Last Friday, my bosses closed the books on the quarter by closing the books on my job. It was a surprise, and the bosses offered more condolences and good references than they did reasons to back up their decision. I was in a bit of a spin, and assorted boyfriends and lovers reacted in all different ways. The Kid listened to everything and responded to my texts with smileys, frownys, kisses, and <;3s as he saw fit – we won't see each other in person until the school year. The Teacher made me grilled cheese and tomato soup on my first Monday home from work and pretended nothing was wrong – which was comforting in its way. The Programmer responded perfectly with instant outrage on my behalf, sympathy for my mixed feelings, affection, and availability. And the Architect, well. He broke up with me. That was also a surprise.
It so happened that as I packed up a box with my personal things at the office last Friday, the Architect texted with a random “Love you!”. And when I told him why it was great to hear it at that moment, he invited me over without hesitation. He distracted me with pizza and cartoons, held me tight, and fucked me well enough to purge the day’s negative energy. I was yawning as I left his driveway that night, and I was feeling almost okay. Of course the next few days were a rollercoaster, and the Architect was quiet instead of his usual cheerful daily checkins, flirts, and iloveyous. So naturally, during our first real conversation in several days, I yelled at him … and immediately apologized and was forgiven. We set a date to talk more over the weekend. And each of us spent the next five days or so planning quietly how best to break up or stay together. During those five days, I swung from break up to stay together. And he swung the other way.
The Architect started saying goodbye to me as soon as we sat down across the dinner table from one another, although he didn’t do or say anything out of place. His eyes were all I needed to know what he was thinking; this has always been true. After dinner, I sat him on my couch, and asked him to tell me what he’d been thinking about. He told me a little bit of what he’d been turning over and over – mostly confusion about how best to handle the practicality of polyamory in his life. Although this isn’t a concern for me – there’s not a single person in my life who doesn’t know I date non-monogamously – the image he and his wife present is one of happy monogamy. The Architect still couldn’t manage to tell me the truth, the real stuff, until I said it for him: “I have to admit,” I told him, “I’ve been wondering if we should break up.” That unsealed his lips finally. He described how he needed to spend time on and with himself, and himself only; had to figure out what he really wanted from relationships, whether he wanted them at all. He meant every word, and it was killing him to say it.
My heart, instead of shrinking or freezing, felt larger than ever before, almost choking me. I let it, and kept quiet while he told me what he wanted to. I agreed, I understood, I probably even smiled. I responded hardly at all, except with acceptance, and that may have been my mistake. Maybe I should have let my feelings pour from my mouth like I always do, grabbed his hand, told him no, laid out the reasons why he needed me right now, vice versa. Maybe I should have insisted with my touch, my kiss, pressing my love against him, knowing he’d have to fight so hard to resist. Maybe I should have calmly laid out all the logic he hadn’t considered, the other side of the spectrum, my own perspective and even the third. I didn’t. I sat still, six inches away and a mile away, until he started to cry. That was when my heart broke.
While I held him, feeling him fight himself, I turned off all the thoughts that threatened to overwhelm me, urging me to remember just how he was stroking my hair because it would never happen again. I shut them down one by one; although self-torture is a specialty of mine, it’s not one that pleases me. I thoughtfully listed reasons why this felt wrong. There were several. And I listed reasons this felt right. There was one. The only reason breaking up felt right – the only reason I could make myself hug him quickly, hold myself still while he kissed me and whispered “I love you” against my lips, telling me goodbye in my doorway for the last time – was because he was convinced he had to.
It still feels wrong to me. I have filled my time since then, seeing friends, wandering the mall, tiptoeing between the library stacks, sneaking into the movies for a double-header with my mother. I am good at breakups, in fact, and these are tried and true strategies that are already helping. There is nothing, of course, that will make it hurt any less, and I am shocked at how much it hurts. It isn’t that, though, that keeps on bothering me. It’s the fact that of all the breakups I’ve been part of in my life – at least a hundred, over the last fifteen years – this is the first one that feels wrong afterward. Every breakup is wrenching, everyone involved is left ragged to heal, but that’s not what I mean. For the first time ever, I cannot recognize through that pain that this was the right decision. Dean Jagger’s voice twists through my mind on a fine thread that continues to resonate every few minutes, as he speaks General Waverly’s words to Betty Haynes at the train station in Pine Tree, Vermont: “I can’t help but think this is a tactical error. In my opinion, what you two need is a good talking-to.” We haven’t a General Waverly, of course. And we haven’t a neat two-hour plotline. And I just don’t know anymore. I know this: I’ve had just about enough rejection for one fucking week.