The Question: To Get in Touch, or Not to Get In Touch

The other day, from the downtown coffee shop where I sat doing anything and everything besides plan my course for the semester (you know, the one that starts on Monday), I sent a message to my DC friend D: “I am about to do something stupid,” I wrote. “Tell me not to, please.”

“You know me too well!” he replied. And then: “I need details.”

One thing I do know about D is that he is a much more cautious person than myself, and therefore an ideal candidate to disabuse me of whatever misguided venture I find myself approaching.

In this case, the venture in question was the strong desire to text an ex-boyfriend. Specifically, an ex-boyfriend whom I told a year and a half ago that I would not talk to him until he, in pretty specific ways, cleaned up his act.

(He has not. I know this because he lives in town, and because this is a pretty small town, and because it is even smaller when you have offices in the same building and frequent the same bars.)

D dismissed me immediately: “There is no reason to do this other than to make yourself crazy.”

“I just hate the whole no-contact-after-such-intimacy thing!” I tried to explain.

“Sometimes it’s better not to know what you think you need to know.”

Of course, he’s right: just because you think you need to know how your ex is doing (and, also, whether they still want to sleep with you), oftentimes, you’re better off when you don’t.

So why, really, did I want to contact him? I’d like to think it has nothing to do with the fact that, despite the deep personal failings I know all too well, I still somehow manage to feel recklessly attracted to him. Of course, it might. I’d also like to think it has nothing to do with the part of me that is still reckoning with contacting D. And of course, I know it does.

You see, I’ve been feeling nostalgic lately. When you aren’t going through the pretty parts of a relationship, it’s the next best thing to remember them. But, for me at least, those memories turn a little bit bitter when the connection with that person has too.

It’s not that I’m best buds with all my exes. In fact, there’s only one who truly qualifies as a good friend. (But then, as someone who I dated only casually for the six weeks that we lived in the place, I’m not sure he even qualifies as an “ex.” Discuss.)

But there is a category of men from my past with whom I’m on good terms: with whom I know I can, and always will, trade the occasional email or phone call; with whom I know I could have a pleasant conversation were I to see them out, or online.

And then there are those with whom things were never quite resolved: those for whom just the thought of contact fills me with unease.

I hate this. Even though, in many cases–such as with the aforementioned ex, and more recently with D, I’m the one who didn’t want to be in touch in the first place.

And maybe, as my friend/quasi-ex M put it, it’s just part of the deal. It is sucky and strange to cut off totally from someone you once cared for so deeply–but that’s just what happens when you break up.

I’m trying to swallow that. I like the idea of being on better terms with D, and the other guy, too, and I wish that I could be. But I’m not sure, if I were to contact either of them, what it is I would say.

With D I know I have a desire for closure. But I also have no idea what that word means. Much less what it looks like. Much less how to achieve it in the span of a conversation.

So I didn’t send that text. And I haven’t called D, or sent any of the emails I’ve begun writing him.

“You should embrace the unknown,” my friend D advised me. And so, I try: as unpleasant as it always is.


Holding Onto What Was Good

You know how it is.

One minute, I feel strong and invincible and sexy: ready to join with Pippa Middleton in effortlessly conquering the male hearts of the world.

The next, I feel small and unwanted and vulnerable: rejected by the handsome, married passenger the row ahead of me on the airplane who I’m pretty sure never saw my face; rejected by the butch bikram yoga teacher who seems concerned with everyone’s alignment but mine.

I’m trying to focus on those former moments–the strong and heady ones–and less than a week post-breakup, there are more and more coming. But still, not quite enough.

So I’m trying to hold onto something S told me, one of the most important things I’ve heard in the last few days.

“You’ve gained so much in this relationship,” she said. “I don’t want to see you lose all that just because it’s over.”

She was referring to a few things–my ability to talk more openly with my mother, for example, and my sharpened focus on certain writing projects–but mostly she was talking about my confidence.

“You’ve just seemed so secure,” she told me. “When you were with him and when you were alone. Please don’t let go of that.”

I’m working on it. It turns out that holding onto the products of a relationship isn’t easy, though, once it’s over.

The small things can feel like the hardest.

Hours after the breakup, I wrote an email to D asking for my things back–dutifully heeding my friend M’s advice to do so “without saying anything about feelings.” The next day, he overnighted them.

