Last week, I was out running errands and I caught a glimpse of the ex who lives closest to me going somewhere with some female. My initial reaction was to duck away so that I'd not be seen and race home as quickly as possible. Safely at home, the ironic brain tried to entertain me with thoughts like well, he's her problem now.
Afterwards, I felt awful. Not because I still love him or anything (as my parents I think still hope. They weren't happy at all when I told them it was over. My mother even went so far as to blame me personally for all the ills.), far from it. It's just that seeing him again made me acutely aware of how much of a failure that relationship makes me feel like. He used to tell me he loved me, but the truth of the matter was, he didn't like me. I don't think he respected me much, either. Why did I spend five years in a relationship with someone like that? Why, oh why did I waste some of the better years of my life in what felt for so long like a sinking ship?
I'm not a girl who's ever believed in fairy tales; never saw myself being whisked off my feet and down the aisle. I'd seen too much go wrong in my mother's life and in the lives of my friends' mothers back in the day to be able to seriously consider giving up half my goods and all my heart to a man. I'd been in relationships before, but not for any longer than a few months maybe, and I always tried to keep the guy at arm's length. Why did I stay with this one for four years longer than the normal expiration date and two years after I gave up on being happy with him? Hope maybe?
Hope that there'd be some sort of miracle breakthrough? Hope that he'd some day see how the wall he kept between us was killing the relationship and making me sick? Hope that the reality of our so-called life together might someday catch up to the image of the 'perfect couple' people around us thought we were?
I remember one day early on in our courting when he told me that he was a 'nice guy,' and that nice guys always finished last. My response was that, based on what I'd seen in the dating world, the difference between a 'nice guy' and a 'bad boy' was that, whereas a bad boy was aggressive aggressive, the nice guy was passive aggressive. He kind of chuckled and said that that made sense. How true that ended up being in our case. He never hit me, but he certainly could be nasty. Emotionally, I certainly didn't feel that I could trust him with many of my secrets, deep, dark or otherwise.
Physically, I also knew that I didn't trust him with my life, either.
Why did I let this go on?
At the end of things, and I remember it pretty clearly, I said that I couldn't continue with the relationship in the state it was in, as it was making me sick. His response was something like ... but he loved me ... if things were bad and if he reacted badly it was because I made him that way ... besides, I was emotionally unfaithful and he had a right to be angry about all that. My 'emotional unfaithfulness' stemmed from the fact that I couldn't talk to him when I needed to. I'd say things to his face and get no response. I'd telephone and never hear back from him. I looked to my friends for more support as a result. He answered back that I should have tried harder. At that point, I broke down. How many times would I need to bang my head against this wall before he considered it okay to stop? Once? One hundred times? Was I to keep it up indefinitely?
That was the end. Periodically, I'd get a call from him sounding all weirdly chipper as though nothing had happened. Usually it was the morning or afternoon of some event he was asking me to. Always last minute and always on his terms. If he left a message and I tried to call back, I'd not hear from him. Sometimes mutual friends would get phantom phone messages from him as well.
Last year, around his 40th birthday, I got a call inviting me to some art exhibit. I couldn't go, but I did want to do something for his birthday. Surprisingly he called back; maybe because I offered to take him out. We had brunch. At the end, he casually mentioned that his mother was sick. I asked if I could help with anything because I was very fond of her. I liked his family. I still wanted to try to be friends with him. Never heard back.
This past December, a good friend of mine (and neighbor of his) moved south. She got a great job in her discipline in the DC area and I was helping her organize and stay motivated. It's hard leaving a place, even if you're not happy with it, after 20 years. While coming back from a trash run, we ran into the ex's mother. She was walking very slowly and with a cane. I caught up with her to say hello. How was she doing? What was going on? She gave me the news from the past six months: all the illnesses, all of the accidents, all of the hospital stays. Finally let loose the fact that she'd been living with him for the past six months, as it was so much more convenient than staying out west.
Six months? I asked Six months?? Why didn't she give me a call? I'd have helped with groceries, I'd have taken walks with her, whatever. She just smiled and said that she didn't think of it. Asked me in to have a muffin and some coffee with her. I told her I couldn't just then, but I'd be around all weekend.
Ten minutes later, He came home. Put on his fake cheery voice, but it was obvious that he was unpleasantly shocked to run into my friend and me. "How are you?" he asked? "Much better than your mom, from what I gather," was my response. After my asking why no one said anything to me when I lived around the corner and everyone knew how much I liked his mother, he just answered that he was busy and forgot. That was that.
"Was it me?" I asked my friend (a shrink. I have a few shrink friends; comes with working in Human Services, I guess). "It wasn't was it?" She assured me that it wasn't me, I was fine. It might be a good idea if I were to start figuring out why I was choosing relationships with socially awkward or antisocial men and maybe consider breaking that habit.
I can't do anything for them. I tried and failed miserably. Seeing him made me remember this. I feel so awful. I don't want to keep making this same mistake.