12 April 2011

"Would you take him back?"

A few people have asked me this. I met up with someone recently for lunch, and as part of the get-to-know-you, I mentioned the brief dating relationship I was in last summer and the breakup due to his sudden decision to "fight it". The fellow I was speaking with shook his head and said he knows so many cases like that, and almost all of them have eventually realized the futility of the effort, so surely he'll regret having broken up with me. Most gay guys I talk to about it say this. I said I understand that's what happens with many, but it's not always so simple, and he may have needed this effort of "fighting it" regardless of his eventual decision, and I have at least a friend or two who have probably dumped people similarly to how I was dumped and who are now happily married to women. I said even if he does eventually drop whatever effort he may be engaged in, I can't wait around to find out, nor do I think it's likely to happen soon if at all for a few reasons, and I can't place my hope in it, for my sake and for his. I can't tease my heart, and I can't disrespect his decision. Then he asked a question others have also asked and which always gives me pause, "Would you take him back if he ever did change his mind?"

My reply has been a simple one in most cases, "I would want to. If it happened now, I would definitely want to." I've been afraid to vocalize the second part of that, though, lest it should ever get back to him, that I don't think I could. Why did I not want him to know I'd said that? Part of it is that I wouldn't want him thinking I was vindictive or didn't truly, deeply highly regard him (as much as I knew him when we were together) and what I felt for him. But did I actually want him to ask to try again? Was I only saying I couldn't out of defensiveness to keep myself deluded into believing I wouldn't take him back to avoid the pain of knowing I still do want him back? Was I afraid I actually would take him back despite objectively believing I "shouldn't", that I'd lack the strength to stick to some resolve? Was I just keeping my options open? Screw it, I decided, I'll say it: "I don't think I could. Not without at least some changes and maturity in him, things which weren't there before." And as I said it, it seemed to solidify my resolve, and I thought, "No...no, I wouldn't." Testimony is found in the bearing of it, after all.

I was trying to "hold on to my heart" while we were together because I knew the risks, the likelihood that it was going to end in pain if I let go. I didn't realize how deeply I wanted to see if "we" would go somewhere until he suddenly went cold, and there was no longer a need for me to keep the brakes on, no need to keep things moving at a measured pace when there was nothing to move.

But looking back, I know there were things about him that concerned me, and while I hoped we could grow through those together, and they weren't dealbreakers (with the possible exception of one main thing), I don't know how I could trust his stability or self awareness at this point, having already had my concerns confirmed once, and right after I'd begun to...stop holding on to my heart. But regardless--and this may seem harsh--judging from his one, short response to a heartfelt (even if seemingly overindulgent) e-mail I sent, I don't respect or like some big parts of the person he has chosen to become, or the traits he has nurtured, and while I still would love to believe I knew him as he truly was, I've admitted to myself that even if I did, I just don't know who he is anymore, and there is no picking up where we left off. If we were to "try again," it would be from scratch, and facing that reality, trying again is not appealing to me right now. Looking back, and from what little I know of his current life, I'm actually quite turned off by some significant things, and though I felt so readily connected with him, so naturally "fitted" with him, I can't help but wonder if someone like him is totally wrong for me, if I wouldn't lose patience with and respect for such a person over time as the blinding influence of the initial affection wore down.

And yet...I love him still, in some way. I care about him as a friend. I love the memory of him. I love 'us' as we were. I love the person I saw in his eyes, heard in his voice, and felt in his touch. I love how I felt towards and with him. I still respect the traits which drew me to him. But he's a mere memory to me now. In the worst case scenario, he was intentionally using me as an experiment to satisfy his curiosity and intentionally deceiving me to try a beta relationship on for size before choosing social security and family approval and tossing me aside as the plaything I was, someone he never really cared about except to flatter his own ego or satisfy his curiosity. In the best case scenario, if others are right to speculate that he surely has had trouble getting over feelings and can only move on by completely disconnecting, then he has chosen defensiveness, detachment, and callousness over vulnerability, openness, and sensitivity, which is the opposite of what I thought I saw and valued so much in him and which, though understandable and expected from someone of his age and situation, reflects a type of emotional functioning I don't care to deal with in a potential partner. Either way, he's gone, if he ever was as I imagined, a fact I accepted pretty quickly after his last message to me.

I expect I'll never know familiarity with him again. Most of the time, that's just a fact I acknowledge and shrug at since I can't change it. But a couple of weeks ago, as I was not far north of his hometown and not too far from where he lives now, I found myself dozing off at the wheel and was startled to realize I had just fallen asleep for an instant, and I was grateful it was on a straight stretch, and I hadn't flown off the road. In my melodramatic drowsiness, I wondered which hospital I might have been taken to, who would get news of my critical condition, and who would come visit me when they heard. And if my condition were critical, would he visit me before the chance was gone? Would he even care? Amid these thoughts, I wept a little, which I knew was a sign that I will probably always love him in some way, whether or not I 'like' what he's chosen or what traits he has magnified or stifled. I didn't know if he would ever again care about me, but I knew without a doubt that if he were ever in critical condition, unless I was explicitly forbidden, I would be at his side in a heartbeat, as an old friend who never stopped caring even though I had to move on from the romantic attachment or feelings for my own well-being.

