Trying to stay strong
Posted On April 21, 2020
It was some time, longer than usual, before I heard anything from X. But of course, I did in the end. “We shouldn’t sit in our separate houses missing each other,” his text message read. “I have realised that I can’t bear being in my house with my wife still in it, so while she sorts out her rental, I am moving in with my parents from the end of this week. We could have structured time together as soon as I move, spend lots of time together and really work on us. I am ready.”
It was the sort of clear plan that I would have leapt at gratefully in the summer, when I still had some belief left in him, but now it was far too late. Summer was over. Autumn was turning into winter, and I had had enough of his shit.
I said no. I said that I was not interested. That I was sorry we had caused so many people so much pain, and I was happy to talk about anything he wanted to talk about, but not if that included any mention of reconciliation, because that was not an option.
I was shaking as I sent the texts, feeling sick, hating it, but on the screen they read as calm, firm, polite. I was proud of them as I sent them, even though my fingers felt hot and horrible afterwards.
I leaned heavily on my poor friends, every time. My endless conversations with them were like nicotine patches to the deeply craved cigarettes of my previous interactions with X. I still think those conversations saved me.
The phases that the texts from X went through over the following days were very predictable.
There was calm logic and reason – we had both left our spouses for each other, why wouldn’t we be together, now that he was strong enough to face it? (I did not bother now to press the point that only I had, in fact, left my home).
There was vitriol – clearly I had never loved him, I was a scheming bitch like all blonde women are, he should never have been fooled, I had planned all the way along to hurt him, I was weak.
There was loving pleading – could I really not remember how good we had had it? Had I ever loved anyone as much, had sex ever been as good for me, for either of us? Could I not see how much he loved me, that he would resort to begging so uncharacteristically? I should know better than anyone that he was not this type of man, but he would be this man if that was what it took, this self-abasement was worth it if it gave him any hope at all of being with me in future.
It was cliched. It was textbook.
But behind all of it, still, lurked our undeniable shared humour and everything that had ever made him attractive to me. It all tugged very hard. It did. I was completely on my own, and I missed him badly.
He could always make me laugh effortlessly, he always understood my points of view easily and mirrored them right back at me, and of course his charm was now on a consistent full beam. And though I knew that it was, that I was being played yet again, that he still infuriatingly believed he could outwit me, it was still so seductive. It was incredibly difficult not to give a different, less firm response to his communications.
What stopped me in my tracks every time was my genuine deep-seated belief, knowledge, that he was a bad person who would hurt me again and again. This – combined with the humiliating thought of how my friends and family would pity and despair of me if I went back to someone who had made me so low and miserable, who had been so cruel and unkind, who had already cost me so much – kept me just about strong enough.
I made a chart in my head, crossing off the hours at first, then the days, and told myself that if I could get to Christmas without wavering, start a new year entirely without him in it, I would be OK. I was very lonely, but the end of the year was like a promising talisman. I kept counting. Days went on.
Early one evening, in the gentle post-work-pub sort of hour, my husband came to see me. No children. He wanted to talk only to me. He had been out the night before with friends, he explained, friends we both knew, friends we’d both known for a long time. All evening, as they told their anecdotes and stories, he had wanted only to share them with me.
He had realised that he should not be in a relationship with someone else, not yet, and in the morning he had called and politely ended things with the woman he had been dating.
She had understood., he said. She was sad about it, she wanted to talk more, but she wished him well, said she had known it had been a bit soon. And then when he hung up that call, he had known it was the right thing to do because he had not, in fact, been ready for anything like a relationship. Not with anyone else.
He told me he had realised, the night before, that what he wanted was to be with me – to get back, somehow, to what we’d had. He had thought about it all day so that he would know he wasn’t making me promises he couldn’t keep. He was certain that he could try. Not certain that we would succeed, but that he was strong enough to try.
I moved from my own chair to sit on his knee in the watery late evening sun that was filtering through the windows of my always-dark rented kitchen. I fitted onto his lap like I always had, and I cried there like a toddler for about an hour. I had almost forgotten how safe his arms felt around me.
It was like a homecoming.