About a year before we married, my late husband traveled to Japan, where he taught English for about six months. At the time he left, in the spring of 1991, we had been dating for over two years. Sitting across from each other in a booth at a local restaurant the day before his flight, he suggested we go our separate ways while he was gone. After just two weeks on the other side of the world, however, he had changed his mind…..suggesting during a brief phone call that we get married when he returned. So, what did I do? I wrote him several times a week for six months and checked the mailbox each day, hoping for a response. He never wrote back and he never called again while abroad.
When he returned in the fall, I did finally receive a call from him giving me a time he would come see me. Again, I waited…..as the minutes and hours passed and he didn’t show when he said he would. I suppose one could say that I was pretty patient in those days….or stupid. But eventually, I did see him….and he acted mostly as if nothing had changed….even wanting to be physically intimate. However, something felt a little off and a few days later, I learned why. Despite no mention of him having found someone else during our time apart, a college classmate informed me that he was, in fact, engaged to a Japanese woman. When confronted, he confirmed the truth of the rumor and it seemed that the relationship was officially over. However, being that he had enlisted in the Navy and was about to leave for boot camp, I decided to be very “mature” and strong about the whole thing and told him I was there for him if he ever needed me…..if he needed a friend.
And that was, as I would decide later, the single biggest mistake of my life. Because, as it turned out, he did need me. While in boot camp, he received a “Dear John” letter from the woman in Japan….although I didn’t know that at the time. I only suspected, until I found the letter from her five years after we had married. He had acted like the decision to call off the engagement had been mutual, but it wasn’t. And by the time I learned the truth, I was married and had two kids. What a horrible thing….to find out that your someone’s second choice….someone’s backup.
Since then, I like to think that I learned from that entire experience and have done things differently. Maybe I did learn from it, in many ways. However, I recently realized that it’s not the only time I made that kind of mistake…..not the only time I remained friends with someone I shouldn’t have.
After my husband passed away in 2010, I briefly dated someone who broke my heart and over who (for the better part of two years) I cried and grieved. After the person cut off all contact with me in the break-up, I swore to myself that I would never take him back as a friend. But I did….a few years later….and just recently found myself regretting it.
When we first reestablished a friendship six or seven years ago, it seemed harmless enough. I had someone new in my life at the time and was feeling pretty good. There was one brief moment of aching and longing when I ran into him at a local restaurant at one point, but it had passed by the following day. I did follow his life, watching who he dated….and even who he married….but mistakenly thought the heartache was behind me. I hadn’t felt the sting of his rejection in a long time and had even come to the conclusion that he wasn’t right for me…..that I didn’t even much like him.
But when his second marriage ended last year around the same time that my most recent four-year relationship ended, we decided to meet in person….and a couple of visits and conversations later, I realized how much I still cared. I realized how easily I could still fall head over heels for him.
And yet, his days of silence….they were torture in my time of pain, grief, and loneliness. Aside from a good hug, a kiss on the cheek, and comments on social media that I was “beautiful,” there was nothing. No indication at all that he cared. And I couldn’t do it…..couldn’t wait around to see if the person who once rejected me might want me. I was hurting and I really needed someone who wasn’t going to hurt me even more and I was afraid that’s what was going to happen….was already happening. As a woman, after all, I was all too familiar with the advice that if a man wants to be with you, he will make that happen….will make it known. The only thing known in this scenario was that I was finding myself in familiar territory. Like an episode of the Twilight Zone in which the main character can’t escape his predicament, I was on the verge of getting stuck in the nightmarish and perpetual waiting game of limbo…..where the person in it already knows the answer, but just can’t face it until it’s actually spelled out. The answer being (of course) that he doesn’t want you….again…..you stupid daft cow.
So, I started spending time with someone slightly more available and I kept looking and moving forward. I was sure there was someone else out there….somewhere. I had been looking my entire life for this single person, after all. Some people believe there’s no such thing as a “soul-mate” while others do believe in this concept (or what is now commonly regarded as a “twin flame”)….despite its, albeit, unrealistic probability. Personally, I probably fall someplace in the middle….thinking it both ridiculous and feeling it as a very real thing at the same time. Whatever the case…..if it did exist, this person I still had feelings for couldn’t be it if we weren’t together. And if I was wrong and he was it, well that would work its way out without me trying to make it happen or waiting for eternity.
