This photo was the view from my office on Friday the 13th. All that rain seemed like an appropriate metaphor for my mood. The day after I found out my fellowship application had been rejected, I got another rejection, this time from Matt.
Yes, he broke up with me the day after my grant was rejected. Boo hiss! You’d almost think he planned it for maximum pain, but as I said to my boss, at least all this awful news came in one week! It’s hard to top a serious professional setback and the official end of a long-term romance. I’m happy to report that nobody in my family died that week—that’s the only thing I can fathom as being worse than the news I did receive.
Matt’s timing sucked, but as he quickly pointed out in his letter, there would never be a good time for what he needed to say. He was right, so while I rolled my eyes, I also conceded his point.
We’d been going through what felt like the World’s Longest Breakup—six months of weirdness and ambiguity, me trying to be strong and Matt flailing to figure out what the hell is wrong with him. He had warned me that things would probably get worse before they got better, and he was right. To my surprise, I am already feeling better about things, and I will tell you why.
Matt wrote me an absolutely beautiful and heartbreaking letter to tell me that it was time for him to be alone. I wish I could share his letter with you because it was gorgeous and powerful. Even though he was ending our romance, his letter reminded me of all the reasons why I loved him and still do. I read it many, many times, and I confess, sometimes I read it just because it was like a poem about love and friendship, him and me and all that we have shared. It was devastating, in the best and worst ways.
At first, I was filled with anger and sadness and a lot of confusion. We had always had what I thought was a great relationship, but his letter implied otherwise. Then I started to think more deeply about what he was saying, and I realized that the problems he was identifying were not specific to our relationship. He was talking about his life in a global sense, all the pieces of his puzzle: work, love, family, health, obligations, money, everything. Those puzzle pieces were no longer fitting together, and he needed a time-out. He needs a time-out in order to effect changes on the whole picture.
It was disturbing to me to think that he hadn’t been happy with me. If he wasn’t happy, then what the hell were we doing together? We’re not married, we don’t have kids, we have no shared responsibilities. Ours is a companionship born of nothing more than the desire to be together. To think that he hadn’t been happy would force me to reconsider our entire relationship, and that made me so angry I could barely see straight. Then I remembered something I learned from Gretchen Rubin: if we think we are happy, then we are happy. Matt and I never shied away from telling each other how we felt about the time we spent together. We were happy.
The thought that we were happy set me free. It meant I didn’t have to look back on our past with anger or sadness; I could just let it be. It also started loosening my anger about the present. It’s hard for me to explain why my feelings shifted so dramatically from anger to compassion, but they did. I realized that I had a choice to make: I could stew in my anger and let it fester into hatred, or I could choose love. I could choose to honor our friendship and take a leap of faith into the unknown, into life after romance.
And so I leapt.
I understood that Matt was not choosing his misery. He’s swimming in a complicated milieu, and he’s not in a place physically or emotionally where he can be a good partner. Knowing all of that, I wanted to choose love. My initial reaction to our break-up was this, which is an excerpt from a letter I wrote to several friends:
“When you love someone for a long time (we dated for almost five years, and we were very close friends before that), it feels as though they are a part of you. Matt is my best friend, my confidant, the first person I want to share things with. Our relationship taught me a lot about myself, love, friendship, and so much more. To see our romance end is like seeing part of myself fade away with it. I am sad and angry and confused about the whole thing. He and I had a great connection and a wonderful relationship. I still can't really imagine my future without our romance—it just looks so cold and empty.”
It was that feeling of losing a part of myself that really killed me. Everything reminds me of him. My kitchen is filled with gifts from him. He loves my blue couch. I wore my green dress with him in Austin and San Antonio. He and I ate at most of my favorite restaurants around town. He taught me just about everything I know about wine. There have been moments when I felt so close to him that he felt more like an extension of me. Maybe that sounds creepy, but it wasn’t—it was lovely. I just could not bear the thought of losing him completely—his presence in my life is too important. And he wants to be present in my life, but in a way that honors and respects the transformation he must undergo.
Maybe that sounds fluffy, but it works for me. Another way to say it might be this: “I wonder if loving something or someone for its own sake is a sign of a mature love.” I wrote that several months ago, on one of Chrissy’s posts about yoga. (It was a good coincidence that I stumbled across that post recently!)
I love Matt for many reasons. I love our bond and our shared history, but I also love him for who he is and who he will become. I love his intelligence, his fearlessness, his independence. I love that I cannot control him, that what happens to us will be the fruit of what we choose now.
We talked on Thursday night. It was a long, meandering conversation. It was a good one. I knew, as soon as we started talking, that choosing friendship was not only the right thing to do, it was really the only thing I could do with Matt. By choosing friendship, I wouldn’t be losing a part of myself, but rather I would be letting our relationship change and grow. It would be an opportunity for honesty and compassion. And though I can’t promise that I will never be angry with him, I know that I am not trying to hurt him, that my words come from a place of kindness.
I think he feels the same way.
Our break-up prompted me to think more deeply about romance and friendship. Romance is, I think, a transient thing, like the twinkling of fireflies in a dark field. Romance comes and goes. It is shared moments of beauty and wonder. It is the fulfilled desire to be awestruck by something amazing. Romance is a bit unpredictable too, which is part of its magic. Whether or not he knows it, I am fairly certain that Matt and I will share more romantic moments because that is the nature of our bond. We’ve always appreciated what our relationship has drawn out of us. I feel like my best self with him, and that’s a very good thing.
“I was walking far from home. But I carried your letters all the while.” (Iron & Wine, “Walking Far From Home.”)
I will always love him. I was young, eager, and impressionable when we started dating, and Matt was good to me. His touch has left a permanent mark on my life. Ours was not a perfect romance, but it was pretty damn good. “Extraordinary,” he called it. Yes. I’ll take extraordinary over perfect any day.
As for the future, well, who knows? Anything is possible.