Really, the long and painful process of getting over you started long before the day we broke up.
I remember so vividly waking up one morning during the fall of my senior year of college and feeling in the pit of my stomach that something wasn’t right. The kind of feeling that maybe some people would describe as intuition or a gut instinct. I remember texting you that day as if nothing was wrong, trying to pinpoint exactly what it was that was making me a little nuts. It wasn’t school—I was at the top of my class, ahead in all of my work. It wasn’t a family issue or a roommate issue. It was simply the disconcerting feeling that something was off-kilter in my life and needed to change.
You were at school in the city, your fourth year of college with one more to go. That 5-year engineering program had bugged me so much through the years—I knew you wouldn’t want to even consider proposing to me before graduating, which meant an extra year of waiting around for our lives to officially start. I had no idea what I’d be doing after I graduated in May, but it didn’t even matter to me, as long as I could wake up next to you every day. As long as we could start living our lives right.
From the day we started having sex, you knew it bothered me. Not because I wasn’t madly in love with you, and not because I doubted we would be together forever. We both knew it was a faith issue, an incongruence with the way I’d grown up. I’d made you wait two and a half years into our relationship before we took that step, at the very least clearing high school and adulthood at the age of 18. A few weeks before I left for school, I remember lying on the carpet in your aunt’s empty house in the woods, the one that had been for sale for ages and would, in fact, never sell. I remember the cheap K-mart pillows and the scratchy blanket and the sharp pain that was so much worse than I’d anticipated. I tensed, tightened, felt the tears prick at my eyes. Then you said, “Please, baby,” and all of my own feelings stopped mattering. I wanted to give this to you. And, if we broke up in college, I wanted to be able to know that I was your first. That meant something. You could never forget me if we shared that together. We would be inextricably bound by it always, no matter what happened.
For the next three years, we continued on in our own fairy tale world, our relationship growing seemingly stronger all the time. We didn’t break up, as so many people expect of high school sweethearts. In fact, it was quite the opposite with us. We spent so much time at each other’s universities on weekends, so much time exploring new coffee shops and parks and bars when you turned 21, that we may as well have been married. Everywhere we went, my hand was enveloped in yours. Your money was my money, and vice versa. I cleaned your apartment like I lived there, and the little pink bag where I kept my toiletries under your sink was proof that it was unofficially my domain, too. I wonder what you did with it when we finally broke up, whether you held onto it for a while, like I did with your oversized hoodie that I put away for good when it finally stopped smelling like you.
Your friends became my friends. I stole your shirts and watched football with you. You taught me how to make your mother’s sautéed spicy broccoli and I baked you chocolate chip cookies from scratch. When you got your fourth concussion playing rugby, I made you dinner while you napped, and I stayed up later that night to check on you periodically.
We never fought, except over our beliefs and values.
I remember one weekend during junior year, I was at your place in the city. It was Sunday, and we had just finished eating breakfast when I’d started to get ready for Mass.
“I think I’m going to stay here,” you’d told me. “I have laundry and homework to do, and I should clean up a bit.”
I remember thinking, Okay, this is fine; I can be okay with this. No big deal.
We were on seemingly good terms when I left your apartment and stepped out into the sunny morning, walking the six blocks to the church and trying not to think too much. By the middle of Mass, though, I was practically seething. On the walk back to your apartment on Chestnut, I had every intention of packing up everything and leaving early that day—I was so mad at you. Mad at your consistent lack of consideration for this thing, so important and so central to my identity, that you dismissed as something irrelevant that had nothing to do with you. Your own faith was simply something you’d been born and raised with—a ritual of sorts. My faith was internalized and meant something, as much a part of me as your love of sports was of you. I wanted you to recognize that and to love me for it so badly.
I flung open your door, and you tried to greet me, but I headed straight for your bedroom and started throwing all of my things into my small duffel. You’d begged me to stop and talk about it, protested desperately that you hadn’t known anything was wrong.
I ended up staying that day. I think it was something to do with the way you listened to me, wide-eyed, with your hands on my knees as I sat on your bed and blubbered out my feelings. Mostly, it was the way you took my snotty tissues into your bare hand and tossed them into the trash. That kind of intimacy meant so much to me. I wanted to be as close to you as I could in every way possible, even if it meant disregarding everything I knew and loved about my faith from the time I was a little girl.
You let me do that to myself. The reality of that devastating truth didn’t hit me fully until that morning when I woke up, uncertain, during my senior year of college, and even then I couldn’t pinpoint that that was what I was feeling. That maybe everything about our relationship was all wrong. Alternatively, maybe I knew even then that that was exactly what I was feeling—I just wasn’t ready to face the truth.
We know how the story goes from there. I told you I wanted to stop being intimate one month later, and at first you were alarmingly fine with it. I thought, Maybe I was wrong. Maybe this is no big deal, and nothing about this has to change our relationship. That kind of wishful thinking was short-lived once we started spending time together sans sex—you were frustrated, moody, upset even when you were happy. Beneath the surface, even when we weren’t fighting, you weren’t okay.
It is such a strange feeling, almost like an out-of-body experience, to love someone and want to be with someone so much when you know that you’re wrong for each other. There was a part of me that wanted to revert back to everything I’d been when things came easily for us, before I started to take my faith and all that it taught seriously. But I knew that my old lifestyle wasn’t conducive to this person I’d become, wasn’t even conducive to true love, because true love gives and sacrifices. You and I had loved each other as much as we could, but never entirely selflessly.
Just after I graduated from college, we had another fight on top of the dozens we’d had in the last five months, and I didn’t talk to you for a week. I’d expected you to call 20 times, to text me relentlessly, to show up at my door if all else failed. Anything to show that you cared.
Instead, I got an email from you. An email, apologizing and expecting everything to be fixed—as if we could even be fixed at that point, when my heart had already been shattered and pieced back together too many times to count. I was so beyond done, so resigned to the fact that we were doomed to end, that I sat down and pounded out a response after months of knowing that this was inevitable, ending things. I took my relationship status off my Facebook profile. I told you my decision was final.
We traded some more emails back and forth, as though we didn’t have each other’s freaking phone numbers and hadn’t for the last seven years. I did call you a week after we broke up to apologize for stooping so low as to break up with you online. That was the last time I heard your voice, and it was the first and only time that we ended a conversation without saying “I love you.” The unspoken words hung between us on the line before we finally said goodbye, hung up the phone for what would be the last time.
There are so many layers, so many reasons why we had to break up. I think that maybe you see them, can understand them now better than before. I didn’t crumple when we broke up, but I thought about you often. I wondered what you were doing. We tried to be “friends,” whatever the hell that means for two people who are still in love but have to pretend they’re not. You called bullshit on this long before I did, and you stopped texting me without an explanation. I’d broken up with you. I’d done it over email. You had every right to never want to speak to me again. God knows what you’d told your family, your friends, or what they thought of me if you ever told them the real reason why we broke up: “She loved Jesus too much.” But that’s one thing I’ll never apologize for.
I would be lying if I pretended that I didn’t blossom into the person I was meant to be shortly following our breakup. I was finally free to live my faith, to live my beliefs, exactly the way I wanted, without guilt or embarrassment or having to explain myself to someone who should’ve already understood. I became fearless, strong, and unapologetic about who I was. I grew into who I was meant to become.
I have no regrets, but I will probably always love you on some level. I will remember you always, and everything we did together. I hope you can say the same.