As Jax explained, our absence from the Realm was not planned. We both got slammed with life. My story is different than hers in most ways, but still involves loss and grief, and the self-discovery that accompanies upheaval.

Courting a Princess

As with most romances, my relationship with Mr. Awesome (whom I’ll call M here for short) was starry-eyed and hopeful. I say that, but in truth “most romances” for me begin with the socio-romantic equivalent of me pointing at a man and saying, “You. Now.” But this time was different. If you buy into astrology at all, you know we Aquarians are slippery. You have to sneak up on us initially to glean a chance at romantic success, and that is exactly what M did. He is a generous man and courted me full-on with wine, dinners, travel, and theater. The trappings were joyful and fun, but were not enough to snare me. The man – and the man alone – is what I fell for.

I snuck up on M, too. I don’t think he was expecting me. The timing wasn’t optimal for either of us. But really, when is it? We were both “wounded birds.”  I was trying to rediscover / reinvent myself after infertility and divorce, and all the things you have to give up related with those losses. M was coping with a family tragedy. The two people he loved most in this world had recently joined their ancestors in an horrific event. We both had trouble facing our grief, but when we faced each other, it was a great comfort. It was a great joy. A great passion. A great love.

It wasn’t long before we were spending at least four nights a week together, usually more. We sometimes fell asleep holding hands. Anytime I would pass him, he would reach out to touch me. I told him I was “over the moon” for him more times that I can remember. Late night talks and early morning breakfast tacos were a hallmark in our relationship. We talked all the time, about things great and small. We watched a lot of television, too, but there was little we could do to avoid that as we were both several seasons behind in “Dr. Who.” We had more in common with each other than either of us had with previous lovers, and yet we were still different enough to keep things interesting.

We were so good together. And happy. I dare say our romance was epic. It certainly felt epic to me. M was supportive of my being a princess, of my being a belly dancer, and my infertility didn’t seem to phase him. I loved hearing his stories about work and family. I met and liked his parents, and grew to have a great affection for them. He listened to my stories and even remembered them. (I have a terrible memory.) He met my family and didn’t run screaming. I don’t know how to communicate how close I felt to this man. How bonded I felt to him. Something happened to me with M that has never happened before. I needed him. Not for the trappings, or for friendship, or for the physical companionship. And yet I needed him for all of those things. I needed him for…I don’t know how to explain it. Yes, I do know how.

M was the love of my life. And to the best of my knowledge, I was the love of his.

Icarus and the Sun

We kept each other just shy of a year. There was no downward spiral, as I am accustomed to in romances. My wings were incinerated in a solar blast, rather than a slow melt. We unraveled in a single night. He was obviously upset that night, which wasn’t rare or unexpected given his grief. We started talking about our relationship and the future, which was unusual for us. M was advised by a grief counselor not to make any major decisions within a year after the tragedy. Wise advice to be sure, and so he didn’t. Which means, we didn’t. For a long time we didn’t talk about the future or make long-term plans because he couldn’t. I think he wanted to, but it was hard to wrap his heart around being hopeful and being devastated at the same time. Honestly, I wasn’t ready for that, either. I truly believe one of the reasons we worked is because we were both in a place where the future was suspended. And for us, that made things easier. Until it didn’t. On this night, M felt like his career was coming to a head and he felt forced to decide whether or not to move away from Austin. Which means he had to figure out where I would fit in to that choice. He did not choose me. I began sobbing immediately. So did he.

This is pure conjecture on my part, but M was feeling immense pressure from several pipelines, and I think I was the valve he could release. This doesn’t make sense to me, because I should’ve  and would’ve  helped him bear the pressure and repair the leaks. This metaphor is NOT working for me emotionally, but I think you know what I mean. I also think he was feeling cagey because our one year anniversary was the following week. If he was feeling pressure to propose or make some other long-term commitment, it wasn’t coming (intentionally) from me. I wanted that, of course, but I wasn’t ready to ask for it.

In our final conversation(s), M said a lot of things that deeply affected me. I am grateful that he said, “For this being the worst year in my life, you made it the best it could possibly be.” I felt the same way about him. He also said something else that threw me. He said he thought our relationship was superficial. I was stunned. Superficial? It took me weeks to process this is actually what M said.  Superficial. How is it possible the person I felt closest to felt so far away from me? This would be my undoing.

