The worst breakup was the one that didn’t happen

It was a Sunday afternoon, and I was having a Bumble BFF date with three girls at a wine bar in East Village (if you don’t know what Bumble BFF is, get with the times). One of the girls posed a question to the group: “What was the worst breakup you ever had?”

We went around the group, and everyone had their horror stories. Then, my turn came, and I said awkwardly, that the worst breakups I’d had were probably worse for the other person, because I was a terrible breaker upper and broke up with people by text most of the time. We then started talking about ‘ghosting’, a form of bad dating etiquette that has so commonly been picked up by members of our generation. We talked about all the disappointments that were accompanied by ghosting, and how we were also guilty of it ourselves on occasion, and suddenly, I was reminded of a painful memory.

I had glossed over the “worst breakup I’d ever had”, because at the time, I truthfully couldn’t think of any times I’d had a terrible break up. Then, while we were talking about ghosting, it hit me like a ton of bricks.

The worst breakup I’d ever had wasn’t really a breakup, because it never happened.

Two years ago, when I was in my last year of university and holding on the vestiges of my innocence, I was ambivalently dating on Tinder. Due to a few horror stories, I hadn’t really met anyone in awhile, but out of the blue, I noticed someone that I thought might be worthwhile– let’s call him S. He had model worthy good looks, with one noticeable caveat being that he was two years younger than me. Nevertheless, good looks trumped potential lack of maturity, so I swiped right, and we matched.

Our conversation at first was idle chatter about what we were doing, before we exchanged numbers. S shortly texted me asking if I was free to talk on the phone that night. I replied saying that I was free, but I’d prefer to text. S managed to persuade me to chat over the phone though, and I anticipated his phone call that night with trepidation. That night when he called me though, I was pleasantly surprised by the ease of our conversation, and his eloquence and charm.

We ended the phone call after an hour and a half, and he texted me straight after saying, “That wasn’t so bad, was it?” We continued to text every day and talk on the phone intermittently for a couple of weeks. I began to like him more and more as we got to know each other better.

After a couple of weeks of texting every day, and weekly phone calls though, I began to think that he only wanted to be virtual friends. Just as I was thinking this though, he asked me if I wanted to meet up in the near future. In my mind, I was saying a resounding yes.

We met up for the first time the following week, and when we met, I liked him even more. Things went well, and we continued going on weekly dates, and talking every day. We always did a lot of walking on the dates, and it felt kind of like that overly talky movie franchise, ‘Before Sunrise’. Around this time, I was still planning to move to Japan after graduating, and every time we went out, S continuously asked me if I was still planning to move. My answer at this time was usually something like, it depends on the circumstances at the time. My real answer was, I’d stay if I was in a significant relationship, but I didn’t want to seem needy or overly interested.

Things went on like that for about a month, dating at a steady pace of about once a week. After the fourth date, I went overseas for a month, and we continued chatting every day while I was away. Despite only having been on four dates so far, I felt like I knew him so well, and I really missed him while I was away. During this time, I also casually asked him if he’d met anyone else from Tinder while I’d been away, and he replied that he’d deleted because he didn’t have enough time to date, and he’d met me. I came back to Sydney a month later, and we met again a couple of days after I got back.

I was glad to see him, but I noticed there was a palpable distance between us that I couldn’t cross. We were discussing plans for the coming weekend, and after first asking me if I was free to come to an event, S then said he thought he’d double booked, and that he’d confirm with me later. I got the feeling then, that there would be an end to all the dates and phone calls, and that it would be soon. He kissed me goodbye that night without lingering, and I felt pitfalls in my stomach all the way home.

He texted me later that night, saying to message him when I got home, and we exchanged cute texts like we usually did, but I couldn’t shake the sinking feeling that it was over. The next day, he texted me saying not to try and take off work on the weekend, because he’d double booked. I texted something back, saying that I was disappointed that I wouldn’t get to see him. Never before had I come so close to admitting how I felt about him. In response, he sent a “me too”, with a couple of crying face emojis. As expected, our communication dropped off for two days, which previously had never happened before.

I didn’t want to text him first, but after a couple of days, I was dying to hear from him. This resulted in me messaging him on Facebook messenger one night, the lowest ranking in the pillar of communication. I asked him pathetically how his week had been, when really I meant, ‘why haven’t you contacted me for the past couple of days?’ S replied, rattling off all the things that were keeping him busy, and it just seemed like he was making excuses. I obviously knew what he was trying to say to me, but I kept digging for some concrete answer. I replied that my week had been strange, because I hadn’t heard from him, and he gave a non-committal answer saying, “I haven’t really been speaking to anyone”, before again stating all the things that were keeping him so busy.

