My boyfriend and I broke up three weeks ago after nearly two years of dating. While he’s the one who walked out of my house that night, declaring, “We’re over,” I think it’s more accurate to say it was a mutual decision. At least, it was mutual until two days afterward, when he came to my house to plead his case for us to get back together.
To say our conversation was painful would be like saying childbirth hurts a bit. He sobbed on my couch as I tried to remain dispassionate. For four hours I listened to him tell me how great he thinks we could be, to his profuse and detailed apologies, and to his insistence that all of our problems could be attributed to his lack of commitment, which no longer existed. He promised me that one day without me sitting alone in his house made it clear that he wanted me and nothing else – he was now ready to marry me and stand up for our relationship.
“Everything you’re saying,” I told him, “I wish you’d said eight months ago.” He cried harder.
Over the next two weeks he continued to text, email and Snapchat me and I realized he thought we were on a BREAK, as opposed to broken up. His words were flowery and full of love and promises.
I couldn’t let him hang on to the belief that we were only temporarily split, so I called him on a Thursday night to explain what I was feeling.
“I’m done with the promises,” I said. “You told me over and over again that things would get better and they didn’t. Nothing in our history tells me I can trust your word.” Not only that, I went on to say, but he’d also started acting like a victim and lashing out at me in cruel ways during arguments. That behavior had nothing to do with a lack of commitment, and everything to do with a lack of non-destructive disagreement skills.
Our conversation lasted until almost 2 am. “I have to get up early for work,” I told him.
“I don’t want to let you go,” he said. “I’m afraid this is the last time I’m going to hear your voice.” He wanted to know if he could ask me to go to dinner at some point. I said sure, he could ask, but I wasn’t promising that I’d go.
“Before I could even consider talking to you again,” I said, “I would need to see that you’d actually made the improvements you’re promising. Not that you’re working on them, but that they’ve been accomplished.” He asked me to list the things I wanted him to do and said he would do whatever it took to do them for us.
“Don’t do them for me,” I pleaded. “If you’re not happy on your own, if you’re not making these changes for yourself, you will never be able to be happy with anyone else.”
He’s still sending me Snapchats but I asked him to entirely stop with anything that sounded like him trying to get back in my good graces. No statements of I love you! or I miss you!
Some days I feel absolutely like we are doing the right thing by being apart, and I recall all the times I was full of pain and confusion and have zero desire to go back to that. But then I remember how well we got along, all the things we have in common, and wonder if maybe I should give him a second chance if he’s able to make the changes he needs to make with his ex and his daughters. Actually, it would be more like a tenth chance – the second, third, etc. chances have already been given and were discarded by him. Which brings me back to thinking another chance would be ill-advised.
I’ll be 40 next year, which, I’m realizing, is not at all old. Though I’m feeling youngish and I’m not in a hurry to re-hitch I admit (and I’m almost embarrassed to admit this) that I catch myself wondering, “What if he’s the last man who will ever want me?”
I did think that about my ex-husband, which turned out not to be true, but I was 34 when we first separated which felt quite a bit further away from being a middle-aged woman. I had fewer gray hairs and hadn’t regained half the baby weight I’d lost from my last child.
Nostalgia and fear are horrible reasons to get back together with an ex, however. No matter how good things were between Greg and I for the first 12-16 months of our relationship, the positives can’t erase how awful I felt the past eight months.
I feel like my pain didn’t matter to him until we broke up. And now that HE’S the one experiencing great hurt he has the motivation to fix what was broken.
Being single for the rest of my life, I have to remind myself, will be infinitely better than settling with a man for the wrong reasons. I may look at my tiny, overpriced house and wish I had a partner to bear the burden of my living expenses, but that’s hardly justification for putting up with stress and disharmony.
If Greg isn’t able to make any of the changes he’s promised, or if we slowly drift out of each other’s lives and never speak to each other again, I will have no choice to make. But what will I do if he’s successful in creating legal boundaries with his ex? What if he continues to go to therapy to work on his relationship with his daughters and his anger over his past? What do I do then?
Can my heart get over the hurt? Can I give him a fair chance for a fresh start, if that’s what he wants?
For now, I think I need to stop asking these questions. They’re all based on promises that never came to pass before, anyway. I have my children, I can lose the 20 pounds I gained since I met Greg and get back into running, I can work on furthering my career and keep my goal in sight of one day earning enough money that I can BUY a house before my kids move out.
For now, my only pain is in wondering why it took me so long to stand up for myself.
Image of arrows by Dean Hochman has been modified and is used under Creative Commons license.