To their credit, almost all the friends and family I told about the breakup reacted in a way that validated my perception of the relationship. “But the way he looked at you…” or something similar was the most common response. I didn’t get any of the often used, “Ah well, that’s a shame,” or “Better luck next time” crap. But validation is no salve for a broken heart.

A pile on the floor

The insomnia was immediate. The weight loss kicked in hard, too. I lost 15-20 pounds in perhaps as many days. The cognitive dissonance between what I thought was happening in the relationship and what was actually happening  was so wide, my powers of reasoning evaporated. The lack of sleep and nutrition went on for months. I looked horrid. Nothing like this has ever happened to me before.

I spent a lot of my angst (and there was A LOT of angst) trying to reconcile who I was becoming with who I thought I was. So in addition to asking the universe, “How did this happen?” I was asking “What’s happening to me?” I didn’t understand any of it. And for someone whose vocation relies on the scientific method, this was maddening. Truly, there were times I thought I was on the brink of madness. Totally melodramatic, right? Yes, it was totally melodramatic. My crazy was expressed equally in hope and despair. I spent half my nights repeating, “I love you, M. Come back to me” to lull myself sleep. The other half of nights were spent calling my ancestors and asking them to bring me to Iðunn so she could make me an apple. “Let someone else consume this life,” I would whisper, “I am not using it.” I was losing it. I wanted to reach through the mirror and slap myself à la Cher in “Moonstruck.” Snap out of it! But I couldn’t lift my hand. Hell, I couldn’t look in the mirror.

It took some time for me to find the answer to the first question, “How did this happen.” Jax was the first to call it, but it was so soon after the breakup that I couldn’t hear her. A few friends who know M verified her theory. “I’ll tell you what happened, he’s terrified of commitment!” is what one friend said to me. It was still close to the breakup, so I couldn’t process this information. I responded – and I really said this, “But we were epic.” It sounds silly now, but I really did believe that. I still do, actually. Our other mutual friend has known M a long time. She graciously heard me tell my sob story and was sympathetic because she wanted us to work. In my post-mortem analysis, I recalled his stories of previous relationships and noticed a pattern. “What he did to me, he’s done to other women,” I practically cried. “I know,” she said, thoughtfully. “I always thought it was them, but now I realize it was him.”   My counselor concurred with this assessment – for I was so in the weeds, I sought professional help.  The telltale sign of his phobia being his belief that commitment would make him “feel trapped.” This was another comment he made when he broke things off. He’d never indicated this feeling before. Indeed, he’d given me a very different impression of his ability to commit.

I don’t believe there is only one reason when a relationship unravels, but I have come to accept this is the primary reason M ended our relationship. He chose fear instead of me. I’m not sure he knows that, yet. I’m not sure he ever will. While it might seem like a relief to have an explanation, I find no comfort in this. It means I was a passive agent, and nothing I could have done could have kept him close to me. Accepting this is like being devastated all over again. Fear of commitment is no casual matter, and it is not always a fear of monogamy.  (M had no trouble with fidelity.) I’ve tried to understand what it means to have fear like that. I mean, we all feel the pull between wanting something and fearing it at the same time. But when you have a phobia like this, the pull is like a full-on anxiety attack. How long had he been feeling this pull? What I perceived as a sudden demise must have been building for a long time. If I had to guess, it probably started when he told me he loved me, which happened a few months before the break. From the beginning, anytime M seemed like he was struggling with grief, I tried to do what seemed best in that moment – talk through it, share the moment in silence, hold him close, or (the more frequent response) give him space. In all that time when I was deferring to his grief, was it really grief? Or was his fear becoming visible and I misread the signs?

The answer to the second question, “What is happening to me?” was harder to come by. And harder still to accept. I’ve never been brought so low. My false bravado was so convincing, I actually believed it. I didn’t think I could be cut down like other people. That was very foolish of me. Remember earlier when I said one of M’s comments would be my undoing? He said we were superficial. It still wrenches my gut to remember him saying this. In trying to grasp what he meant I’ve learned a few things about myself, none of them good. The first thing I’ve learned is that I too have a fear of commitment. I have kept family and friends at arms length for most of my life. Last month, k! said something like, “I have called you friend for a long time, but I could not say I know you until recently.” I have long considered k! a close friend, but she did not feel close to me. Woah. I thought I was keeping my heart close to my vest. Instead, I was keeping it closed in a locket. I didn’t understand I was doing this until now, but I have been doing it since I was a child. This realization has stripped my self-perception to the core. I have questioned every relationship in my life and wavered on their authenticity. I just don’t know if I’m capable of making that kind of connection. I mean, if I couldn’t connect with M, can I or have I connected with anyone, EVER?

