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One of my Google auto-completes is "ex-husband." But that's all you will get. His name is not online with me, and I'm glad. His life is his life, and my life is my life.
He is one of the more brilliant people I've ever known. And sometimes I think maybe I can never fall in love again. Or that anyone will love me like that again.
Sometimes I think that the one chance I had for love ended when that relationship ended in 2005. I've been in love since, but none of those relationships felt as epic or as raw.
When I was at SXSW, a man came up to me after the session I did with Jane and Issa Rae and Kristina Wong. It was a man who I hadn't seen in years and years. He had worked with my ex. My face lit up when I saw him. We retreated to a bar near the conference center, and he asked me all about my career. He seemed impressed. I felt validated and empty. "Have you heard from him?" I asked almost immediately. "How is he?"
"I think he's coming to SXSW a few days from now actually," he said.
"Oh, my God, he'll be here when I am?" It turned out he was arriving on the same day I was leaving. I imagined a scenario of us running into each other, what we would say, what we would do.
I talked to my ex's friend for a while, and he told me how he thought we had been too young to get married (at 25) but that it wasn't anything he had against me personally. "I know that," I said. Tears welled up in my eyes. We were in a crowded bar surrounded by people. "I always cry when it's related to him," I said. "It's so dumb. There's just something so primal and exposed there."
"It's not dumb," he said. "I think that's great that you can actually feel. That you're alive."
The last time that I talked to my ex, he had told me his girlfriend was upset that I was calling, and I remember feeling a level of devastation and shame I never knew possible. The last time that I saw him we had hugged politely and then he called to me again. I turned around and he really hugged me this time. Tears streaming down my face, he looked straight into my eyes and said to me with a love that I won't soon forget: "Now go kick some ass."
Nowadays, I date very rarely. Only if someone really pushes me to go out. I can usually calculate within moments if there is potential, which there rarely is. I don't feel bleak about it. This just feels like the new normal, the reality I've lived with for a long time. I can have sex. I can have dates. I can have relationships. But nothing feels like the wound and the joy and the ecstasy of that 10-year relationship when I grew up from 20 to 30.
If you can't stand me now, you would have probably murdered me back when I was with him. I've become a lot less needy and have a much healthier sense of worth and perspective. I didn't get on anti-depressants until 2007, something I probably should have been on my whole life, and I would live and die by what my ex thought of me. That was what I was comfortable with.
I also had an insanely idealized version of love. I never wore makeup, exercised or cared about what clothes I wore. It didn't matter. Because we were in love, and neither of us were superficial. We had made a commitment to be with each other for life, and I never doubted that. Until I did.
Last night, I did something I do occasionally if I lose a friend on Facebook, which is play the guessing game of who might have unfriended me. So I took a look at someone's page, and I stumbled upon a picture of my ex, which I rarely ever see as he is virtually unfindable on the Internet -- yet another thing that is so rad about him. My jaw dropped at the photo. How handsome he was. How his eyes struck me with the same piercing intellect and insight, the one quality that always kills me in people. You can see everything in people's eyes.
I thought about emailing the picture to the other editors at xoJane because I needed someone to bear witness to what I was feeling and experiencing (and because we do this with one another sometimes late at night) but instead I just sat and stared at the picture. Then I texted his sister with whom I am still close and wrote, "I can't stop thinking of this picture. You have a cool brother. I was lucky to have him in my life."
She texted back, "I'm glad you still feel that way about him: that he is cool. He would appreciate knowing that you still think that of him, I think."
Reading her words makes me cry harder, which is ridiculous. I never cry anymore. But this one area is like a wound that I can never stop plumbing the depths of, that will never heal, that part of me is afraid will heal because it is a portal to a part of my humanity I never want to lose. I love that part of myself that is so young and unformed. I'm hurt for at most a few minutes, a few hours nowadays. I shut on and off. I move on. I get over it. I never go so deep. Never.
Part of it is maturity and growing emotional health, but part of it is never growing a relationship that has ever grown so deep since. It seems an unimaginable feat. Something I might project on someone in a joking fantasy light, but simply unimaginable. Do I think I'm not worthy of it? I don't think so. There's just literally not even a window of time where such a relationship would be possible for me right now. Someday, I think. Someday. But not now. If it happens, great. But I'm not going to actively look for it.
His sister texts me again, "I think you were both lucky to have each other. I think you both helped each other grow and challenged each other and devastated each other."
The last three words are everything. They are our "I love you."
Maybe we only get one major relationship in our lives. Or only one major naive relationship where the heart still leaks and all vulnerability is exposed.
I know I will read this later and hate it. I will be ashamed that I was so candid and honest. I will read a mean comment below and find myself nodding, agreeing. But I think there's something in that photograph I don't want to unsee. It's a nerve-ending to life that is so often compartmentalized for me nowadays.
Maybe this relationship will always be the one that teaches me, helps me grow, devastates me. I think for as long as it reminds me of how deep my feelings actually go inside, I won't mind.
Find Mandy long-form at http://tinyurl.com/stadtmiller.