Last week, I met a girlfriend for happy hour in Old City. We were halfway through a plate of curly fries when the inevitable questions began.
“Why didn’t he tell me? Why didn’t he say something?”
It was a familiar scene—a scene I’ve enacted with embarrassing frequency over the past few months—but this time, I wasn’t the one asking the questions. I was the one listening. And after nearly six months of contemplating my own break up, I finally had an answer.
I took a deep breath, placed my hand on my friend’s shoulder and said, “You will know. Not right now, not right away, but eventually you’ll get the answers you need.”
For the sake of my friend’s privacy, I won’t say anything further on the subject of her breakup, but I will say this about mine: I don’t want to smash anything anymore. I’ve kissed someone else, I’ve dated someone else, I’ve slept with someone else and I’ve danced with someone else (oddly, it was the last of these that presented the greatest challenge).
More importantly, I have all the answers I could ever need.
He didn’t say anything sooner because for the same reason that I didn’t end things between us back in August: he wanted to make it work.
He didn’t tell how he was feeling because he didn’t want to make me upset.
He didn’t tell me he loved me on New Year’s Eve because he probably didn’t at that point (and if I’m to be completely honest with myself, I’m not sure that I did either).
We both so desperately wanted things to turn out alright. We were both trying so hard, each in our own ways, even if they weren’t actually the best ways.
I don’t remember when exactly I started praying for help but I do remember what I said, night after night, lying there on my own trying to ignore the fact that something wasn’t right.
“Help me to love him,” I would whisper. “Help me to love him the best that I can.”
It seems so strange looking back. I mean who prays for help loving someone? Especially only a year or two into a relationship before you have bills to pay or kids struggling in school or a leaking roof?
You either love someone or you don’t, and I did love him— I loved him so desperately at times— but in looking back, I recognized that I didn’t always act in the most loving ways towards him.
And love… love is many things. There’s love as a noun, love as something you feel, and then there is love as a verb, love as something you do. I had the first one down but we both struggled with the second. To me, verb love was driving all night to make holiday scheduling work. Verb love was planning a camping trip with his kids. To him, however, verb love was something very different. Verb love was me not questioning his religious beliefs. Verb love was always planning ahead. Verb love was giving me a hard-to-find battery for my birthday when all I really wanted was a love letter or flowers or a surprise visit.
I kept on hoping that things would get better and sometimes it felt that they were but eventually, I added an amendment to my nightly request: Help me to love him the best that I can for as long as I should.
I should have known then. I should have seen my amendment for the death notice that it was. But I ignored the writing on the wall. I clung to the idea that we could make things work, if only we both tried harder, or saw a counselor or took a trip to Peru or made a commitment to go dancing once a month.
In the months that followed, I tried to come up with a succinct way to answer my friends when they asked why we broke up. I cited everything from my loathing of the suburbs and his loathing of the city to the fact that he didn’t really want to have more kids; from the age difference between us to the lifestyle difference between us; from his lack of spontaneity to my free spirited-ness but the more I think about it, the more I find myself thinking about Kate Winslet’s explanation in The Holiday: “Very square peg, very round hole.”
And that seems a fair assessment.
It was nobody’s fault. Neither of us cheated, or gave up, or threw in the towel sooner than we should have (even though it felt like it at the time). Neither of us lied, acted maliciously, or set out to intentionally hurt the other person. There was no name calling. No drunken texts. No long and drawn out scenes when the relationship ended (except those which I enacted in the privacy of my own bedroom). We were open and honest. We were, for the most part, kind to each other.
But does this mean we should have spent the rest of our lives together?
Our relationship was the best, the longest and the healthiest I’ve ever had but I now know that it was just an introduction— just a foundation, just a chapter in a book really, the majority of which has yet to be written.
I will think fondly of this particular chapter for the rest of my life. But it is closed now.