Those who know me know I’ve had a hard time moving on from the break-up of 2.5 years ago. Actually, “hard time” is a creative understatement: I went batshit crazy with heartache when my ex-girlfriend announced that things were over. I should’ve seen it coming – I was a shitty boyfriend, and put her through way too many hardships. And all along, I took her love for granted. I never thought she’d stop loving me – that she’d be there for me, exactly as she’s always been there. I was a fucking idiot, and there isn’t a day that passes where I don’t feel stinging regret.
Before I begin, it’s necessary that I mention I have Asperger Syndrome. This isn’t a label I use to excuse or justify my behaviour: but anybody familiar with an autistic-spectrum disorder will understand how people afflicted with the “disease” have a hard time understanding or relating with people outside their closest ring of friends/family. Obviously, we experience these difficulties differently, and I happen to be of the moderately/severely-affected types when it comes to interpersonal relationships.
However, whether this is Asperger-related or not, I have an immense difficulty letting go of people I genuinely care about. This isn’t a virtue when it comes to a failed relationship: in fact, it’s been the catalyst for every pain I’ve inflicted on the girl I’ve been unable to let go of. Because I don’t form connections easily, my attempts to move on keep bringing back the reminder that there’ll never be anybody I connect with on the same level as I did with the only girlfriend I’ve had. This is how, 2.5 years later, feelings still persist. Whether they can be interpreted as lingering unrequited love or doomed fucking obsession is a matter of your perception. For what it’s worth, I consider it an equal measure of both.
I’ll backup and explain a little, without identifying the girl personally. Ours was a ~5-year long-distance relationship spanning around eight timezones’ worth of difference. It was an expensive one, too: not just for the airfares we spent visiting each other’s countries, but for the lessons I learned from all my stupid, idiotic, selfish mistakes. When those mistakes piled up and caused the death of the only relationship I’ve ever had – I fell apart.
At first, I was in denial. We’d been together so long, I didn’t want to believe it was really happening. This did nothing to dam the outpour of tears and screaming heard from me in the coming weeks, weeping nonstop. Months passed and I grew increasingly worse, while she became happier. I lost my ability to eat, sleep or conduct a normal routine. I was hounded by this horrible vision of her finding a new boyfriend, of her becoming happier in the arms of somebody better, and I was tortured by an endless inferiority complex.
Like the little boy checking under the bed at night to make sure there’s no monster lurking underneath, I had to “investigate” my ex-girlfriend’s social channels to make sure this fear hadn’t eventuated. Of course, the shock quotes around “investigate” are a loosely-concealed euphemism for what any rational person would consider “stalking”. I stalked her, because I needed to know my fears weren’t coming true. It’s a stupid explanation, but it best describes my state at the time.
I was stuck in an endless routine of crying, sending my poor ex messages ranging from mock threats to admissions of regret, and did so from every social channel I knew she had. I hounded her, I frightened her. And worst of all, I erased every memory she ever had and replaced it with those of a creepy, desperate stalker unable to cope with his own emotions.
Yes, I said “threats”. There was even a time when (during the worst of the “denial disappearing” phase) I threatened my ex by stating I’d planned to move to her city, and “she had better hope we don’t meet”. These were words spoken out of fear – I felt helpless, powerless, and tortured by heartache. Much like a caged dog might bite the hand that feeds it, I tried responding to my difficulties by lashing out randomly.
At least that’s my best interpretation of it. As sharp as my memory is, even I’m having a hard time distinguishing the exact details of why I wrote so many stupid things to somebody I obviously still cared about. Perhaps it was also a rebuttal to my own feelings: maybe I believed if I convinced myself she was an enemy, I would believe it. Who knows.
In either case, whatever was going through my head then, it’s most accurately described as “completely fucked-up”. I scared her and her friends on social networks, and made it virtually impossible for any future messages I sent to her to be seen as anything other than words written from a psychopath.
A Lifetime of Temporary Relief
Eventually, the harassment tapered off because I found employment. As a matter of fact, I owe it to my job for delivering me from that endless cycle of regression; it gave me focus, and while I was anything but sane for a long time, it gave me direction I needed to leave behind the worst of my fears.
Actually, I probably shouldn’t say that. There was a time in late 2013-early 2014 when I escaped my fears by actively burying them in memory. Whenever I found myself thinking of the breakup, I forced myself to think of something/somebody else instead. The “something” was my agency’s workload when it was present; the “somebody” took the form of a friend I’d known for a while who’d played some part in helping me recover from the worst of the break-up). My friend in question was also from another country, who I’d also met on the same social networking site as my ex-girlfriend.
Side note: Yes, another person overseas. This ties in with my inability to connect with people in real-life. Being socially awkward restricts my best attempts to introduce myself to others to an online medium. At least, that’s the one where I feel most comfortable expressing myself without the awkwardness of real-world social cues, et cetera. Enough of that, though.
She didn’t return my feelings, although she acknowledged I had them. She pretended they didn’t exist, and openly-admitted that she cared for me only as a close friend. In order to fend off the recurring reminders of that-which-must-not-be-recollected, I convinced myself my crush on her was the start of romantic affection – believing that, if I were nice enough to her, actual feelings would develop, and she’d return them. And I would forget all about my ex.
Not all mistakes yield something to learn from
Deep down, I knew I was lying to myself – and others, about my newfound feelings for a long-time friend. I kept those doubts sealed in a dark corner of my skull, buried atop the landfill of even darker thoughts my lies were fabricated to help me escape.
