“I care about you.”
They say this as they leave. As they let you walk out. As they break their promises. As they tell you you’re not meant for them. As they tell you they don’t love you. As they end everything you had high hopes for.
After any and all crushing blows they’ve landed on you in the midst of breaking your heart, it’s just:
I care about you.
It’s a shattering line. A shimmering spark. A disappointing reminding of what was. A symbol of possible hope for a future.
Why this lands so hard and painfully clear within your mind during a breakup, I truly don’t know.
But I can pick this phrase out like the Mona Lisa in the Louvre.
I remember him saying it to me. After he had just put me through the 30-day break from hell, and then forgot when those 30 days were over. I remember asking him over text, “Did you forget about our 30-day break?” Little did he know, I had spent the day before, staring out the window, pathetically anticipating his arrival or even a call.
It took him a whole day to answer me.
But when he did, he said, “I did forget; my life has been so crazy. I didn’t even think about it.”
From there, I got the final breakup.
The cowardly message typed in a length of green bubbles from the safety of a cell phone miles away instead of in person. Our relationship wasn’t over that day, it was over 32 days before I had to ask if he remembered. I’m the fool who should have known that.
His text said something like, “I’m not in the right place,” “I shouldn’t be dating anyone,” “I have some serious work to do on myself.”
“I care about you very much.”
Those words. That’s all they are. Words.
And they sting with possibility, anger, and despair all at once.
My mind was traveling miles a minute trying to make sense of, “I care about you very much.” As mad and crushed as I was, I kept thinking:
If you cared, why didn’t you stay?
Looking back on it now, I see the signs. I see the places where he put me last, didn’t call because he didn’t have time, forgot about things we were doing, cast aside plans we made together, ditched me for his friends, chose to never talk about anything, or didn’t act on his promises. He chose daily to show I didn’t matter to him.
I care about you.
An absurd sentence after spending months of proving he, in fact, didn’t care at all. Even now, I have rare proof of him caring while I observed him caring about everyone else around him. Meanwhile, I’m sitting there, caring too much. Putting all my care into this person, hoping that I’ll get the same in return. But some people are incredible takers.
I care about you.
Like me, you may have heard these words and believed them once too. How could you believe them now?
How could someone ripping your heart in two suddenly care about you?
In the torrential wake of heartbreak, witnessing those broken promises split into smaller shards, those words don’t mean anything. Not really. But at the moment, we choose to make them mean the world. We choose to build our own delirious narrative around them.
In that story, we’ll analyze moments in time where they said they cared or showed they cared. We’ll imagine that perfect world where we’re happy and they care. That world will be full of all the excuses our mind conjures up to ease our pain. Convincing ourselves they still care. We’ll place those moments, even the weakest ones, on well-carved pedestals. Making them markers for every relationship to follow. Immortalizing seriously misled notions of care.
We’ll spend weeks, months, and maybe years sculpting these stories to perfection. Meanwhile, the people around us, the ones who do care, worry for our health, and rapidly declining happiness.
In truth, we’re grasping for something that isn’t there. Grasping for a feeling that never really existed to begin with. Holding on to something we knew, on some level, ended as fast as it started.
But like a cracked door shedding a sliver of light into a dark room, we hold onto, “I care about you.” Mistaking it for hope. Mistaking it for a second chance. Mistaking it for a thinly veil of love.
We are kidding ourselves.
By letting ourselves hope, we’re choosing hurt. And yet, I know as much as anyone, letting go is just not that easy.
“I care about you” is not meant to provide you with hope. It’s meant to ease them of their guilt. To keep you around just in case they’ve changed their mind. To live in your memory as a good person.
If they cared, they wouldn’t have played with your heart in the first place. They would’ve left when they knew they weren’t invested. If they weren’t ready to care, they should have never entertained you.
Perhaps they do care about you. It’s possible you truly aren’t made for each other. Perhaps this is the truth, but how could you possibly know? How can trust be restored after being torn away in an instant?
I know you’re desperate to hold on. I know you’re not ready for it to end. I know this is not what you wanted. I know the grief is too much. I know you just want to hit rewind, travel back in time, find what you think is wrong, and try and fix it.
I know this next part may hurt, but I want to say it anyway.
If they cared, they would try.
If they cared, they would stay.
If they cared, they would do everything they could to keep from hurting you.
They don’t care. Not really.
You deserve better.
I know it’s painful to grieve this loss. To feel like you can’t breathe. I know that painful, hardness continues to grow in your chest. I know you’re feeling like you won’t make it through this alive.
I know you want them to care and, at the same time, you feel like they just don’t. And if they don’t, then why should you?
But let me tell you this. Someone will care.
Someone, someday, will be the perfect person who will come along and care for you in ways no one else has. They’ll help you forget those pedestals carved to cradle the phantoms of others you wanted to care. Those fantasies you’ve crafted from old pieces of already crumbling marble—they’ll be replaced with newer, better, and more realistic ones. Ones smooth to the touch. Ones you can grasp with your hands. Ones you will truly feel in your heart.
Someone will care so damn much, you’ll never doubt their intentions.
You’ll just know they care.