I think I'm making progress.
Letting Go, Take 4.
[I walk into the coffee shop, see him sitting at the table working, and stroll over to his table. I sit down, snapping him out of his work.]
****STOP THE TAPE****
I'm just realizing how mean that would be, sneaking up on someone and shocking them, from left field, with an intense conversation. I'm going to envision instead that I have contacted him in advance to arrange this meeting. Much more ethical approach.
****OK. Back to the conversation.****
Me: Hey. Thanks for agreeing to meet me. How are you?
Ex: Hey. I'm OK. How's it going for you?
Me: Fine, I guess. Pushing through my school work these days, mostly. I'm not too satisfied with the quality of education I'm getting, but I guess that's the deal--you get what you pay for, and I chose a cheap school.
Ex: Yeah. Life can work that way.
Me: Ironically, though, since I really am eager to learn, I've enrolled in a few free courses through iTunes U and other sources of open-access courses, and that has been mostly a good experience. The quality is often higher than what I'm getting at [my university's name], go figure. I'm not getting credit for the free courses, but they are making me sharper.
Ex: Good for you, for taking your education into your own hands! I admire how ambitious you are.
Me: Thanks. You know how to make a girl feel good!
[We both suddenly realize the awkward accidental double entendre there, and look away from each other, briefly embarrassed, trying not to grin.]
Me: (hurriedly) Well, this whole discovery of iTunes U has made me curious about how Open Source works. So, fittingly, I found a free course about Open Source! The history, the various models of communication, business models, and so on. It's been really fascinating! And it's very pertinent to the field I'm going into.
(my voice drops a bit.) God, though, [his name], it reminds me of you, and it has really made me ache to talk with you again. I want it so much, [his name], that my chest actually literally hurts when I think about it. You always had such informed and insightful perspectives on these kinds of things. Do you realize how much I loved communicating with you? Really loved it. You challenged me, you gave me an outlet for my thoughts, you irritated me, confused me, amused me, the whole nine yards. And some of our conversations were truly life-changing for me in a dramatic way. As in -- you were instrumental in helping me leave my religion, for example -- THAT life-changing. I wanted you to know that... I guess... How much you made a difference in my life.
Ex: (looking down) Mmm... Thanks for letting me know. I appreciate your candor.
(I sense he is tense, as if there's something on his mind that he isn't able to express. He shifts in his seat too much, rubs his hands through his hair too often...)
Me: So... (I lean in a bit, and my hands are knotted so tightly on the table that my knuckles are white.) The last communication you got from me was abruptly dismissive... I guess I was kind of a bitch.
Ex: Well, deservedly so. I mean, no, you weren't a bitch-- you were just upset. When I sent you the news about [the other woman]'s pregnancy, I pretty much expected something along the lines of what I got. Not really surprising.
Me: Knowing me like you do, what do you think my reaction has been since that email? What do you think has been on my mind the past several months, regarding... "us"... this situation?
Ex: Ummm... How could I know? I've been so overwhelmed, myself, I can't picture what you've been going through. I kind of figured you'd just move on, I guess?
Me: I'll tell you. Even though I have felt a huge personal sense of loss and grief at what happened, and even though I have a lot of seriously stressful things happening in my own life, most of my conscious thoughts about this situation have been worries about how you're doing. How you're coping, how you feel, whether you're becoming an alcoholic or not, whether you're getting into your new "daddy" role comfortably or not, how your family is doing, and so on. Does that surprise you?
Ex: It's nice of you to care so much.
Me: (gently) Do you see the pattern here, [his name]? I go too far into the side of caring about what others think, and in my opinion you go too far into the side of thinking only of yourself.
Ex: (somewhat strained) That might be something close to a fair analysis. I don't think it's always true, though.
Me: Oh I'm sure it's not. [His name], I'll be direct. Losing you has been one of the saddest events of my life, seriously. You're a great person. You're so smart, strong, talented, hard-working, interesting, just an incredible human being. I'm losing a lot by losing you. But here's an obvious rhetorical question: How, do you think, do I even know what I'm losing? I know it because I've thought about you. Studied and analyzed you. Stalked you online. (uneasy laugh) Made considerable efforts to connect with you.
