Going Back To Move Forward

It’s not over.  Just when you think you’ll never have another opportunity to talk to someone who meant so much to you, the opportunity presents itself in a most public and dramatic way.
If you’ve visited this site in the last few weeks, you may have noticed a couple of short, sweet comments in my Guestbook.  The first one was posted on the last day of September.  I knew immediately who wrote it.  All kinds of feelings and thoughts flowed through me to the point of rumination.  The words leapt off the screen and buried themselves deep within my conscience.  There were times where thinking of a different subject was difficult, if not downright impossible.  Those four, heartfelt sentences were read again and again and again.  One glance was never enough.
It was my ex-girlfriend making an attempt to reach out to me.  We had a terrible break-up earlier this Spring.  Anger, confusion and disappointment arose out of a surprising change of heart, unexpected emotions that killed the idea of immediately continuing on as just friends.  Were it not for my long lost buddies on Facebook, especially my old college pal, Rob, whose home is a warm and funny refuge from any and all ugly emotional realities, and the supportive messages I received from fellow bloggers, this past summer would’ve been completely unbearable and empty.
Living in denial about your hurt feelings is typical guy behaviour.  You don’t really believe you’re that affected by the change.  You basically carry on like you did before the relationship started, which in my case meant a return to reading, rocking out and screening movies, among other activities.  In other words, it was back to my Costanza period.
I even tried a new strategy for meeting women:  Facebook.  A extensive search through profiles of potential dates proved mostly frustrating but there were a couple of good leads.  First, there was a slightly older woman who, it turned out, was just a few blocks away from me in the city.  That was a big selling point.  After sending her a message on Facebook, much to my delight, she replied.  She was attractive, intelligent and seemed very nice.  We continued to exchange messages, although, early on, because I hadn’t heard from her in a few days, I wondered if she had second thoughts about me and lost interest.  Thankfully, she hadn’t.  When she got back in touch with me, she wanted to know if I had MSN Messenger.  Shortly thereafter, we were chatting in real time and she even went on webcam.  I was still interested.
After another delay, she gave me her phone number.  The first time I called, one of her roommates answered.  He told me she wasn’t there.  In actuality, she was standing right next to him but he wouldn’t give her the receiver or acknowledge her presence.  (He had a very good reason for doing this.  Someone in his family had been involved in a serious accident and he wanted to keep the line free in order to hear the latest news.  He was losing sleep over it.)
Eventually, on a different day, I got her on the line.  After she wondered why I didn’t call her back, we began our chat.  Within seconds, I stopped being interested in her.  It was abundantly clear she was a smoker.  Huge turn-off.  She went outside and in between those annoying moments where the nearby traffic was at its loudest, you could hear her puffing away.  It was unmistakable.
At some point, she had to go but she wanted to continue the conversation later on that day.  In our second call, she had gone back inside the house she shared with several roommates to pick up where we left off.  It was sweltering up in the attic where she watched Seinfeld reruns so she turned the fan on.  I could barely hear her, which ultimately didn’t matter.  I learned she wasn’t going to quit smoking and when she rattled off a number of her interests, I also realized we couldn’t even be platonic friends.  It was an enormous disappointment.  We had been talking about going for a walk and talk as our first date online but after these two conversations, I knew that date would never happen.
Feeling badly that I misled her into thinking we were going to do this, I wrote her a message on Facebook to let her know that I didn’t think we were compatible.  After laying out my reasons for baling out on the date, I wished her well.  There was no reply and after several weeks, she had deleted me from MSN Messenger.  It was too bad.  She’s a nice lady but not for me.
There was another potentially good lead.  Another attractive older woman, too.  This one, in her late 40s.  She’s a Wiccan so before messaging her on Facebook, I did a Google search to investigate her religion.  It was pretty interesting and surprisingly tolerant, if bewildering.  Some of what I learned was thrown into my message.  She wrote back suggesting we go out for a coffee.  She even offered to further explain her beliefs.  I wrote back and never heard from her again.