And this, I told myself, was the necessary course of action that any man moving on from a hellish break-up had to do. To make an effort to move on, to let go. Of course, I wasn’t able to do so without the presence of a would-be romantic partner in my mind. Out of naive, human-born desire to be desired, I told myself love was the only true cure for a broken heart.
Of course, you can probably see where this is going.
When it dawned on me how much I was bullshitting myself and everybody around me, it was after I’d already fucked up a nice friendship with awkward admissions of “affection” – which I knew were built atop bullshit I’d fed myself. I took a good, long look at what I’d been doing over the last 6-8 months, realised lying to myself is what’d caused all this, and – more problematically, realised I wasn’t over my ex at all like I fooled myself into believing.
I realised I still cared for my ex… even after all I’d put her through, after my mental breakdowns and stalking, and the angry, frightened replies to my e-mails she’d written me. Some of which were punctuated with very genuine-sounding hatred, which isn’t what I’d call undeserved… I knew she hated me but she still mattered to me, and this is where honesty is a real bitch to work with…
“Nosce te Ipsum” – A double-edged sword
To know oneself isn’t just about understanding one’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s about recognising what/who you want, your desires, what makes your heart leap. When I came to accept the fact I still wanted my ex back in my life, I felt a surge of self-confidence.
No longer was I the trembling escapee in denial, running from hurtful memories still hounding him. I no longer relied on crutches or silly distractions to cope with recurring heartache. I turned and I faced the hurt – I accepted what’d happened, and more importantly, I accepted what I wanted was never going to change. Even though I knew I’d never, ever have what my heart desired, I felt relief in coming clean with myself and with others.
You love somebody, you can’t have them, too bad. It’s all or nothing. And quite frankly, I decided I was more content staying single the rest of my life then moving on in a half-arsed relationship with somebody I was never 100% sure about. So be it.
Idiocy still lingered
Of course, this revelation brought back the familiar old issue of trying not to message her again. My efforts were met with mixed success (okay, mostly failure). Stupid me believed if enough time had elapsed since my last message, it’d be “okay” to contact her again. I wish I could commit to memory why that’s wrong…
Then came an idea to do something seriously stupid. In the final month of 2014, I ordered my ex-girlfriend some books as a gift from her GoodReads list. I knew this retarded gesture was going to invoke disaster, and I did so willingly. And why?
Because I wanted to hear from her again. Even if it was another angry, frightened e-mail, I still wanted to read her words to me even if just for one hurtful, bitter moment. The period of silence/loneliness was driving me crazy – and I decided to take the stupid risk, clearly plagued by some lingering belief that part of her still wanted to hear from me again.
What actually happened dispelled that last lingering belief – and gave me a clearer look at myself. How I’d behaved. How I appeared. And I felt like a fucking criminal when I learned she’d gone out of her way to dig up my father’s e-mail address, just to ask him to tell me to leave her alone. The effort she went to to avoid writing to me: coupled with the cold, matter-of-fact analysis of the last 1.5 years, hit me like a sledgehammer.
My father printed her e-mails to show me in writing… the copies of which I still possess, housed in the sleeve of an ironically-titled vinyl record, “Assertive Discipline” (which had arrived in the mail the same day):
She summed everything up in cold, truthful fact. And it made me realise what I’d become.
And I felt sick with regret. I was enraged at myself: I felt remorse, but this time, I knew any attempt to alleviate the situation was destined to make it ten times worse.
I let go. I still cared for her, I admitted what my feelings were, and I knew I’d be carrying the shame of my actions for a long, long time.
There were only two instances where I established (unsolicited and unreturned) contact with my ex throughout the course of this year. One was a brief e-mail I felt impelled to write to her after moving out of home and finally managing to live independently… I thanked her for doing what she had to do (the break-up), which was instrumental in my eventual maturity. I closed the e-mail by telling her she did the right thing, and deleted it from my outbox without expecting a response.
The second instance – dated today, presents a stark contrast of “nobility” to the first.
I’ll openly admit I’ve been unable to stop checking her public forum posts, but I swore not to contact her or make her feel harassed. I stupidly let my guard down today when I saw she was still online at an hour way too late for her timezone – and when I checked again later to see if she was still online, she’d posted a very concerning message asking for help for her friends, that she needed somebody to talk to.
Goddamn, I’m such a fucking idiot. Yes, the point where I finally caved and messaged her again could’ve only come when I felt it was appropriate to do so. I regretted the messages after I sent them… and I’m still feeling shame over my drop in self-control. Again, it my messages would only make her feel worse – stalked, harassed, followed – when even after all my fucking mistakes – I should’ve known better. Emotion sucks.
Everything that happened this afternoon forced me to look back on the last 2.5 years and recognise just how much shame I was hiding. Tying back to earlier revelations of self-honesty, I no longer want to carry this shame.
I don’t expect forgiveness or “sympathy” from these accounts. My actions and behaviour were fucked and inexcusable… traumatic heartache and social developmental disorders notwithstanding. But in opening up like this, I hope to offer a transparent understanding of the inner war I’ve fought with myself. Ever since my personal apocalypse of mid-2013, I’ve struggled to come to grips with everything I’ve done. And the catalyst for this is shame.
To those still reading: I don’t consider myself a bad person. As a matter of fact, I openly stress honesty (at the expense of sounding blunt and tactless). Which is why writing this has felt like catharsis – and with everything admitted, I have nothing left to hide and nothing left to be ashamed of.