Last summer, after more than five years together, my then-boyfriend, who promised me many things I now realize he probably never intended to deliver, discarded me like garbage and kept walking. He must have had his reasons, but he never told me what they were other than to say that he needed to find himself and that I had become “more obligation than joy.” I was devastated. There were days when I wanted to die. There were days when I wished he would die. I deleted every digital trace of him I could find, made a bonfire of his letters and T-shirts, and threw his stupid bracelet in the Potomac. As much as I ever loved him (and God knows I loved that man), that is how much I have hated him.
I wasn’t raised to trust people. Although I craved the unconditional love I rarely got growing up, I was always such a raw tangle of nerves that I couldn’t bear to let anyone get too emotionally close, so I compensated by letting them get physically close and thought it was the same. With him, everything seemed different. I trusted him completely. He knew the best and worst things about me, and I thought I knew him just as intimately. I would have put my life in his hands. I would have taken a bullet for him without a second thought. I gave him the power to crack me open and bleed me out, but I never dreamed he would use it.
Imagine you have one place in the world where you feel completely safe, where you store all your treasures, and you’re terrified to let another soul inside. Then, imagine that you finally trust one person enough to let him in, and he sets that room on fire, leaving you with nothing but charred wreckage. That’s where I have been for the past year. I have spent a lot of time in therapy trying to get that space back, and while I’ve scrubbed the smoke marks off the walls and assembled a few jagged, rattling shards into a loose sack where my heart used to be, I still feel desecrated. He could not have harmed me more if he had beaten me.
Finally, though, I feel myself turning a corner. A fellow blogger recently wrote about the aftermath of her own breakup, and she used a phrase that stuck with me: “We cannot heal in acid.” As justified as I may be in blaming him, it requires energy he doesn't deserve, which I would prefer to use elsewhere. He wasn't the man I thought he was, but I shouldn't have projected onto him all the things I wanted to see. Also, I'm not perfect, either. I have made bad choices that have hurt people, too. I can’t change what he did or whether he ever takes responsibility for it. I can only move forward and do better for myself while he fades into insignificance behind me. He’s not my problem anymore.
Most days, I am happy. I adore my kids and pets, my urge to write is back, my garden is growing, my body is strong and healthy, I’m financially stable, and most days I like my job. It’s a good life. I do not see myself getting into a serious romantic relationship anytime soon, if ever. I haven’t wanted for company, but I’m too skittish to believe any man who claims to love me. Maybe that will change; maybe it won’t. What I finally understand is this: the best way to be miserable is to live your life waiting for the next thing, thinking that’s when you’ll finally be happy. The next thing is merely the next thing, and whatever that is, I'll deal with it when it arrives.