Sometime after that, I began to miss my ex.  I went back and forth emotionally.  Some days were less trying than others.  Then, in late September, she posted that typically sweet message in my Guestbook and the range of emotions intensified.  Elation, relief, anger, frustration, confusion, curiosity.  You name it, I felt it.  I knew she wanted to make peace with me.  She obviously wanted to start over as friends.  The important thing was she still cared.  And deep down, I did, too.
I thought about what to do.  Should she receive an immediate reply?  There were still hurt feelings and a strong possibility that something stupid or cruel would be written, which would ruin everything.  Despite what broke us apart, neither of us wanted to harm the other.  Circumstances beyond our control interfered with what was building between us.  Of all the bad options available, ignoring her was the only one that made any sense.  It was just easier to avoid the pain, something I learned from her back in the Spring.
Two weeks later, she posted a second message.  This one was more direct but still endearing.  The bottom line was she wanted to hear from me.  Knowing that we both shared a sense of stubbornness, it became clear that I couldn’t ignore her anymore.  We needed to deal with what we both were feeling.
Long, gutwrenching emails were exchanged and I learned the real reason why I was dumped.  The fear of being loved by a nice guy who really cared for her, insecurities about herself and the relationship, feeling internal pressure, not to mention the guilt she felt over her brutal ex unwantedly coming back into the picture all led to a pivotal conversation with a close girlfriend who advised her to end it. 
Reading her impassioned plea for forgiveness and understanding got to me.  It was moving to discover that she never got over me, still had feelings for me and didn’t find a replacement.  (She didn’t even go on a single date!)  She was profoundly regretful for what happened. 
This was all heavy stuff for what was essentially an Internet relationship (sprinkled with a number of disappointingly short phone calls).  At first, I was overwhelmed with thoughts and feelings.  A thorough examination of my options was in order. 
Trying again seemed like repeating failed history.  Or would things be much different this time?  Would we actually meet and finally learn if we had something special?  Was he out of her life for good? 
Her offer of friendship was still on the table.  But, you know, I’ve always felt that it’s impossible to be friends with someone you used to date.  It’s like a demotion in a way.  You can only get so close because of the new boundaries.  Resentment can build rather quickly over time for obvious reasons.
But losing her again seemed like the worst option.  She is the sweetest girl you could ever meet.  Despite living through some of the worst things you can imagine, she is terminally upbeat and positive.  It’s an incredible attitude to have.  She’s a brilliant, hardworking student.  (A highly decorated high school grad, she’s doing well in her first year of university now.)  She cares about people.  She has many friends and you get the sense that she’s deeply loved by her family (who should really let her be more independent, but I digress).  She’s also a lot of fun to talk to.
And now, having seen a photo of her, I know that she’s incredibly beautiful.  How lovely is she?  She doesn’t need make-up.  She’s naturally stunning.  (She strongly disagrees, of course.  She’s a girly girl to the end, that one.)
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that maybe starting over with her was a real possibility.  And just maybe, being friends with her should be the new starting point.  I wasn’t angry with her anymore and so I forgave her for what happened.  Looking back, she was not ready at all to be in a relationship so soon after escaping that menace who came between us.  I always sensed fear and a compulsive urge to change the subject whenever she was uncomfortable back then, a common occurrence during the tougher days.  It was frustrating.  I wanted to help her through all that and always encouraged her to seek out professional help.  I just wanted her to heal so we could be together.  Again, fear got in the way and it’s no wonder the relationship ended when it did.  But she did the right thing and I’ve moved on.
Now that we’ve made peace with each other and have started this friendship, both of us feel a sense of relief.  It sucks not talking to someone you always admired in more ways than one.  She seems to be a lot happier in university these days than she ever did in high school.  She’s learned to let loose in between long bouts of studying.  Maybe she’s not hiding so much anymore, which is a good thing.  Ever since her devoted brother called up her nasty ex to make sure he left her alone, he has indeed left her alone.  He’s a good brother.
