Life After Dating: Moving On From The Past

Yesterday, while I was getting ready to go to CostCo with my boyfriend, Michael, I told him a story a friend had told me about how much her dad hated her grandfather. I said, “I wonder what it’s like to have parents who you really deep-down hate.” Then I paused and thought about it, and said, “Well, I hated my in-laws.”

And for the first time in the last two years, I felt a sudden and very real sense of dissonance in saying that. I felt too young to say something like “I hated my in-laws,” in the past tense; as in, I had in-laws. As in, in my life, I have had in-laws, but now, I do not have in-laws.

A lot has changed since then — really, everything, from how I look, to where I live, to how I speak, to what I do. I have two close friends left over from the married part of my life, and a little bit of detritus, just a few things that I carried with me from when I left my apartment in the suburbs: a knife set, immersion blender, and food processor that I got as wedding presents; a Kitchen-Aid mixer my mom gave me as a birthday gift; a canning pot that she brought to me just yesterday from her basement that I haven’t used since I was married. I am now going to be using it to pack up apple butter in Ball jars to send off to my friends, like I did when I was married in the suburbs. I have two spangly jackets I can’t bring myself to get rid of that I bought just a few months before I left. But those are really more totems of who I am: A woman who would have a cake-themed bridal shower and ask for kitchen stuff instead of having a lingerie party, and a woman who loves metallics; not a married woman, not the woman I had to be in order for the marriage to work, but the woman I actually am, who managed to assert herself in small ways for the seven years I spent trying stuff her way, way down, into the soles of my feet.

It’s taken this long for me to start getting back to “who I actually am,” too. My mom is thrilled that I’ve been making art again in the last few weeks, and that I’m going to be taking vocal lessons soon, because making art and singing are two things that have circled close to the core of who I am since I was two or three years old. They dropped off when I got into my relationship with my ex, just like a lot of things, including my relationships with my family.

I’ve written about it before: That relationship sucked. It was abusive. I lost seven years of my life to it, and it really felt like losing once I was out of it. I have been angry, really furious, for the majority of the last two years. I’ve been furious about the way I was treated, furious about the debt I had to take on in order to get the hell out of my marital contract (not lawyers — loans), furious with myself for the many, many mistakes and misjudgments I made, for all the times I didn’t stand up for myself. And I have been anxious and mistrustful.

How Michael has managed to be as patient as he has is beyond me. Had our positions been switched, I don’t know that I would have been the kind of person who could love him even though he kept pushing me away and getting unduly scared of being with me because of a prior relationship (but then, I also don’t know who I might have been if I hadn’t been in an abusive relationship in the past). I’ve spent a year and a half with Michael — on and off at first, but just “on” for coming up on a year, this November — and I have been conscious of the fact that after leaving a seven-year committed relationship with my ex, I expected our relationship to be the same way. I thought that he’d have the same expectations that my ex did, because that’s all I knew of committed relationships.

He doesn’t. Michael doesn’t expect me to tiptoe around his feelings, to devote all of my attention to him when we happen to be home at the same time, to cook for him every night, to run all of my decisions by him, espouse the same opinions, to abide by standards for my appearance and self-presentation that he deems acceptable. Our definition of what constitutes a happy relationship is roughly the same: Two people who are good friends to each other, who respect each other’s personalities and boundaries, who give each other the kind and amount of attention they need to feel emotionally safe, and who are very physically attracted to each other.

But it was only yesterday, when I said that “I hated my in-laws,” that I finally felt so different and so far away from the me who had had in-laws. I spent a long time waiting for the other shoe to drop on my new happiness, and it’s only now that I’ve accepted that the good relationship that I’m in, the good job I have, the good work I’m doing for my health, are all really and truly my reality.

I doubt it could have happened sooner. Michael has been a font of support, as have my friends and family. Not all people who leave really, really bad relationships get that, and certainly many people who leave even just frustrating-bad or it-went-sour-bad relationships take longer than that to stop unintentionally drawing comparisons between old and new relationships and seething over their hurts.

I can’t tell you how to stop. I can tell you that it takes time, and that during that time you’ll be selfish and that that’s reasonable. I can also tell you that there are really and truly kind people in the world, and that eventually you’ll have to gather up the courage to trust that they are kind not because they’re out to satisfy their sadism by fleecing you emotionally, but because they are, simply, just kind.

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