I asked my ex why he broke my fuckin' heart

I asked my ex why he broke my fuckin' heart

SexOctober 23, 2017 By Heather Gere

I’ll spare you the details because they’re not important. All you need to know is this:

Eight years ago, I met Aaron and we dated for a year. Real intense. He broke my heart. We never talked about what happened, and we didn't stay friends. He moved away. 

He's married now.

I thought about him every day. I still do. In spite of all logic and plural years of being with someone else I'm much more compatible with, I still find myself illogically and inexplicably imagining him.

We all have someone like this; someone we can’t quite let go of. They may have broken our hearts; they may be categorically wrong for us, and we may not even know them anymore. But, for some reason, a part of us hangs on.

I ran into him the other day. We were both shocked to see each other. It had been years. I was so stunned that I blurted out, “Can I interview you sometime?”

I knew I had to. Not for closure or resolution — those things seemed disproportionately unimportant in comparison with our bygone, molecular romance. Rather, I’ve been fascinated with the mystery of what makes a person unforgettable. Why do we hold on to people we know are wrong for us for years, running through little fantasy roleplays in our head where their profuse and emphatic apologies lead to cinematic slow-motion sex?

There are endless theories as to why we can’t detach from certain relationships. One says that, from ages 15-26, we experience what psychologists call a “memory bump.” This refers to the time when most experiences are new and particularly intense, as well as when we have less "adult" life shit to contend with, so memories implant particularly deeply into our minds. Because of this they're easier to recall, and have more connections to more contemporary thoughts and feelings. This makes it so we can relive the experiences over and over, which strengthens our feelings. I was 19 and 20 when I loved Aaron. Neck deep.

Another reason is that troubled romance — which ours was — is particularly memorable because the emotions far transcend those of your baseline state. They’re thrown way off balance, something your brain categorizes as especially salient because high drama gives it something to compare more regular interactions to. It works like a snakebite — get bitten by a snake once, and it’ll hurt so bad you’ll make damn sure it doesn’t happen again. That's just survival.

Yet, these are just theories. I wanted to go straight to the source. It was going to be awkward, it was going to be uncomfortable, and I'd have to put my pride aside, but I wanted to see if the person I'd mythologized as some sort of long-lost soulmate was really who I invented him to be ... and whether I could reconcile the strange feeling of knowing him so well, yet not really knowing him at all. Also, would talking it out with him actually help, or would it just make things worse?

Aaron’s philosophical and he likes to debate, so he agreed to be interviewed. Purely for journalistic reasons, of course. Plus, he told me, it had been so long. It would be nice to catch up.

We met up for coffee a few weeks after. Fully acknowledging how weird it was to see each other, especially under the auspices of some article I was working on, we jumped right into it.

Hi.

Hi.

Long time no talk. Why do you think we haven’t talked since then?

I honestly didn’t think you’d even want to talk to me. I had nothing to say. I moved to New York and it was so intense and distracting … I just switched focus really quickly.

I get the having nothing to say thing. I think I felt a lot of things, and imagined saying a lot of things, but actually saying them to you felt pointless, like I was holding onto something that didn’t need to be held on to.

What would you even have said, though?

I think I wanted to let you know how much it hurt and for that to magically make your feelings for me come back. I was looking for an emotional surge and affirmation that you still wanted me, like that sort of tortured love thing. But that was a fantasy, so I kind of bottled it up. Do you wish I had said something to you?

That’s a tough question. Yes, because you always want to know when someone you care about is thinking about you, but also no. What would we have even done with that information? To me, the relationship felt done, especially the way it ended, so even if you had tried to reconnect or talk at some point, I think it would have just been harder for both of us.

So in general, would you say that it’s better to sort of bury your feelings in certain situations, or is it better to find catharsis through getting them off your chest?

(Long pause). I think it’s better to get something off your chest … once you’ve had distance from it. Like we’re doing now. When you’re too close to the source of the pain, coming clean and unloading your feelings kind of keeps you in it. But if you wait until you can say what you need to say without emotion clouding the logic of whatever point you’re trying to make, I think it’s better for both people.

Do you think it’s possible to move on from someone or something without saying that kind of stuff to them though?

Yes. I mean, it depends on your relationship. It’s not like saying everything you want to say just magically cuts off your emotions and makes everything better. I do think it helps to talk about it but only to a point. 

To be productive though, both people need to want the same thing out of the discussion, which is either closure or just to hold a space for each other to say what they think they need to say to feel better.

Agreed.

That said, what did you want out of this conversation? We haven’t talked for so long and asking you questions for journalistic purposes is a little strange.

It is strange. For me, it’s not closure. I think we passed the closure cut-off years ago and we’ve both moved on, so it’s not because of like, lingering questions or emotions. I think I was interested in the same sorts of questions you were, which is what does it mean to know someone once and whether you can still know them after that. I don’t feel like I know you now at all.

