Experience,  My EJC Responses

A Letter to the Man Before

I don’t know why I’ve put this one off for so long…especially since I’m the one who comes up with the prompts. But, for some reason, it just hasn’t wanted to come out of me.

It’s hard to say who my first love was, because as a young person, my concept of love was quite a bit different than it is now.

I was one of those girls who developed crushes early and often (starting as early as 2nd grade), measuring my days and years by boys. Looking back, I realize how unhealthy that might sound, but honestly, I don’t think it was. It was innocent and sweet. What was unhealthy, though, was the fact that I pretty much went from crush to crush and boy to boy all through school. My longest stint being single was after I left college…after a 5-year-long relationship came to a crashing halt.

I could write a letter to my first childhood love, but I honestly remember nothing about him aside from his name. I could also write a letter to my first teenage love, but I’ve written quite a bit about him before. And I could write a litter to my first college boyfriend, but I came to terms with all of that long ago. Instead, I’m going to write a letter to last man I loved before I met my husband…because, honestly, I have a lot to thank him for.

Dear Ethan,

The last time I heard from you, you were living in Chicago, working at a bar and attempting to get into a second PhD program. You were one of the smartest people I’d ever known, but after we split, I never heard of you finding success with anyone or anything. In a small way, I felt good about that. I know it’s childish, but after the way you left me, I couldn’t help but wish you a little bit of bad luck.

If you’ve forgotten, let me recap.

When I met you as a sophomore in college, I was smitten. You were energetic and outgoing and six years older than I was. I was almost 21, and I found you so much more mature and put-together than the young men my age. You knew about wine and could cook and had “grown-up” parties with champagne and caviar. You weren’t rich…far from it, but you had taste and were willing to save up and spend on things that mattered to you. It all seemed so elegant to me.

I remember the night you finally kissed me. We’d been hanging out for weeks – hitting galleries and watching indie films at the local $1 theater, and you kept holding me at arms-length. I was sharing some poems I’d written, and we stayed up talking and drinking wine until well into the night. You didn’t want me walking across campus alone, so you asked if I’d like to just stay. I did. And I loved that you just kissed me and held me and didn’t ask for more (even though I’d have given it to you).

Our relationship was fun. We did a lot of wine-drinking and eating, and we went to a lot of campus cultural events. We moved in together when I was a senior, and now, looking back, I can see that this is where the trouble began.

It wasn’t all your fault, either. I know that now.

I spent that first year creating a nest, and I’m certain it frightened you. I don’t think you ever really wanted what I did, and I probably began to represent everything you hoped to avoid. Being the control freak that I am, I subtly tried to push you into a role that you kept back-stepping out of. You didn’t want to get married or have kids. Your parents had made a mess of their lives and, in turn, yours when you were growing up. The last thing you wanted was to follow in their footsteps…not that our marriage would have been the same, but I get it now.

I’m also pretty glad that we didn’t take that step. Our sex life quickly became unsatisfying, but I had my brain so wrapped around the idea of “us,” that the real us became secondary. We stopped having sex for long periods, and I began to feel unwanted and ignored. I wrote reams of depressing poetry and began reading erotic literature to get off.

Looking back, I can see that you were simply trying to breathe as I suffocated you with my plans.

When our lease came due, you simply didn’t show up when we had to sign the documents. It wasn’t the grown-up way to handle it, and it left me terrified and confused. I came to your work to see if you’d forgotten the appointment, but the look on your face told me everything.

Over the following weeks, as you moved out, I pretty much didn’t stop crying. I continually asked you why, but you never had an answer. You kept telling me that you didn’t know. At first you tried to say that we could just live apart and keep dating, but I was so hurt by what you’d done and how you’d gone about it, that I couldn’t imagine how you could even suggest such a thing.

I was broken.

I was also scared. I couldn’t afford the rent on my own, so I searched high and low for a new roommate. I got lucky, and one of my guy friends needed a room for the semester, which is all I needed, as I was completing my masters thesis and would be graduating in the spring.

What followed was my first major manic episode. I didn’t know what was happening at the time, but later I would learn that the stress of our break-up combined with the stress of writing my thesis (which wasn’t going well)…along with all of the mixed messages that you kept sending, simply pushed me over the edge.

I found myself not sleeping for days at a time, writing poetry on the walls in lipstick, drinking at all hours, and barely making it through classes and work. I was a zombie.

A zombie without the strength to tell you no. Because you didn’t just leave. You strung me along. You kept calling and apologizing…inviting me for drinks…promising friendship. Then you’d kiss me, and I didn’t have the emotional strength to tell you no…because at the time, I didn’t want to tell you no. I wanted you to change your mind. I wanted things to go back to the way they were…for you to tell me you were wrong and that you were sorry.

But you weren’t.

Sure you were sorry that you’d hurt me. But you weren’t sorry that you were free again, living on your own in your simple apartment without my expectations weighing you down.

We slept together  “accidentally” a few more times before I made the final decision to move to another state. I needed to start over. I was tired of walking home in tears and wishing we could be something we never would. And I knew I’d just keep circling the drain, succumbing to your invitations as long as I stayed near.

It was a good year before I stopped crying.

But, I’m okay now. I want you to know that. And I hope you are, too. Really. Because you were right. We wouldn’t have been happy together. In fact, I don’t think we really were happy together once we moved in to the same apartment. All that pressure just pushed us apart rather than condensing us into an element that was cohesive and complementary. All the fun we’d had curdled in the presence of shared bills and responsibilities.

You liked the toilet paper to roll under rather than over. That should’ve told me right there. You wanted to spend all the money on what I saw to be frivolity. You thought I was becoming too serious. I wanted you to fuck me like you actually meant it.

We needed different things.

I spent quite a bit of time alone after I moved away, getting to know myself, learning how to be on my own, understanding who I was without a man in my life. It was a hard but necessary time and, thankfully, I was too busy with work to really lose my mind over it.

I also spend several months fucking everything I could find and breaking a few hearts. I needed to know I wasn’t weak or broken or undesirable, because that’s how I’d let you make me feel.

And when I finally found the man I now call my husband, I was ready to be human again. Ready to stand on my own two feet and begin a much different journey than I would have had with you.

Like the poem says:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

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    • Brigit Delaney

      Thank you…I DID learn a lot, and I hope I am applying that now. I’ve been married a long time…and yet, some of what happened in this relationship still haunts me. This was my attempt at letting that go.

  • Julie

    This is an amazing way of setting out what happened and how you managed to leave much of it behind. Of course that is easier said than done and you will always be left with many what ifs.

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