A Letter to an Ex

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Dear Ex,

I’ll be completely honest. I’m writing this letter for myself, not for you. I’m writing this letter because there are so many thoughts and emotions swirling around my head that I feel compelled to get them out, to try and make sense of them. I wasn’t going to be so public about the details of our breakup, but when you tweeted nasty things about me and our relationship, I figured that gave me permission to indulge in some maudlin behavior of my own. So to the general public, forgive me for the indulgence.

Why am I not sending this to you directly? Because I’m not interested in having a conversation with you about these things. You’ve made it very clear that we see things differently. I don’t think you’ll ever understand my perspective.

And that’s the worst part of this for me. I’m happy that you’ve found someone new. I told you that I thought the next relationship you had would be a good one. I was the test run, the messy work. I cleared the brush and overgrowth out of the way, priming you for your next emotional connection. I was the dry run, the dress rehearsal. You weren’t ready for an emotional connection when we met, and that’s actually why we broke up the first time.

You were so walled off. We joked that I had to teach you how to make conversation again, how to engage with someone again. Partly, you said, it was because your previous relationship had been so traumatic that you just shut yourself down for years. And partly, you said, it was because no one had ever really listened to you before, no one had ever really seen you before. So I broke down those walls, I made you engage, and those moments when I could see inside your heart were delightful.

That’s what made me stick around, even though I was horrified by some of your masochistic behavior. You had such deeply troubling self-hatred and self-contempt, but I couldn’t give up on you merely because you didn’t love yourself the way I loved you. So I stuck with it, arguing with you — even though Al Anon says you can’t stop an addict from satisfying his addiction — because I didn’t want to give up. I convinced you to start therapy. I convinced you to talk with your mother for the first time about the traumas of your childhood. Somehow, no one had ever confronted you about these issues before. Somehow, no one had ever pointed out how your past was affecting your present and your future. Somehow your friends and your former lovers either enabled you and your addictions or just ignored them. But I saw the potential inside you, the wonderful person you could be once you were able to resolve the narratives of your past. And you told me, you cried to me, how much you wanted to be able to let them go and finally be the person you might have been without them.

It was a lot for me. I told you that. It wasn’t easy. I was girlfriend and therapist and mother and best friend. We fought about that, too. It was a huge load, but it was hard for me to figure out how not to be all those things because I wanted, so badly, for you to be happy. Because I wanted, so badly, not to give up on you.

I wish you could see this. I wish you could see how much I tried to give you, how hard I worked to leave you a better person than when I found you. But instead, you see me as toxic, you see our relationship as toxic, and all you can say is how glad you are that it is over.

I even tried to be your friend. When we weren’t dating, I still tried to be your rock — and your therapist and your mother and your best friend. And for that, I guess I have to thank you. Because you made me realize my patterns of behavior and how unhealthy they can be. How being a girlfriend doesn’t have to mean being all those other things, as well. I have permission to just be a girlfriend.

My next relationship will be a better one, because I am determined to learn from my mistakes. I’ve started to go to Al Anon. I’ve recognized that even if I am always going to want to be the caretaker, I don’t have to take it to the extreme. I no longer have to do things for others that they can do for themselves.

So I wish you the best. I always wanted the best for you, and it breaks my heart that you can’t see that. But that’s just another thing I’m going to have to learn to live with. At least I have nothing to regret about how I treated you. I may regret what feels, now, like a wasted year of energy and emotions poured into a black hole, but at least I know, even if you don’t, that I treated you as well as I possibly could. Maybe one day you’ll see that. But if not, I guess that doesn’t matter in the end.

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