By Theresa Weiler
I have been single for a while now, but it wasn’t long ago that I was in a fairly long-term thing.
It was one of those relationships where you’ve known each other for your whole lives, flirting at family events, having long late night talks and intense arguments, drifting apart for months at a time, then re-uniting in a cataclysm of emotion. Sometimes I would forget he existed, or pretend he didn’t, but he’d keep resurfacing, always compelling, and enigmatic. Just elusive enough to be frustrating.
My parents expected us to get together, that’s for sure (my siblings were a split decision), and I suppose I did, too.
It went on like that for years, him and me and my life just rolling along until one day I realized I was an adult and it was time to commit for real. Everyone expected it. I didn’t want to be alone.
He was great back then. Reassuring. Kind. Not a lot of fun, necessarily, but warm and steady. I figured I was a better person when he was around.
Was there passion? Maybe on his part, but I honestly can’t be sure, because I don’t know that we ever spoke the same language in that department. True, sometimes I would allow myself to be swept up in words and romance, in incense and oil and wine red as blood and think, “This is it. This makes sense. This is where I’m meant to be.” Still, I could never take that feeling into the world. I couldn’t sit at my desk and remember, “I am loved like that.” I couldn’t take his arm at dinner parties without awkwardness, or dance with him in that easy way people do when they are in the arms of their beloved.
I don’t think I wanted to know him, not really. And I definitely didn’t want him knowing me.
I mean, what right had he, if I didn’t know myself?
When you are in a relationship, there are doors open to you that are closed to the ones who travel alone. I loved being welcome in places like those. I loved having a group to validate us, “Look at you two. You belong. You are beautiful together.” For a long time, I could melt into those spaces. The rebelliousness that never went away, the edges he couldn’t soften were camouflaged in a witty turn of phrase, made amusing by an irreverent joke, or drowned in laughter, music, and good red wine.
You may already be thinking, “This sounds unhealthy.” I don’t think you are wrong, but I wish I could communicate to you how right it felt, how safe. That’s what we all want, right? To know where we belong? To feel safe?
I got so good at playing this part. Not a superstar, by any account— it’s not like anyone was going to lift me up as a shining example of fidelity and sacrifice and abiding love—but I certainly knew all the right things to do and say. I knew how to bring every conversation back to him and us and how wonderful it all was. I knew how to dress, the right answers to give to those who would inquire after us, and how to maintain the correct society calendar. I had particular expertise on the manner in which we were expected to bear and raise children, and I met those expectations dutifully.
All the while, though, I knew, I knew that outside our gated community there were millions of people living their lives to the best of their ability, loving their partners and their families, free to make things up as they went along: experimenting, exploring, making mistakes and adjusting as they went. I didn’t know how to envy them so I conjured up pity, instead.
Am I making this sound like his fault? Probably. It’s hard to admit your own shame. To be honest, it’s entirely possible that I was so obsessed with fitting in, with being right, with finding a place to belong and be safe that I never really knew him.
When things started to go wrong, I pulled away. When the lies told beyond those exclusive doors were brought to light, we gradually stopped showing up. We fought in private, never in the open. I played that game where friends had to guess at what our relationship was. Are they okay? Mostly, we kept up appearances. For the kids? Sometimes. Because of the love we had, the history? Yes, but more so on his part, maybe. On my end, I stayed mostly for my own comfort, so that I could cling to the last threads of safety and belonging as they unraveled around me.
And because I wanted it back. I wanted it all back.
There was no big, emotional breakup. We stopped talking. Or I stopped listening. He continued socializing with our friends, and they gradually stopped expecting to see me. At first we would send each other text messages, vague plans, “let’s get lunch….” until even that was just too embarrassing to continue.
So we were left alone. He and I, silently sharing space. I would go through my new routines as though he wasn’t there, and he never pressed.
Sometimes I wished he would. I would break the silence with something banal, while my heart screamed, “If you care, DO something. Scream at me. Shake me. Carry me away.” Sometimes my thoughts went darker. I would stare at the ceiling of my darkened bedroom thinking, “I wish he’d just take me. Put his hand over my mouth. Hold me down. Force me to submit.” He never did. He wouldn’t, or couldn’t, or didn’t care to.
Maybe it was never real, the love I thought we’d had. Maybe it was a fantasy. My own fantasy, or maybe I was acting out his. Whatever it was, whatever he wants, or I want, it’s not something I can go back to. Some things are irreversible. Once the cracks reveal themselves, they can’t be un-seen. Whatever we were, we aren’t anymore.
He’s still around, though. I recognize him here and there, and I miss…something. Not what we were. I miss what we weren’t.
I miss that, and I wonder:
If I saw him at a coffee shop, could I order a drink and sit alongside him? Ask about the weather? Could we chat?
Could we get to know each other slowly? Tell each other all the old stories again, but this time listen with grown-up ears? Could I see what it feels like to let him touch me again, now that I am graying and tired and unmoored? God, could we fight? Could we street fight? Could I show him all of my worst ugly?
I wouldn’t have to be afraid this time. There would be no strings, not anymore. No expectations, no commitments, no pretending. We could go forward in our own way, showing ourselves to the world as we are, not behind closed doors or in any particular company.
Could we be we again?
I don’t know yet, but not a day goes by where I don’t think about what possibly, maybe, someday could be.
I guess what I’m saying is, I’m not ready to lose his number.