It took my ex-boyfriend six months after our breakup to move out of the apartment we'd shared. I’d moved out long before, but the day he left felt significant, somehow -– like we were finally admitting we were serious about breaking up.
He hadn’t wanted to break up at all, but I left him no choice. Last fall, I came home from a vacation in Washington, D.C., and announced I was moving there without him. I told him I couldn't do it anymore, that it didn't feel right anymore, that I wouldn't pretend anymore. He refused my offer to split the cost of breaking our lease, and he even drove the U-Haul to help me move.
This summer, he finally found a new place, a studio near the ocean that shaved 15 minutes off of his commute and $600 off of his rent. Though I was already living 200 miles away, creating a life separate from him and from our time together, the day he moved out of our place felt like breaking up all over again -– and in some ways, it felt worse.
I can't blame him for wanting out of the space we’d shared. "You're everywhere," he once told me, and I knew he was right.
I knew that if he had moved first, I would feel the same way, that every time I snuggled in to watch TV on the lopsided tan couch I loved, I would envision him playing X-Box on the brown leather one perpendicular to me. I knew that when I tried to fall asleep alone in our cozy, queen-sized bed, I would imagine him next to me, arms splayed over his head and snoring lightly, emitting heat like a radiator even on the warmest summer nights. I knew that every time I made myself breakfast in our tiny kitchen, I would look for his handwritten notes, the ones he left for me to find before he headed to work in the early morning hours before I awoke.
I knew he had to leave and that it was not my place to feel otherwise, especially when I’d left first, but it hurt just the same. The day he moved, I got drunk on cheap beer and cried like a baby, mascara-streaked and alone in my D.C. apartment.
Perhaps it was selfish of me to harbor such sadness on my own behalf, but a hallmark of breakups –- especially amicable breakups between two people who didn’t grow to hate one another but simply drifted apart - is all the second-guessing. It’s the worried voice in the back of your head that asks, "What if this was the wrong decision?"
When our breakup was fresh, he told me that I could come home if I wanted to, that he would be there if I changed my mind and wanted to try again. But the day he moved out of our apartment, I felt that offer disintegrate, even if he never said as much. That day, I saw it for what it was: a last-ditch promise uttered by a man who was still in love where no love existed anymore. I finally understood that there would be nowhere for me to return if I decided I had been wrong, no familiar place waiting for me with loving arms and a soothing voice that would whisper, "I've missed you. Welcome back home."'
He lives somewhere else now, and there is none of me in his new home -– no bobby pins abandoned in the corners, no long, brown strands of hair tangled in the sheets, no old love notes stuck to the bathroom mirror. He left some of our furniture behind for scavengers and garbage trucks; he sent some of the artwork that once hung on our walls back to my mother, who is storing them in her basement until I have enough space to reclaim them.
There is no physical evidence of me in his new apartment, but there are no memories of me there, either. There is no trace of me in his kitchen, where we never experimented with cooking, bumping into one another within the confines of a miniscule space and turning out meals of varying success. There is no sign of me in his dining room, where he never surprised me with balloons and a table full of gifts on the morning of my 29th birthday. There are no reminders of me in his living room, where we never sat for hours in our pajamas, marathoning "Battlestar Galactica" and playing board games and drinking homemade cocktails and giving one another backrubs. And of course, there is no evidence of me in his bedroom, either.
There are no Ghosts of Moments Past in his new home to remind him of the life we left behind or of the love we lost, and he deserves that. He deserves to live in a space that has no ties to us, to pursue a life separate from the one we made together. He deserves a clean slate, and I do not begrudge him his attempts to find happiness in the wake of a breakup that left us both dumbfounded and devastated.
But it still hurt.
For months after our breakup, we continued to keep in touch via text, sending adorable cat gifs and remnants of inside jokes and links to articles we knew the other would appreciate. After he moved, though, our text messages slowed, replaced by long periods of silence that sometimes make me wonder whether we’ve finally hit the point everyone else says we ought to: the point where we become exes instead of friends. Still, despite my worrying and our diminishing communications, I am grateful that we broke up on our own terms -– and that we remain on good terms.
One night shortly after he moved, we met up for dinner, choosing a neutral space -– Times Square, of all places –- to reunite for the first time in half a year. He was the same man I fell in love with, still endlessly good and kind, but the spark was gone, just as I knew it was when I told him I had to leave all those months ago. As comfortable and familiar as it was to be together again, I knew I’d made the right decision -– and I suspected he knew it, too.
At the end of the night, we parted ways and headed to our own homes, to our own lives. Alone on the train, I cried as I mourned the end of something that had, technically, ended long ago. We may have broken up months beforehand, but the day he closed the doors on the home we shared together was the day I knew for certain that there was no going back to the way we were. It was only then that I learned what hurts so much about moving out: moving on.