The Chains I Have Forged

Friend: “So, what happened?”

Me: “Normally, for the sake of brevity, I tell the truncated version of this story, which inadvertently leaves him looking like an asshole.  But the truth is, a lot of what went wrong is my fault, and it’s hard to explain that to people.  Even when I say, ‘Really, he’s not an asshole,” they don’t believe me.  So it’s just easier to keep it short and simple.”

Friend: “Well, you know that I’m going to be biased for you no matter what you tell me.”

Me: “That’s fine, you can be on Team B.  The real story is that I spent my entire pregnancy looking for reasons, any possible reason, to push him away.  And I did push him away, over and over again.”

Friend: “Okay, well now it’s really hard to be on Team B.”

Me: “Right?  I told you so.”

Last Thursday I reconnected with someone I met over the summer, via OkCupid.  Back then we had gone on a few dates, but realized we were looking for different things and ended our brief, uneventful affair amicably.  I reconnected with him over the phone a couple of weeks ago about a job I was looking into that is connected to his department, and as we were catching up, I was being very vague about my life.  He must have heard the strain in my voice, because he kept pressing for the truth and asking, “Are you really okay?”  Finally, I told him the brief version of events, and he expressed his sincerest apologies.  We made plans to catch up in person and be real friends this time, not the fake kind of friends you say you will be after a failed courtship.

The following week, over Old Fashioneds in a dark little bar in North Portland, we had the above conversation.  I explained to him the entire saga, as it is so much easier to talk to someone about life troubles when they are not a part of your close inner-circle.  It’s easy to be strong and impassioned and tell a story in a sterile manner to an acquaintance or stranger, rather than letting your emotion loose by breaking down in front of your bestie or your mother.

But I digress.

A few days before I had this conversation is when I realized the extent to which I played a part in driving away my Ex.  I have spent a lot of time focusing on his actions and short-changing mine.  It wasn’t intentional, as I had recognized some of what I did and apologized for it.  But what I really should have been apologizing for is something that I had not yet understood, and that is the following:

I pushed him away.  Every single day, I was subconsciously looking for reasons to break up with him.  Whether it was his drinking that I once shared in, his jokes that I once found funny, the extensive cell phone use that I had once tolerated, or the night my cat was sick, I picked at him like a scavenger dissecting a newly discovered carcass.

And despite this treatment, he kept trying to stay with me and make it work.  But he was right- nothing he did made me happy.  When he tried to keep me positive, I increased my negativity.  When he agreed with that negativity, I used that against him.  It was a vicious cycle that I perpetuated until the miscarriage.

Why did I do this?   Think about it- why does someone push their partner away if he or she loves them?  It is the fear of intimacy and commitment.  I am afraid of intimacy and commitment. 

There is the harsh truth in black and white that I have buried underneath a façade of smug relationship arrogance.  I have pushed away every man that was trying to legitimately give me what I claim to want.  Six years ago, there was the boyfriend who tried to atone for two years of emotional distance by asking me to marry him.  Four years ago, there was the man who was so emotionally available that it scared me into breaking up with him after less than a year.  A few months ago there was the man with whom I conceived a baby, and was prepared to do right by me and start a family.  How did I react?  By doing what I do best: panicking and finding reasons why he wasn’t right for me and we shouldn’t be doing this.

And between those men, I dated men who were either geographically or emotionally unavailable.  There was the California-based former classmate from college, the older married man with three kids, and the politician who lived three hours away.  In some way, either my partner or myself was inaccessible.

I am not sure it’s possible to put into words how I felt when this epiphany struck.  I was in the kitchen getting my things together for work and literally stopped moving, yogurt and water bottle in hand, and stood there for who knows how long, letting it sink in.  My throat closed up and my stomach burned, and the headache began to creep in.  When I was pregnant, I was scared, but I don’t think I realize how much of that fear was gaining energy and fire from events of my past.  I had already been to counseling twice about my father, and thought I had quelled those demons and put it behind me.

When I entered grief counseling in early January, I thought it would be focused on getting through the miscarriage and the breakup.  However, it became clear very early on that there was much more going on; emotions I had buried so deep that I was thoroughly in denial of their existence.  Yet again, in counseling I am working through a lot of my unresolved issues with my dad.  I told my therapist that I choose emotionally unavailable men in order to perpetuate my self-fulfilling prophecy: That all men will eventually leave, just like he did.  That I was not enough for my dad to stick around, so why would I be enough for any other man to stick around?

