On Two Years of Ambivalence
I check my mail this morning, hurriedly flipping through the junk envelopes in search of something I am expecting. I stop abruptly on one. It’s from my internet company.
Your two-year contract is expiring soon. Contact us now to renew!
Two years?! How is that possible? I started this contract when I moved out of my house with my ex. The guy I thought I’d marry. Has it really been almost two years since I moved? I don’t know the exact date of our breakup. I have never been one to memorialize big dates in my mind, good or bad. But about 8 weeks after we broke up, I moved out. And I guess that anniversary is coming up soon.
No one should ever go apartment hunting alone after a breakup. I toured my new place in a daze, barely taking anything in. It could have been a total shithole and I probably wouldn’t have noticed. I just remember picking up on random positive attributes of the place, as though I was trying to convince myself that this would be a good thing.
At least it has hardwood floors, carpets kind of suck when you have dogs.
This bedroom is surprisingly big.
Thank god this place is wired for FIOS, I hate Comcast.
And now, here we are, time to renew that very FIOS contract.
— — — —
About a week after my ex got married, which occurred less than two years after our breakup (!!!), one of my good friends was talking to his dad at the gym (this town is too small). She asked how the wedding was. He asked how I was doing.
“Did he really ask you that?! That is a BOLD question to ask during a conversation about the wedding,” I exclaim when she tells me.
“I told him you were doing great. That you’d been traveling a lot. He seemed surprised. I mentioned your degree…”
“Well, thanks for talking me up,” I said, partly laughing, partly still incredulous that he would ask my friend that instead of just reaching out to me. I reached out to him when his brother died suddenly. I didn’t reach out to my ex, but I reached out to his dad because it felt like the right thing to do. Why he couldn’t offer a similar courtesy if he was that curious is beyond me.
“Even if you weren’t doing well, I’d have lied,” she assures me.
I laugh. And think.
The weekend of the wedding, I had been out of town. I was visiting friends that I would never have met if I was still with him.
— — — —
When I defended my dissertation, no one was there. I had been to a few other defenses, and there are always family and friends there. Mine was just my committee. It’s how I wanted it; there are many people in my life who would have moved heaven and earth to come if I had asked them to. But I don’t like people rearranging their schedules for me, and I just wanted to get this part over with so I could move on to the celebration phase. I didn’t even tell anyone when it was happening, just in case I didn’t pass. I didn’t even tell my parents.
But even though it was my choice, it was still a reminder that I am alone. If I was still with him, he’d have come. His parents would have come. When my parents retired and moved 11 hours away, compared to the 3 hours away they had lived before, I felt a little sad but I felt okay about it. I had my own life. I had my own family; his family. Four months later, we broke up. Never again will I let someone else’s life feel like a substitute for my own, no matter how intertwined they are.
That night, one of my closest friends since college came to celebrate. I’m not actually alone, and there is a reason I still live in this area.
I passed the defense. I immediately texted my parents and three group chats. Two of the three group chats were all friends I only met because of being single. The weekend before, I had been with one of the groups, celebrating my birthday. People came from all over North America (literally) to hang out. The day after the defense, I got on a plane to Europe to celebrate with the other group. I traveled around England and Amsterdam with people I never, ever would have known if we had stayed together.
— — — —
After the relationship, I did a lot of reflecting. I wish he had done the same. There is a lot I did wrong in that relationship. A lot (not all, but a lot) of our breakup was due to me.
How can I recognize this, how can I be sad that I ruined things, how can I wish I had done things differently …while still being glad I ruined things because my life is full of so many people that I only met as a direct result of this breakup?
How is it possible to live in such a state of ambivalence?
How can I feel like he was a great guy that I shouldn’t have taken for granted so much, while also seeing his true colors come out after the breakup — in how he handled our arrangement with our dogs, in how he dealt with a mutual friend when her husband died, in how he had let me pick a doctorate program based on him when he knew he was going to break up with me, potentially negatively impacting the rest of my life — and being so thankful I did not actually choose to spend the rest of my life with someone so selfish?
How is it possible to feel all of these things at once, in equal parts?
— — — —
I take a phone interview for a job in Boston. I don’t even know if I want it, but the point is I can consider it. I am tied to nothing and no one.
— — — —
I have a long day of work, but it ultimately ends with a big win, one I had to fight hard for. I go home, and pour myself a celebratory drink, and I miss having someone to celebrate with.
— — — —
For the first year, I keep my head down. I mourn. I reflect. I test the waters in dating. I try to be there for a friend who is grieving. I start volunteering at the ACLU after the 2016 election. I get sad I can’t text him after the 2016 election. I get sad we aren’t watching The Daily Show and Last Week Tonight and navigating this crazy new era together. I spend more time with my family in New York, the closest family I have now. I make new friends.
In the second year, I recognize what I have undertaken in trying to finish a doctorate in three years and working and teaching, and I decide to start making the most of what little free time I have.
I go to London.
I go to Denmark.
I host new friends in Philadelphia.
I go to Texas.
I go to Mexico.
I go to Cleveland.
I finish the degree.
I go back to London.
I go to Amsterdam.
I go to New York.
I go to Atlanta.
How is it possible to recognize that much of those things would not have happened if we were still together, while also wishing I had been a better girlfriend?
— — — —
How can I be glad that we aren’t together, and so thankful for this amazing full life I now lead, while also wishing I had done things differently in our relationship, knowing that if I had done things differently, we probably would still be together and much of this great life would not exist?
How is this level of ambivalence even possible?
But I guess that is all life really is. Constant mixed feelings. Constant “what ifs” and “thank gods,” contradicting each other and competing for the same space in your heart and in your memory.
I guess all any of us can really do is spend more time focusing on the “thank gods” than we do on the “what ifs,” …
….and live our lives in such a way that if someone from our past asks our friends about us, they don’t have to lie. Not even a little bit.