When I was rejected by a boyfriend in my late teens I used to imagine something tragic happening to me (shocking enough that the person who rejected me would be worried for my life, but not so awful that there would be any lasting damage). And as I lay unconscious, he would look down at me and be flooded with the horror of nearly losing me and the love he had once felt for me would multiply and grow until he knew he would give anything just to have me wake up, and spend the rest of his life making me happy and adoring me. The one he nearly lost. The one who meant everything...
This was how I comforted myself. It was as if I believed that emotionally manipulating love could lead to long term happiness. Where do we get these notions from?
In Sleeping Beauty a man falls in love with what is essentially a corpse. A woman at her more vulnerable, most inert and least interesting. Imagine asking a couple at a party how they met. “Oh she had one photo of her sleeping on Tinder and no further information and I just knew she was the one”. The prince’s “unconditional love” was born purely through projections of desire and physical attraction. No wonder we feel that so much of our worth comes from how we look.
I once heard the expression “show me a beautiful woman, now show me a man who’s not bored of her”. We have so much to contend with. And rejection and heartbreak is enough, without adding in a feeling of being undesirable. No matter how beautiful we are inside or out, we all get loved and we all get rejected, and none of it is a reflection of how lovable or desirable we actually are. Love and desire are such complex, delicate things. And loss is a starless sky with no compass that we all have to navigate at some point in our lives.
And now, as a woman in her mid thirties, I find myself trying to assimilate a fresh experience of rejection and loss. And the temptation to imagine a situation that would force my ex to realise how much I mean to him, tries to sneak its way through the passages of my mind. But it doesn’t pass security. I stop it and try to gently guide myself to recognise that, whilst I want to be un-rejected, for my ex to love me the way he once did and for all the pain to cease; sadly that old tragic fantasy would be of no help at all.
Then I think of Khloe Kardashian’s show “Revenge Body” and a fresh thought hares off down a new corridor, excited by the idea that, rather than imagining a scenario of mortal peril propelling him to realise what he lost, I could instead imagine becoming a huge success. Becoming my most brilliant, beautiful, accomplished self and then - then he will realise what he lost and want me back and take all the pain away. But then I will have moved on and he won’t be able to have me… and my thought stops in its tracks. I don’t want that either. I don’t want him to suffer. Realising too late that you want to be with someone is an awful experience. And anyway, the real issue here keeps getting lost in corridors of past and future imaginings as I try to escape a very real and present pain. He wasn’t able to truly value me and there’s nothing I can do about it.
And right here, right now in this moment, I am in the throes of loss. And it hurts so much. I miss how he feels. How it felt to wake up with him having held me in his arms all night long. I miss the way he always smelt so good and I used to inhale him like the particles of his scent were a drug that made me high on love. I miss hearing his voice and his laugh. His giggle. His perfect mouth. I miss the way he tasted, the way his eyes looking into mine made me feel like I was the only person that mattered. Like I was extraordinary.
And I still am everything he saw in me. We are all extraordinary and uniquely wonderful. Whether we are held in the gaze of a lover, or tossing and turning in bed, a hot mess of anguish and loss, we are equally as special and adorable and lovable. And that essence of what is so loveable about us, isn’t changed when someone takes their love or desire away. We don’t cease to be wonderful. We just cease to be the person on whom their gaze rests.
And their gaze is no longer resting on us because they were no longer able to connect. For a multitude of reasons. They are not the one we continue our journey with.
And the reasons are far more complex and nuanced than it being because you “weren’t enough”. It is everything a person has experienced so far and what they feel able or ready to experience that charts the course of your journey together and whether it ends.
Not the sum of your parts.
I once had a boyfriend that threatened to commit suicide if I broke up with him. I was terrified of the responsibility that placed on me. And then my mum told me that if a person was led to do something like that, it would be because of all the things that had happened in their life that took them to that moment, all those years of pain before they met me, not because of me, but because of their greater wounds which were nothing to do with me. And it helped so much to understand that. Whilst we are a hugely significant part of each other’s journeys, no one person is the whole journey.
And this recent heartbreak isn’t my whole journey. It’s a part of my story. Our relationship was a beautiful part of the fabric of my life. And I miss him and it aches and there are so many good memories and so much sadness and frustration and loss and bucking against the harsh reality that we were just not suited. Pushing away the painful truth that no matter how much I wanted it to work, we were not the right fit.
So I find myself forcing this boulder up a steep hill. I’m straining and pushing and aching as I try to keep this boulder of resistance moving because I Do Not Want To Accept Defeat. Loss. Rejection. Heartbreak. And I am hurting myself by resisting the truth and yet I can’t bear to let the boulder go and watch it fly back down the hill and smash and leave me standing there alone. With nothing but my self and nothing to do and no one to hold.
And then I remember a break up where I was on a balcony in Los Angeles and it was my 29th birthday and I had just come out of a five year relationship and we had parted as friends. And, as I looked out into the night, alone, with nothing to do and no one to hold, on the first night of a new year, a thought settled into my bones. And I realised that it was a knowing, rather than a thought, because it had weight and depth and was entirely made of truth. And the knowing said “this is going to hurt for a while and I just have to sit with it. No looking for validation or escape through other men, no desperately wanting to hurry the pain along or find ways to override it. I’m just gonna have to be with this, because it’s sad and it’s here and it just is”.
But, seven years later, when I should be wiser, I have been undone by loss. The fear that I am inadequate or unlovable, the anguish of not being able to get what I want and the sorrow that I was not able to make enough love for us both are all swirling around in my mind, keeping me from sleep. Keeping me trying to solve a relationship riddle that will never be solved. And it’s much harder this time, because it wasn’t a mutual decision. I would have just kept trying and trying because I had blind faith in him, in us. I didn’t care how hard it was, I wanted it to work. And I wanted to keep growing and learning alongside him.
I have to remind myself that whilst some relationships last a lifetime; others are shorter. Still profoundly meaningful, but they have endings that must be faced. Our journey has changed course. I couldn’t charter the ship alone. He was an equal sailor and he wanted to disembark.
So we are no longer a couple, no longer lovers. We may one day be friends. But right now, we are both hurting and trying to acclimatise to the new reality that we are not right for each other. Trying to navigate a landscape where we are suddenly not connected, where the cord that kept us the closest person in each other’s world, has been severed. And suddenly we are floating. Untethered. In a world where everyone we love cares for us deeply, but the bond We shared, where we intimately knew and cared about the smallest details of each other’s daily life, has now unravelled. We are no longer grounded by the attention of a partner. And the stark loneliness of this brutal fact makes me feel as if I have been swallowed by a black hole, yet somehow I must continue to operate and function and even… heal?
And as I slowly try and assimilate the reality of this, an old knowing settles itself in my bones. “This is going to hurt for a while and I just have to sit with it. Because it’s sad and it’s here and it just is...”.