I was walking home yesterday afternoon, thinking about nothing in particular. Then all of a sudden, a memory popped into my head. I was reminded of sitting on the sofa in my old house in North London being in floods of tears: loud, unstoppable, totally out of all control, despite the efforts of my best friend. I was crying because of my boyfriend. Not because we’d broken up (we hadn’t, and we haven’t), and not because he’d upset me, but the opposite. I was crying because I’d realised I really liked him.
Really liking someone is one of life’s greatest pleasures, especially when they’re into you too. But for me it was the one thing I couldn’t bear, and the one thing I’d been avoiding for almost two years.
I try to keep my wild emotional impulses under control: if I didn’t, it would be like a Greek tragedy. But the floods-of-tears-on-the-sofa is just one example of the way I get haunted by the past. I was about to write ‘we’ve all been there’ when I realised I desperately wanted to believe we haven’t all been there: the breakup to end all breakups. The time in your life where you’re so completely wounded you’re not yourself anymore. When you just retreat and retreat and you sleep all the time to avoid being awake because when you’re awake you have to feel everything. When you cry every day for a week, at least, and crying is preferable to not-crying because not-crying just means everything is building up inside you and your internal organs feel like they’re turning black. When you genuinely and quite sincerely believe you will never be happy again. How could you? How could you possibly be happy without them? And people try to cheer you up and distract you and you’re so grateful that they try but it doesn’t make any difference.
Anyway. That. I had all that. And that, to me, is a massively compelling reason to never fall in love and to never have a relationship ever again.
And there I was, realising it had happened: after two years, I was in a relationship again. And being in a relationship again meant coming to terms with the very real possibility that I would feel like that again.
But… is that the case? Sure, I will absolutely have to endure breakups again in my life: that is all but non-negotiable. But the greatest contributing factor in me experiencing that utter heartbreak the way I did was the way my former partner chose to treat me. The way he went about the relationship, its beginning, its middle and its end were all wrong. The way I let him do it was all wrong. I had no power. I had less than no power. I was a person that I now can’t believe existed. I am quite sure I will never experience heartbreak on that scale because I will never have another partner that makes me feel so irrelevant.
The single biggest lesson I’ve had to learn in my current relationship isn’t anything about nonmonogamy at all. That all came far more naturally to me. The greatest hurdle has been separating my current boyfriend from the one before. I don’t know how explicitly I’ve ever stated it to him, and if I haven’t, then I’m sorry, but it’s the root of almost all my woes. When I’m unkind to him, and when I behave irrationally, and when I need reassurance, and when I ask to hear, for certain, that he cares about me, 9 times out of 10 it’s because I’m being haunted by the past. I’m punishing him for choices another man made a long time ago. I’m punishing him for someone making me feel completely insignificant, unloveable and disposable.
It’s taken me many, many months to meaningfully confront it. I acknowledged it for the first time when I was crying on Charlotte on the sofa, but I couldn’t do anything about it yet. Now, whenever I could push my boyfriend away when what I so desperately want is to pull him closer, I try and try and try not to do anything. I try to breathe deeply and think carefully about how different they are. How they have nothing to do with each other. How this can’t possibly be a conspiracy against me. How he’s kind and sweet and gentle and generous and has brightened up my life for the last 10 months, not changed me into a person no one recognised.
I might always be haunted by the last one, and hopefully he’ll be as bad as it ever gets. But the only thing I can do with those horrendous feelings from two years ago is vow not to let them ruin what I have now, or what I’ll have in the future. Promise not to punish good partners for the sins of the bad one.