He told me once that I deserved better than what the world dealt me. It was a statement offered unprompted and without pretext. Not even a “hello” or “good morning” that accompanied it; we hadn’t spoken in weeks. The last thing he said to me was that he wasn’t ready for this, for us, and that he may never be.
My initial reaction was annoyance. Did he think I didn’t know that? What did he think all the struggle was for? Did he not understand that my actions, words, and choices were because I deserved better and he did also? That I wanted him to be part of that?
It fizzled the moment I responded. His words were likely borne from guilt and shame. It was a bid for connection. It wasn’t his job to worry about “the rest of the world,” but to focus just on what he could do. When one does that, they are then open to accepting the same in return.
Still, the words stung. Not because they were biting, but because I’d heard so many variations of them before. And not once had anyone ever done a single thing about it; in fact, they would often say it as they were choosing to do the opposite. To give me less-than, to take away, to leave.
I didn’t know then that he was confessing. His words were sincere but like so many other things he said, were incomplete statements. He stopped short of the whole truth: “You deserve better than what the world dealt you, but I choose not to give it because I don’t believe I deserve it also.”
Looking back, he did this many times. I knew there was someone else in the picture, in the background, someone he wasn’t ready to detach from. But after awhile, it seemed like he was finally prepared to. I held my boundaries firm. When he was ready and available, and if I was too, then we could do this. Whatever “this” was. But not a moment sooner.
I trusted he had separated himself from whatever was holding him back. Things felt different. He sounded different. He’d made a decision within himself. Maybe he realized giving in to his fears and ego weren’t worth losing me over. Maybe he was ready to accept he deserved what I offered and wanted to give the same in return.
It wasn’t that I never suspected he wasn’t single. But I gauged the situation and determined that he was telling the truth. I never suspected he was married, though. I supposed he had an on-and-off girlfriend who wasn’t ready to grow with him, or a string of almost-relationships like mine that never got off the ground.
The way he spoke about relationships made it clear that that no one had ever told him he deserved to be happy. That hurt and broken people also deserve unconditional love; sometimes, they need it the most. That despite the ring on his finger, maybe he’d never been in a committed relationship at all.
It was why I didn’t panic when I noticed it that day. I genuinely believed there could have been another explanation. Not a great one, but something. There had to be a better outcome than what it appeared to be.
I have no room for anger because the root of all anger is pain, something from which I have never shied away. I can’t help but glance at everyone’s hands when I pass them and wonder what truth or lies they hold. Meeting people with his name, seeing someone with his build or style stabs me in the chest, every time. Everything is a reminder. Not of what he did, but of what was lost.
The closest I ever got to angry with him was in the middle of the fallout. He insisted that someone would love me, one day. Just recalling the memory is nauseating. It was an easy thing to toss out, a pitiful attempt to reassure me, right in the middle of admitting how he had betrayed and used me.
No one believes me when I say it has never happened. I’ve been used, fucked, chased, fantasized over, hit, abused, assaulted, lusted after, stalked, manipulated, harassed, cat-called, beaten—but never loved. Not the way I needed. It is the inverse of the invasive and humiliating “why are you still single?” refrain extended family echo across a busy kitchen at every reunion.
These statements and questions imply I have some hand in it, that I am deliberately avoiding and turning it down at every opportunity. That I have a list of suitors as long as my hair waiting on my beck and call (I don’t).
Far too many people believe that just because one deserves to be loved, that it is a guarantee they will be. They will say it with their whole chest to someone’s face while not recognizing in the same moment they are rejecting the standard for themselves. That sometimes it is standing right in front of them and they don’t believe they deserve it also.
The pain comes from not the fact that he said it but because everyone does when they are in the same breath insisting they don’t want to be the person to do it. So how would he know? How could he have been so sure? He chose to detach himself from that possibility after spending years deliberately fostering it.
The answer is that sometimes the truth is in what remains unsaid—his specialty. It’s not that someone would love me someday. It’s that someone did. But saying that out loud would have meant that someone would have to accept they were saying it for themselves, facing their fears, and pushing against their insecurities.
Anger wouldn’t resolve that. I hold no contempt for him because the pain I feel now is too similar to the pain he carried that led him to do what he did. Because everything he did was about his own pain and fears and had little to do with me. Would my ire ease it for anyone?
It’s not that a little fire doesn’t flare up sometimes. It does. Sometimes sparks fly when I think of something he said or did in therapy, talking to friends, hearing others’ stories. But they are dampened by a swollen flood that washes it away.
Missing someone who devastated you is tricky undertow to navigate. Every step is a fight against an unseen current. Handholds are few and far between, often blurred by rains or torn away by winds. And all the while, you know you may not make it across.
The only thing I am angry about, if ever, is the whole situation—including things so far out of his control they could not be in his orbit or galaxy. We parted on the best possible terms that could ever happen in a situation like this. I thought at the time that it would hurt for awhile but it would fade like all the rest. The pain would ebb and I’d be left with bittersweet but fond memories and important lessons.
This isn’t that. The frustration burns under my skin. I know all of the things about this. I’ve lost everything a thousand times, stood back up, and bounced miles ahead of where I was. I know what to do to the letter. But none of it works. It’s not just about detaching or learning lessons or healing trauma. Even when doing those things, something always remains that I cannot identify. Not because I’m incapable but because it isn’t mine to name.
There is no room for anger.
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