Most People Lose a Love and That's It.
... What you learn about your affair when you keep in touch ... well ,,, JUST enough.
Most of us end a relationship that couldn’t get off the ground with a lot of pain, more than we would have had if we’d had the time with the person we wanted to have.
When we get to have the relationship, we see the other person warts and all. When it breaks up after we’ve spent a few years together, if it hasn’t worked out, we’re cured of some of the fantasies we had at the beginning.
I Had the Unusual Opportunity to Keep in Touch with an Old Flame Without Actually Keeping in Touch with Him.
Seven years ago, I had a four-month emotional affair with a married man. He was sure his marriage was over and moved out; then his family guilted him back into the marriage and he dumped me like a hot potato over the phone one night. His wife had gotten angry and told him all the problems in the marriage were his fault, and his ACoA self was on the phone to me saying, “It is all my fault.”
Oh, well. Any idiot could see that all the problems in that marriage were not his fault, but … I digress.
We still saw one another at a club meeting we both attended. When one night four months later he didn’t show up, I knew I would never see him again.
I. Was. Devastated.
I was so devastated, I was absolutely sure it couldn’t be true.
And it wasn’t … sort of.
I had a passing interest in astrology, although I believed it was crap. Now I started studying in earnest, sure this ancient discipline would have to assure me the guy would come back. You know how it is … “He has to come back!! He just has to!!”
And, boy, did I learn some shit. Mostly about myself, how controlling I was, and that I had a lot of childhood wounding to heal. Astrology actually gave me quite a lot to chew on in the therapy I undertook for the hour-long panic attack I had. (No more of those, please.)
I studied everything that had happened so intensely that soon I had enough material for a website. And then I stumbled upon something interesting as I studied the charts of the husband and wife.
I have an alternative Facebook page, which I started as a way to skirt unwanted political arguments with my brother. When I was mourning the loss of this guy, as so many of us do, I would find YouTube videos of songs that echoed my feelings and post them up on this page, since this was the profile we’d messaged each other on. I posted a link there to some things I had unearthed in her chart, and very shortly after that came a person on a cell phone whose visits were always directly to my blog.
It took me a while to figure out who this person was. Formerly the visit tracker on my site, before it got bought out by Vistaprint, was pretty accurate. I noticed this visitor was always about three miles from my ex-affair partner’s house. Which made me think it wasn’t him, until I started working on the website from a Starbucks some distance from where I lived and noticed that the website always put me some three miles from where I actually was. Plot three miles’ distance on a map, and … there was his house.
After this, I could always clock this person’s visits by the view pattern. Nobody else comes directly in on a cell phone and goes right to my blog. In addition, once I noticed this, I made a couple of posts directly to him. After that, I noticed that someone on a cell phone would go directly to those posts and read them over and over.
Hence, our era of communicating but not really communicating.
This actually went on for several years. The fact was, as I detail in that first link, I had about seven years of childhood emotional damage to clean up in the first place, so no fair pointing and exclaiming that I should have moved on to another relationship already.
I had had a happy marriage that ended in the death of my husband. I was older, so I had no need to look for anyone to buy a house and have kids with, and my problems would take years to mop up. I was in no condition to be in another relationship anyway.
At first, I was excited. Before I learned some unfortunate facts about astrology, I was sure eventually he’d come back and we’d be together. So, I waited with anticipation. My therapist kept saying this was all this person was ever going to do; he simply wasn’t capable of anything else.
At length, I had to admit she was right. I got tired of checking to see if he’d visited or not, elated if he had and dejected if he hadn’t. What kind of life was that?
And, if I kept it up, what would eventually happen? He’d lose interest and disappear one day … or he’d die, or have a stroke, or get Alzheimer’s or something and I’d never see him on there again, and what would happen to me then?
I’d look and look for him for months on end, taking forever to accept that was the last I’d ever see of him … and then, I’d be inconsolable. Because my fantasy of the miraculous happy ending would never work out. And I’d hung on X number of years. Because I’d never know for certain what had happened to him unless I found an obituary somewhere.
Nope. Not for me. Why not just give the fuck up, already??
I did that in a post I called, “Let’s Just Kiss and Say Goodbye.”
Well, what a flurry of activity I saw then! The guy flipped back and forth between this missive and a previous one that thanked him for being there, and then went on an all-night bender reading post after post after post.
And then he disappeared for two months.
I thought he was gone for good.
Until … until … until …
The Return, and What I Learned
After about two months, which is apparently the longest time this person can stay away, I noticed him creeping back again.
Only this time, I found myself shouting with laughter, because …
All he would do was scroll the blog topics, and he wouldn’t read any!!
I wrote about this, and emailed the writing to my therapist, which I often do as homework. I only go once a month, and it sort of helps streamline and guide sessions, because I’ve already told her what’s on my mind and then all we have to do is talk about it, rather than waste half the session with me explaining it.
She said she had laughed out loud reading it, too. Her family had called out wondering what was going on, and she had to yell back, “Nothing! Just reading something for work.”
But the Sad Thing is …
What kind of person does this? Seriously??
A person who’s unhappy enough in his marriage to still compulsively spy on his ex-affair partner seven years later, but still won’t leave the marriage. A person who’s so attached that even when advised to just go ahead, choose his choice, be in his family since he won’t leave, and quit reading here, comes back and reads only headlines.
Imagine that person’s state of mind.
I imagine it isn’t at all good.
I imagine a deeply unhappy and lost person.
