It doesn't take much to miss him: a song, a movie, a TV show. Maybe it's a friend mentioning his name or seeing or meeting someone who shares his name. The pain is almost unbearable.
The "him" I speak of is the man you used to be in a relationship with or the man who you hoped to be in a relationship with. But he's no longer in your life in the way he used to be. You still think you genuinely feel love for him, despite the fact that he's no longer a major part of your life for a reason: he is a jerk. He hurt you, probably repeatedly. And you know in your heart of hearts that you have no business ever having a relationship or probably even having any sort of friendship with him. But you still miss him a lot -- even if he was and is bad for you.
You're tightly holding onto the memories of this man despite the fact that you know that it's time to move on. You miss him more than you can clearly express, you think of him all the time and your heart aches at the thought of not having him near.
Of course, the problem with missing someone with whom you have an unhealthy relationship is that it leads to re-engagement with that person, which is the last thing you need. But you've probably texted him or called him more than once. And you probably regretted it soon after you did it. You can't just help yourself, can you? Every bit of progress you've made in an attempt to gain a healthy distance from him goes straight back to zero.
If given the chance, you would take him back in a second; you hope that one day, he can turn around and admit, "I screwed up, you are what I need in my life."
Which brings me to my point. The guy you miss so much doesn't really exist.
Yup. That man you miss so much, the man you wish could hold you again, the man whose physical presence you crave, isn't real.
You may be saying, "Wait a minute! I was in a very real relationship, what do you mean he didn't exist?"
What you're missing is the idea of him, not who he really was and is.
You're missing the version of a man that you constructed in your head. You created this version of him to fulfill a need. It could be a need to solve the problems of men in the past. It could be an unrealistic obsession with the "perfect guy." It could be an obsession with unavailable men. Early on in your relationship or friendship, this guy somehow did things that you've always wanted a man you're in a relationship to do and somehow said all the right things and that is what you end up being biased towards. He also seemingly managed to avoid doing things that men in your past did to hurt you emotionally or make you feel uncomfortable. And as soon as you witnessed this "good" behavior, you latched on to it. Box checked; this guy might be the one. You ignore all the bad stuff and hang on to the romantic fantasy of him feeding you nice lines.
But all these positive traits are the components you piece together to create this image of this guy, who wasn't actually a good guy or at least not the man for you. And it's that constructed version of him that makes you ache, that makes you hurt. It's the version you miss so much. It's the version that makes you wonder how you are ever going to find a guy like him again. You can't imagine that another guy like him, with all his unique qualities, could exist.
The creation/idea you thought you were with, the guy you miss so much, actually treated you horribly, made you cry, made you feel lonely. But you don't think as much about those horrible moments when you are thinking of him, do you?
The parts of him that you do miss don't really involve the negative. Rather, it's about the idyllic. It's about little moments with him that were so amazing; you can just close your eyes and go back to them and feel incredibly happy and then incredibly sad.
Whenever you should be reminding yourself that this guy hurt you and disappointed you, you do just the opposite. The man you managed to create -- the one who doesn't really exist -- pops up. He's smiling, he's making you feel special, he's the one who makes you feel invincible. "The idea" of him comes roaring back and sets you further behind in your progress to properly move on.
Nighttime is the worst, isn't it? The anxiety runs high. Nothing can seemingly soothe the frustration, anger or sense of loss. Being alone is painful, but even being with your friends is equally tension-filled.
It's enough to make you want to throw something against the wall. "Why can't I just stop re-engaging, why can't I just move on, why can't I stop missing him? Why can't I make this go away?"
You're not going to stop missing "him" until you first acknowledge that he was never really there to begin with.
He was just a ghost.
This column originally appeared on The Current Conscience.