A few days ago upon meeting a group of friends for lunch in the city, I learned something about a past relationship that I never considered. Frankly, I never really thought about it too much because there never seemed to be enough there to merit a valid reason. While dining at one of the nicest brunch spots downtown, a friend was talking about the best advice her ex ever gave her. It was sweet and proved the two of them moved on most amicably. In that moment, it felt like a very adult conversation among all of us and I felt my age as everyone just went about and talked about their relationships as I sat quietly with a faded smile.
But then someone turned to me and asked, “What about you? What’s the best advice your ex gave you?”
Now, I’ve only ever considered myself to be romantically involved with one person. And that was a relationship that lasted a little more than half a decade, on and off. I’ve been on dates with others and even dated one guy for a few months before realizing it was the unhappiest I had ever been, so we broke up because I never want to settle. Yet, between all the fish in the sea, it always came back to B.
B was my best friend first and truth be told, always will be. The last night we spoke, I shared some silly saying with him about how stars are always around even when you don’t see them, but that doesn’t devalue their worth to gazers. Of course, he sat in his car and said nothing. But no matter where he is, who he is with and cradles, I will always love him for being my best friend and whatever else God fated us to be during that time in our life.
“He told me all men are bastards,” I laughed lightly. “He said to just focus on me, my work, my studies, all that. He said I had my whole career ahead of me, so I think that was nice advice and very sweet, actually. He’s kind of protective, I think that was his way of being a good friend.”
As I shared with them this grand advice that I truly cherished, my friends sat there, wide eyes with a few sporting open jaws. I suddenly grew uncomfortable as one began to laugh and another scoffed, chugging down the rest of his beer.
“That’s not being protective,” he replied sharply. “That’s him hiding his defenses. He’s got feelings for you.”
I sat there confused and tried to explain to him that such was not the case for my situation. In fact, it could never be it considering B has moved on and moved on incredibly quickly. But my friends (two of which are studying behavioral sciences at IUPUI) said I was looking at the situation all wrong.
“If he’s moved on that fast, it’s residual or active feelings he’s trying to bury deep down—but either way, you’re in his brain, which is horrible for the next girl,” another friend replied.
As my friends continued offering insight, they suggested that just because B and I went through the motions of a breakup and severed ties, doesn’t mean he has lost all feelings for me. If such was the case, apparently B would give me better advice as a lot of that was “selfish” and proved he was “defensive about losing” me.
Could it be? No. It can’t. Right? Everything that I felt I knew about that relationship was suddenly proving to be something else, something much more complicated than I had ever imagined. Suddenly, I thought back to every action B made and how afraid he was of losing me, the things he would share just to keep me pressed under his insecure thumb. It made sense. Or did it? He hated that I had been “reckless” because I had spoiled all the fun for him, the phone calls, the hotel rooms, the car seats, the late nights of chatting, reading my emails and sneaking off to his ugly laundry room.
I smirked at a few of my friends and said it wasn’t true because of everything that happened and told them they just had to take my word on it. But a few disagreed and my male friends became very vocal on this subject, sharing advice and thoughts on this wisdom B had shared. I told them he and I were on and off over the years, we took breaks, hooked up again, yet all of them leaned in with interest letting me know exactly what his tactic meant.
“He’s never wanted you to be happy,” a friend said. “If he did, he wouldn’t discourage you from finding love—it makes sense. He wouldn’t call all men bastards and he wouldn’t see-saw a relationship for six years—he has it in hard for you.”
It was uncomfortable sitting there, having all eyes on me, telling me that this advice he shared was basically unhealthy and not fair. My brain began scrambling conversations and moments with B that made me wonder, was there more I never noticed? One friend at one point even asked, “Why should you only focus on work and not find love? Think about that.”
Think about it. Yes. But what can I do about it? There was a moment I remember looking down at my watch and staring hard at the thin blue line wristband I was gifted. I didn’t know what to think anymore. I always thought to myself maybe he does care about me, but he always fought it hard and said it was nothing. I had to believe that because I too have been confused but as my behavioral studies friend shared, “it’s a reverse psychology” kind of tactic when B would state I was confused when I never mentioned I was—it was him all along.
In a nutshell and in every sense of what paraphrasing means, there might be some residual feelings present on B’s end. As they said, a relationship might be over but it still lingers in memory and nags at you on your lowest days. (This I have felt all too well.) And while we might be apart, these friends of mine believe (and I have now too) that B still thinks about me and wonders how I’ve been. Old habits die hard, right? As some of them shared and my girlfriends romantically alluded to, you can’t control who you love because feelings don’t ever turn off even if you move on. And if I can’t turn them off, what certifies that he can? Sure, you can dull down contact, take extreme measures to salvage a life once believed to be true, but there will be reminders, memories, conversations, and it’s like you’ve run into this unresolved love all over again.
During that insightful hour of lunch, my friends put it simply, our relationship drove B crazy (in a “love-sick way”) as he didn’t know what to do. And that it was his confused feelings that drove him to stick around for so long. (One foot on land, the other in water.) Without sharing many of his habits to my friends, they shared insight into his assumed behavior that at times felt like BINGO, sharing how he might act out in his current relationship, lie about things, keep more secrets and spy on me when he feels he needs to know how I’m doing—and that made me believe, she would always wonder about his alone time. Moreover, my friends said he might even have trouble sleeping, devote hours to video gaming instead of socializing and a lot of this would eventually lead to unhappiness because of “his conflicting feelings.”
To bring perspective, one of my girlfriends asked me, “How do you explain the fact that we sometimes miss the worst thing that ever happened to us?” As she continued, we become unhappy because we feel guilty about conflicting feelings and there’s no one to share such a secret with. It made me think of how alone B was and how it was me who opened up that part of him he had lurking inside.
During that lunch hour, I learned relationships, whether good or bad, right or wrong, right wrapped around wrong, any of them eventually become a part of us. Cutting it off suddenly doesn’t make it go away or present a happily ever after. We all know that thoughts cannot be controlled, just like we cannot always help how we feel about things. Love doesn’t just turn off like a faucet.
In my heart I know B still cares about me, thinks about me and in those quiet moments, perhaps he even wonders about me. Maybe even during his quiet nights of video game playing, watching videos, checking emails, logging into his secret accounts, I cross his mind like he would often tell me. Maybe it’s the same way he crosses mine during rush hour on the I-69. The walking oddity in his life might think it’s under control and everything is leading to a Disney life of happy endings, but she’s wrong. (And I feel slightly sorry for her again.) But life is what it is and God plants every seed on every path for a reason, so I know I meant something to him and still do even if he imposes it as hard as he can.
B hurt me. He hurt me a lot and while I carry on most days, covering the scars with bandages, I won’t forget it. But the deeper the wound he created between us, the more he created a space for me inside him and vice versa. Me and B, we’re in this together now. I use to think it was me just hurting, but I’m starting to understand and recollect past instances, conversations and dialogue he shared that merits such an understanding that he too feels this hurt.
But if he has feelings for me like my amazing friends believe he does, I can only wish B the best of luck in trying to find solace in that painful, lonely void he created on his own because he won’t be able to ever open up so honestly and candidly to another again.