Recently, I met my love’s ex-girlfriend who wasn’t just any ex-girlfriend, but a woman that he had considered marrying not too long ago. She is South African and her work visa expired. They had been together for a few years and loved one another, so panic set in when they realized that their relationship would be forced to come to an end soon unless they took action. Like many couples in that situation, they went to the courthouse. Fortunately, they came to the understanding that what they were about to do was not what either of them truly wanted to do before they actually did it. They agreed, then, to walk away from one another and she moved back to South Africa at the end of 2009.
It caused a good amount of angst as they both went through the grieving process that comes naturally after someone loses a love, especially when it isn’t by choice. Two years later, my love and I met on Christmas Day. I had just returned from a three month self-rediscovery trip in Europe after mending from insurmountable heartbreak and depression. He was still grieving over this ex (we’ll call her “M”). It did not bode well that he told me this whole tragic tale of woe on our first date. I remember coming home and immediately telling my mother that while I thought he was a nice man, I didn’t think we would continue to see each other because he wasn’t over “M”.
When it comes to grieving, many of us have a nasty habit of sticking our heads in the sand (or into working, drinking, eating, etc.) and hoping to avoid the pain until the grief passes. Time doesn’t necessarily heal all wounds, especially if we leave them untended. My love was no different….after “M” left, time seemed to stop and he wasted a lot of time just waiting for something to happen that would change his reality….hoping to bring her back, but “M” was gone and he would have to accept that before his life could move forward.
Despite our bumpy start, he continued to pursue me and our feelings for each other grew. But, I remained cautious because I this nagging feeling that I was somehow serving as a replacement for “M”. I believed that if she returned to the States, I would be pushed aside so that he could rekindle his feelings from the past with her. I knew I was allowing these assumptions to cloud our time together, so I tried to remain focused on the present and just enjoyed his companionship while I had it……
This overly romanticized tale is the same bullshit story that played over and over in my head for the first six months of our relationship. Of course, some of the story was true and some was imagined. It is true that he was grieving when I met him, and he did tell me their story on our first date. I also put up my boundaries when I told him to first resolve those feelings before we could continue to see one another. And that is just what he did. He made the effort to let go of the past, so that he could focus on the present with me. He laid his feelings for her to rest he wanted to move forward….with me.
Yet, I continued to give this story power by imagining he felt more for her than he did. I didn’t trust that someone would actually care enough about me to make the effort to let the story go. The last man I was with, prior to my love, was a complete narcissistic a-hole and I was a raging co-dependent who allowed far too much bad behavior to mention in public. The residual anxiety from that failed relationship had snuck into the present one. I found myself reluctant, at times, to see my love as an honorable man and I had a hard time accepting his kindness and respect for me at face value. It was I who realized that I must now lay my feelings from the past aside, and fear of abandonment, aside in order to move forward…with him.
We never really know what work we have left to do to heal from our past until we are presented with circumstances, or people, in the present that will test how much we have truly learned and grown. Meeting my love last Christmas was one of those tests. The Universe sent me this beautiful gift to see if I had really learn to love myself yet. Had I learned that I deserved to be treated well? And had I also learned that I needed to rely on myself for my own happiness, rather than settle for someone who didn’t care if I was happy?
When my mom moved to Reno, this past summer, I grappled with whether or not to remain in Florida. There was really nothing here for me….other than my love and I decided that he was more than worth staying for. We moved in together a short while ago. With his commitment to me being so clear, it was long overdue that I lay this legacy of “M” to rest. Ironically, a few weeks later, he received an email from her that she was going to be visiting from South Africa for the holidays. (The Universe also has a sick sense of humor.)
After he raced home in a panic to tell me, he also made sure that I understood he was happy with his life now and had no regrets over the choices he made. He reiterated his gratitude for the relationship we have cultivated. I sat there as we calmly discussed his need to close that chapter from his life. This was how I knew that some of the work I had done on myself had begun to stick….I sat there….calmly. I sat there believing what he said….I didn’t doubt him, I had compassion for him, and I knew that it had nothing to do with me….so I’m not going to lie, I gave myself a little pat on the back for having faith.
This past weekend, then, I met her….and she is beautiful (oh did I mention she is also a model for GAWD’s sake?!) We were at a club where my love plays on Sundays and she showed up….and stayed….the WHOLE evening….sigh… She conversed with old friends….my love’s friends…friends who haven’t really accepted me into their circle yet….and it was really hard for me to watch. The story of their past came rushing back into my mind and I was flooded with thoughts of uncertainty about whether or not I belonged in the picture. It had been a few years since I felt this insecure and I wanted to leave to go stick my head in the sand. The whole night I felt awkward and emotional. I didn’t sleep well either, worrying about what the future held. Worrying that if after seeing her, he now regretted his decision to be with me.
I assumed that he wouldn’t want to be with me…I was not South African…I am not a model….I am not tall…I don’t have a fabulous accent….these were the standards that I had compared myself to…this was the criteria that I had projected onto my love for his choice in an ideal mate….and I began making plans for when I would pack up my things and move to a new city, knowing that I wouldn’t stay where I was not wanted. When I spoke to him the next day about how stressful I thought (aka projected) the evening must have been for him, he said, “No”. He said while he was surprised that she had shown up, he also realized that there weren’t any feelings left for her….they remained in the past and he didn’t think he would most likely ever see her again. All of the fear, the worry, the story was created by me….all of the assumptions were my own….all of the anxiety was self-inflicted.
By forgetting the third agreement, Do Not Make Assumptions, I had caused myself a great deal of suffering. It’s interesting how each of us can perceive a situation so differently and then create our own feelings and reactions based entirely upon our past experiences. Rather than seeing the situation for what it was, I allowed my old fears to create the current belief that I was inadequate. This is why a daily mindfulness/meditation practice is so important. Without it, I wouldn’t have taken a moment and a step back to observe the lunacy of my behavior (with an ounce of compassion).
With silenced thoughts, I could clearly see that it wasn’t my love who was carrying a torch for his ex, it was me. This past year, I have been the one living with her ghost, allowing it to invade our lives and wreak havoc on my sweetness of mind. He had moved on, but I hadn’t forgiven myself or stopped the thought process that I was in someway guilty of taking something that wasn’t mine…but my love isn’t “mine” and he isn’t hers. He is his own person, as I am also an individual – accountable for my own choices and my own decisions. I concluded that if I am responsible for allowing the old flame to burn, then I could be the one to blow out the candle and make a new wish for our future.
I resolved to let go.