Maybe Marti Knows??- Week 4: Friends After Love
I’m having a really hard time in my love life recently. Last year, I started dating a beautiful girl. We met in a class toward the end of college, and everything seemed like it was falling into place. She was a dream come true in every way.
Once college was over, we continued dating into the summer. Once the fall hit, we made the fateful decision to move in together, after 5 months of dating. In hindsight, it was a tremendous mistake.
Things seemed good for awhile. For the first month or so, I got to live the dream that everyone aspires to. I got to wake up next to my closest person, my dear friend, and the girl I dreamt about whenever she wasn’t around. It felt wonderful and fulfilling on a deep level. I was truly in love, with feelings I hadn’t ever experienced or known were possible.
But at some point things shifted. I noticed that she began to pull away, physically, and emotionally. The laughter that we used to share became tense silence.
In the beginning, she would tell me about her day, her friends, and anything that was currently stressing her out. I would put my book down, listen to every word, and just look at her. I cared about her, and wanted to be there for her anytime she needed me.
But this soon stopped. Our evenings became full of tension and annoyance, where once there had been love and contentment. I don’t know what changed within her, and it really hurts now to look back and try to find the moments that may have triggered the downfall of our relationship.
Towards the end, I knew it was coming, but I still held on tightly. I was in denial. We’d talked about trying to right the ship, things we could do to make it better for us both. On Valentine’s Day, she mentioned breaking up for the first time. Two weeks later, she moved out. A week later, we broke up.
It hurt so badly at first, I thought I would never get through it. I drank a lot. I gained a few pounds. I watched sad movies, and didn’t leave the house for days at a time. It was a grieving process that is still ongoing. The wound is still there, and I miss her. Some days it is worse than others, but I still desperately wish she was in my life.
That is where my question lies. After the emotions had cooled, we talked about a week later. She mentioned that she wanted to try to be friends.
To be honest, this hurt a lot, and I don’t know if I will ever be able to. Seeing photos of us together makes my chest tighten. Seeing a message from her, rare as they are now, makes my throat swell up.
I’ve seen her several times out in public, and it is always weird and disheartening. Why is it so hard for me to let her go? I never would’ve imagined not having her in my life, but now it feels like having her anywhere near me would be an atom bomb for my mental health.
She really, truly hurt me with the things she said when we officially split, and seemed angry when I decided to not be her friend right now. Is there something wrong with me? How can people just stay friends with someone when that person whom you loved so much shows that they actually care so little? Am I being immature in wanting to not be in friends?
Friends After Love
Dear Friends After Love,
I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of forgiveness lately.
I turn it over in my head when I shower, play it forwards and backwards on long drives, and poke it with a stick right before I fall asleep each night.
I think about all the pain that I hold onto, all the hurt and sadness that still lies curled up in my stomach like a snoozy cat; and how badly I want to let it go and get back to being trusting and kind, soft and open, fearless and steady.
Like you, I’ve had a rough year. It’s a thing I’ve wanted to write about for a long time, but have never found the right words to articulate.
Even now, I’m embarrassed at the frivolity of it, that something so small could cut me so deeply, especially since I’ve been forgiven for similar sins. But in the name of healing and honesty, and because you were brave enough to share your heart with me, I’m going to share mine with you.
Last February, I received a voicemail from a close friend letting me know that she’d begun dating my ex-boyfriend, who had shattered my heart only a few weeks before. I was still very much in love with him, still very much hoping that it had all been a mistake, still sifting through the details and trying to figure out what I’d done wrong, why I couldn’t make him stay.
She’d been there for me through the whole breakup, listening and shaking her head in disgust that he could be so cold, insisting that I deserved better, and that I would be ok. I believed her. I still do.
I don’t know how they got together, I don’t know how long it was going on. I didn’t ask any questions, I didn’t yell or scream or cuss her out, I just listened to the voicemail and walked to my car. It was 10 seconds long.10 seconds for 10 years of friendship.
I didn’t call her back, there was nothing left to say.
