Yesterday I was at going-away party for a friend in which I encountered–as I knew I would–an ex-boyfriend. Knowing that I would see him there, I had thought that I would eventually find a way to just tell him that I was sorry for the way I treated him when we were together, that I realized–at last–that I’d been a complete and utter ass to him. Which, really, is probably the way I treated several of the guys I’ve dated since re-entering the single world as a widow. Not all my exes, mind you, but the ones who I probably dated a little too soon after Mike’s death. Before I was ready. This guy–we’ll call him T–was definitely someone I mistreated because I wasn’t quite ready to date. Even though I’d been widowed for a little over two years when we started dating. But, as they say, everyone grieves at their own rate.
I started dating T about a month before I moved to Colorado. I hadn’t really planned it that way. I’d known him for about two years–some of that time while I was married–as we were coworkers and I needed to go to him often for technical information. It wasn’t anything more than a friendship even after Mike died and I found it kind of comforting to have a friend to talk to once I’d moved away from the town Mike and I had been living in. I was lonely a lot that year and it was nice to talk to someone who didn’t expect anything out of me, who didn’t know my husband. T asked me out a few times–once to a ballgame, which I perceived as a completely innocent friendly gesture and once out to see one of the Harry Potter movies. It was after the second get together that I realized we were really, kind of, on a date.
At the time I was planning my escape to Colorado. So I really wasn’t looking for any romantic attachments. Our second date was about a week before I was about to go on vacation, which was really a smoke screen (as far as my job was concerned) for some job interviews I’d lined up in Denver. The second date kind of messed me up. When I realized that I was finding myself attracted to a guy friend, I thought it was at the worst possible moment. It wasn’t a part of my plan. I tried to keep my distance from him to stay on course with my dream of moving away. As luck would have it, my trip to Colorado taught me two things: 1) I really wanted to live in Colorado, and 2) I really, really liked T. Absence, for even a week, makes the heart grow stronger? This was in a time before Blackberrys and iPhones. I didn’t even have a laptop. I spent the evenings of that week popping in and out of the Kinko’s by my hotel to use the internet so that I could pick up T’s email messages.
Anyway, I ended up getting a job–the one I wanted which was considered a transfer to the Boulder office of my company. Within two months of our unexpected relationship beginning, I was packing up to leave for Colorado. T helped me move out there, driving with me all the way out, helping me handle the moving van drivers and unpack my stuff. He hung out with me the first week as I moved in and prepared for my new job. He started to plan to come out to Colorado too.
Which he eventually did. And it should have been great. The perfect happy ending to a widow’s sad story. Except, once he moved out there, I did nothing but push him away. I think part of me really wanted to try to branch out on my own, build a new life out there, and stand on my own. I felt like his moving to be with me made me weak. So our relationship began to crumble. I was super-critical towards him. I accused him of not understanding the kind of pain I’d gone through in losing my husband, which led into philosophical debates about how I should view my experiences as a widow. He really may have understood me. He may have even been right about how I should have handled myself. I just needed an excuse in my head to feel justified in pushing him away.
It wasn’t all bad, though. We did have a good relationship when I let him in. Unfortunately, once he moved out there, neither of us seemed to try very hard at seeking friendships outside of our relationship with each other. He didn’t love Colorado like I did and was only there because of me. In the end, when our romantic relationship was clearly over (because I had built a stone wall around my heart), he made plans to return home. Suddenly feeling alone in a strange land, stinging in the aches of loss, I decided to sell my house and come home too. Yeah. A breakup is what brought me back to Ohio. I never really admitted that aloud to anyone, not until the last couple of weeks as Ohio winter begins to set in and I’ve been again asking myself why I ever came back. I turned around and came back because I couldn’t deal, alone, with the grief of a break up. How pathetic is that?
I’m not still in love with T and I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea. T’s married now. I’m totally happy for him because I’m told that they make a great couple. I’m not jealous or mad or anything. In fact, part of me is happy that T now understands what it’s like to love someone in the way that I loved Mike. Not that I really doubted that T understood love like that–no matter what I told him in anger. I just think that now, I don’t know, maybe he could empathize with my loss in ways he really couldn’t before. I really want him to be happy.
The only thing I wish I could do is apologize to T for being so horrible to him when we were dating. I’m pretty sure there was some emotional damage done back then and though he’s over it now, I still feel like I should apologize. Mainly because I’m supremely embarrassed about how badly I behaved back then. I was on a course for self-destruction. I was very lost and I was dragging people down with me. I wish I could tell him that the person he knew back then was not the person I wanted to be.
Of course when you plan these grand confessions, you never end up finding the right moment to get the words out. As I arrived for the gathering, T was crossing the parking lot into the restaurant as I was turning in in my car. He looked up and waved at me. For sure that was a good sign. But I spent about a half hour after that trying to find the party (they were tucked away in a corner of the bar I didn’t see) and by the time I arrived, the party was at full swing and loud. I greeted my friend–our mutual friend–and started talking to her. T was standing there and I totally avoided eye contact with him. His wife was standing next to him and I felt kind of out-of-place. I didn’t want her to misinterpret my actions so I was trying to act uninterested in seeing him. There’s a really weird tension between an ex-girlfriend and a wife. Maybe it’s just me, but I always feel like I’m being judged or accused of something I’m not doing. Like I might at any moment try to snatch the ex-boyfriend back or something. So I said nothing. I didn’t even say hi.
So, of course, T being the better human, laughed and said, “You’re allowed to say hi.”
Which embarrassed me into silence. I said hi–coldly, dispassionately–and then looked away. Ugh, talk about the wrong signals! Now I looked as though I were mad at him. Childish, childish!!
I figured I’d have a chance later that evening to amend my completely grand faux pas. After I’d had a beer to loosen my lips, make me a little less morose. However, about twenty minutes later, T and his wife said their goodbyes and left. The moment I’d been planning for the last several days would never come. I was left feeling kind of angry and frustrated. I needed to get this thing off my chest at last. Maybe it was for the best, though. No need to beat a dead horse, especially this late in the game. And, really, I suppose the only person I’m going to make feel better about this whole thing is myself, right?
Grand confessions and apologies a side, though, I’m still kicking myself that I treated him so coldly, thus completely proving that I am totally the witch he remembered dating. Why can’t I just act normal? It’s so hard trying to be friendly with a former lover. No matter what you know or accept about the status of your relationship (or lack of one), there’s still always a tension there. I guess we really aren’t meant to commingle with each other after we’ve broken up. But it’s just sad. I could have showed him through my actions that I was sorry by greeting him with a friendly hello. I hate when I act like this. It does not represent the person I want to be. From the song “Acrobat” by U2:
I must be an acrobat
To talk like this and act like that
Once again, I came out looking like the fool. In retrospect, I realize the only way I could have come out on the winning side of this encounter would have been to given him an equally as cheerful hello. Maybe we could have actually exchanged a few words. Why do I let my emotions trip me up all the time?