Before I got the package, I anticipated how hard it would be–the steep emotional challenge of separating those items I’d kept at his house–a nightgown to sleep in and a sweater, because it was always cold–from the association of him, and from the association of hurt.

But I didn’t cry when I opened it. Instead, I put both things on. (The sweater over the nightgown–as N noted, they happen to pair well together.)

“I have to reclaim these clothes,” I announced to S and N as we stood, solemn-faced, at our kitchen counter.

And of course that’s just the beginning: there’s the sight of the salad tongs in my drawer that D’s mother sent him and he passed on to me. The thoughts of spending time alone this month in Taos, where I’d long imagined being–going to readings, running B, doing crosswords–with him. The sound of the Replacements songs that I put on his mix. (I’m not listening to it intentionally–I’m not that masochistic–but I have been putting on REM, my comfort music, compulsively, and the Replacements come right after in iTunes.)

I don’t know that I’ll ever shirk these associations completely. You never really do. (Though I suppose I should admit that until D, I associated the Replacements with someone else. Something about me and Paul Westerberg, go figure.)

So yeah, the sting will lessen. Someday I’ll be mostly nostalgic instead of mostly hurt. We had something lovely, that–when the anger and sadness wears–will be worth feeling warm and nostalgic for.

But in those moments when the mere sight of a stranger’s wedding ring makes me tear up (it happened, once, in an airport–travel makes me particularly fragile), it’s hard to imagine that time coming very soon.

When I talked to M, I briefly bemoaned the mental ache of returning to the single life.

“It really isn’t that bad,” he said, in that sincere tone I could almost believe. “And you have so much going on. Just keep doing your yoga, keep writing, just keep doing your thing.”

Not the most original advice, but important nonetheless. And so I do. I thank heaven for yoga and for cooking, for unbelievably loving friends and family, for the knowledge that I am committed to being serious about writing

Of course, I’d like to find someone else who makes me happy (and, apparently, mistype) before too long. But that’s one thing I can’t control, and therefore don’t want to think about, right now.

What I can think about are those things I can control: and at the moment that means working to put distance between D and the good things–from salad tongs to self-esteem–that he came with.

And in the meantime, watch out: me and Pippa are coming. Any day now.

How to Mend a Broken Heart: The Real Time Version

The day before before D broke up with me, I found myself reading this post on my friend Sarah’s blog–titled “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?”

(Sometimes, by the way, my womanly instincts are so trustworthy it scares me.)

Sarah is very smart and articulate, and she has lots of very smart and articulate readers who comment–making that post a true trove of wisdom and insight that I dare not rival.

However, I happen to have a broken–or at least severely ripped–heart at the moment. (Sorry to break this news–I’m as shocked as you.)

And already, I am thick into the realm of post-breakup copage. Not to suggest that I’m managing this with any superior sort of intelligence or grace, but, as of yet, I haven’t completely crumbled.

Here, my friends, is a loose list of what I’ve been doing–and what, perhaps, I might suggest for anyone whose heart is similarly, unexpectedly, broken:

(Note: Like most lists, this one is incomplete. I reserve the right to update it in future posts periodically–one thing I know about breakups is that they take more than three days to get over.)

1. Crying in public. Last week, my sister-in-law sent me a link to this essay , from the New York Times website, about the unique urban experience of public tears: both having and witnessing. She sent it to me because the writing is great, which it is. But the writer focuses on the fascination that public crying provokes–not the interaction or support. But when a hot young thing (female, but still) approached me, all red-eyed and wet-faced, in the yoga changing room (pre-class, before such signs could be taken for sweat), bearing a hug and kind words, I felt a sweet taste of much-needed comfort and warmth. Recommend. (Note: this incident did not, obviously, occur in New York–but it did happen to involve two New Yorkers. Discuss.)

2. Crying in private. You will not make friends, and you may scare your (quite easily spooked) mutt, but you must do it. A lot. She will get over it, and so, eventually, will you.

3. Eating fatty meats, and acting a little ridiculous. Hours after the incident, my two roommates and dear girlfriends, S and N, took me out for a plate of Korean BBQ. This has long been something of a tradition for S and me: whenever one of us feels any sort of vulnerable, we go out and stuff ourselves with grilled meat. It helps. Afterwards, S demanded to buy a round of “nasty” shots, and pair it with some “nasty” television. Not having a tv (or, really, the ability to produce said libation) we proceeded to the nearest bar, where we sabotaged our collective chances with the adorable bartender in order to demand that he turn on The Bachelorette. Despite the objections of the less attractive, less accommodating bar patrons, he complied. And thus, my romantic difficulties began to pale.

