Dear Fuck-Up: How Do I Live With the Choice to Leave?

RelationshipsThe Experts
Dear Fuck-Up: How Do I Live With the Choice to Leave?

Dear Fuck-Up,

I just broke up with a man I love dearly because I am more gay than not, and need some time to live out this knowledge. My first romantic experiences were gay, and I long to return to a history I feel I have neglected. We both wanted something serious, but our desires parted. I know there is no remedy for this.

We dated for a year and a half long-distance, spoke on the phone every night, and developed a friendship unparalleled in my life. I am almost 30, and up to now have believed I am a person who knows what she wants. I thought I was all-in with someone who wanted to be all-in with me. The absence of this person is now a chasm in my life, a loss of companionship that I feel I will never again fill. We have agreed to try to remain friends, after the dust settles. I believe this to be realistic. I don’t believe romantic love is everything, but I would be lying if I said this wasn’t a massive loss. I know time will tell, but right now it just feels like bullshit.

My question to you is one I am sure you are asked most. You once talked about how people write to you to answer questions they have already answered but can’t acknowledge; I have answered my own, and yet I am here. I am here to ask you how to handle the grief of letting go of a wonderful, gentle person. I am wondering how to live in a hard world—and it is so hard, 5 months into lockdown—without someone who soothed almost everything in me. I am wondering how to live with the choice I know is right, and the fear behind it. I am wondering how you don’t go back, how you do it. How do you survive?


Sick for Love

Dear Sick,

A few years back, I wrote a short personal essay about leaving my marriage to a good man because I didn’t love him enough to stay. Obviously, when you offer up the decisions you’ve made to readers they are going to judge them so I was expecting some people to judge me rather harshly. Fair enough. What surprised me was the number of people who reached out to say they worried I lacked sufficient self-awareness. Did I not realize that I had painted a somewhat unflattering portrait of myself? Did I not see how I came across as selfish, or even cruel?

How strange! The whole point, I thought, was that of course I felt selfish and shitty and like I was being careless with something women are taught to value greatly, but I did it anyway because doing anything else would be a lie. Self-awareness is a good thing to cultivate, and I think far more people do have it than we commonly assume. The problem for most people is not a lack of self-knowledge, but a lack of will to do anything with it.

You’ve already done something about what you know, and that’s commendable. Taking actions that comport with what you’ve learned about yourself or the world is also called living with conviction and a lot of people don’t do it because it’s scary and difficult and not always much of a comfort. Conviction won’t dance with you at weddings or make you soup when you’re sick. You can’t share any inside jokes with your conviction. It’s also, unfortunately, no guarantee at all that you will find what you want simply because you have finally identified it.

Four years after leaving my marriage I have been miserable in ways I couldn’t have imagined. There have been moments I’ve felt so lonely and stupid and late to any chance at happiness that I sort of understand what the trad wives are on about. But I would make the same choice every time, because along with misery there is also joy and possibility and the knowledge that insofar as any of us are truly able to do what we want with our lives I am doing something with mine that feels honest.

Maybe you do maintain a great friendship, or maybe you part ways. But you don’t go back just because it’s hard and he would have you. That would be unfair to someone who is his own person with his own needs and desires and not your weighted blanket.

You will live with the choice you made because making choices and then living with them is all we can do. There’s a cost to everything and sometimes it will probably feel like you’ve paid too much, but not always, and not forever.


A Fuck-Up

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