Years ago as I curled up next to my then-beau, we started on that inevitable conversation of past loves. At that point I only had one — one that left me on Halloween evening, sobbing and throwing up on the corner of Times Square, devastated and broken.
“I hate him,” I said, tears forming as I clung closer to that new beau, naively convinced that his warmth and sympathy would heal the damage done by the last.
“The opposite of love isn’t hate, sweetheart,” he said, quoting cliche. “It’s indifference.”
As if by survival instinct, we tend to categorize past lovers and flames as mistakes, passionate flaws, and delusions. And when an ex-lover comes into conversation, supportive friends are wired to respond with: “Screw that awful guy. He was horrible.” As if negativity erases the pain. I’m not alone in this.
Memories are not stagnant. They ebb and morph depending on what you choose to focus on. And if your ex-lovers’ flaws are your focus, then that will become your memory. After all, it’s the stories that we tell ourselves that shape our past.
But the truth is, at one point in time I was in love. You know, the type of euphoric bliss that was weekends on the couch, giggling to Demetri Martin recordings while piecing together gorgeous Thomas Kinkade puzzles. The type where you can spend all day doing absolutely nothing but feel so incredibly present and alive. When something as simple as picking peaches in your backyard becomes the most vivid memory of your life. You remember everything — from the exact hue of the sky that day down to the taste and texture of that ripe peach, its juices shattering, sweet and a little bit of sour, in your mouth.
You see, I loved these people for their soul, their kindness, their quirks, their heart. And they, at one point, loved me for the same.
When things fell apart, my journal was taken over with violent, angry scribbles. Because nothing hurts your pride more than a broken relationship that you worked hard on, and a broken heart is an agony that throws you into an unusual, almost spiritual, hysteria.
Extreme conclusions were formed in a desperate attempt to regain control of my life. I wrote: “He’s cold-hearted.” “He has serious issues.” “He’ll never be in a successful relationship.” Or at my worst, I’d blame myself. “I should’ve broken up with him sooner.” “I hate myself for settling for him.” “I think he resented me. What did I do wrong?”
I started hating them, wishing them the worst, hoping that they would realize their lesson in some cruel karma-driven way. I shielded myself in a bitter angry sheet of resentment. Focusing on the negatives was a coping mechanism because it’s easier to deal with than the truth. And the truth is this: things just didn’t work out. It is what it is.
But these days, long after the dust has settled, I find myself still enjoying Demetri Martin. I’ve noticed I’ve picked up some of the habits and interests and tendencies of my past loves: I can’t sit on my bed without changing into clean clothes. I sometimes think in an Australian accent (an inside joke). I really like Artic surf clams, and I adore taro pastries. These are all remnants of these men — habits that have been etched into my own identity. These people are a part of who I am, even though I no longer have a desire to reconnect with them, even though I no longer share with them any part of my life.
And I love them. That emotional attachment though, which is necessary for any healthy relationship, is no longer there. I no longer would want to spend all evening making dinner for them, or care to hear about their day-to-day life. I would never drive hours to see them and when I think about it, I don’t have anything to say to them anymore.
Time did that trick. And for those who are still in the throes of a painful breakup, rest assured that time’s medicinal effects will eventually kick in. It always does. Humans, after all, are hardwired to overcome heartbreak.
I love them for who they were, in the time that they were in my life. I love them in the sense that I’m extremely thankful for all the beauty that I experienced between us. And all the things I loved about them? Their heart, their soul? That all still holds true. These are brilliant men with vibrant souls. But of course, as life teaches us, sometimes love is just not enough. Situations, timing, place, and priorities are all important factors.
Sometimes love isn’t strong enough, sometimes it’s unequal. Sometimes it creates resentments that are permanent and sometimes trust and passion is eroded so slowly by simple neglect that you don’t notice until it’s too late, until you both come to the acute conclusion that you cannot coexist in the same world without devastating each other and so you part permanently and painfully.
And all the negatives? The hurtful things that were said and done by both parties? Well, I forgive them, and more importantly, I forgive myself.
They say love is an action and my action is this: respecting the past.
I’m making a conscious effort not to bash these guys in front of my friends, and I’m altering our stories to one that isn’t steeped in resentment. He wasn’t horrible, he wasn’t insane. He wasn’t severely selfish, he wasn’t always cold. He was human, as am I, and we realized that we just don’t work well together.
Sure the opposite of love is indifference, but love, if it was true, doesn’t go away. And the best thing to do, I find, is to honor love and put it in a nice, quiet corner as a reminder of what transpired.
Don’t cover love with a blanket. It’s who you are, stitched into your identity.
So to my past, I wish you the best. Cheers to happiness and joy and for both of us, to one day finding a great, fiery love that works.