There is only ever after

I want this grief to go away. I want to stop feeling as though the packaging holding my skin and my body and my life together is punctured every time I get news that a friend is pregnant, or has had a baby. Or when baking-themed gender-reveals for people I hardly even know pop up on my Facebook feed. (Also, please just stop bringing cake into this). Every time, it feels like I allow a little piece of fear to wedge its way into my heart.

There is a couple I see at Big River almost every day, walking their dog and holding hands, while the woman cradles a baby in a pink sling over her chest. Their happiness is obvious and infectious and like a total psychopath, I cry almost every time I walk past them on the beach with my dog. Oh I hear you, it sounds bananas but this feeling isn’t mental – it’s a cellular level, base instinct response, like when the doctor taps your knees with one of those tiny little rubber hammers only it feels more like a baseball bat whacking my ovaries and sending shock waves involuntarily throughout my whole body. And yes, it is intellectually absurd to feel sad or jealous of total strangers or likewise, Facebook “friends” I actually haven’t spoken to or seen in years or ANYONE for that matter. But that’s the rub. I know rationally that it is an irrational reaction and that in no universe is someone else’s existence a referendum on the state of mine. And yet, those involuntary feelings are there and some days I am better at seeing them for what they really are: gremlins born of my own fears and insecurities, and a little bit of biological voodoo too.

I carry this sickening sense of anger with myself for not wanting to feel this way, as well as a heap of guilt for allowing my grief to morph into this monster that seems to capitalize on the abject joy of other people. I do not want to be this person. I do not want my own feelings of loss to make undeserving scapegoats of friends or even people I just sort of know, and certainly not random postcard perfect couples from a Mendocino beach.

Because, what if this is my reality for the rest of my life? What if the next 30+ years of my world take a path that does not involve becoming a biological parent? That’s a long fucking time to harbor misplaced feelings of resentment towards others and bitterness towards myself, and for a circumstance I have to take responsibility for putting myself in the first place.

When Jay and I got back together in 2017 we had already broken up twice. The first time, he broke it off with me it was early 2016 and it happened after four months of dating, ostensibly because I wanted our relationship to be exclusive and he was panicked about making that commitment. It devastated me. I sank into an immediate and intense period of depression. I started to drink heavily alone, something I had never done before and have not done since. I spent crazy long days at work. And at very unhappy happy hours after I would finally leave the office. I joined a Crossfit gym down the street from my apartment which I told everyone was because I was working on my Michelle Obama arms but really I needed somewhere to get angry and punish my body with burpees and wall balls for being so foolish as to fall in love with someone who obviously didn’t want me. Why do we do that to ourselves, when the object of our affection responds with apathy or in the extreme, with rejection? Why is it so easy to feel like it’s not them but YOU with the problem in that situation?

And, wait for it. And then…and THEN. I took him back five months later, which sounds completely bonkers now but hindsight at the time was not a thing. I missed him. I wanted to believe that we could be the fairytale that worked out when he realized his terrible mistake. But I couldn’t get past the feeling that he wasn’t 100% there, and I don’t think I had forgiven him for breaking my heart the last time. So I was the one who decided to leave after 4 months.

The reasons behind our third and final reconciliation are many. What I recall the most is the feeling of familiarity and comfort I felt with him early in that third go-round, like hey, maybe this can work after all. Maybe all that insecurity I had felt on and off over the past year had finally run its course and we had gotten it all out of the way. Maybe it was because it was the spring of 2017 and I needed something to tend to and grow. He told me he loved me. He told me he wanted to make it work and more importantly, that he was ready, really ready this time to make this happen. I wanted it to work. I wanted to stop looking and going on shitty dates with tech bros and cynical strangers in San Francisco. I wanted all that pain we had put each other through to be the magic that made us stronger in the long run. I was willing to ignore the feelings of fear and uneasiness I had for the possibility that I could be part of a real-life love story, complete with plot twists and turns that ends with an alter of peonies and roses, a white dress, a commitment and a baby. Suffering through the bad to get to the reward at the end.

But the problems that led to our final break-up were already there when we made that last go of things. I believe that he believed what he was telling me was true: Yes, he wanted kids. Yes, he eventually wanted to be a husband. And yes, he wanted that all to be with me. I heard the words but I ignored the niggling sense that they also carried with them the invisible weight of hesitancy, inertia and fear. I sidelined rationality and sent intuition back to the locker room because I wanted this win so badly I was willing to take the risk for a chance at a real-life happily ever after.

Sometimes I feel like maybe the reasons our life together didn’t work out are irrelevant only because it won’t change the circumstances of right now. It won’t make this hole I feel at the moment feel any less vast. If we had become parents together as my fantasy dictated there would undoubtedly be a heaviness of grief around our failure to be a family unit for our kid.

The real reason I feel compelled to unpack all of this is to better understand the long game I’ve been playing with love relationships my whole life. Jay was not the first man with whom I tried to force fit a life but I want him to be the last. I made a hundred little decisions every day to convince myself that I should stay, over and over again for months. Or if we’re counting every time we broke up and got back together, for years. I made a choice and took a risk when we made a go of it that third time. I did that to me, regardless of who he is or the problems he has or who he turned out to be because there was love there and it was real. It was just everything else, namely the stories we wove independently and with each other about who we could be, rather than facing the harder truth of our own limitations, that became our final undoing. A partnership built on hope and love alone is a beautiful dream but makes for a house created out of bricks of mist.

Those stories enabled me to emotionally betray myself in the end, by blurring the line between a leap of faith and a fall of a bridge until it simply disappeared. It left me with a leeriness about myself that cuts so much deeper than the duplicity of a partner’s promise. And when that happens you’re the one left holding the bag. You can’t push the blame off to another person or even point to an outside influence to take responsibility for something you were capable of clocking in the first place, or the second, and certainly the third. It leaves you scared of your own shadow, looking over your shoulder and wondering, will I be able to catch myself before I do that again? Or is there another bagel shop breakdown somewhere in my future?

In a terrific irony, I am comforted by the knowledge that I could have forced the baby issue and I did not. I could have set aside the emotional evacuation orders my heart was sending me in the months leading up to our break up and demanded that we try and get pregnant, knowing deep down that our relationship would probably default in the end. It’s a tangible piece of evidence that suggests I am trying to look out for myself, even when I’m drunk on fantasy and wandering through an emotional black out.

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