Someone who’s so scared of What The Kids Will Say and What The Family Will Say and What Other People Will Say, that he’s willing to put up with the kind of behavior he was describing to me forever rather than deciding he deserved better and just leaving.
Someone who hangs around and hangs around, obviously longing and longing, but who won’t speak, even when asked to. Several times.
Someone who’s still down on himself and who still thinks of himself as a worm.
Someone’s who’s internalized messages long ago from parents, and more recently from spouse, kids, and clueless onlookers that other people’s needs and wants are more important than his own needs and wants, or his own quality of life.
Someone who’s sooooo hooked into other people’s feelings of distress that he thinks it’s better to be miserable for the rest of his life than make anybody else upset … even though all these people have their own marriages now that are much happier and more functional than his has probably ever been.
Someone who remains addicted to another person as proof of his own goodness and as a means of making himself feel better. Someone who constructs a need-meeting fantasy of what our relationship would be like and remains wrapped up in that.
Why Would Such a Person Do a Thing Like That?
Well, probably for the same reason I did for the last seven years.
When I met this person, I was struggling miserably in my career. I felt small and stupid. I believed I was not good enough and would never succeed. I also didn’t know anything but science and psychology books, because that’s how I had had to live in order to get into professional school in the first place and to deal with a mother who obviously has borderline personality disorder.
I would find myself among people who knew and discussed all kinds of classics in literature, movies, and music, and I would feel stupid because I had never read, seen, or heard them. And I was exhausted, because I had had to make my way with no family support and no money, and was working long hours and then having to come home and cook and do for myself all alone.
And here was this person who was extraordinarily successful, in demand in his field. Who had no worries about money. Whose wife didn’t even have to work (and yet still treated him the way she did). Whom I admired, because he knew all those arcane classics that I believed branded a person as “smart,” while I didn’t know anything about anything.
All that person was missing was someone who knew how to behave in a relationship and who loved him. (Heh … heh … heh.)
And I believed if I could just supplant that mean old wife and provide all that, he could provide all that for me.
Because I believed I was incapable of providing it for myself.
Now, turn that on its ear:
Here was a person who had always felt unlovable, who had turned himself into a veritable pretzel trying to earn love from a distant wife, because as a child he’d turned himself into a veritable pretzel trying to earn love from an alcoholic mom and a codependent dishrag dad, and never, ever felt good enough.
Who thought something was wrong with him and he just wasn’t lovable.
Who thought if he could only meet other people’s expectations well enough, then that would finally prove he was good enough and he could at last earn the love he’d always wanted.
How Is a Person Like This Going to Act in a Relationship??
A person like this isn’t going to be himself. A person like this is never going to know who he is, what he needs, or what he wants. If he does know, he certainly isn’t going to tell. A person like that is going to stare, eyes trained on me, endlessly.
What does she want? What does she need? Is she happy?? AM I GOOD ENOUGH???
And what does that lead to?
A relationship just like the one he’s in now!
Fortunately, over the last seven years, I’ve accepted that all that stuff I hoped to get from him, and the self-worth I hoped to get from that, is, in fact, all my job.
I am supposed to go within and find all that stuff within myself … even though I came from a family and a system that couldn’t tell me anything but the same four words over and over again: “You’re not good enough!”
If he ever spoke up and we ever again had a relationship, I would be bringing a different game to the table. I wouldn’t be asking him to do those things for me anymore. I would just want him to be himself … the funny, whip-smart, enthusiastic guy I met twenty-four years ago. I would not be putting any responsibility for my physical well-being or how I felt about myself in his hands anymore.
But this person appears to be unchanged. He would be coming to me putting responsibility for how he feels about himself in my hands, and furthermore, because he would be burying his own needs and wants in order to please me, I would have no idea what they were! I would be going on my own best guesses … but they would only be guesses.
When I guessed wrong, he would think, because I wasn’t meeting his needs, that I didn’t think he was worthy of the effort … when all my efforts to meet them would be undercut because he was afraid to know them and to share them.
Even worse, here is a person so lost, so trembling and afraid, that he doesn’t make any effort to research his own childhood and heal.
What would we get out of that?
A mess, that’s what. A big, awful, terrible, hurtful, wasteful tragedy of a mess.
I wish I could have seen, over these last seven years, a person who went to work on his own codependency and low self-worth with the same compulsion that brings him back, time and time again, to read my headlines.
Even if it resulted in him putting down some ultimatums at home, finding a decent marriage counselor this time, and healing his marriage with his wife, it would sure look better and more optimistic than what I’m seeing here.
What I’m seeing here is a person hopelessly emotionally ill, someone who will never heal from childhood, someone who’s a terribly poor bet in a relationship, someone who sabotages himself and all his relationships stealthily from the inside.
All because an alcoholic mom and a codependent dishrag dad who really needed a license to have children gave him so many messages that he was unworthy growing up that he just can’t, just can’t, just can’t break out of them, or even pick up the books that would help him break out of them.
And I didn’t see any of this when we met.
Luckily, I got to see it in this rare instance … without having to have that relationship.
Because my own childhood taught me that taking a situation like this and making it somehow work out was the focus of my life and would make me feel worthy and become my greatest triumph.
My childhood, with the BPD mom who blamed everyone else for all her feelings and all her problems, did not teach me that that was not possible.
And now I’ve outgrown it.
I don’t look at this relationship not working out now, and feel this horrible sense of loss and tragedy because it isn’t going to happen, as I did for the past seven years.
I showed up. I did my half of the job.
But nobody can make the other person do his.