Knowing I care and may always care and not knowing whether he has convinced himself to hate me, the temptation is to decide to convince myself I don't care. That's the pop culture cry: be strong and stop caring! No, I think there's better: to fully acknowledge I care, and let it hurt a little now and then, but to let go of the desire to know whether he cares, to let go of my own desire for affirmation. I definitely believe pining away for what was is not an option, nor is hanging on to some hope that he and I will change in all the ways we need to and will magically be together someday to justify my feelings of fondness for the time we were together, but I think to convince myself defensively that I don't care or that I shouldn't remember whatever we had fondly would be the weaker choice, and dishonest.

So why write all of this? I've recently had a couple of conversations with people regarding exes and found that my questions and pain are not exactly unique. I've also found that many people do downplay past feelings or relationships either to quell pain or to validate current relationships as if you have to demean the old to value the new. What a tragedy. Parents don't have to love dead children less to love their living ones, though they do have to "let go" of them. I don't have to invalidate an entire friendship just because we grew apart, as if feeling affection for what we had demeans my current friendship with a "best friend". I don't have to poo-poo what I felt to be open to someone else.

And yet...I've been trying to figure out whether I'm ready to trust someone again, whether I'm emotionally available. The fact that I've been trying to figure it out tells me I'm not but am trying to convince myself I am. Talking about it still induces tender emotions sometimes. Just this morning, a train of thought had me on the verge of tears and simultaneously frustrated that I could possibly still be so affected. But there's no sense in denying it. I just have to figure out what to do with it, and how to keep moving on and letting go.

I may even still be in love with the version of [him] in my memory even though I believe I'm not in love with the [him] who now exists. But he has made his choice, and I have accepted it, and though I would gladly be loyal if there were a relationship to be loyal to, I can't healthily hold myself emotionally hostage to a pipe dream. What has concerned me is that I can't honestly promise any of my current potential interests that I could never conceivably love [him] again if he came back changed and more ready for the kind of relationship I thought we could have, even if I could tell him that I just am not willing to do it again. As I consider some other present potential interests, I at least want to be able to tell them, with confidence, that if he came back now, wanting to try again, I'd tell him, "No, I have someone now, and what we have is worth more to me than trying to pick up where you and I left off." I suppose it would be poetic justice, in a way, but that would certainly not be my aim because, as I said, I care about him and always have, and emotional revenge isn't strength.

Right now, I intellectually am firm in my resolve to move on, to find fulfillment and happiness elsewhere, and to put away whatever we had. But emotionally, when I'm really honest with myself, I haven't yet found someone or something in front of me which is clearly a better option than the fantasy possibility of him coming back and proving undeniably that he has changed in all the ways I'd need him to have changed, and he has matured intellectually and emotionally, and he wants a relationship with me, and me believing it's actually possible. What am I supposed to do with that? Even believing that will almost certainly not happen, what am I supposed to do with the knowledge that even though a new prospect is growing more interested in me, and I in them, if that fantasy scenario occurred, my choice would likely be to 'take him back' in a heartbeat? I don't want anyone to be a consolation prize, but I don't want to stifle what could become better than that fantasy option if pursued. I know that the scenario is only a fantasy. He couldn't prove to me that he has changed enough to make me trust him again right away. And the probability that he'd want round two with me even in the off-chance that he did decide to be open to a relationship with a guy is anything but high. I guess my answer is that I let go of that scenario, too. "What ifs" are pretty useless in that sense.

So I choose to recognize that I still care about him and have feelings for him beyond a casual acquaintance, and I probably always will, even though he has clearly stated he wants to retain no form of friendship whatsoever. And I learn from the experience what I can and focus on what's present and what's to come. I explore other options without comparing them to my time with the guy I thought I knew but increasingly understand I know very little, which is difficult at times but surprisingly natural most of the time. I accept that I wish things had worked out differently but remind myself that they probably had to work out this way, and he and I are both the type to try to make it work out for the best. I remember the things I loved about us so that I can help myself not settle for less but remind myself that if whatever we did have were perfect, we would still be together, and other people will have traits and strengths and values he didn't and will complement mine in ways he couldn't, as is always the case. And in a turn towards the extraordinarily sappy, when I think of him, I send a little love and light, and I let go a little more and look ahead.


Ben said...

I imagine that getting this all out was therapeutic. Nice post.

Bravone said...

It sounds like a very healthy approach to me.

While a different scenario, I wish I could view the loss of my best friend as you view your loss. I'm trying, and thought I was somewhat healed until Sunday night when he and his wife unexpectedly dropped by for a short visit. In the past, it would have seemed perfectly normal and I would have enjoyed the time. I tried to put on my happy face, but inside, I still hurt and feel a certain level of resentment. Watching you go through your healing process is helping me to understand the normalcy and acceptability of the loss I feel. I am also trying to learn from your example of what I consider to be a healthy way to deal with loss.

Thank you my friend.

Lee said...

While feelings for, and the pain over losing someone may endure, accept the feelings, cherish the good memories, and be grateful for the growth and understanding you achieved from that experience. Accept also that it's OK to have the feelings you have and still move forward and build a new, healthy, loving relationship with someone else. The human capacity to love is boundless. Those who have lost the love of their lives to death can love again without diminishing what they had with their late partner. When we are bound to another person, it isn't because each of us couldn't love anyone else, but because we have chosen to make a commitment to one another. When you're ready, you'll know.

Troy said...

Aw man OM, I couldn't imagine the heartache.