It started with “I think it would be best if we didn’t see each other for a while.” Or rather it ended when she said those words to me outside of her car on that late Sunday morning. Or was it the beginning of the end? It depends on the perspective. From her view, it was definitely the end. What I heard was “I need a break but I will be back soon.” Unfortunately, she never did come back to me, at least not in the same way.
The three months that preceded her words were some of the happiest times I have had in recent memory. We seemed like such a good fit. We have a lot of the same interests, particularly in art and music. We are in the same professional field. She is both strange and beautiful, the kind of woman that I have always been attracted to but seemed so out of my reach. We were friends first and then it became more. For that brief period of time when we were together, everything that I felt was wrong with my life was no longer relevant. I could no longer see the scars of my failed marriage. I was wanted by someone whose presence melted me. My world was constantly sunny and warm.
Like a sunny day that turns rainy, the relationship took a turn for the worse in a short period of time. Her mood shifted from happy to see me to trying to put some distance between us. She was irritable, stressed, and unhappy. I tried my best to brighten her mood but those efforts only made things worse. Our last night together was dominated by long stretches of silence. The next morning she was grabbing her things she couldn’t replace from my apartment and heading out the door.
After she left, my selective hearing really took over. Her mood being what it was, I was not upset to have a break from seeing her if that is what she needed. However, I clearly wanted her back in my life and I interpreted her words that way. She said we shouldn’t see each other for “a while,” not “anymore.” Whatever break was happening was temporary and not uncommon. I hadn’t been back in the dating game for very long but I was certain that this was a little hiccup. I took solace in the few things she left in my apartment: DVDs and bathroom items mostly. Why would she leave behind these things if she never intended to be with me again? Never mind that those things are relatively cheap, replaceable, and in some cases duplicates of what she already owns. She was going to come back!
I gave her some time and then I started calling and emailing her. I made sure to only reach out to her every few days. I wanted to respect the space she needed but let her know that I still cared for her. Most of my efforts were ignored but I kept at it. When we did talk she would give me some hope that this period apart would be coming to an end relatively soon. Unfortunately our last lengthy talk ended with her saying, “There is no us right now.” Once again I chose to selectively hear what she was trying to say, focusing on the “right now” instead of “there is no us.” I thought she just needed more time.
Months passed and things didn’t get better. Her birthday came around and I offered to take her out. She said she didn’t want to celebrate. I sent her a birthday gift anyway, for which she thanked me weeks later. I ran into her on the street coming back from a workday lunch but she didn’t stop to talk. She called me to apologize for not stopping but only after I didn’t accept an earlier email apology. At this point, my hearing was becoming much more sound. There really wasn’t going to be an “us.” A couple of months went by without much communication. Eventually she reached out to me and I used that opportunity to make one final play at regaining our relationship. I told her that, despite everything that had happened, I truly cared for her. Her response was silence. It’s ironic that the one thing I heard loud and clear wasn’t anything at all.
Several more silent months passed and my birthday was right around the corner. She sendt me an email asking if she could take me to dinner for my birthday. It had been nearly a year since I had really seen her (I try to forget the whole not stopping on the street incident) or had done anything with her. I had many reasons to decline her offer but just as many to accept, which is what I did. I wanted to see her but I also wanted to understand what had gone on in the past year. At dinner we talked about everything but the most important things. I asked her about work and other benign topics to avoid any awkwardness. Afterwards we had a few drinks and she finally gathered the courage to address the pink elephant between us.
“I just wanted to say that I am sorry. I treated you very poorly and it was inexcusable. I have been treated like that before and I know that when it happens to someone the person deserves an apology. I am not even sure why you agreed to see me tonight because if I were you I probably would have said no. I hope you know that you were always great to me. In fact, you are great and I really want you to know that.”*
If I would have heard those words in the months prior to that night I would have attempted some grand gesture or said some clichéd words to get her back. Instead I thanked her and said something about how I don’t dwell on the past and that we were good. Something had happened to me in those months of silence. I learned to protect myself. Not necessarily from her or other people but from my own inclinations. I couldn’t trust myself to hear what was actually being said and not what I wanted to hear. I realized I needed my own time to sort things out and find out what I truly want.
We said goodbye outside my apartment. We both acknowledged that it was an awkward moment. We agreed that we should try to do something again sometime soon and in the months that have followed we have occasionally had dinner and/or seen a movie, a show, or a sporting event together. From my point of view, I have tried to work on our friendship as opposed to resuscitating a romantic relationship. I still don’t know if I can trust myself and until then I am being extra careful with my heart. In fact, I have been so careful that I have prevented relationships from developing with other people. At some point, my self-protection will have to end if I am going to love again. For love is synonymous with risk and vulnerability. Until then, I am learning to listen to words as they are and not what I want them to be.
*or something to that effect