But here’s something I would like to make clear as I share all of this. There have been people in my life who I have loved and with whom I have remained friends. I have one friend, in particular, that I have known for over 30 years and while it wasn’t always easy having feelings for this person and maintaining a friendship, I can now tell you that I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Our relationship has stood the test of time, changing and evolving over the years, and I am okay with that person not being “the one” either. Not only is the friendship enough, it now makes more sense in my mind as that kind of relationship. But the same can not be said of all relationships or applied to all people. Although it’s possible to let go of our wants, desires, and expectations within some relationships and retain the friendships, the only way to really let go with others is to completely let go of them….even as friendships. In fact, in many cases, the people you may have been romantically involved with are not really your friends and you are not theirs.
And this is the lesson I believe I am just coming to learn….that not every past romantic partner is my friend. Some people, even unintentionally or through no fault of their own, are just not good for me….and maintaining friendships with those people and holding onto them is to hold on to the pain they brought or continue to bring to my life. I don’t know why this is the case for some and not others. It’s not a matter of some being good and caring people and others not being good and caring people, although this is sometimes the case. Maybe it’s that the hopes and expectations in some relationships are actually stronger than the relationships, themselves. Maybe the chemistry, too, is stronger in some relationships than the relationships, themselves. Or maybe the hopes, expectations, and chemistry are all that there really is in some relationships and there’s actually not much of anything at all beyond that.
Whatever the case, when I recently discovered that the person I still had feelings for was back with the person he had dated before me over ten years ago, I realized that a friendship just wasn’t possible. It hurt too much….as I found myself feeling the pain of that break-up and rejection all over again. Mind you, this is even without really talking to him much and with me wrapped up in new feelings for someone else. How is it even possible to be hurt, then? And why, when feelings are so strong, don’t people just let down their guards and love….with everything they are? Again, I don’t know how…..or why. I only know that what I said to this person over ten years ago when I walked out of his house on New Year’s Eve is still true.
I deserve love. I deserve someone who really loves me and wants me.
And maybe, we both deserve people who believe in us. Maybe he didn’t believe in me….and couldn’t see us together as I could. But also, maybe I couldn’t bring myself to believe in him, either…..and maybe it was, in part, due to what “believing in someone” had gotten me before with the person I had married. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t matter. The fact is that I couldn’t wait and hope and be a potential back-up plan, nor did I want to somehow convince him that I was the one for him….as I had possibly done with my late husband. No….if I had learned anything, it was that people and relationships aren’t goals. Treating them as if they are only leads to disappointment. Either we don’t attain them and are left feeling frustrated and let down….or we do and they lose their appeal. Any satisfaction or happiness felt/experienced from attaining or reaching a goal, after all, is often only temporary. Perhaps that’s why so many relationships and even marriages are temporary and don’t last. People marry….as a goal to meet/fulfill…and then find themselves just as unhappy and lonely as they were before. And maybe marriage isn’t just a goal in those situations, but the ego trying to get what it wants. And the problem with this is, of course, that the ego is never satisfied. The ego always wants more. Once one goal is met, the ego sets its sights on another one.
And maybe that’s what I had done in my marriage…..and maybe it’s the reality of some relationships and some people. Some relationships are simply the ego at work and for some people, this is true of all of their relationships. It’s not love that drives them….but the ego….and yet, the latter is confused for the former. For we have feelings…..which are pleasurable……but their true nature can be difficult to ascertain. We assume they are love…..but are they? Maybe not. And even when we believe we are acting out of selflessness in a relationship, are we really? I believed I was doing just that with the man I ended up marrying, but was I? I sure held on to a rather large amount of resentment over the situation for someone who had acted selflessly…..
But perhaps I have wandered around a clear point to all of this far too much as I am just now working through a lot of this, myself, as I write. However, if you’ve stuck with my meandering monologue up to this point and are wondering what to conclude from all of it, here’s what I’ve determined in the moment. If you can get beyond the ego in a relationship and find genuine and unselfish love for the other person involved…..that is, maintain a relationship without either hopes/goals or pain/despair….. then hold on to it. As well, if the relationship makes for a win/win situation in which it provides enough of a mutual benefit as it is to both people involved without resentment, hold on to it. If you can’t do the former and are lacking in the latter, however, let it go….and really let it go. Don’t try to maintain a friendship with a current or former love interest, because even true friendship requires selfless love and some give/take. And don’t beat yourself up if you want to love selflessly, but find yourself failing at it….and find yourself wanting and hurting. Be honest with yourself. We can’t always selflessly love everyone….no matter how much we want to and try and even go through the corresponding actions. And maybe there’s a reason for that in regards to romantic partnerships. Maybe this is how we know who we really belong with….who to live our lives with….and with whom to share in friendship and beyond….
Just thoughts and ideas. Please feel free to share your own by leaving a comment or two and thanks for following my journey as I work through life’s challenges and hope to help you work through yours….hopefully, as friends.