Saturday, November 12, 2011

Scenes from a Doomed Relationship

It's over.


Yesterday, he and I, in true 21st-century style (on Facebook, which is better than Twitter, I suppose), arrived at yet another parting of ways. This time, though, it felt different. Almost final.

What a long, strange trip it had been -- 13 months of wildly inconsistent behavior, hot and cold, like that guy in Katy Perry's best song. Would he be cruel or kind today, love me or loathe me, pay attention or pretend that I don't exist?

I can't say that I didn't see the break-up coming -- even without my glasses, it was visible from miles away. Relationships are hard enough as it is and even more so when they are conducted mostly from the discomfort of your own homes on different continents. It doesn't help when you are dealing with someone who is uncommunicative by nature and generally doesn't talk in more than three sentences at a time unless he's drunk or lashing out in anger. I'm still in shock that he said, "I love you," first. Considering his taciturn nature, those were the last words I ever expected to hear him say -- or text, which was better than nothing. Did I mention that he'd had a few drinks?

In our final confrontation yesterday, terrible things were said -- or rather, written -- by both of us. I called him cruel and told him that I wanted him out of my life for good. He called me needy and suggested I was holding him back. I carefully considered his criticisms and wondered if he had a point.

I decided that that they were the mad ramblings of someone who was grasping at straws. How can someone with such a fierce independent streak, who lives alone, travels alone, does almost everything alone and has spent the last five years living alone on three new continents possibly be needy? Clingy has never been my thing. Ok, I can be a bit of a cuddler, but I'll never try to hold your hand as we walk down the street. I rarely have anyone around to cling to, and that's been mostly by choice. If anything, I could probably stand to be a bit more dependent on others.

I never made any demands on him or his time. For the four months that we both were living in Melbourne, we saw each other only a few times a week, and I never pushed for anything more. I thrive on solitude, so daily togetherness doesn't appeal to me. I'm okay seeing someone two or three times a week. Sometimes it's nice to fall asleep and wake up with arms around you, but I'm a lifelong insomniac, so either way, I probably won't sleep like a baby.

I hate meeting the parents, and I'm not terribly interested in bonding with the friends. I realize that this might not be conducive to having a healthy relationship, but if you want to spend most of your time with your friends and family, focus on university and hide in the closet (as he did), have I got the perfect deal for you. "No wonder you're alone," he offered as one of his parting shots. I'm not sure what he was getting at, but after rereading this paragraph, I see that he might have a point.

For all of my insistence on having plenty of alone time, daily communication is a must for me, even if it's just a brief phone call or text message or email saying that I'm thinking of you. He and I were generally good at that when I was in Melbourne, although he'd go through periods -- roughly once every other week, for several days -- where he would respond to me like the most casual acquaintance (I assumed that this might be the Aussie way) or shut me out completely.

It hurt, and our arguments usually stemmed from what I interpreted as indifference on his part. Maybe he perceived my desire to have open lines of communication and express ourselves openly and without fear as neediness. Several weeks ago, during our penultimate blowout, he blamed his general attitude on the fact that he didn't really know how to be in love. He's always been a lone ranger (his words), and suddenly, he was forced to feel, to be lonely when I wasn't around. He wasn't sure how to deal with that.

My extended time in Asia -- a one-month trip that turned into a six-month one -- didn't help matters, though you might think it would be the perfect set-up for a guy who hates neediness and doesn't want to be held back by romance. For months, he'd said he didn't have a problem with it, but yesterday, in his usual roundabout way, he finally admitted that he did. I get that. I understand why he might have felt like I abandoned him.

Melbourne: where love began
If only he'd tried to understand what I was going through. I'd spent four months in Melbourne looking for a job with no success. I had a number of freelance offers, from magazines and from the University of Melbourne, but I couldn't even freelance for any Australian-based organizations without a work permit. Before I went to Asia, my plan was to go to Sydney -- which is pretty much where all things publishing happen in Australia -- in hopes that being there would make the job hunt easier.

But when the opportunity to go to Asia came up, I jumped at it. It was a way to put some distance between me and the place that I'd come to associate so much with failure and gain some new perspective. My relationship wasn't working either. I figured that if I spent time away from him in new surroundings those regular blasts of coldness wouldn't hurt so much.

I ended up staying largely because of economics. Melbourne is very expensive compared to Bangkok, so it makes sense for me to live in Bangkok while continuing to look for a job in Australia. I could also freelance for Australian publications while I am outside of the country. To my knowledge, the guy who claimed to love me never really considered how moving to Australia -- something I had decided to do well before we met in October of last year -- had been very complicated for me. I tried to explain it to him, but he never seemed to be listening.

In the end, I think he was resentful and angry with me. We've communicated only sporadically over the last four months. There were a few clumsy attempts at regular conversation early on, but as I've said, he doesn't speak in paragraphs unless he's angry. Frustrated with his three-word responses, I stopped pushing so hard.

But I didn't give up completely. Last week, after having a conversation with my brother Alexi, who encouraged me to be more forthcoming with him about my feelings, I sent him an email in which I told him how much I missed him. For an entire week, he ignored it. When he finally addressed it, it was only after I scolded him for not responding. He made the email seem so trivial, like the blabbering of a lovesick fool. If being hurt by that makes me a needy person, then I suppose that shoe fits my hideous feet. But I think everyone -- both the needy and the non-needy -- feels the sting of unanswered emails and text messages to someone you love who claims to love you back.

As for my holding him back, I'm not sure how that is even possible, considering that we've spent nine of the 13 months we've known each other on separate continents. Even when I was in Melbourne, he was free to do what he wanted to do. If I were to be completely honest with myself, I probably wanted more than the normal two or three dates a week that I usually require, but he had a lot going on, and as I've established, I don't do clingy, and desperation looks as horrible on me as baseball caps.

I think perhaps it wasn't me who was holding him back, but his feelings for me. Maybe he doesn't want to deal with the messiness of love and romance. He wanted to be the lone ranger. Now he gets his wish. But he's still going to have to deal with those feelings. Just because the guy exits your life doesn't mean you don't have to live with all of those emotions you've been trying so hard to bury.

I don't want to give the impression that I think I'm the perfect boyfriend. I can be moody, impatient and reclusive, with a tendency toward wanderlust and extreme melancholia. I'm also a perfectionist, so I can be quite hard on people. I'm trying to be better about that, but I believe that when something is bothering you, it's important to speak up in a timely manner or forever hold your peace. I may be terrible at a lot of things relationship-related, but I do know how to communicate.

In the end, I didn't want harsh words to be the last things he heard from me, so I sent him a kinder, gentler email, explaining my position and leaving the door open to further communication. I don't know whether he will use the door. He's been trapped in the closet for his entire life, so opening doors and walking through them isn't his strength.

Maybe our paths will cross again, maybe not. I feel strangely ambivalent. I'm actually looking forward to going back to being me, a guy who isn't so emotionally crippled by uncertainty and insecurity. I've already been defriended on Facebook, so I guess that speaks volumes. It's the 2011 version of romantic finality. Of course, there's always the possibility of refriending. It wouldn't be the first time for him and me.

But truthfully speaking, I'm pretty much over it. If this isn't the end of our wild and crazy ride, it probably should be. It's time to get off the rollercoaster. After a year of being tossed and turned with my insides spinning around, I'm ready to embrace the peaceful easy feeling that comes from not being entangled by a guy.

At least until the next one comes along.

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