I went out with the Ex this weekend. This was the first we spent any one on one time together since the Great Break Up.
On Friday morning, he and I were part of a group text with another friend; something about Catwoman, which is not an unusual topic of conversation. I asked the group what the plan was for the evening. Drinks? Dancing? Painting the town various shades of red? It was Friday morning and, baby, I was alive!
As it turned out everyone was busy except for him. He said he planned on eating a pizza alone and I was welcomed to join.
I wasn’t sure if that was a sincere offer or one of his classic snarky remarks. But I accepted and was surprisingly exciting.
We met at our favorite pizza place having already agreed to split a large pie. He’s one of the few people on the planet in front of whom I can unabashedly be my grotesque self. I don’t need to feign modesty or posture like eating a half of a pizza is something I wouldn’t typically do. There were no “oh I can’t believe I’m pigging out like this!” or “I haven’t eaten anything today” conceits. Because clearly I had already eaten Chinese food for lunch AND dinner earlier that day.
I caught him up on everything that had been going on at work and provided hilarious updates on the state of my family (which could easily be a spin-off blog.) He briefly filled me in on his work and family, things he never liked to talk about any way. Everything had a familiar ease to it.
We finished the pizza and decided to find a spot to drink too many martinis, a once frequent past time of ours. It wasn’t long until we started talking about his new relationship. Previously, this was a powerful source of tension for me.
He started seeing this boy shortly after we split. (I’ll henceforth be referring to New Boyfriend as Shelly Stewart, after Sarah Jessica Parker’s character in The First Wives Club.) And, no, he didn’t leave me for Shelly Stewart. They met on a camping trip we were supposed to go on together with some friends that I opted out of after the break.
The first time the The Ex, Shelly Stewart and I were in the same room, I found myself sitting next to them on a sectional sofa with the rest of our friends looking on while they were blissfully canoodling and I was eating the loneliest hamburger you ever saw.
But with each passing time the three of us are together, it gets less and less awkward. I had to get used to my newly single life and his rapidly attached status. Seven months out and I’m finally at peace with the whole thing.
Can I be honest? I’ve never admitted this to any one before now, but they’re a wonderful couple. Really. They’re happy. Like actually happy. The Ex is not a particularly warm and fuzzy kind of guy, and yet, in the few times I’ve been around the two of them, he’s affectionate. And kind. And shows Shelly compassion in ways that are foreign to me. And it’s weird, frankly.
But seeing this new side of him, this side that I only caught glimpses of in rare private moments, I know something there is right.
We were never right for each other. Never. We didn’t exactly make sense. I tend to be effusive and carefree while he was… well… more rigid and exacting.
This was the unspoken truth of our relationship. Neither of us admitted it until we finally had the relationship-ending talk. Unless, of course, you count the time at his parents’ home, when his sister asked if we were ever going to get married after a couple (hundred) drinks, he replied “Oh no, we know we aren’t perfect for each other.” (He’s honest, god bless him.)
We were both operating under the assumption that eventually this would end.
Sometimes it just doesn’t work. And I don’t begrudge that. Sometimes two people aren’t meant to be in love.
But when the wound was still raw, I found myself frustrated. Mostly at myself, mostly for staying so long in a relationship that just wasn’t doing what I had expected that kind of thing to do. I’ve burned considerable hours since then trying to understand why I got so stuck.
But the longer I traverse the world of singledom, the more I’ve figured out which spell this dark wizard cast on my heart and judgment. The answer is simple.
He showed up. Everyday. Without exception.
There were no wicked games in the beginning. I didn’t have to do that thing where I obsess about if I would hear from him again or try and decide what’s the sexiest number of days to wait in between communiqués.
During the first few months of our relationship, when everything is so tenuous and one wrong move can ruin everything, he avoided the biggest mistake of them all. He never made me doubt his interest. And damn it, that’s a turn on.
How many guys have I started talking with recently only to wait days for a reply? How many dates have been cancelled, rescheduled, politely avoided?
The Ex spoiled me because I’m finding now even the best of men seem to lack this ability.
For example, a few months ago, I was dating a guy pretty regularly. He had a lot going for him: handsome, smart, super good body, a doctor… or, more specifically, a resident. I still don’t exactly understand how the whole medical career system works but from what I can gather being a resident means you work insane and irregular hours rendering yourself hopelessly unavailable. Only fueling my desire.
