My roommate Becca* was broken up with a month ago. In a matter of hours, her ex-boyfriend Tim* went from flooding her iMessage inbox with sappy, saccharine pet names and ramblings of emotion to a sudden, curt: “We need to talk.” Even I was blindsided by Tim’s revelation that he needed to be alone, to work on himself. I had only known the (former) couple for a few months, but from my spot on the sideline, Tim could never get enough of the pale, petite Pennsylvanian that shared a wall with me.
When it happened, I had been single for so long that I told myself I really, truly just couldn’t relate. I had a painful breakup at the tail end of 2015, and haven’t let myself get close enough to the fire to get burned since then. Nevertheless, I kept my door open to Becca’s hour-long, nightly talks and tear-strewn morning chats. I racked my brain for comforting euphemisms and suggestions of wine nights, rom-coms, and weekend trips to visit my family in the suburbs. As the weeks passed, my patience waxed and waned as her progress did the same.
A few days ago, I accompanied my sister to a bar in my neighborhood after seeing a concert together. A guy she had begun to see was there hanging out with his friends after a day of surfing the Rockaways. In my usual form, I had a drink and gladly held court over the group, flirting and giggling from my most comfortable position: a distance. I never freeze up or shy away from these types of situations. They’re where I feel most safe. Free attention and no strings attached. I can run if anyone steps too close to my high, reinforced walls, back to my bed and my dog, satiated once again.
I was in that happy, buzzy dance of conversation when I noticed Tim crossing the street toward me and my group. His name was out of my mouth before I could question whether or not roommate loyalty should hold my tongue– or at least edit out my friendly tone. Tim dropped the hand– the female hand– he was holding at the realization of who had just called out to him. I slid through the circle of surfers that had been gathered around me and was instantly pulled into an overzealous hug from Tim. When he released me, I had to acknowledge the girl he was with. She was not Becca, and she was grilling me. Tim felt it too, and introduced me as his ex-girlfriend’s roommate. He then introduced her as his “good friend Chelsea.” Chelsea eased up on her evil eye, perhaps seeing the opportunity here to make her mark. She insisted she had never heard of Becca, which even confused Tim. I did my best impression of a dumb, non-threatening golden retriever while she patronizingly advocated the merits of a bar that I had told her was directly across the street from my apartment. Tim said they were headed to his apartment a block away, gave me one more hug, and told me to “Be well!” I rejoined my group, casually doling out the details of my encounter with heartless nonchalance.
I knew the run-in would devastate the already-fragile Becca, but I was busy playing the cool, unfeeling, emotionally unavailable girl, hoping to attract yet another guy who would only prove to me my reasons for acting that way. No one wants the sad girl, capable of feelings. Feelings are sticky, so too many will hold you down, stuck where you stand– a highly unattractive concept for a generation that only wishes to keep barreling along: to the future, to the better, to the anywhere-but-here.
So I skipped home, slept ‘til noon, and carried on a carefree Sunday. I asked a few friends whether I should tell Becca, and received only steadfast insistences that it was the right thing to do. I let their assurances ice over any hesitations I had, so when Becca texted me today to ask about my weekend, I spilled. I could’ve lied and said I saw Tim, but he was alone. It would’ve been the merciful omission of truth that I would want if it were me.
I backtracked, hastily piecing together details that might point to any other conclusion besides the obvious: Tim was taking a girl home to hook up.
“What good does it do me to believe he wasn’t?” she responded. And it stopped me in my tracks.
Of course he was.
He wasn’t blithering drunk, stumbling home with a random girl he met by chance. He was strolling hand in hand with an equally sober partner through the gentle heat of Bushwick at 3am in June, to his apartment. But Becca wasn’t pulling any wool back over her eyes, where it had rested comfortably since their breakup. (I had seen her Spotify playlists that were thinly veiled subliminal messages to Tim, who still followed her.) And it forced me to come face to face with the realization that I was.
It has been exactly 5 months since I spoke to the subject of my painful breakup– which doesn’t include the drunk blocked calls that I indulge in occasionally (he knows it’s me and rarely answers, and never calls back). He has seen my thinly veiled subliminal message playlists on Spotify. I bleached my whole head to a drastic silvery grey. We live in the same city. But in five months, he hasn’t reached out. He hasn’t responded or reacted. Except for an attempted hacking of my Twitter account and some suspiciously relevant Spotify breakup songs, he has cleanly and quietly excused himself from my life. I’ve slowly been coming to terms with the fact that it’s probably over for good this time, despite knowing that it has never, ever been OVER over in the past.
We haven’t been romantic in over 9 months. We haven’t hung out in over 7 months. He hasn’t spoken to me in 5 months. But in all this time, I have never let it occur to me for more than a few seconds that he has moved on, fallen in love, and had a romantic stroll of his own through a New York City neighborhood at 3am. I’m not so foolish enough to think that he’s gone almost a year without having sex with someone else. I have had a few false-start relationships of my own, where I wait until things start looking like a real-life, adult, monogamous relationship before I would fight the urge to run no longer. But through all of them, I see him at the end. I never lose the weight of him in my abdomen, where he seems to sit patiently until an unspecified date and time. The feeling that we will get back together, even when I’m falling asleep next to someone else, hasn’t gone away. It fades at times, only to reemerge even stronger and harder to ignore.
So despite the facts and figures, I genuinely believed it was the same experience for him.
When we first stopped talking, I was angry for a week and then mostly let it drift to the background. I had told him I would be happy to never see or hear from him again– after a fight over him not wanting to hang out with me now that I lived in the same city as him, and him not saying happy birthday to me. A complete 180, or, in truth, a brash lie that I hoped would scare him into caring. For weeks, he had very clearly not cared about me at all. (So many warning signs!!!) I hooked up with an ex and downloaded Bumble. I reconnected with an old friend and went out with him every weekend for two months… until I felt smothered and ran without ever looking back. I didn’t actually begin to feel the breakup, mourn, or worry it might be truly over until 3.5 months after our fight. I started seeing a therapist once a week, and the breakup makes frequent appearances in our conversations. I couldn’t understand why now, seemingly all of a sudden. I have been acting like I was dumped recently. My therapist advised that it was probably just catching up with me now, after ages of careful repression and denial.
I always try to find the reason behind the things that happen to me without obvious explanation. Like, where is the silver lining in this random part of my life or occurrence? Becca’s breakup didn’t necessarily need to involve me as much as it does. She could’ve chosen to suffer silently, alone in her room like I would’ve. I could’ve been blissfully ignorant inside the bar when Tim walked by, or nowhere near the area. I could’ve been fast asleep. But I saw her ex-boyfriend, 1 month after their very serious, real-life adult relationship ended, already moved on. This wasn’t a story whose validity rested on the gossipy nudge that shared it. I saw that it’s possible, and in that, I have been forced to see that it’s possible– and likely– that my own ex is doing the same.
I’m a big believer in writing that has a happy ending, and if not a happy ending, at least a slightly upturned ending. As I said, I take comfort in thinking everything has a point. Why would I write about how a sad ending to a breakup led me to an even sadder realization about my breakup? The answer is simply that I needed to work through this strange, complicated entanglement of feelings that are just now coming to the surface. Like many things I do, this was a selfish endeavor. I am flawed but trying.