An Open Letter To The Man I Loved — And Let Go

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Couple holding hands while woman turns away

You changed me. You changed everything.

Dear You,

It's been months since I've seen you. The last time, I thought we were maybe going to be OK. We sat in my car and talked about how being apart was stupid, how we cared too much to walk away, about what had gone wrong, and we kissed like we had a thousand times before. And then over the next few weeks, when I thought we were stitching us back together, it all unraveled.

I wish I knew how to mend.

It's so messy, what happened between us. All of the nuance necessary for a decent explanation could never fit in this letter. We both made mistakes, most of them unintentional. We both let our worst beliefs about ourselves get in the way. I pushed you away without meaning to and eventually, you returned the favor.

God, it was messy. But it was a beautiful mess.

Falling for you was one of the easiest things I've ever done. I will always be glad for you — for the way you came around and showed me that the kind of man I didn't believe in does exist, for the way you held me in the dark and kissed me in the light of day, for the way you kept me safe and let me be wild.

I trusted you like no one else. My body trusted you. Next to you, I slept: soundly, deeply, comfortably. It was unfamiliar and welcome.

You made me start to believe in possibilities I'd entirely closed myself off to, as you would carefully suggest that you might want them yourself. I started to rethink. I started to re-imagine. You made me realize I didn't want to wrap myself around phantoms and ephemera anymore.

You made me want to entwine, to lace my fingers with and lay my head against someone tangible and steadfast, instead of someone fungible and fleeting. You made me realize I wanted that with you.

For innumerable reasons, I didn't know how to say it. As easy as it was falling into you, it also terrified me, stoking anxieties and deep-seated insecurities I'd long buried. I was waiting for irrefutable proof that you chose me for you to spell it out or bring me fully into your world. It makes sense that you didn't. I imagine you felt like you had asked explicitly but to me, your ask sounded like a warning shot I'd heard before.

In hindsight, I wasn't ready for you, for love, for being vulnerable to the point of panic. Truth be told, you weren't ready for it, either. Men who are ready don't date women who advertise themselves by saying, "Calm down, I'm not gonna fall in love with you." But then again, I don't think either of us thought we were going to find something worthy of being ready for, so of course we did.

For what it's worth, to me you were always a f*ck yes. If I'd had more confidence you felt the same, I probably would've said those words without hesitation and hurled myself headlong into the thing I had worked so very hard to avoid. Every part of me wanted you.

I adored you, utterly and without reservation. I didn't think you could possibly feel the same way. That has as much to do with me as it did with you — and everything to do with what went wrong.

It became our undoing. It led to a tangle of miscommunication, held-back words and trepidation, which fed into a growing cluster of personal struggles and timing. Had we both been in better places within ourselves, we probably could've undone those knots. We were so good at that for a while. Or rather, you were so good at it.

And as you deftly unwound the threads of our misunderstandings, I felt my anxiety evaporate. I saw the sincerity in your eyes and felt the kindness and steadiness of your touch. No one had ever been so gentle with me so consistently. Thank you for letting me experience that firsthand.

Eventually, there came a point where it became clear to me that insisting on holding on to you was doing us both more harm than good, that it was turning what had been the loveliest thing into something far too laborious, and I knew I had to let go. It wasn't what I wanted, but the words of Cheryl Strayed came back to me hard and clear: "Be brave enough to break your own heart."

I knew I had to. I'm sorry if that resulted in me breaking yours, too.

Please believe me when I say that I let go, but I didn't give up on you. That was never an option. But hurting each other because we didn't have the energy to do right by each other wasn't an option, either. I had to stop chasing your love and start giving it to myself — and I suspected you needed to do the same.

That we both ended up chasing what was there for the taking is a heartbreaking reality my mind still can't wrap around, though it continues to try. Perhaps if we had been able to accept it from one another, things would've been different. But then again, perhaps not, because life is f*cked up like that.

I'm sorry for the ways I hurt you. I'm sorry I didn't have the courage to say the words that weighed on my tongue for months; I kept waiting for you to say them for me. I'm sorry I didn't just ask what you really wanted and that I didn't believe it could be me. I'm sorry it all fell apart. There was nothing I wanted more than to keep it — keep us — together, and I regret I didn't have it in me to do more to that end.

I still hate that it ended, but I'm grateful for the lessons I learned in the ending. It pushed me toward growth and healing, toward doing the work I'd never before found a reason to do. Caring for you the way I did showed me the places in myself that hadn't yet healed, the cracks I'd painted over but never really filled. Those cracks made me more fragile than I'd allowed anyone, especially myself, to believe. I'm filling them now.

I learned so much from you and the collision of us. It broke my heart open in all the best and worst ways. I'm a better human because of you and the sh*t we accidentally put each other through, and the moments of incredible tenderness you showed me. You were the first man who had an iron will to be with me, and the only one who made it OK for me to have an iron will to be with him. That second part was a revelation, albeit one that came too late.

I think of you often. I hope you're well. I hope you've found colossal happiness, in inverse proportion to the unhappiness you felt for so long. I hope you've been able to allow yourself to love yourself, as much (or even more) than the rest of us love you, me included. I never had the guts to tell you, but I loved you. God, I loved you. That changed me. It changed everything.

Thank you for keeping me company when I was sick, making me laugh when you ruined the eggs, righting your wrongs, offering to meet my mom, calling me just because, sharing your writing and your heart, and wrapping your arms around me when I cried. Thank you for showing me something about love until you couldn't anymore. Thank you for trying to push past that anyway.

Most of all, thank you for letting me love you, even though I never could find the words.




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