If this seems petty to you, I understand. I struggled with a lot of guilt and regret and typed out hundreds of texts only to delete them.
I never thought she wouldn’t be in my life. I never pictured a future where she wouldn’t be the first person I texted with good news, the first person I thought of when I wanted to grab a beer, and the first person I went to when I needed a hug.
I talked to my friends, my parents, my therapist, anybody who would listen, just trying to make sense of it and find a way to be ok and put everything back together. I wanted to be her friend, I wanted to keep her. But I just couldn’t.
No matter how I looked it, how many self-help books I read or sweet songs I listened to, I couldn’t bring myself to be friends with someone who had caused me so much pain. Every time I saw her photo, every time I heard her name, my stomach would tighten and I knew it would be hard to get to sleep that night. It still is, all these months later.
I really, truly don’t think she meant to hurt me. Neither of them did. While the bitterest parts of me want to think that they planned it this way, that he was evil and she was mean and they never ever cared about me, I know that’s not true. We were friends.
They didn’t set out to cause me pain, they just made a choice. And while I don’t agree with it, while it caused me pain and heartache and gave me a real bad stomach ache from all the chocolate I ate, it was still their choice to make and they don’t need my permission or blessing to live their lives.
Your ex made a choice too.
I don’t believe she ever intended to break your heart. While I don’t know what she said to you, and I don’t know what caused her to walk away, I firmly believe she made the right choice for her. Breakups are never easy, and if she left, she had a reason, and you have to respect that.
However, choices don’t come without consequence. If someone hurts you, you get to choose whether or not you want them in your life.
No one is entitled to forgiveness or friendship (myself included), and after a lot of deep thinking and deep drinking, I’ve come to the conclusion that the two are inextricably linked.
Friendship is built on trust. It’s made from honesty and loyalty and golden threads, as delicate and lovely as a spider’s web, and just as easy to damage.
When someone hurts you, whether intentionally or not, a bit of that trust is pulled away. There’s a tear, a rip, and it’s difficult to mend, especially if it’s deep or surprising.
It takes something from you, a bit of your lightness, a touch of your ease, the comfort of knowing you’re safe in someone’s arms.
I lost something with that voicemail. I’m harder than I used to be, more afraid of being hurt and less willing to give people the benefit of the doubt. Vulnerability is difficult, as is trust.
I don’t like being this way. I don’t being cynical and holding back and explaining to every guy I date that I need to go slow because I’ve been hurt before. I don’t like that it’s so hard for me to open up and show affection. I don’t like telling this story and I don’t like that it still hurts.
But it does, and until it stops I can’t be around the people who hurt me. It’s self-preservation, and while it may seem selfish or dramatic, it’s the thing that’s keeping me afloat and allowing me to heal. I’m not in a safe enough place to let them back in.
You’re allowed to cut people out of your life. You’re allowed to do whatever you need to in order to be ok. Healing is hard and strenuous work. There’s ups and downs and good days and bad days and there’s no rules or time limits.
Forgiveness is a side effect of healing. It comes when you’re finally able to accept the facts for what they are without anger or resentment or pain. It comes when you can say their name without a tug at your gut. And you can’t rush it.
Forgiveness can’t be forced. You won’t be a good friend to anybody if you’re still holding your breath and waiting for them to let you down again. It’s not fair to either of you.
Maybe in a few months or years, you’ll see your ex and be able to catch up without all the memories flooding in and suffocating you. Maybe I’ll be able to text my friend and ask if she wants to grab a beer. Or maybe not.
Right now, the best thing you can do for yourself is focus on healing. Surround yourself with people who care about you, pet some dogs, look at sunsets, and eat too many donuts. If you’re sad, be sad. If you’re happy, be happy, and try not to punish yourself too much for moving on.
If you’re not ready to be her friend, that’s ok. Be mine, and I’ll be yours.
Want to ask Marti a question? She’d LOVE to hear from you! Drop her a line at MaybeMartiKnows@gmail.com and your question could be featured! New column every Thursday, identities always anonymous ❤