Having had one impasse with my ex earlier in the relationship, it was easy to peg him into the “Emotionally Unavailable” category of boyfriends.  I was originally going to write a column about how I choose the same types of men over and over again, and that I need to end this awful cycle.  However, it never occurred to me that I am also emotionally unavailable until now.

So after pushing him away for nearly two months, I miscarried the baby, yet remained in “family mode”, plowing full-steam ahead into the future.  I even had decided when I wanted to try for kids again, and I was planning all of this with him in mind, not understanding that he was free to do the opposite.  I just expected that we would stay together and be a family.

When he said he wanted to separate, I focused on his issues, his problems, his insecurities, all the while not taking note of my own.  I was so hurt that he was rejecting me.  I look back on that and cringe, because all I did during my pregnancy was reject him.  Of course he wanted to escape the woman who made him feel like he couldn’t do anything right.  With what I know now, I don’t blame him for leaving.

I want to pause and say that I am not attempting to martyr myself.  We both did things that we shouldn’t have, but this blog is not about his actions.  I’m done writing about that.  This blog is about recognizing my actions, and how I played a part in this breakup.   I am a deeply flawed human being who behaved in a manner that hurt another person without understanding what my hidden motivations were.  I accomplished what subconsciously I set out to do during my pregnancy: I pushed him away, and he took his freedom.

I thought about reaching out to him and saying, “I understand what I did, and I’m so deeply sorry.  I wish I could go back and change how things played out between us.   I have so many regrets.   That is not who I am.  That is not the partner that I want to be.   I want you to know what I am working really hard to be the best version of myself that I can possibly be.  I want to be the girl you gave the resume to again.”

I could do that, but what would it accomplish?  He has chosen his path, and I promised him that I would not contact him again.   Nothing I say will change the past or fix the present or bring him back.  We will still be broken up.  I will still be that deeply flawed person who is not ready for a relationship.  And seeing him or hearing his voice will likely just make me hurt more and set me back on my own moving on process.  I did the bad thing and checked his Twitter feed.  He is doing well.  He is happy. I saw a recent picture of him, and he looked quite handsome.  His smile was genuine.  I’m not going to barge in on that with my special version of crazy and disrupt his life.  Instead, I’m just going to keep working on letting it go.

(I mean, Saturday night he went dancing for fuck’s sake.  D a n c i n g.  I saw that and my jaw dropped.  Now, I’ve seen his moves.  I’m not sure how that translated to a Portland dance club.  I imagine there was whisky involved, him dropping a line like, “I just got my new Benz,” and some skanky twenty-something bleach blonde bitches who just got their nails did for the weekend.  ‘Cause y’all know any broad that comes after me is a downgrade.  Amiright?)

*Ahem*  I digress.

One more ugly truth for the evening: I am still just as terrified as I was during my pregnancy.  This is my third time in counseling to work through my unresolved emotions regarding my father.  His abandonment has scarred me so deeply that I expect everyone to leave me, and thus I act accordingly.  I feel like Jacob Marley in A Christmas Carol.  When Marley visits Scrooge, he warns him of his impending fate.  He shakes his chains at Scrooge, the chains he forged in life, chains that entwine his body and drag behind him on the floor.  For twelve years I have carried similar chains forged from unresolved pain, and I swing those chains at anyone who dares get too close.  I push people away in an act of self-preservation, and when they leave, the abandonment has come full circle once again.

How many times will it take to truly move past his abandonment and betrayal?   What will it take to dump these chains, to lift the emotional burden I have carried with me for so long?

What if this is it for me?  What if I will never really move on, and this is my life?  I want to be a wife and a mom so much, but what if that is not in the cards for me, because I will be ruled by the past, continuing to forge new chains for the rest of my life?  I am terrified that this is my future, and that I will either continue to cycle through self-fulfilling prophecies with men, or I will just abandon the idea of a family and live my life alone, living in an old house with cobwebs on the ceiling.  I’ll go to Bingo on Wednesday nights, play Bridge on the weekends, and the rest of the time hang out at home with the pitbull I will have saved from death at the local pound.  I’ll give him some kind of hyper-masculine name like Zeus or Black Dynamite, and we’ll watch TV on the couch together while I drink cheap wine in my purple sweatsuit and feed him Milk Bones.

I know that it doesn’t have to be like this, that I can work through this and make a future for myself in which I am happy and emotionally settled.  I have to keep telling myself that I am doing the right thing by examining all of this, by moving forward alone and letting go of the past.  I have to keep telling myself that I am capable of a healthy mind, body and soul.  I have to keep telling myself I can do this.

I fucking hope I can do this.

Until next time ~ B

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