I sat down today to write about the end of the thing.
I hadn't wanted to write about it as it was happening. Mostly because I felt the need to protect him--and to protect the thing itself.
And words have a way of flattening, of distorting—of assigning value before the value is even known.
The thing is, I forgot that the act of writing is clarifying. The activity of it, the gesture of it, enlightens. It's like rooting around in the dirt and coming up with two grubby fistfuls of quite a lot of truth. Some of it expected and some of it not. And a little dirt under the fingernails can be a very good thing.
The first time I saw him I was struck by the clarity of his image. Everything seemed to fall away in his presence. And so I just sort of stared. He was speaking to the man next to me and when he glanced over I felt caught, exposed, seen. He made a joke and I gave a barely audible laugh. He was so very handsome and I was so very quiet. Handsome men always make me quiet. Very, very quiet.
It was my girlfriend who asked if he wanted my number. I wasn't there, was only told after. He said yes and sent me the loveliest message, wooed me with grammar. I'll never see another semi-colon without thinking of him.
He stood me up. On our first date—a late night drink—he stood me up. I sat there for thirty minutes, took two sips of wine before I collected my things to go. The bartender didn’t ask me to pay and I didn't offer.*
I had put on makeup. And heels. And a short skirt. And my legs looked better than they had in years—I remember having that ridiculous thought on that particular night, but my legs look so good. And this asshole has stood me up? I was convinced he had a wife or a girlfriend—that he’d come to his senses. My mother didn't understand why I'd make such a leap, but I've lived in New York long enough to know that such a thing is not only possible, but very, very plausible.
Turned out he’d taken a nap and slept right through his alarm. When I told my girlfriends they said to forget him, that it wasn't a good excuse.
But I believed him.
I always believed him.
So we tried again. A second first date. I made him come a little bit further west and I wore flats, my hair a messy knot on top of my head.
And it was good. Simple and good. No fireworks, just a quiet sort of unfolding. Which I figured was how it was meant to go.
The problem was that it was never so clear as in that first moment of seeing him.
We could never quite say all the things we needed to say. We traded in half-truths, danced around the big, scary things, told only parts of the whole, unfolded only a little, which in the tricky business of falling in love is simply not enough.
In writing about the end, I realized I’d been preparing for it from the very start--realized I’m always preparing for the end.
Always preparing to walk away with my head held high—with him saying, Well, I didn’t love her, but damn if she wasn’t cool about the whole thing.
We live in this society where as woman we’re constantly told we’re too emotional, too feminine, too sensitive. And I’ve spent so much time trying to act and speak in a way that no man might ever level those words against me. But, the thing is, I am emotional and I am feminine and I am sensitive and goddamnit if those aren’t the things that make me pretty fucking great. But in hiding those things--in rounding the edges and softening myself--I’ve hidden much of who I am—made myself small and flimsy (and what really kills me is that the crummy men will level those insults even, and most especially, when it has nothing to do with the woman and everything to do with the man).
I have made a life of replacing courage with cool. Oh-well-isn't-she-cool. And fine. And detached. This, as it turns out, is not a viable life-plan.
Because to fall in love (or not)—to attempt the thing, to have a real experience, demands extraordinary amounts of courage and vulnerability and self-worth.
You have to be courageous enough to give someone the power to hurt you. And human enough to let them in on that.
It was a quiet ending. I asked a question. And he answered. And I sort of nodded my head and smiled and left it at that. I didn’t ask the other questions I needed to ask, and I didn’t say the things I needed to say. I gave my best impression of the I'm-really-fine-with-it response.
And really I was fine with it. But for that part of me that wasn't. But for that part of me that was quite hurt. Because for a moment it leveled me. Made a big, sweet mess of me.
But today, as I was writing, I realized that my grieving process has to be mine—it’s not my job to hide from him that he’s hurt me. This is not the part where I worry about him. It’s my job to feel what I feel and make no apologies for it.
Yes, he hurt me. And yes, I’m lonely. And no, I don’t care if he thinks I cared a disproportionate amount. And yes, I’m angry that he didn’t value me enough to give me his words in that moment as the train approached. I felt like an idiot standing there, his hands in mine, his silence hanging low and loud between us. I asked because I had to, but I shouldn’t have had to. He should have met my courage with his own—which would have meant the full truth, and I’m not entirely sure that’s what I got.
The way he ended it was shitty. And I have the right to say so.
And anyone can say that I'm too emotional or too attached or too anything, but the too is on them. I am just as much of everything as I need to be in this moment.
Men have a way of shaking my self-worth. But today, just as soon as I thought, you know, I value myself enough to actually have the experience I'm having—to feel what I need to feel and say what I need to say and ask what I need to ask--just as soon as I gave myself permission to own that--well, hell if I didn't feel better.
Hell if I didn't unfold all the more.
*I did leave a tip