"I'm not sure." I heard this phrase repeated countless times by my ex-boyfriend over the two or so years during our relationship when we were discussing marriage. I would be perfectly happy never hearing these words in sequence again in my life. Even when someone utters them in a wholly different context, my body tenses up; a pain shoots through my chest and stomach.
I wasn't particularly marriage-minded. In fact, I had always worried that I wouldn't find someone to whom I would feel comfortable committing. Nevertheless, there it was, about eight months in. Doug was kind, smart, attractive, and we enjoyed each other's company. I felt love and peace and the sense that I had found my partner. It never occurred to me that his lens on our relationship might offer a different impression.
His face would light up when he came home at night and saw me. When he would leave for work earlier in the morning, he would run back in to the bedroom and squeeze my feet, because he didn't like leaving me. I believed I was seeing what I needed to see. But Doug admitted that he had reservations about our relationship. That though he loved me, he harbored doubt.
So he didn't have an answer to give. I don't do well with that, so I searched for one. I asked anyone who would indulge me on the topic, and I perused countless relationship threads on the web.
I searched and I searched. And I waited and I waited -- for an answer to come to me, for the answer to come to him, or to read a story with predictive value.
I wish I could say that eventually I gathered the strength to end it. I didn't. Doug did. Or he sort of did. We spent a year on-and-off, and then even after a final break-up the following summer we periodically saw each other throughout the year or so after; in fact, we slept together in seven different months of that one-year period. We also emailed at least monthly, usually more, and I'll admit I generally initiated contact. Yet up until several months ago, our conversations and messages were still filled with his expressions of affection, love, and hope for a potential future. He continued to use my pet name. On Valentine's Day of last year, he said that the holiday "only made our not being together that much harder." "Thinking of you, Noof," he wrote a few months later. At the close of one of our email conversations this past fall, he ended with, "I'm going to take a nap now. Wish you were here with me."
And in classic fashion of those emotionally stuck, this January, I indulged in a Google search of Doug's name. I stumbled across a picture of him on what appeared to be a date at an upscale charity event. The timing of the event coincided with recent meetings we had, ones in which he had averred that he was not seeing anyone. Something about the picture told me otherwise.
With a sinking feeling, I checked her Twitter and Facebook accounts, revealing a series of pictures of them together dating back to the summer of the previous year. My mind reeled.
He had a girlfriend. One he had been dating for over a year. One whose existence he had not only failed to tell me of, but also lied to me about when I would periodically ask him. As I perused our emails of the past year-plus, and recalled our meetings and conversations, I was floored. The outright lies were so numerous, and the sentiments he had expressed so ugly and misleading.
And what was his explanation, his motivation? Apparently, he felt ambivalent about a future with her and still unsure about his future with me. He said that though he had once written to me that I was the "light and love of his life," he hadn't been able to pen similar sentiments to her. That he loved her as much as he had loved me, but wondered whether he loved her "more" and worried what that bespoke of their potential.
This man who I had loved so much, tried to lie about the duration of his relationship upon confrontation. He tried to blame his infidelity on my being the first to reach out, though he had ample opportunity to tell me he was committed to another. He had the audacity to get down on his knees, put his hands on my lap, and beg me not to tell her. He promised he would confess. A couple of days later, he claimed to have done so.
She has stayed with him. I have no idea what his "confession" actually revealed and maybe he invented a persuasive justification. Her choice has served as a sad and strong reminder to me of how attachment can obscure perspective and self-respect.
I know this because I too ignored signs of who he truly was because they weren't in service of the future I envisioned. He had a paralyzing fear of emotional confrontation that on occasion led to blatant dishonesty. And even after ending the relationship, Doug dangled the hope that time and experiences with other relationships would eventually bring us together. So, it was there. Hidden behind loving behavior and finer moments, he was there.
I've learned that resolution can come in stages, which don't always feel like they're leading toward a conclusion. And another lesson has also emerged: What seems like devastating loss can instead be the unloosing of a toxic weight. The fact that he ended things because he was unsure was actually a stroke of luck. I no longer hope for or face a future with someone capable of what he did. During the confrontation when Doug confessed his continued ambivalence about our future, I quickly made clear that any potential relationship was forever lost. It wasn't an easy thing to say or even acknowledge to myself. My feelings about the betrayal were not yet fully processed. But that much was clear. It didn't matter anymore if he knew. Finally, I did.