On No Contact vs. Staying Friends: Continued Healing after Break-Up
When my ex-fiance was breaking up with me in our bedroom on a Sunday afternoon just moments after his three adult daughters had called to scream at me on speakerphone for thirty minutes straight, and moments after he had listened, let them, and once they hung up, informed me that he agreed with them he also had the nerve to say that he and I could “stay friends” if I was “mature enough to do that.”
As he rambled on about why he had to leave - how it is not his fault, how this or that excuse, how he has to “cut me out of the equation” to keep his full on grown up kids happy, I pondered on what it would mean to remain friends with a person who had just thrown me under the bus, humiliated me, and allowed adult women to scream at me for no good reason for thirty minutes as if this was somehow normal, or friendly, behavior. Not to mention him walking out in a pandemic, or the week of Thanksgiving, or without telling my daughter so much as a goodbye, but somehow this man felt that it would show maturity on my part to let him do these things to me and to stay on as a friend in his life.
After the break up, I was indeed broken. It was one of the hardest weeks of my life. I did not eat, I could not sleep, I longed for him to come back, make it make sense, be who he said he was to me, who I wanted him to be, who I thought he was. And in all of this I knew it was over and that I would not be keeping him - or his family - in my life. How humiliating would it be to allow that? His children screamed at me, he bailed on me, and lied to me, and yet somehow it is mature to ‘remain friends?’
Maturity is knowing when something is not healthy for you. Maturity is knowing when a person, or group of people, are not safe people for you. Maturity is realizing that you did not matter much at all to this man or to his family, despite five years of trying at it, of thinking you were doing well. Maturity is knowing that this man has deep issues that are traumatic for everyone around him and that now, blessing, you are not one of those people.
My ex had a habit of keeping his exes around. So he has done this before a few times. Cheated, gave the break up speech, blamed the woman, and then told her to stay friends somehow. He somehow assumed he could repeat the pattern with me. In all of my days with him I never wanted to be one of his exes that he had at his beck and call. That he held up on high as some kind of angel. That called him to fix her sink, or help build a deck, or just to talk. What is the point of that afte being cheated on and hurt? He told me once he kept them around because where there is love there is always love but I know that he actually keeps them around because they enable his insecurities and do his emotional labor for him. And I did not do that while we were together, so why would I sign up for it after he left me in a truly toxic and crappy way?
I know that no contact is hard. It felt hard. He was my best friend, he was my love. He meant everything to me, really. My routine revolved around his needs and wants, his schedule and demands, his family. Sometimes he is still a phantom in my mind, in my house. I have missed him terribly at times, yes. And yet no contact is the best and most healthy way to move on, to heal, and to actually realize and process what happened. It is the, if you will, mature thing to do after being dragged through the mud, kicked in the face, and told it was your fault, right? You don’t go back and ask that person to hang out after. You realize the hurt and the pain, you heal it, you remove yourself from that person’s life, and you find people who won’t drag you, kick you, mock you, and in all otherways abuse your kindness and love.
After the break up you will be tempted to think about only the good times, the good qualities, and worry you will never find anyone like that again, or love like taht again. I hear that I will. I hear that I can. But, those good times - and the fact that no one else on this earth will ever share those memories with me again - ouch. I had wanted to be that couple who could look back on things and laugh and reminisce. Or build upon things like some kind of foundation. But those good times I have also had to let go of. For healing let me list a few here: lunch at the Indian Buffet, snuggling on the couch to movies, the sight of him waiting for me to come out of the ladies room when we went out, holding his granddaughter and feeling her love me and seeing how happy it made him that she loved me, the way we would hold hands all of the time and the special way we had of giving nicknames to each other, to everyone, and to everything we did and saw. Our language was sweet, our affection was constant, and our laughter was real. I loved him deeply, and he said he felt the same about me. But, I suppose if that were true, he would have used that love to fight for me, stand up for me, and stay with me, right? If he had loved me as much as he said, maybe we could have remained friends after a mutual, kind, decent, compassionate, heartfelt, and mature breakup.
But he would not allow that to happen. When he was breaking up with me he told me not to speak or he would get angry. He spoke and spoke, then he left. Was that love? Was that friendship? No. And no.
Sometimes I imagine us talking again and I wonder what it might be like, might feel like. But then I remember how he told me such things as “he could have a date in a week” or “why can’t you just be there by my side when I die as a friend?” And I realize he really really really did not care about me, about loving me, about our relationship, about my life.
And that is not a friend. A friend would communicate and work out issues and problems. A friend would apologize if their kids screamed at you. A friend would consider how you might feel about being abandoned in a pandemic and try to do it at least in a way that was not full of excuses, lies, trivializations, and probably a bit of malice. What he did to my kid and I was cruel. And friends are not cruel.
I try to understand people who remain friends with their ex, and I have a hard time with it, I admit. The Gottman folks say that if it brings friction to your current relationship, maybe think it over. He did not allow me to say anything bad about his past exes, they were, again, on a pedestal for him. Sometimes I wonder if he hated me from the start because wow - he compared me to these other women, and I always fell short. And yet when he was loving me, it was lovely. I was the best, I was the sweetest, I was the most amazing and good, I was beautiful and I helped him be a better man. But, in the end it was still comparing, I suppose. Maybe he never really allowed himself to see me at all.
I’m not sure, and I suppose I can’t care about that now. My point in writing this is to walk you through the no contact vs. friends and to help you understand that friends don’t bail, friends don’t throw you under the bus, friends don’t blame you for everything and run. If a friendly break up exists, yes, mutual, go for it, try it, be friends. If it is one like the one I just went through - run, heal, don’t look back, go no contact. I wish there was an in-between, but again this man let his daughters scream at me and told me I deserved it so, yeah that is not going to happen here.
But I will heal. It was five years of my life and it was a lot of huge hopes and dreams. But, that is gone now and gone it shall remain. I am mature, I am smart, and I am a good person. The hateful words of his daughters, and his enthusiastic support for them, sometimes ring in my head, but I know they never really knew me, or wanted to know me. And in some mature relationships I hear that parents tell their adult kids to respect the person they love! Imagine that!
Going no contact is mature. Staying friends with someone who disrespected you, humiliated you, allowed you to be verbally abused, and so on is not mature - that is codependent, that is fear, and that is not the way to heal. I have struggled with having compassion for him, and his kids, after what they put me and my daughter through, but in the end I wish them the best from afar, and know that I have to have compassion for myself and let them all go and embrace me and my new found freedom.
I read something online that helped - it said to thank the person for being that abrupt and cruel messenger because they opened your eyes, they did the unthinkable because you would not, could not, imagine leaving them. So, when he cheated, when he lied, when he showed me this side of him, I still held out hope that he would be better, love me, do right. I was wrapped up in love and loyalty and just thought he would see it. He did not. And in leaving me as he did, he set me free to actually care about myself, my own needs, my own life, and what is best for me.
I will never again put myself in the path of a toxic person or group of people. And this box of darkness, as Mary Oliver wrote, was also a gift.