The Ghost of Boyfriends Past

Ever since the 14th of May 2016, I have calculated my life in heartbreaks. That is when my high school sweetheart Ewan and I ended our relationship, and I started to feel broken. The feeling of loss was unfamiliar to me before that, and since then something within me constantly felt out of order. 

Then finally we ended.

I don’t think I’ve ever hurt this much. 

I love you more than I’ve ever loved someone else, and it hurts so much pretending that everything is normal. 

14/05-2016

The note was taken on my computer that day I experienced my very first heartbreak. Since then, I have been obsessing over the boys I meet, why they leave me, what I do wrong and how I can save myself from being hurt – all without answers. 

The feeling I felt that time, the one that would frequently repeat itself at the end of all of my future relationships, was an abyss of grief. The heartbreak coach Johanna Danis describes it like this: “It IS emotionally absurd to have to separate from the people we love.” That was exactly how I felt. It felt absurd. Unnatural. In fact, I could not quite understand that it had happened at all. 

“Of course it’s much harder to let go if you aren’t the person who wanted to end the relationship. You then find yourself in a state of crisis. This is the same feeling as if that other person would have died,” explains the Swedish relationship coach and KBT therapist Jacqueline Joo.

Now, almost four years and one new heartbreak after that note was written, I hang up the phone with tears trickling down my face. Cole used the same excusing phrases and made me fall down the same bottomless void of grief, as I had been in before. Once again, I was doomed to feel the same irreparable pain that high-school-sweetheart, Ewan, caused me in an empty parking lot, or perfect-boyfriend-Victor in a colourful bedroom on the west coast. 

Why does it feel like the partners I meet always do this to me? The truth is that I do not know why they act as they do. As my mind starts to wander, I cannot even clearly remember all the details of what actually happened with Ewan and Victor before I met Cole. Time does not heal all wounds, I thought to myself bitterly, before deciding that something had to be done this time. It was time to take some drastic measures to receive closure and an explanation. I decided to do the one thing that everyone had always advised me not to do: contact my exes.

According to Jacqueline Joo, there were two different ways that this endeavour could go in. 

“If you feel like you never got an ending I think you can benefit [from sending them a message]. You will get emotionally calmer.”

“Love is like a type of addiction. If you get an answer you get a kick (…). We can’t keep chasing this person because our brain thinks that we will get rewarded. That just triggers more anxiety.”

I spent the whole afternoon in the library, trying to construct the perfect text message and struggling with the notion that texting our past lovers is something that is generally associated with failure. Most people feel like they give up when they succumb to texting someone that they have ended a relationship with. This is because the majority of the messages are constructed from a feeling of grief or desperation, as Jacquelin Joo told me, and somehow I was scared about my real intentions. Did I really message these boys just to get an explanation or was this my twisted broken mind wanting to reconnect and feel less lonely? 

I somehow feared that they would see right through me or that I would fall in love with them all over again and find myself even deeper down that bottomless void of sadness. Would a person even survive that?

I don’t think I’ve ever hurt this much. 

I suddenly remembered something that I stumbled upon from The Anxiety podcast a few weeks ago. It was some days after Cole’s words had left me numb and I cried when the host of the show, Sofie Hallberg, put my feelings into words.

“When I have felt very deep for someone and really let them in, it takes a very long time for me to fully let them go. (…) A small part of me will always belong to them and I can be embarrassed about relapsing [into that feeling] even back with the first person I ever fell in love with.”

After all, this message would be sent to two individuals that I once loved, and now I wanted help from them to clarify why things didn’t work out. However, I also needed to be prepared for them to feel differently, so I told myself that they would not answer.

Then I sent the message.

Hi!

I hope everything is good with you. I’m right now writing an article in the spirit of “social experiment” where I’m diving deep into ended relationships, behaviour and so on. (…) I can understand if this all sounds a bit weird, but I would really appreciate your help if you want to answer some questions. (…) 

// Clara

One hour later Victor got back to me.

This is such a weird coincidence. I was writing to you just a few days ago. I’m absolutely free for a chat. (…)

I hope everything is good with you too.

Victor’s answer caught me off guard. I was not prepared for the nervousness that hit me. Now I would have to talk to that person that I no longer knew anything about, and I would have to listen and understand his side of the story. Needless to say, our time together did not end well I thought, as I tried to prepare myself for a difficult conversation that most people would instinctively avoid. 