As a side note, only one friend has encouraged me to try and connect with M again. He’s known me for over 20 years. When I told Rob what happened, in absolute tears three months after-the-fact (who am I kidding, I still fall apart), he said, “Wow. This must be some kind of cosmic whammy for you.” Say what? “Yeah, I mean someone actually got to you. That’s something.” Cosmic whammy, indeed. Rob went on to say, “This guy must be someone worth fighting for. You obviously still love him and he’s affected you in a way no one else has. You need to reach out to him.” Ugh. I’ll come back to this.

While this exercise in self-doubt, self-loathing, and crushing heartache is new to me, it is certainly not new. A powerful article on being a “pile on the floor” made the rounds on the Grand Overseer a few months ago; the article was about falling apart as a mechanism for building strength. The article was inspired by the Hindu goddess Akhilandeshvari, the “never not broken goddess.” It was the first thing I read in all this that made me feel not-so-crazy. The idea is that fracture feels like damage, but is actually creating space for new growth and development. Akhilandeshvari is interesting for lots of reasons, one of which is that she is often shown riding two crocodiles. The author in the article explains why the crocodiles are symbolic, but I have my own interpretation. Crocodiles are unpredictable – very unpredictable. Using them to transport you to a new beginning is a very big risk. They will either devour you or take you where you are going. (I’m speaking metaphorically; the crocodiles represent change. You should never actually step on a crocodile). One of the other things I’ve learned about myself is that I have serious emotional risk aversion. I don’t like taking even small risks with my feelings or my heart. This is perhaps another dimension to my inability to (or fear to) truly connect to others. The only time I take risks with people is when I don’t care about the outcome. So a risk this big – accepting and correcting my ability to connect – is WAY outside my comfort zone. If I step on my crocodiles will they tear me apart, or will they take me to new strength? I don’t know, and I’m still too scared to find out.

No matter what, the crocodiles are coming. I can hear them rustling in the nearby grasses.

Ashes to Ashes, Funk to Funky

Eventually, I will rise like a Phoenix. Won’t I? As of yet, that flight has been delayed. I’ve been working on how to open my heart to people. It’s hard, though, really hard. Every little thing makes me feel judged and threatened, though this is partially because of my still-brokenhearted-state. I came across Brene’ Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability and wholeheartedness. She talks about courage, authenticity, empathy, and shame and how these are tools to living a “Wholehearted” life. It’s really deep stuff. Good stuff. But hard stuff, for me anyway. Exploring vulnerability so I can connect to people makes me feel uncomfortable, weak, raw, and funky.

Some people are just open like that. I am not one of those people. Do I need to be open?  *Sigh* Right now, I don’t want to be, but yes, I think I need to be. I can’t change what other people do, but I can control what I do. I want to make authentic and lasting connections. One of the regrets I will always have about this lost romance is that I didn’t love out loud. I contained my feelings for M as often as I shared them. I can make excuses for why I did that, like deferring to his grief, but at the end of the day how and when I express love is about MY heart. And I was hiding it. Regardless of why M let me go, I will live with the truth that I wanted to shout and jump about how much I loved him, and I chose fear instead.

I am still a fool for this man who foolishly let me go. If I really want to live Wholeheartedly, I will reach out to him. But I haven’t, not really. I’ve texted him a few times at wide intervals, but not about my feelings. He has always responded with kindness, but never in kind. Will I ever reach out to him? I don’t know. It’s been over seven months and I haven’t yet.

I’ve decided I don’t like self-discovery. It’s wrenching, and I’m not very good at it. But this is where I am. Maybe the crocodiles will pick me up and take me where I’m supposed to be. Maybe I’m already riding them and this journey of self-improvement, rocky though it be, is my new strength. Or maybe I’m still a pile on the floor.