4. Sweating. Somehow, I managed to lose a boyfriend and a working car in the same week. Meaning, each morning, I have spent 90 minutes in severe heat, contorting my body into unreasonable and uncomfortable positions and, immediately afterwards, used same body to haul myself (along with my vintage-Schwinn-that-weights-almost-as-much-as-me), in slightly less severe heat, up the most obnoxious hill in Albuquerque. There’s nothing quite like anger to help pound those pedals.

5. Speaking of which, feeling angry. Ask anyone who’s been hurt (aka, anyone): the pain is easier to bear when there’s someone to blame. I adore D, and this isn’t his blog so I won’t get into the details of his decision (at least, not now), but I will say this: the man made a stupid choice. He had something good (me) that he could’ve held onto (at least for a while), and he let it go. For this, and only this, I feel furious. That, also, helps.

6. Drinking a lot of lattes, and, generally, doing exactly what I feel like. Normally, I get my “treat” drink, an Iced Decaf Soy Latte, approximately once a month. Now, I’m having at least two daily. I’ve worn the same shorts for three days. I haven’t washed my hair. Yesterday, I thought nothing of spending $7 for beer at a baseball game. Tomorrow, I’m going to buy myself an extremely overpriced sports bra. Hey, getting dumped is awesome!

7. Acting a little bit reckless. This was among the many pearls of wisdom that S has provided in the past few days. Immediately post-breakup, I felt the compelling urge to contact an ex. (Well,  more of a friend than an ex these days, but still: he’s someone with strong sway on my emotional state.) I wrote a text. I didn’t send it. “S is going to tell me not to,” I told N, as we took a walk around the neighborhood before S got home. But, walking to dinner, when I asked her, she didn’t. “I think this is a time when you can act a little bit reckless,” she said. “It’s kind of what you have to do.” Thrilled to receive her permission, I sent. He called. I felt better.

8. Talking to people who love me a lot, a lot. Especially those with goofy senses of humor.  My brother J was clearly very fond of D, but when I told him of the breakup, this is what he said: “Good riddance! I never liked that guy anyhow. I mean, he was from Texas. And so skinny!”

9. Thinking about why I’m really sad. Another of S’s gems was this: “Often, after a breakup, the loss we feel isn’t the relationship so much as the expectations we had for it.” So true. And if I’m really honest with myself, I’m more sad about losing the relationship than I am about losing D. And that says something. Something that leads, lastly, to this:

10. Telling myself things I need to hear. For example: D is a great guy. And I’m sure he could have made me happy. But I’m also sure that someone else can–and will–make me happier.

Why We Should Still Talk, Even When We’re Attached

During the many years of my early twenties that I spent single, I often played the role of third wheel. Mostly, in Washington, I did this with my friends A and J.

A and I had become close friends at work: most of my memories from that time of personal drama/heartbreak are punctuated with a vision of running up some set of stairs to A’s desk and anxiously reading the look on her face as she slid her black headphones down to her neck. (Was she crashing on deadline or did she have a moment to hear my, always epic, saga?).

And then J moved into her group house in Columbia Heights, and a few weeks later we all hosted a dinner party, and I spent that night in bed with another housemate, to whom I talked about one time after that, while A and J spent the night together and remained inseparable for about the next four years.

The phrase “third wheel” has a negative connotation, but I don’t mean one in this case: I loved spending time with the two of them as a couple. I’d still run up to A’s desk at work, but then I’d also find solace in their kitchen, or backyard, where the two of them would ply me with homemade chicken and beer, smother me with joint bear hugs, and assure me that whatever guy really wasn’t half as awesome as me to begin with.

In other words: I confided in both of them, regularly, about my sex life. And I laugh now about how I responded when they tried to do the same.

“Eewwww!” I’d grimace, throwing my hands to my ears, whenever J would make some suggestive comment indicating that he and A actually slept together.

“How come you can talk to us about sex but we can’t talk to you?” he’d plead, half-joking.

“I don’t know, it’s just the way it is! You’re a couple, you don’t get to talk about sex! You’re like my parents!”

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