Learning Not to Give Until You’re Gone

I recently reread the children’s classic, The Giving Tree. Different than I remembered, it is so melancholy. It hit much closer to home than it ever had in the past.

I’m trudging my way through a breakup right now – aren’t we all though, in some way? It was pretty serious. The worst I’ve been through to date, at least. After nearly three years, a shared apartment, a cross-country move, and a ring design where a family diamond was about to be nestled, we were finally honest enough—I guess I should say HE was finally honest enough, to admit that he didn’t ever want children. If I recall correctly, his exact words were “If I’m not hungry now, how should I know if I’ll want pizza later?” Let’s be clear on one thing, my future offspring are going to be quirky, no doubt, but they are not pizza. 

The more I’ve dissected the words, actions, looks and feelings; I’ve realized the pizza-babies were not our demise. I had been dulling myself. I was under valued, under appreciated and used up. I was the Giving Tree. I gave and gave and took care of everything and made sure that his needs were met, and he was happy, satisfied, fulfilled and at peace. Meanwhile, he, knowingly or unknowingly, took my apples, my branches and my trunk, leaving the tattered, used, scraps of my soul, of my heart, of me. I can’t blame him. I gave it all willingly – everything down to my last shred of self worth. 

I think for a long time I believed that I had to prove myself as a lover and as a partner. I gave to prove I was worth being with. I gave in return for companionship because I believed that was necessary. The more I gave away, the more that was true. There is a lot of talk recently about settling, or not settling more appropriately. For me, and maybe for some of you, I felt like I was the one who was being ‘settled on’. I think for many of us it is about not being afraid to admit what we are worth and what will keep us whole. 

In the weeks since the break up and the break down, I’ve had the people who are closest to me in my life say things like, “You’re back!” and “I’m so glad you’re here again!” as if I just returned from a 3 year trek through the most remote parts of Northern Russia. Had I known, had I understood that I was living in a wasteland, holding together fractured pieces of myself with “good enough” plans and hopes that he would change and dreams (who am I kidding, I had thrown dreams out the window long ago), I would have been sprinting as fast as I could to get back.

Isn’t that always the worst? When others see you so clearly from the outside but you’re too close, too deep, too lost to make sense of it. Nevertheless, here I am – back – and learning that every apple given needs some water on the roots and sunshine on the leaves in return; learning that no two people need to settle on each other. I’m relieved that I didn’t get what I thought I deserved.

More than ever now, I don’t think I believe in soul mates and Mr. Right and one true love. I have hope that another person exists who will enhance the very best parts of me. And with that person, I will thrive, shine brightly and challenge myself daily to show off that sparkle a little more. There is someone out there who I will give to, not because he asks or expects it, but because he builds me up so completely and gives me so much that I have a surplus to share. I don’t have to be reduced to a withering stump again, and knowing that helps me grow and rebuild. Believing that is helping me to mend.

What Happens When Your Ex Becomes a Stranger

“He was everything. For three years, he was what I knew best – and now I couldn’t even tell you what city he was in.” With a pang of sadness, and another ache of loss, that thought crossed my mind several months ago, immediately followed by the harsh reality that this was not the first time I’d felt this way. 

The first time an ex became a stranger, I didn’t realize it was happening – that it had already happened – until it was too late. I had held on for so long, certain our outcome would eventually change. Years ticked by, and suddenly he was just that: a stranger. All of the details of what his love felt like, what it looked like, were gone. This time around I felt determined – obligated even – to retain the memories, to stash those intimate details deep where they wouldn’t get lost. I couldn’t just let my brain overwrite three years of data. The brain and the heart have a curious way of helping you to mend, though. No matter what memories and details you try to hide deep and lock beneath layers of birthdays and holidays, first times and other big events, your body cleanses and recovers from the hurt and promptly deletes whatever it can. Your brain reclaims that space for new love. 

In any relationship, there is a gradual process of getting to know each other: the goals and aspirations, the bad habits, the quirks and pet peeves and all of the infinitesimal nuances that create intimacy between two people. The making of a stranger is much less gradual. A while after we broke, all at once, all of that vanished. Sure, I can remember the big things like the fact that he lived and died for Chicago Bears football and hated scallops after a particularly bad bout of food poisoning. But what was the first thing he did when he woke up in the morning, or the last thing he did before bed? I couldn’t recall. The routines of my former partner, the routines that had shaped and balanced my own practices, were simply lost. How had I adapted since the split? And how had I been so unaware of it? I had grown into the spaces he had once occupied without hesitation or much effort at all. 

Nearly a year apart has dissolved anything remaining. There’s the bittersweet realization that I don’t know what his current favorite song is, what his current apartment is like or what his go-to weekend T-shirt is anymore. He is a stranger. I used to know him, but I don’t know him now. Not anymore. Bits and pieces of the hurt still linger. Unexpected things will still draw up the insecurities and rejection from that most recent spell of heartbreak and set off a downward spiral, albeit a short lived one. As their frequency and intensity wane, I cherish those spirals to remind me of why I had to leave him behind and why he has to be a stranger again.

I Miss You. Three Little Words Are All I Have to Say

I miss you.

Three little words are all I have to say. I miss who you were to me. I miss what we were. I miss what we were going to be. I miss the comfortable easy way we could be around each other. I miss having someone who knew everything about me. I didn’t have to explain or shield anything. I miss the silent dance in the kitchen, chopping, preparing, cooking, never missing a beat, never in each other’s way, no words needed- just flowing with our rhythm. I miss sliding into your arm, head on your chest, like a puzzle-piece-perfect fit. I miss our home. I miss your family. I miss how you made me laugh.

I don’t miss the way you treated me: the way you made me feel guilty and indebted to you when I didn’t want to have sex, the way I never felt like enough and never felt like I deserved you. I don’t miss the lies and the betrayal. I don’t miss the lack of trust. I don’t miss the games and the tests. I don’t miss the anxiety of wondering when you were going to stop loving me or if you already had. I don’t miss how you shut down and pretended my depression wasn’t real. I don’t miss how you never told me I was beautiful. I don’t miss how you never wanted to kiss me. I don’t miss you telling me I wasn’t worth it.

I miss you though, and I’m just not allowed to say it.