I remember a time when meeting someone who was just as damaged was a bit of a relief. Everyone walking…
I picked up the phone to call for the third time. Her parents kept telling me that she was out with friends. Back then I had zero chill and it had gotten to the point where her mom said in the most polite yet stern mean-mom voice, “Honey, you’re just going to have to wait for her to call you back. Until then, just assume she’s not available to call you.”
She never called back.
And that was how my first experience official relationship ended. A 13 year old victim of the fade out. I was crushed. The first thoughts in my head were, what did I do wrong? Followed by listing over and over in my head all of the things I thought I did right. It was a new feeling. I had been rejected by the cool kids and the lunch room table conversations before but I guess I was most upset that she not only didn’t tell me why she didn’t want to see me anymore, but that she was okay with me just disappearing out of her life. Okay, fine. We weren’t even in high school yet and we had never even kissed, but that wasn’t the point. She had left me with so many unanswered questions that I literally sat by the phone waiting for her call. The confusion was overwhelming and I was so embarrassed that I never told anyone that she had completely ignored all of my calls and wouldn’t tell me why. I never got to tell my mom or my friends why she stopped coming around. When friends would ask about her I would just shrug my shoulders and say, “I don’t know.” Luckily, kids are so self-involved that my friends never followed up with more questions and I simply never brought her name up again.
That was my earliest recollection of not getting the closure I thought I deserved at the end of a breakup. It was harsh but as I continued to date, I realized just how important that lesson was. As teenagers who grew into young adults, we would sit around the table at Denny’s and constantly swap breakup stories and the one relationship aspect we constantly questioned was that we never truly understood the motives. And like kids still trying to evolve past our childish impulses, we would obsess night after night playing out what we could have done wrong. We would attempt to analyze our actions and listen to everyone’s opinion. But we were all so young and immature. We had no idea how much weight things like insecurity, abuse, the terror of vulnerability, or mental illness comes into play in how relationships play out. We just want to look at the people we love and assume they’re normal and rational and that all of their actions will make sense. And now as an adult, I chuckle at my naiveté.
I told her it was over and tried walking towards the door. She blocked it with her body and yelled, “You don’t want to do this.”
“I’m sorry.” I said, “This can’t work anymore. I am just not happy.”
I tried to reach around her for the doorknob and she pushed me.
“Fuck you. You’re such a selfish asshole.” Her eyes were straining, “All you do is think about what’s best for you.”
She was not like this. She was a well-educated woman with a reputation for being extremely kind and rational. But she was determined to make this work at any cost. She had been reduced to a frantic lunatic.
“Well, of course I think about what’s best for me. Why would I want to maintain a relationship that I can’t see a future with?”
“Just sit down,” she said trying to calm herself while pushing me away from the door and back into the couch. “Let’s talk about this.”
“We just did.” I said in just under a yell, “We have been discussing this for the past two hours. I don’t understand what else you want from me.”
We sat there discussing the reasons for the breakup until I simply couldn’t illustrate my reasons any more. Eventually, I walked out that door and never came back.
Years later, I heard that she told some mutual friends that she had no idea why our relationship ended.
I thought back to that summer where I sat and waited for the house phone to ring. I wondered if she felt the way I did – sitting there by the phone – that never rings. I realized that no matter how much you explain yourself, you will never give someone the clarity they need because most of us don’t have the words to make another person understand why they aren’t wanted anymore. All we can do is hope that we did our best to not leave them confused. But like most breakups, we are left with a million questions. Questions that will never be answered with the true and honest disclosure we crave. Because thank god most people don’t have the courage to tell us all the ways they feel we aren’t good enough.
All we can do is throw people back into the pool to give them the opportunity to find something we couldn’t give them. Breaking up with someone will never be easy and rarely will it be clean and neat. But how we do it leaves an indelible mark on a person’s soul. We can either leave them bitter, jaded, and broken – or we can give their soul the respect it has earned and do our best to gently let go of their heart.
We always talk about being the change we would like to see in the world.
Treating people delicately is important.
Explaining your feelings in a clear and rational manner is critical.
But leaving people better than you found them is imperative.