I met Victor a summer night one and a half years ago in a small town by the coast where my grandparents have a summerhouse. Our time together was equally intense and beautiful as it was confusing and hurtful. I was confiding in someone that I repeatedly described as ‘the kindest person I’ve ever met,’ while he later said I was a rebound after a harsh break-up. It all ended when he told me he used me to prove to himself that he was over his ex-girlfriend. 

 I don’t think I’ve ever hurt that much. 

A week passed, and suddenly I found myself rushing home through the streets of Stirling equally eager, as I was nervous. When dialling Victor’s number, I anxiously started to realize that it might not have been a good idea to relive all this, but now I found myself at a dead end. As I heard his voice on the phone for the first time in one and a half years, I suddenly forgot everything I wanted to ask. This feeling was so strange. 

Thankfully my notes in front of me clearly displayed the first question: Were you in love with me? Silence fell between us.

“Yeah, I was. I think that’s what made it all so weird. I should have been in love, but then I wasn’t in a great place and I couldn’t handle it.”

Already then I knew that this conversation was not going to be easy. What he later referred to, as ‘not being whole’ had nothing to do with me I learnt. This was mainly because I had nothing to do with his life, not even when I was in it. I started to understand that the feeling of emotional inequality between us was what had also made me so lost and confused at the time. He had meant the world to me back then, and when things were broken off I felt simply like a brick in his game. When thinking about it, that was exactly how Cole made me feel during the last couple of weeks. Maybe he was not my perfect fit after all?

Victor went on to explain how he still had feelings for his ex when he met me. He was not in love with her, but he still missed and longed for what they had together. An unpleasant realization spread through my body, and it started to get painfully obvious that I had just been a rebound to this person on the other line. I still decided to ask the one question that had saddened me the most throughout the years. Did he even think that we were in a relationship?

A minute of nothing passed before he answered. 

“I would say that we were not together.”

“Our relationship, mostly because of me, just became so weird. I would say that when one is together both parts give equally as much, and I didn’t give you that much.”

The end of what was Victor and me had haunted me for a really long time, and as he spoke about it I started to realize that he had regretted it too. 

“I needed a clear end and I ended it because I didn’t manage to both fulfil myself and be together with you at the same time. I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I’m not very happy with how I ended it all.”

He calmly kept explaining how he thought that if we had continued to see each other he would have collapsed. That night that he told me that he used me, I left while he stayed in bed having an anxiety attack. According to him, it would have been just a matter of time until he was to break completely. I didn’t know about any of that. Instead, I biked home with a broken heart that night and spent the following months feeling like I was slowly dying.

“If you didn’t hate me then already, you would have hated me at the end of that month,” he said. 

I don’t think I’ve ever hurt that much, I thought to myself.

As the phone call ended and we wished each other good luck with studies, articles and relationships I felt like I could finally breathe again. Most of what Victor had said had been extremely hurtful to hear, but listening to his slightly metallic voice on speakerphone in my tiny little room also made me sort of distant to it. It was the harsh truth, but it did not seem to hit me that bad. 

Maybe it was because so much time had passed since it all happened, or because I was not in love with him now, but in a way, it was relieving to get told the truth: I had mainly been a cause of anxiety to him, which made me realize that this heartbreak had been for the best. It was now time to let go of it. Despite how cliché it might sound, I realized that it was not about me as a person. We just did not work as a couple.

“One can miss what once was, without for that matter wanting to have it back,” Jacqueline Joo writes on her website. At that moment it could not feel more true to me.

The phone call to Victor occurred two days after I sent the forbidden text, and at that point, I still had not heard anything back from Ewan. 

In a way I understood why he did not answer me – It is simply not a pleasant feeling to relive past heartbreaks. Despite all that I could not help but feel a little bit disappointed. After all, that was the boy who started this whole journey in May 2016. I would have loved to talk to him again, but instead, I had to happily resign to my memories of him and let go.

With Jacqueline Joo’s words in the back of my mind, I decided to look forward.

“Of course you’re going to be happy again, but right now it doesn’t feel like that,” she told me.

The start of looking forward meant being here and now. It meant somehow dealing with a broken heart that this endeavour had helped me avoid. It also meant closing the chapter of Cole and opening another, and finally, that felt somehow possible. 

I don’t think I hurt as much anymore.

Published by Clara Fors Wisbyse

- A 22-year-old Swedish journalist student living in Stirling, Scotland. - One of the two founders and editors of the online magazine In Full Bloom

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