I wrote last week about love and loneliness and the fear of a life lived alone without love, and whilst it is all still true, time has healed some of the pain I felt then.
When we were happier, I would fairly regularly tell him the things I loved and liked about him. It’s what I do: I used to have great trouble with the words “I love you”, wanting to use them but at the same time, knowing that the intensity with which I felt the emotion could never quite be encompassed by eight letters. And so I learned to tell people why I love them, so that when I did say “I love you”, I knew they knew what made me want to say it.
I find navigating the boundaries in new social situations difficult. How much it's OK to say to someone. But last Saturday (and those who know me well know how fond I am of my philosophical music moments) I found myself listening to a Spotify playlist which, by chance, featured a break-up song that I’ve always felt to be beautifully touching…
and then you call me and it's not so bad, it's not so bad
and I want to thank you
for giving me the best day of my life.
and oh, just to be with you, is having the best day of my life.
I began composing an email in my head as I walked, not sure then that I would ever send it, but by that evening, after a few hours of letting my thoughts stew, I knew he would want to know what was running through my mind.
I was in a difficult place at first. I didn't see it coming, and I suddenly and painfully lost not just him, but apparently his family, who had become my chosen family, too. A tweet from his husband has been etched in my mind since it was written almost six months ago: "Of course you're part of the family, liebchen.” - and this loss was made all the more painful when a mutual friend told me that whilst I may have seen them as family, it takes time to develop that sort of relationship, the implication being that I wasn’t family after all, and I began to doubt everything I had known. I still do, in some ways. (I expect they've stopped reading my blogs, by now, or I wouldn't write so candidly.)
Ironically, I had, just the week before, been writing an essay about ambiguous loss, a painful kind of mourning that leaves a person not knowing if someone is gone for good, or even if they’re gone at all, and whilst I knew that they would stay by his side, and that I needed to give not just him space, but them too… they took me by surprise by their continued presence in my life. I didn’t want to be the one to click “unfriend” and “unfollow” because I didn’t want to lose them, and so, whilst they were there, they also weren’t.
And even as I type this, almost three weeks have passed, and I am acutely aware that I've exchanged little more than a favourited tweet here and there, a Facebook comment or two - and I wonder when, or if, I will have the nerve to talk to either of them properly again. The more time passes, the more awkward I feel, the bigger the elephant in the room, and yet… I cannot find the words to use. I still don’t unfriend or unfollow, although several times the dialog box has said “Are you sure?” … and I click cancel, because I'm not sure. I'm not sure I want to do the hard work of breaking contact on their behalf, when I don't even know if that's what they want. But I also don't know how to ask them.
So I found myself thanking him for saying that he wanted to stay friends, for telling me how much space he needed, and for talking to me again when that time had passed, and I explained that since he told me his reasons, and since we talked a few days after that, that I had overcome the worst of my pain, and whilst I could not be happy that our relationship had ended, I could now see the sense in it, I could see why we had to. I was grateful that we were able to be friends, instead of quarrelling lovers, who would inevitably break up with animosity and a great deal more sadness.
And I apologised that I had made it difficult for him to let me go. I had been so sure that we could still make our relationship work that I broke all my usual rules, clinging on, because whilst I could see that he was special, I couldn’t see then what I see now: that with time for us each to heal, for me to become stronger, the future isn't necessarily bleak and lonely. It holds, at the very least, friendship, and the special kind of love we reserve for those who we have shared our innermost selves with - and it may, if he and I can trust each other again, and his partners can trust me - it may involve the love we had once more.
Books may end, but so do chapters, and maybe this was just a chapter. To be continued.
A couple of weeks ago, I said I wouldn’t try to date again whilst juggling this degree. It wasn’t what I intended to come out with; I’d opened my mouth to say I wasn’t going to date again whilst I felt any kind of stress or anxiety, whilst I was struggling in any way, but without entirely realising it, I guess my subconscious knew that that would guarantee me the life of solitude I so fear. Since then, I've realised that even a two-year relationship embargo is probably quite drastic; a six month break seems eminently more sensible.
Someone said to me last week that they thought it was brave of us to even try to be friends, that the bad memories would surely come back each time we talked. But for me, the bad memories pale to the happier ones, and whilst sadly the same cannot be said for him right now, I am hopeful that as friends we can make new, happy memories (because it turns out, forgiveness may actually lead to forgetting).
So I thanked him, too, for the happy memories we do have, and for opening my mind to new things: a sport I find exciting to watch, to comics, even though I’ve always hated superheroes. Even, surprisingly, to a comic about a superhero.
But more than anything, I thanked him for wanting to stay friends despite the pain we both have felt, because friendship brings hope, hope that we can recover, but that even if we don’t, I still get to have him in my life.
I added "even if it won't ever be quite the same as it was”, and as I typed that, I realised: actually, it won't ever be the same, even if we do someday want to make another go of it, even if somehow his other loves find a way to give me their blessing once more.
But different doesn't have to mean bad. Different can be positive, different can be loving, different can be just giving each other the right amount of support, enough that we can feel useful and loving without becoming drained or hurt.
I am loathe to say we are "just friends”. I hate the term for many, many reasons, the most important being that it makes it sound like we're making do with friendship, but there is no making do here.
As I sit back and examine what we have saved, what could have happened had he acquiesced and stayed despite the struggle we faced, when I see the pain it could have ended in, I know we have something beautiful, a friendship that I hope can become a relationship stronger, more independent, and yet also more loving than the one we had - or at least, a friendship that we both agree is for the best.
Because the thing is… without hope, what is there?
But you stood apart in my calloused heart,
and you taught me, and here's what I learned:
That love is about all the changes you make
and not just three small words.