Lesson #11: You can love someone and not want to be with them.
My ex-partner and I had a strained relationship, to put it mildly. It was always hard - I can't remember a time where it felt easy. For a while I think we both made excuses about the difficulty of it all. Well, my best friend had died. Well, my mental health was struggling for a long, long time. Well, we were stressed out at our jobs and moving in is hard and now we're in couple's therapy and that's bringing up stuff.
The truth is, we weren't compatible and he didn't meet my needs. And I suspect I didn't meet his either.
But we didn't know or didn't want to know. And every time things hit rock bottom, they'd recover enough for one more go around.
I knew somewhere deep inside me for a long time that things would not work out. But I really wanted them to. I wanted them to work out so so much because - it had to. He'd chosen me. We'd invested so much time together. We'd moved in together. We'd fallen in love with each other's families. I couldn't undo all of that and so I kept trying to push through, ignoring the constant anxiety that sat in my stomach that said: something is not working here, and if you're waiting for him to realize it first, you'll be waiting a long time.
And then one day - I'm not sure I can explain why this particular day, not in this post anyway - I went to therps like I always do. I told her I'd spend a week by myself in the apartment and dove into a feverish journaling practice. I ended up writing a lot about him, about us. I didn't feel like myself. I didn't know if this felt like it was supposed to feel.
"What does it feel like?"
"It feels like....I love him but I don't want to be with him. But I'm trapped."
"Are you trapped?"
"I feel trapped. And I can't be trapped anymore."
And there it was. And as soon as I said it all out loud, I couldn't take it back and I couldn't unthink it. This time, the statement just sat in the room with the both of us, this terrible truth. I panicked. I wasn't so good at not reacting immediately to anxiety back then.
The session ended. I headed to my parents house. We were having a family dinner, it was so perfect and so lovely. His friend and his friend's girlfriend were there and we were all paired up. And I held his hand and I laughed at the dinner table. But I was lightheaded. I need to leave, I thought. I need to leave this. Us. Now that I see this is my truth, I can't stay here for one minute longer.
I left the next day. I asked for time apart in couple's therapy - one of our many attempts to bind together something that was never meant to be - and when he returned from another one of his many trips away, I had moved out.
You can grow to love someone - to love them fiercely - and still not want to be with them. You can have your heart hurt when you think about how much they loved you and still not feel loved by them. You can miss their embrace and their jokes and the things they did to make sure you felt safe, and you can still think "this is not going to work for me." You can cry thinking about how you'll never see their parents or brother again, and still know your lives are better off now that you aren't with one another.
"I'll always love and care about you," he'd said, tears streaming down our faces after our last couple's session. Two years later he'd add, "But thank you for doing what I couldn't do. Our lives got so much better after you ended things."
It took some time to forgive myself for upending our lives. And I learned a lot through therps about why exactly I wanted to act so suddenly, after so many years of inaction. But in those excruciating weeks, I learned a truth that had been with me since the beginning of our relationship - that love was such an important part of being together, but it was not the whole part. It didn't make up for the way we fought, the way we communicated, the ways we failed one another. And it could no longer suppress my hope that there was more to life than resigning to put back together something that was always falling apart.