We would see each other at least once a week and I was starting to develop significant feelings. But things weren’t without complication. His demanding job made it challenging to get a hold of him or make plans. And I like to keep a schedule.
If you read my bio somewhere on this page, then you know I’m a theater artist. Meaning I work tirelessly to put together performances and am constantly brimming with feelings. AND I work with children who absolutely amaze me all of the time. So, yeah, I get being swept up in your career.
When the Doctor and I started dating, I had just cast my latest production and started rehearsals. The show was a regular topic of discussion. As was his job. We both happened to be two people who were just as eager to share as we were to listen, a truly rare combination.
The week leading up to my show, we were able to squeeze in a dinner date somewhere between my hectic production schedule and his ungodly rotation that seemed like it might have been killing him. But there we were, sitting in an Indian restaurant, both worn from work but appreciative of the company.
I expressed my concern for our well-beings over a casual joke. But he laughed and said it wasn’t too bad. Anyway, he would finally have time off that weekend. (The first time in a month.) How perfect! That meant he’d have an evening free to see the show I’d been blabbing on about for the last three months.
And then he broke eye contact and started stammering. “Yeah, you’re right. I guess I could see it.” I ignored any notable ambivalence and instead listed all of the dates and times of the show. He didn’t confirm that he would come to any of them but he said he would “check his calendar.” I’ve heard that before. I’ve said that before. I know what it means.
And yet, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. He definitely wasn’t prepared to receive such an aggressive invitation and maybe he did need to check his schedule. The subject was dropped.
A few days later, I sent a Facebook message to some of my friends, including the Doctor, letting them know I had two comp tickets if any one was interested. I won’t say I wrote the message solely with the intent of sending him a subtle reminder. I really did want my friends to come as well. But I had hoped that that would have given him a kindly nudge without seeming too pushy (read: insane and needy.)
I never heard back. He never came. He sent me a text a few days later asking how it went. “Brilliantly,” I responded but I’d be lying if I told you it wasn’t disappointing.
Rationally, I can understand all of the reasons why he wouldn’t want to be there. Sure, it was his first weekend off in a month. And, ok, maybe watching a bunch of anonymous kids perform isn’t the most exciting thing a grown man can do with his time. And maybe I wasn’t clear about how important my work is to me. But I couldn’t have made it any easier for him to show up for me.
The Ex, who hated theater, came to every one of my shows. Even a tragic little one I was in only a month or so into our relationship. He was there for everything that was important to me.
I told my mom this story and she hit me with a harsh truth. “Well, say what you will about the Ex. He was always there.” But then she did that perfect mom thing where she followed it up with a slight dig at him as if to remind me she’s on my side. “You might not have wanted him there, but he always showed up.”
The Doctor and I never dated or made contact again (except for one unfortunate time a few weeks ago when we both happened to be on separate dates at the same restaurant. I would later text him to finally hash out my feelings. Because I can’t stop myself.)
It was hard enough scheduling dates and harder still to get a reply to a simple “How’s it going” text message. But to actively miss something as significant as that was for me for a reason I can only assume was as callous as “I don’t want to” was unforgivable.
The importance of presence cannot be discounted. And I don’t just mean to show up at a performance or family function or random theme party thrown by an acquaintance. We show up for people in all sorts of ways. It’s the act of letting some one know that you are making space for them in your life.
So often, I feel like I’m constantly fighting an up hill battle with these trifling boys.
I get what it’s like to be uncertain of my feelings. But texting back takes all of two minutes. You can do it on the toilet for crying out loud. And it goes a long way. If I’m not worthy of a “Sup” while you’re pooping, then I say “To the left, to the left.” (And yeah sure, I should probably take the hint.) All I’m looking for is confirmation that I’m somewhere on a list of priorities.
I give it up to the Ex. He’s a man who got it right, who never let me doubt he was interested. And because we didn’t waste any time emotionally terrorizing one another, our relationship blossomed quickly and into something that for a time was as lovely as any relationship could be.
At the end of the day, we made the right decision to call it quits. We’re now on a path towards greater happiness and have been able to salvage our friendship. I’ll always love and care for him. But now in a way that makes sense for us.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but he has set the bar pretty high. Damn, that’s depressing. Oh well, cue the Dusty Springfield!