When Your Ex Comes Back, Leave


They always say that when one door closes, another opens. That’s certainly been my experience. Only there’s one door that I haven’t ever fully walked away from.

I thought I did, back in June. After years of talking to him off and on, I told myself that it was over and I closed it for good. I made some inner resolve for this to be so. The next day, a new door opened.

“I knew a new door would open if you closed that one, but we didn’t expect it to open so fast,” my therapist laughed when I told her that I’d met someone new. It was entirely unexpected and it hit me hard. I was so at peace with the way I was living when I met him and so freed of my old relationships that, in retrospect, of course the door to him opened that day.

He wasn’t my type, in that he was nice to me. He wanted to talk to me all day long every day and we drove the two hours to see each other every weekend. We made plans for the future and he wanted me to trust him. This was very new.

When it didn’t work out, I reverted to old patterns. I clung onto that door quietly and from afar for months until one day I told myself that even if I wasn’t ready to let it go, I had to close it anyway, that maybe it would make me ready. It was time to close that door if I ever wanted another one to open, if I wanted to stop living in a state of in between.

Lo and behold, about a week later, another door did open – only this time, it wasn’t new. It was the door of all doors, the one I’d resolved to close because I couldn’t keep waiting.

I think we all have a door of all doors. For me, he was the one I’d seen from across a room one summer and known right then that something very important was about to start.

He was the one I wrote a screenplay around when I was still thinking of him years later. He was the one who then came back and left and came back and left so many times that I lost count, until I finally sent him a letter telling him how I felt about him and all those months and that I wouldn’t reach out again. I had said it all; the door had been closed; I was free; I was done.

I didn’t think I’d ever hear from him again. That letter had been intense. To me, to hear from him would’ve meant that he was ready to be my friend again, or to be with me, or at the very least talk about what was happening for him during all those times he’d up and left in the middle of our conversations, to maybe apologize.

But things rarely go as we foresee them going. When he came back this time, it was to compare us to my favorite dysfunctional TV couple and tell me that he couldn’t stop thinking about us. It was to tell me that he’s secretly unhappy and he didn’t know who to turn to. It was to unload everything he’s going through onto me before disappearing again the next day.

I’ve been left thinking about doors. And toxic relationships and who we love and why we let ourselves be loved in ways that are less than what we want or need. I’ve been left thinking about space. The ways we constrict ourselves into corners that are only closing in by holding onto something that’s no longer serving us.

When things like this happen, I try to look at the bigger picture. I’m naturally pretty emotional and if I should like to retain even an ounce of sanity in situations that trigger any sort of pain, my best coping mechanism is to tap into rationality and ask myself why this thing is happening at the time that it is, what the lesson is that’s hidden inside the hurt. I usually chalk things up to “the universe,” maybe because I need to believe in some sense of intentionality to life’s spontaneity, maybe because I feel like there’s something very powerful to what you put out and what you get back, to the timing of our lessons and to the way that just when things seem to be going really well something tends to fall apart.

Maybe the lesson when I first left him was one of freeing up space for something wonderful to happen. And maybe the lesson that followed when that new door opened a day later was one of discovering what it’s like to really be loved. And maybe the lesson today is one of having the strength to keep old doors closed – of knowing how to choose myself.

That’s what this really comes down to, when someone who’s hurt you comes back: knowing how to choose yourself.

If you look carefully, can you see the lessons of each of your old doors, the ways they taught you love, compassion, resilience, boundaries, self-respect, honesty? It may have hurt a lot, the way you learned your lessons, but each one came to you at exactly the right time. Because can you see how they’ve brought you to this moment now, the one where you can finally choose yourself?

Now will be the real challenge, and I call it that because there are good reasons a lot of us don’t want to learn the lesson of having to choose ourselves. There’s a lot of comfort in our old doors. There’s familiarity. There’s only fear of the unknown in the space outside of that. What if there will never be a new door again, or a door as good as one of the old?; if there is a new one, how long might it take us to find it?

To choose yourself is a challenge because the moment that you choose yourself is often the first time in your life that you’ll feel like you’re sitting with emptiness.

I can promise you, like I’m promising myself: you’re not empty. Your life is not empty.

There’s something, too, about having someone to miss.

I think many of us are addicted to the feeling of longing for something. If there’s nothing to be missing, it’s just us, alone out there in the unknown, having no choice but to think only of ourselves.

To choose yourself is a challenge because there’s a certain kind of selfishness that comes with choosing yourself and only yourself, and for many of us, that’s uncomfortable. We’d prefer to walk through life a shell if it means having the comfort of our deepest longings always just beside us.

I can promise you, like I’m promising myself: if your happiness hangs on someone else choosing you, it’ll break on that too. There’s no comfort in the pain we put onto ourselves. There’s nothing satisfying about a burden we should’ve unloaded long ago.

Choosing yourself is a real challenge, but it’s the best challenge you and I can take on.

When your old doors come back, I hope you choose yourself too, and then each day that you wake up after that, I hope you choose yourself again. Because in choosing yourself every day, you teach yourself that you matter. In choosing yourself every day, you make space for something wonderful to happen. In choosing yourself – in locking up old doors and letting yourself walk away – you just might find yourself in the blissful and terrifying unknown, the only space where “new” can present itself, the only space where you might be able to then choose someone else every day and be totally and entirely chosen by them too.Thought Catalog Logo Mark

About the author

Kathryn Stanley

I’ve got the same Myers-Briggs type as Hitler and bin Laden, but also Gandhi. It’s been a confusing existence.

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