The Weight of Heartbreak

“Hey Alyx, do you have a few minutes?”

“Sure, is everything OK…?”

We entered the conference room normally reserved for meetings. I saw a box of tissues and a water bottle, which brought on heart palpitations, an immediate sign that everything was not okay. 

“We’re so sorry to have to do this…” “We didn’t plan this, but after [previous manager] left…” “This has nothing to do with who you are as a person or an employee…”

All the curse words. I was being let go. 

The HR manager, bless her, was doing everything she possibly could to comfort me during the circumstances, but it couldn’t stop the questions and confusion. I had been on a trial period and no one had said anything about my employment status or work habits once it ended. A number of people had told me to not be the one to broach the subject, and to assume that I was safe. 

But a lot of things had happened that were out of my control, and there was nothing I could do but to accept the decision gracefully. I actually worked through the end of the week, trying to finish up the tasks that I’d started, but more so taking time to thank my coworkers for making that particular experience what it was. The culture was a big part of the reason why I appreciated both the role and the firm, and if there was one thing that I could find peace in, it was that I never took a day there for granted. 

Yet I hated the fact that it was over, and I dreaded the possibility of having yet again disappointed my family. I spent a few days processing the news before sharing it with my parents, choosing to focus on taking care of myself both physically and emotionally. Any sudden/unexpected change is a huge trigger for me to sink into a depression, nearly to the point where I don’t care what happens or how it affects my health. Eat. Shower. Wear something besides sweats. 

It was still a lot to wrap my head around, and a polar vortex gave me an excuse to hunker down and grieve. It was pointed out to me that maybe I was getting too comfortable, and that I might have been creatively stunted had I stayed there by choice. There’s a lot I could say about having the privilege to do what you love, but that’s for another time. It would ultimately be a while before I could go past the office building without getting salty all over again. The organization had been right for me, but I hadn’t been right for them. 

A couple of weeks later, shortly before Valentine’s Day, I met Ben.

 Not his real name, but the combination of the two celebrities he closely resembles. 

I’ll admit that we moved quickly, bonding over similar family backgrounds, personalities, and hockey. Within a month we were acting like a couple, albeit we never talked about dating exclusively or establishing a formal relationship. It was the first time where I felt like I didn’t have to be a guy’s mother or a therapist; he was physically attractive (while respecting the physical boundaries I set), had a good head on his shoulders, and insisted on paying for everything where money was involved. As we continued to spend time together, I could picture us meeting each other’s families, and allowed myself to explore the possibility of being together long-term. 

March turned into April, the first week marking his birthday. We hadn’t talked in a few days, which made me uneasy, but I tried to act like it wasn’t a big deal when anyone asked why. 

Happy Birthday! I’m grateful for you. He never responded to that text, or answered his phone when I tried to call him. It was silence from that point on.

And that’s never a good sign.

I knew from previous conversations that his uncle had been struggling with health-related issues and was in and out of the hospital. I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, but part of me knew what took me a week to acknowledge: he didn’t want to be with me, and would rather disappear out of nowhere than tell me himself. 

Aside from the fact that it happened, the toughest part about being ghosted (in any situation) is fighting the urge to take full responsibility.  Figuratively speaking, I had to sit on my hands in order to keep myself from overanalyzing our final conversations or searching his social profiles for answers. The initial shock turned to anger, then the desire to close myself off emotionally from men of a certain age. I wrote Ben a  letter (the kind that’s better off burned), opting to read it out loud to my therapist as opposed to hitting “send.” It was as comforting as comforting could be without explanation, and the process of moving on turned out to be far better than I could imagine. 

Though I didn’t want to admit it in the moment, there were things about him that gave me pause. Things, I figured, that would eventually sort themselves out or come up naturally in conversation. It definitely didn’t help that we stopped getting to know each other after the third or fourth date; we talked, but neither one of us asked questions or tried to learn about the other person. It’s hard to do when you spend the majority of an evening cuddling and/or watching TV, and you don’t want to ruin the moment because by bringing up a tough subject. There’s nothing wrong with low key date nights in, and it takes time to learn how to be vulnerable with each other. But when you’re doing that all the time to the point where it stalls any progression, what then?

I’m not sure if there’s anything I could have done differently, or that deeper conversations would have led to a different outcome. After being removed from the relationship for some time, I realized that I liked the stability of our relationship more than I liked him, and I probably would have clung to that, far longer than necessary. 

But I still cared, and  it still hurt, and as I write this I still have fears and potential what-if’s that I’m trying to address. 

I need a man who has a good head on his shoulders, where we can grow both independently and together. 

A man who can empathize and show compassion, and at least recognize that family dynamics are often complicated, and that I’m doing the best I can to navigate it.

A man who prioritizes working on himself, and doesn’t depend on me to fix or make him whole.

It has me thinking a lot about expectations. I’ve been told quite a bit that I can’t expect people to cater to my feelings, but when ending a relationship (and how one goes about it), I get the sense that there’s a slight difference.

Breaking up well (i.e. communicating honestly and gently that either you don’t see things going anywhere or you’re not ready/on the same page) has to do with being a decent human being. It’s respecting the other person, despite your feelings and/or reality not being the same as theirs. And it’s about taking responsibility, rather than putting the entire weight of the relationship on the other.

It would be wrong for me to expect a guy to promise not to leave me (especially when rings and vows are not involved). But expecting honest communication seems pretty basic.

And if the guy disappears, I should not expect an apology. I should not expect that which hurts me is going to heal me. I should not expect my future partner to do all of the healing work for me, or to make him feel responsible for a situation that he had nothing to do with. I should not expect “closure” in the form of chasing after an explanation that I realistically don’t need, because if a guy doesn’t want me that’s all I need to know.

As heavy as it has been, I don’t carry any bitterness what happened or how it played out. I know that God gives and takes away, and despite my lack of understanding, I know that He is still good. I’ve had a lot of opportunities in this particular season of my life, and I’ve learned how to genuinely enjoy being single while still being open to a romantic relationship. I still have moments [of wishing the circumstances were different] but at the end of the day, all I can do is keep going and trust that what’s meant for me will be just that.

And I refuse to let my hurt define my worth.

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