There are lessons in life that are hard to learn. That’s why we keep on bumping into them again and again. And it still hurts (every single time).
It happened to me a couple of years ago when I was desperately trying to get out of a toxic relationship which was getting me nowhere fast. The healthy part of me (not very abundant at the time) was telling me to quit without further notice.
The masochistic part of me was enjoying the role of the Savior to my Ex.
(From my current perspective, I doubt he was really eager to be saved).
We were playing this anxious-avoidant dance (I – anxious, he – avoidant) till the day when I couldn’t take it anymore and left.
If you suspect that this is not the end of the story, you are quite right. It was the torturous beginning of getting together and getting apart until all my reason got lost in the struggle to make sense of why we were causing this to each other. I felt like the ancient Greek hero, Ikarus. The poor guy was flying hypnotized towards the sun (with his wax-glued wings) only to find himself falling down and drowning in the sea. Again and again, in my case. There was something mysterious (and stupid) in my groundless hope that next time things would be different. He would finally manage to keep his promises and I would finally get the kind of love I so desperately needed.
One day I managed once more to summon the left-overs of my ill-functioning brain and in a surprising self-preservation act, left. This time, for good, I told myself.
A couple of months passed during which he was trying to get in touch while I was trying to stay out of it. Inside of me was bleeding. It was not that easy to stay out of love even when all the facts (and friends) were pointing to the hopelessness of our connection. Did I mention he was a heavy marijuana user earning his money as a soda jerk while selling dope? I had no one to care for now while he was still in need of care. At least, that’s what I was telling myself when my healthy part was asleep.
I was pretending to have a normal life – seeing friends, going to parties, writing my Ph.D. thesis, healing. There were even moments when I believed a day will come when I would be able to let go of my fantasies of us being together again (and of him becoming a totally different person). Sometimes I would bump into some common friend of ours who would say ‘’Hey, I met X. on Sunday and he asked me about you’’. I would pretend to be cool and careless. ‘’Oh, really? And how is he doing ?’’. ‘’He’s got a new girlfriend’’, my friend said which coincided with me almost choking to death.
It took me some time to recover from the sad news. Life lost some of its colors but it’s all for the better, I told myself. Our case was hopeless anyway.
To strengthen my rehabilitation efforts, I would often rehearse all the hurtful and humiliating situations he was putting me into. The coldness, the distance, the cheating, the lies, the drugs. It seemed to be working. I even started dating other men again.
Then a common friend of ours invited me to a birthday party. I knew there was a risk of seeing my Ex there. But then I decided it was time to test my determination and my new and free ’’me’’.
Even after enormous preparation efforts on my side, the sight of him left me speechless. ‘’I was hoping to see you here’’, he said (and no girlfriend was to be seen in the vicinity). My rationality was all gone and 2 hours later we were at his place. All my suppressed love poured over him – relieved that there was no need to hold it back. At least for a couple of hours.
I hardly managed to tear myself away in the morning and went on to experience the worst love hang-over in my life. My self-respect hit the bottom and stayed there for weeks to come. I felt depressed and exhausted from my inner battle. It kept going without any consideration of all other aspects of reality that needed my attention.
I’m not quite sure how long it all lasted. I’m not sure how I managed to get out of it. The pain from this experience would still haunt me now and then.
A couple of days ago I was crossing the street with my three-year-old son who got irresistibly attracted to a construction site nearby. As I was trying to persuade him to stay away from the shaky fence, I saw a bearded man staring at me from the side. I felt an inexplicable urge to look at him more carefully but the battle with my son was at its decisive (life or death) phase and I concentrated on it.
The man came closer and smiled. ‘’I can hardly believe my eyes!’’, he said and I finally recognized him (by the shock registered in my gut). We exchanged a couple of words and I was pulled away by the three-year-old who didn’t particularly enjoy talking to strangers. As I was exploring the mixed sensations in my stomach, I realized that where once was an attraction, would always be an attraction. And that’s ok.
The true measure of self-growth is not the amount of love you give to those around you. Rather it’s the amount of love and self-respect you are ready to give to yourself. And in this sense, I finally felt a tiny bit grown.