A few months ago I wrote about a bag of stuff. More specifically, my ex-boyfriend's stuff. He and I had broken up right before the holidays and I was struggling with when and how to give back his stuff. That story ended with me driving around with the bag of stuff in the backseat of my car, in the hopes that someday I would be ready to move it to the trunk.
I did eventually move that bag of stuff to the trunk of my car. And it stayed there for a few weeks. But then I started talking with my ex-boyfriend again. And he started coming over again. And eventually one night he stayed over and needed some stuff. So I went out to the car and brought the bag back into the house.
It has stayed in my family room closet for the last few months, as my ex-boyfriend and I have moved through the various stages of breaking up, becoming friends and making up. During that time, I even got a new car. At one point the bag of stuff made it to the backseat of that car. I was pretty sure the next step would be my ex-boyfriend's house, but then somehow it landed back in the family room closet again.
That bag of stuff has been passed around more times than a beer bong at a college frat party. And even though it is just a bag of stuff, somehow I have allowed it to become a symbol of our relationship and my readiness to move on. As long as that bag of stuff is still in my possession, it is because I believe there is a chance, even a small one, that my ex-boyfriend might stay over with me one more night.
As I look back on these past few months, I have observed the same patterns repeating over and over again. Although we both desire stability, there is an inherent push and pull to our relationship. Whenever we are broken up, my ex-boyfriend starts to slowly win me back over with little texts and reminders of how good things used to be. Eventually, my defenses start to weaken and I let him back into my life. Usually it starts with some sort of project or activity that brings us together and then it evolves from there. Once I engage and start to feel connected to him again, the tables turn and I end up doing all of the work to pursue him and keep the relationship together.
Eventually, he will do something to hurt me or let me down and I will use that single event as a trigger to finally end it for good. We have long drawn out break up conversations until I finally walk away. Within a few days or weeks, he starts texting me and the cycle starts all over again.
I have known for some time that my ex-boyfriend is not the person I want to spend the rest of my life with. Yet, I have allowed myself to continue in these patterns. I think all of us find comfort in what is familiar, even when it may not be healthy for us. Sometimes it is easier to stay in the known, rather than taking a risk and stepping into the unknown.
These last few weeks have been really challenging. There were a few big projects that brought us together. First, my ex-boyfriend has been house hunting and he asked for me to come with him to check out some houses. Second, we decided to re-build my front porch steps together. The contractor wanted to charge me $1,300 and my ex-boyfriend knew that we could do it ourselves for a lot less. Spending all of that time together brought us right back into our patterns.
I promised myself that I would find a way to end it, before I let myself get in too deep. But as time passed, it became harder and harder to find my way out. We just finished the porch steps last weekend and then this week it was his birthday. In a few weeks he is leaving on a work trip and I always drive him to the airport and check on his house while he is away. Then when he gets back from that trip, it will be my birthday and he will want to celebrate with me.
Last week I was telling my counselor about my break up dilemma and how I couldn't seem to find the right time to do it. She listened politely to all of the various constraints and considerations. Then she made an observation. "It seems like you are looking for a clean way to end things. Maybe you need to just accept that whenever you decide to break up with him it is going to be messy."
"It doesn't have to be today or tomorrow," she continued. "But whenever it happens, he will feel sad and you will feel sad. It will be complicated and you will have moments of regret. That is part of the experience and if you don't feel those things you will never get to the other side."
Last night my ex-boyfriend came over for a visit. He struggles with his moods and I could tell that he was in a more depressed state of mind. I sometimes have trouble falling asleep when he is over, so he ended up staying on the couch. When we woke up in the morning, I had the whole day reserved so that we could spend some time together. I had no intentions of initiating the break up talk, but somehow it just happened.
When you are breaking up with someone, your whole relationship flashes in front of your eyes. The attraction and passion, the headaches and heartbreaks, the shared experiences and the love and hate of it all. We both cried as he held me on the couch. Both of us trying to hold on for just a moment longer to the comfort of the other person's embrace and knowing that soon we would have to face the world alone again.
Ending our relationship is like reading a book and putting it down halfway through. You will never know how the story ends. I won't be there when he makes an offer on his new house and eventually moves in. He won't be there when I find a new job and decide where I am going with my life. We won't be there for the little things like making waffles on Sunday morning or sitting in the waiting room at the doctor's office to keep each other company.
But I also won't have to feel the uncertainty of whether he is going to be there for me emotionally during all of those big moments, or whether he is going to withdraw and disappear. And I won't have to feel the pressure of never having enough time for him or not doing things the right way. And I won't have to struggle with trying to prop him up through his mood swings and periods of depression.
We were both hungry after the break up conversation, so we ended up making some eggs for breakfast. It was almost like hitting the pause button on the conversation for a while. After we cleaned up the kitchen it was back to the break up. As he was getting ready to leave, I went into the family room closet and got the bag of stuff.
"I think it's time for you to take this," I told him. And I walked outside with him and put the bag in the backseat of his car.