. I took a flight, with no further plans, but to at least have the option. I posted a picture and he saw it. He asked me if I was in his city. I casually threw out that we could go for a drink.
We met at his apartment. He told me he was glad to see me. All of the things I’d been waiting to tell him came bubbling through. I felt everything again. There was no going out.
Immediately after, I felt him switch off. I started crying. He wanted me out so he could do some work. He didn’t check that I got home okay. He didn’t answer my texts.
I wanted to scream at him. I wanted to wait outside his apartment and confront him. But all I could do was board my plane back home, numb, humiliated, and unable to function. I felt meek. I felt furious. I think he wanted to show me what happens if I try to orchestrate. He punished me.
You don’t punish people you love. Not like that.
More than ever, it seemed he was only passing time with me while he was waiting for his life to start. And now he travels around the world with a group of new, smarter friends, while I’m stuck retracing our steps, just without him.
I’m trying to remember all the facts and analyze and triangulate meaning and stop crying when I get the physical feeling like my heart is getting crushed and see friends and be normal and not be sad and figure out what to do with my feelings and not wallow and learn how to sleep without you and not have you invade my day and assign new meaning to our places and not wonder if things could have turned out differently if only I had been less tolerant and is there even a point to thinking about this anymore and move on and not have unrealistic expectations and not miss you or feel completely fucking lost without you. It’s hell.
People will always read articles about love and broken hearts. Of course they will. It’s one of the most universal feelings. But does that make it important? Does that make it worth sharing? Does that make it art?
The thing about writing is that you have to bleed on the page. Then you have to eviscerate your feelings to edit. And finally you have this thing, your sadness in a nice, neat package. It’s very compartmentalizing, to turn off the feelings while you try to mold yourself into something that makes sense to others, but it doesn't necessarily give you answers.
Maybe thanks to this breakup, I could write the truest words ever written. But I’d rather he had loved me.