But those feelings we developed for each other are still there lingering in the atmosphere.  It’s undeniable.  Interestingly, she’s toned down her affections for me (they were a lot more pronounced and passionate when we were a couple) which makes me wonder if that’s because of a fear of acknowledging her true feelings (which she admits have never really gone away) or because she’s purposefully slowing things down in order to avoid feeling pressured again.  (That’s an internalized thing on her part.  I never ever coerced her to do anything she didn’t freely want to do.  She’s her own woman.)  She’s made it clear she just wants us to be friends at the moment.  And I’m cool with that.  It’s better than nothing.  But she also made it clear that she would like try again in the future.  Me too.
When will that happen?  It’s uncertain.  Try as I did, it was impossible to let her go emotionally after our break-up, although initally, there was a grace period that cloaked my denial.  I’m relieved I didn’t find another girlfriend, though.  That would’ve needlessly complicated things and I think her feelings would’ve been really hurt.  After all she’s been through that’s the last thing I would want to do.  Besides, I never did find anyone as interesting as her.  She’s a special lady.  Even though she’s a babe, a sweetheart and smart, there’s something else about her that draws me to her that I can’t quite explain.  I just feel this need to protect her and care for her, to look after her, to make sure she’s happy, has her freedom and that she’s healthy.
That’s why I hope down the road, if she’s still interested and available, she’ll want to go out on a proper date with me, just one to see if there are any real romantic sparks, small or big, between us.  It would be really casual, maybe a walk or the chance to have a drink and a snack somewhere.  The whole point would be to let nature take its course and make conversation the central focus.  No expectations, no promises, no guarantees, no pressure to be intimate.  Just two people having a nice time slowly learning if there’s something special there.
If we can try this, a different strategy, in this case, old-fashioned offline dating one outing at a time, and delay possible intimacy for as long as humanly possible (until she gets comfortable with the idea and is genuinely interested), maybe the results would be more satisfying and long lasting.  But I worry when she asks me "hypothetical" questions like if I was to find myself seriously interested in another woman while we’re still friends, would I "go for it"?  (Why I would start up something with another woman when I have unresolved feelings about her remains a mystery.)  It makes me wonder if she’s already given up on the idea of a second chance with me.  She felt that since we’re just friends, if either of us were offered dates by other people, we should go out with them.  I’m just not thinking like that and that worries me.  But I understand and respect where she’s coming from.
She’s very insistent on sticking with the friendship and I respect that and want that.  She’s the barometer.  How she feels matters more than anything.  I always go by how she’s feeling even if I still doubt that she’s always completely honest with me.  That fear of hers is a cancer I want to cure.  When we were dating, she expressed a hatred for South Park (I’m a fan, by the way) and there was this odd sense of relief when she mentioned that.  I’m not saying I want her to be more negative with me.  No way.  I love her enthusiasm for life.  It’s just nice to know that she has strong dislikes as well as a great passion for the things she does enjoy.  She’s a real human being despite her secretive tendencies.  I accept her, flaws and all, even if she doesn’t believe it.
But after all is said and done, how long can we prolong discovering the honest answers to our deepest questions about a possible romantic future together?  Right now, I feel like sticking by her as a friend and hope, regardless of what’s to come in the future, to keep her in my life in that regard as long as we both want that.  Besides, I’m in no rush to take things further since I know that’s not what she wants right now.  There’s no sense pushing the issue.  I respect her too much to force her to make a choice right now.  In the future, either she will want to go on that date with me, and possibly many more, or she will want to remain friends.  All I know is someday I hope to finally learn how we really feel about each other in person.  Deep down, I know she’s really curious, too.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, October 19, 2007
12:46 a.m.
Published in: on October 19, 2007 at 12:46 am  Leave a Comment  

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