He then abruptly ended the conversation and said goodnight. It was clear that he was blowing me off. What was unexpected though, was that I actually felt really bad. For the next couple of days, I was kind of heartbroken.

The most painful thing about it to me, was that he hadn’t even deemed me worthy of a breakup text. From other breakups, I’d gotten a clear sense of closure, but I’d never gotten it in this situation, which only made the sting worse.

Big loves and formative experiences

I took a class this semester about the history of the novel and how the practice of novel reading has changed over time. During the course, we studied a novel called ‘The Small House at Allington’ by Anthony Trollope. I’d never heard of Anthony Trollope before despite him being a prolific Victorian novelist.

One of the main events in the novel is Lily’s engagement and subsequent jilting. Jilting in the Victorian era seems to be a common issue (Sense and Sensibility, although Marianne & Willoughby weren’t formally engaged). Jilting is probably the Victorian era of today’s ghosting. Unsettling, yes, but you just dealt with it and moved on. When I read the novel, I could see a lot of parallels between Sense and Sensibility and ‘The Small House’. After Lily got dumped, I just assumed Johnny Eames, her friend who had always loved her, would swoop in and pick up the pieces. He tried to. But Lily’s obstinacy and faithfulness to Crosbie, her ex-fiancee, kept her from moving on. In fact, even after Crosbie has married another woman, Lily continues to say that she’ll be true to Crosbie and won’t move on with her life.

Matthew, our tutor brought up the fact that in ‘The Small House’, there is more than one instance of people not being able to get over their first loves. He then asked us, what the importance of formative experiences are, and why is it that we find it so hard/impossible to get over them?

I’ve heard before (more than once) that you never really get over your first love. This is not an experience I can relate to. I’ve been in love twice. I got over my first love easily and quickly, because he did a number of unforgivable things to me. 10 years later though, he’s still messaging me on Facebook, so the statement about formative experiences might very well be true in his case. The second love took a bit longer. He wasn’t inherently a bad person, overall he was a good person, one of the best people I’ve ever met, but not good at being a boyfriend. When someone repeatedly does things that you don’t like, that’s when you begin to fall out of love. This is what happened to me both times.

Charlotte from Sex and the City said that every woman has two great loves in her life. Carrie understandably took an affront to this, cause Aidan & Big. Charlotte then said no, she meant three big loves. Charlotte defined ‘big love’ as a love that changes you, that shakes you to the core. Well, if Charlotte’s original definition of big love was right, there is no more love for me.

Because of the tumultuous nature of my first love, I’m hesitant to count it as a ‘big love’. My second love more accurately falls into this category. We dated for almost 5 years, and he was an incredibly important person to me. Without him, I doubt very much, that I would be who I am today.

There’s another person who I want to mention too. I’m sure that I wasn’t in love with him, but it was an earth shattering, move-mountains sort of attraction. I’ve never felt that way about anyone, before or after him. It was illogical and irrational. I’d put it down to the fact that I had gotten out of my long term relationship just a few weeks before, and was in a new city by myself. He wasn’t my type and he wasn’t conventionally attractive. But I fell for him anyway. He gave me that ‘Before Sunset’ moment and I’ve been looking for it ever since then. He was the crush to end all crushes. The power of that attraction really shook me to the core, and taught me a valuable lesson: not to give my heart away so easily.

What I keep thinking about though, is the power of these formative experiences. Why is it that the first time we meet someone and really fall for them, it’s so hard for us to feel that way about anyone in future? Why is it that people make conscious decisions not to move on, despite there being no hope of reconnection?

After a particularly gruelling exam today, I was having a chat with my good friend Amelia, about the nature of first loves. Amelia also reiterated the theory about never getting over your first love, an idea we’d both heard repeatedly. The two of us mused over why this seems to be such a universal, widely held belief. When you experience something for the first time, later experiences are forever held up in comparison to it. Being the first time you experience a complex emotion like romantic love, it shapes you and changes you. You’ll compare every one who comes after to the one who came first; wondering at the ways in which you love now differ.

I’ve heard part of a quote that says ‘you think your first love will be your last’. There is a truth in this quote which I related to very much. I think that part of the difficulty with feeling intense emotion, is that after feeling so deeply, many people question their capacity to feel that way about anyone ever again. You begin to believe that you felt so deeply about this person that they took away your ability to care about anyone ever again. The capacity to feel deeply isn’t what’s taken away from you though; it’s the belief.