I really did try not to fall in love with you.
And at some point, when I realized I was already there, I stalwartly attempted to unlove you.
By that time, I had cycled through so many loops of attraction, attempted indifference, love, friendship, anger, acceptance, frustration, pretending indifference, attraction, etc. that it had begun to feel like my normal way of life.
At some level, I was growing numb to it in my attempts to adapt and save my heart.
Through all of those loops, those months, the cycles, I tried to trust my instincts about your feelings for me, tried to intuit through or behind those barriers you were so good at building, but I was never sure where you stood.
It seemed to bounce around too much to pin down. I always knew the barriers you created were necessary for you.
I never took them personally.
But after that incident of which we have spoken and for which I apologized (and for which you said no apology was necessary), I took myself out of your circle. I didn’t want to see you, didn’t want to be around you.
It was, finally, too painful. I felt stupid that after all my struggles to do so, I couldn’t seem to control my own heart.
I wanted to stay as respectful and distant as I could. I was trying to do the right thing—mostly for me, but also for you. I wanted to prove to the Universe and to myself that I was walking my talk. I wanted to take care of myself.
So I retreated into myself, into my own small, compact and safe world. I stopped going to church; I stopped dancing; I stopped going out with friends, stopped meeting girlfriends for tea.
I spent those months meditating, praying, inspecting myself for fissures—repairing what presented itself. Trying to be kind to myself, I attempted to not admonish myself for sadness and thinking “what if…” thoughts.
I was only partially successful on that count.
Mostly, I let myself feel the pain head-on without trying to hide it any longer. The pain itself was not fun, but it felt good to finally allow it, to sit shiva for my own heart, to honor its journey and the sadness—to cry into the cracks and to hopefully discover something like courage underneath—or maybe just endurance.
I also attempted to distract myself at times during those months and attracting an online dating scammer during that time certainly did the distraction trick. It turned out I learned so much about myself during and after that wild crazy ride, that I couldn’t feel bad about it.
It was a gift.
So I gradually began to see light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. My ferocious optimism gradually reasserted itself and life was looking better and better all the time. I began to feel strong and happy again.
Then came the day when I felt so done and over you that I didn’t care if I saw you again or not. I felt indifference settle comfortably in and grow roots.
I liked the familiarity of that indifference, because I had successfully navigated that feeling right into a safe, I’m-over-him, harbor more than once before in my lifetime.
Life was good again—and back to normal—only better.
I ventured out into some of my bigger circles, coming out of my compact world and back into a larger version that contained more people, sometimes even including you.
The first time I saw you I was strong and detached and ready. It was easy to remain detached. I felt the attraction still there and registered some disappointment that it had showed its old, worn face again.
But it seemed easy to talk around and over. It was simple to ignore that big white elephant in my heart’s small, tidy living room.
I felt triumphant at my self-safekeeping victory.
But after the second encounter I knew I wasn’t faring so well. I knew I was in trouble. I felt a mad mayday alarm start in my head and spread out in all directions, racing to get to, and save, my heart as quickly as possible.
I could feel myself emotionally withdrawing to save myself, scrambling to recover lost ground, but at the same time, and with much self-disappointment at my “failure,” I noticed I was counting the days until the next time I could see you.
But something felt different this time—something that kept wiggling out from under my mind’s thumb; it wouldn’t hold still long enough for complete definition. Then finally it seeped in.
I didn’t feel those high, thick walls in you anymore.
How was I supposed to know that you would somehow be waiting for me? That when I emerged from my retreat and from my healing that you would be standing right in front of me, shading my eyes from the sudden bright glare, there to meet me?
I didn’t expect that.
I was prepared for more distance from you—even avoidance. I was counting on you to emotionally withdraw from me, the way you had always done before. I was always able to feel those walls you built. I was counting on you to help me out by building them again.
You didn’t. You haven’t.
It felt exactly like it did in Berlin when the wall came down. After only the first few days it was still obvious where the wall had once stood, dissecting.
But not long after that—after some cleanup—it was easy to start in West Berlin where I lived, be walking through where once the wall had dead-ended a street, to suddenly realize I was standing in East Berlin, without ever having noticed the transition.
It just felt the way it was supposed to—streets flowing to their next, natural destination as originally planned, without obstruction.
So now I’m in a much-anticipated, foreign and yet achingly familiar land with my officially and freshly stamped passport clutched a bit nervously to my heart, standing looking at your “you are here” map, which fortunately and thankfully—and much to my relief—seems to be in the rough outline of your heart.
(An earlier version of this was originally published at the author’s blog.)
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Renee Picard
Photo: Internet Archive Book Image Flickr