Today I waited in a line of cars for a turtle crossing the street. I took a picture because I could not believe the sincerity of such collective patience. I ate almonds at my desk and sat with the Polish girl from down the hall. We spoke about the loves of our lives, about breaking up and making up and breaking up and admitting that what we truly want is to be a couple again.
We sheepishly laughed about having become that couple, that girl who has to tell her friends that the relationship is back on.
That our incompatibility was an illusion.
That our fighting is of the past. That all our tears are of the past. Because we’ve pulled it together now. We’ve matured. We’ve stomached the world without each other. And right now all we know is he’s the one. We’re convinced.
We spoke about the time in between, about dating, and the relief of finally being held by the right man. Because there’s a difference, we agreed, and it’s a difference that’s acknowledged by the body. It’s a touch that doesn’t cause you to shrink.
She told me about their nights back together, about only kissing so far. She told me about their showers, about their hugging through their dreams and falling back into each other’s heart, back into the center of each other’s world. I wanted to be her. For a moment, I wanted to have that.
I listened and thought about my ex, the way we never just laid in bed and stayed up kissing. I grew to hate him for that, for everything that just wasn’t in his nature. Part of me always felt that I didn’t care what he could tell me, he couldn’t possibly be in love. Not the love I was willing and ready to experience.
Maybe we all are just ready for certain kinds of love at very different times. Maybe, it’s not personal.
Ultimately for me, however, his withdrawal did feel grotesquely personal. So much so that eventually no amount of force or turtle crossing patience could make him or I more or less ready for what I needed, more or less ready for all I was waiting on. Like, for him to kiss me again while we were having sex. I told her that he had stopped, that he had left me feeling like a woman who once upon a time was fully desired, who once was honestly loved.
It’s hard to forgive yourself for this, I told her, for allowing a man to enter you and reject you all in one motion. But you must. You must somehow be the woman who forgives. She looked at me with so much sadness, a sadness I’ll never forget, a sadness that said I was betraying myself. Back then I knew I was, too.
She asked me how I got away from him at a time I was delirious with heartbreak and hunger. She couldn’t understand how I stopped turning back. I told her it didn’t take a superior woman. It didn’t even take a woman with a plan. I told her you don’t leave because you’ve already forgiven yourself. You leave because leaving is how you begin to.
To free yourself is a choice. It’s a decision you one day wake up, weak enough to make.
Because strength is not always what it takes, I told her. Because sometimes there’s advantages to being one of the weaker ones. The weak feel themselves wanting to survive. And that wantingness can surprise you, that wantingness can be the very thing which wakes you up to the weakness in you and the cry to overcome it. At my weakest, I became a woman who had bled into her own awakening. I became a woman who wanted more than love, a talent for forgiving herself. Because forgiveness is how you persist. It’s how you go on. It’s how you survive the worst in you. The reality is that the only thing that keeps us from forgiving is the belief that we cannot.
Sometimes men can turn us into believers. I hated admitting this. I hated telling her that to stay away sometimes we need a new man to show us how, to entice us into never going back. My mom would say that such behavior is wrapped up in a woman’s need for permission, and I don’t blame her. I know she is correct. But that doesn’t mean I understand it yet or can keep myself from reaching to men for help as I develop this habit to power on on my own.
It wasn’t immediate, I told her, but after I left my ex eventually I met someone and experienced someone and vowed never to experience anything less than that person, ever again, all in a day. It was a meeting that put my love into perspective. It was a night that turned my heart around. It was a man that propelled me into my future, a man that inspired me with a single kiss. It was a kiss which felt like the longest kiss of my entire life. It was a kiss that I knew I deserved.
We were in the back of a cab, I told her, and even while I logically knew that was so New York and so cliché, I could not keep myself from appreciating what was happening because what was happening was I was feeling something, finally. Something simple and complex and immediate. Something intimate and ravenous and selfish and mutual. Something I had been trying for for too long, that hadn’t been possible with my ex but was now obviously possible for me. To initiate my own forgiveness, I needed that kiss. To give myself permission to never return, I needed that kiss. I needed that cab. I needed that man and the magic that came from one single day together.
The difference between the Polish girl and I is a difference in story. Maybe it’s also a difference in weakness. It’s definitely a difference in choice. What I learned from sitting with her today is that my choices are not better than hers, they are just my own. The important part is only that we choose and that we choose bravely. Choosing is what informs the romance.
The power to choose is what brings us confidently into love.
And what happens with love is that some of us do go back to our exes, ready and able to finally commit, and some of us can’t—won’t—because the feelings we are able to have, we have because we are finally away from the person who breaks us down, from the past which cannot contain our passion and potential and satisfy our hunger, which is okay, because finally we can feel just how much it does not belong there.