You know what? I'm a great person too. But I don't think you realize what you lost when you set me aside. I don't feel like you did any diligence in trying to learn who I was beyond some shallow observations of my life and personality. That's how I feel. And that's what hurts. I feel like I have been quickly glanced over, like a cheap glass vase at a pawn shop. "Oh that's pretty," and then set back on the shelf. And I was never selfish enough to demand that you look deeper. I always just gave and gave and gave to you. That was my attempt to get your attention. But in the end, I think you felt superior to me, based on some external factors, but didn't consider that there are other aspects of my life experience that could compensate for areas where I'm not at your level.
That's the story I'm understanding, at least. Is that accurate?
Ex: No... yeah... no... I mean... It's not like I didn't notice anything about you... You're making it sound like... (He is uncomfortable and keeps trailing off. The dilemma here is that if he confirms what I said, it would be rude, admitting that one feels superior to someone else, for example. But if what I said is true, then it would be lying to contradict it for the sake of politeness. And if it's false, it requires him to be very vulnerable in sharing some very personal feelings.)
Me: Look, I know this is hard. I mostly just wanted to share my feelings, get it off my chest. I know most people have a harder time being emotionally open than I do. One of my many talents. (forced laugh) You don't have to disclose anything you don't want to, though. I'm just here to TRY to make a better closure to our relationship than what I did last February. I'd rather things ended peacefully.
Ex: (long pause) It's a noble endeavor.
Me: So... Because my opinion is that you could use some help in getting outside of your own head, I'm sharing a small slice of my pain with you. Pain that you, for the most part, caused. I'm not saying that my pain is greater or more important than your pain. I'm sure it's not, actually. I'm just asking if you can at least see it.
Ex: (whispered) Yeah, I can see it. (long pause) There's nothing I can say that really does this any justice except "I'm sorry." Even that sounds cheap... (trails away)
Me: (looking at him sadly and steadily) I'm going to leave here today, and most likely, I will never see you or communicate with you again. The finality of it punches me in the gut sometimes, even now. I guess that must be what it's like with you and your mom too -- that finality, knowing you'll never be able to talk with her again. It's hard. It's really hard.
Ex: Yep. (lips quivering) "That dark night" is pretty awful.
Me: I'm so sorry. I really am. I can't even begin to help you with those feelings. With the "us" situation, however, I am trying to frame this metaphorical death in terms of transformation. I definitely got a lot from my relationship with you. And though I wish it could continue, it can't. But even this process of tearing apart can be a learning, transformative experience for me if I let it. Sounds trite, doesn't it? I am trying to see this relationship in those terms... for my own life, at least... I hope you can learn and grow through this as well.
Ex: (he is less composed than before, and misty-eyed. I'm pretty sure the last paragraph was only half-heard, and his mom was closer to his mind.) That's some good wisdom there. I don't know how much of it I can be fully on-board with, philosophically, but... (voice cracks)
Me: (softly) Go ahead! It's OK. You're not less a man in my eyes for crying. Quite the opposite. I'm surprised I haven't broken down yet, myself, honestly.
(His tears bring me to tears. After a minute of the tears falling, we are able to take deep breaths and get back under control.)
Ex: That whole thing you said awhile ago about feeling like you were cheap... that's not true. Believe me. I... I never knew what to expect from you. You were a bit intimidating that way, actually. I liked that, though. And I admired your fortitude. I don't think you're something to be passed over, and never have. I just... I am just... a wanderer. Like you said, I'm stuck in my own head. I'm not very good at making plans or thinking too far down the road. And I was too stressed out to be thinking clearly at all, I guess. I'm... Ugh, this is a mess...
Me: OK. Thanks. I appreciate your honesty. You don't have to say any more. I don't need you to validate my worth. It's tempting. But I'm not here for that. I think I said my piece.
I'm going to go now. It's really hard... It would be so easy to fall into a long conversation, but... you're taken now, and I don't think it's appropriate for me to be with you too long. I'm just going to have to leave you with your life and trust you to live it to the best of your ability without my help. I guess it's a skill you modeled well for me. (I pause, realizing that may have sounded caustic.) That's a good thing, right? Boundaries. Hey, it was good to see you again.
(We stand up, and hug for a long time, then I walk away).