We don’t really need to know each other now, isn’t that funny? I mean, when we were together, you were everything to me, but that was three million years ago. How do we reconcile that in the present? That weird feeling of knowing someone yet not knowing them at all? Should people just pretend their relationships never happened, or should they acknowledge that they had a great intimacy once?

Ha. I mean, it’s a good question. I think people change and evolve, especially growing up like at the ages we were at when we were together, so it’s impossible to really truly ever know someone, even when you’re with them for a long time. I learn new things about Danielle [his wife] all the time, and we’ve been married for three years. I’m sure you learn new things about Brandon [my boyfriend] too. That’s what keeps it interesting.

In terms of reconciling that sort of cognitive dissonance you get when you used to know someone but don’t any longer, I’d say that’s just one of the weird, awkward mysteries of relationships. That strange interaction is par for the course, especially when you don’t stay friends or you’re not in each other’s lives.

Right. So for us, we just went from dating to breaking up to running into each other years later, so that effect is particularly strong.

Totally. I think that if you’re in a place where you can acknowledge your relationship, then cool, but most of the time, passing interactions don’t give you the opportunity to do that. It would be a little awkward to be like, “Oh hey Miranda, haven’t seen you in twenty years, remember when we were in love for nine months?”

Really? To me, that’s less awkward then pretending you’re just acquaintances. I think it matters more on the context of your individual relationship. Like, for me, you mattered a lot to me so I’m interested in acknowledging you as someone with whom I had a romantic connection with. But I know a lot of people I’d run from in a grocery store, too.

I almost ran away from you when I saw you.

Same. I got really nervous. Why?

I just knew that I hurt you.

That’s candid.

It’s a candid interview.

How do you go around knowing you hurt someone without taking steps to amend it?

For me, I kind of ignored it and pushed it to the back of my mind because addressing it would have made it real and at the time I was too immature to deal. I was also distracted. I was across the country, with all these new people, and it didn’t feel natural to focus my attention on the people and places I’d left behind. Maybe it would have been different had I stayed, and had we seen each other in our friend group or something.

Also, hurting someone and getting hurt are just inherent in relationships. To make things better with you felt a little too precious given the situation, but I have to admit, I didn’t think about it all that much. I assumed I was the bad guy and you felt the same way and then just kind of lived my life. Do you feel you’re owed some sort of apology?

Not anymore. I’ve had enough relationship experience to know that no one’s really owed anything. At the time, I wanted validation that I was as important to you as you were to me, but where would that have gotten us? I think I was always more into it than you were, and even if it was equal, what were you going to do, move back? It was unrealistic, which is why I never contacted you after you left.

Well, if you need validation, I thought of you, sure, but in the same way I thought about most people I’d previously dated.

Which was how?

More fond memories than longing.

See, even now, that hurts.

Sorry. I think for everyone, there’s someone they can’t quite forget about.

Have you ever had a person like that? Who’s not your wife?

I thought I did for a while … but then I met my wife. I think it’s fascinating how one person can think their partner is the one, but the other person isn’t quite so certain. To have that much faith and certainty while your partner has all that doubt or apathy is just so singularly painful and funny and stupid. Love hurts.

Amen, sister. Do you think you’ve gotten anything out of this conversation?

Yeah. I think I’m glad I ran into you. It’s good to see you. It’s kind of made me realize that it’s important to reconnect with the people that mattered to you in your life once you’ve had distance from any pain or hurt feelings, because those relationships are part of what made you, you. I’m grateful for your talking to me and to understand how you’ve been feeling. What about for you?

Talking to you has made me realize that I’m glad I never said anything until now, haha. I think you’re right — distance is good, awkwardness is natural, and if you can find common ground with someone you used to love, it'll definitely give you something to write about for your mid-level editing job.

--

After our conversation, I took stock (and a shot of vodka).

What struck me most was that saying all these things out loud to him made them seem exceptionally small. Our interaction seemed exceptionally small, like a job interview. Granted, it took place under unnatural circumstances, but the feeling was more that I'd spoken with a very open stranger than someone who I've been seeing behind my eyes for years. When these thoughts of him were in my head, they had seemed pressing and encompassing, but now, face-to-face with the guy who broke my heart, they had scale. Big to not so big. They seemed insignificant. I already knew there was no reason to hang on to him in whatever involuntary way I was, but our conversation was measurement of how much.

I’d challenged myself — I’d had a difficult conversation with someone who used to be a difficult person, and I’d overcome my fear of talking to him, so that was ... nice? I felt big, like us talking was somehow a step toward maturity or, at the very least, another paycheck. Yet, the answers I'd sought out hadn't taken shape like I wanted them to. They'd been nebulous — you can't let go of me because everyone just "has that person?" You should talk to your ex after an arbitrarily long period of time but not before because it's hard? One thing was for certain — getting to know someone you already know well can lead to some catharsis, but, beyond that, the biggest thing I got out of this was some pride in how far I'm willing to go to explore the things I can't explain.

I guess it's like love — you give and you try, but sometimes, all you end up with is something that's neither good or bad, it just is.