And this is why.
Years ago as I curled up next to my then-beau, we started on that inevitable conversation of past loves. At that point I only had one — one that left me on Halloween evening, sobbing and throwing up on the corner of Times Square, devastated and broken.
“I hate him,” I said, tears forming as I clung closer to that new beau, naively convinced that his warmth and sympathy would heal the damage done by the last.
“The opposite of love isn’t hate, sweetheart,” he said, quoting cliche. “It’s indifference.”
As if by survival instinct, we tend to categorise past lovers and flames as mistakes, passionate flaws, and delusions. And when an ex-lover comes into conversation, supportive friends are wired to respond with: “Screw that awful guy. He was horrible.” As if negativity erases the pain. I’m not alone in this.
Memories are not stagnant. They ebb and morph depending on what you choose to focus on. And if your ex-lovers’ flaws are your focus, then that will become your memory. After all, it’s the stories that we tell ourselves that shape our past.
But the truth is, at one point in time I was in love. You know, the type of euphoric bliss that was weekends on the couch, giggling to Demetri Martin recordings while piecing together gorgeous Thomas Kinkade puzzles. The type where you can spend all day doing absolutely nothing but feel so incredibly present and alive. When something as simple as picking peaches in your backyard becomes the most vivid memory of your life. You remember everything — from the exact hue of the sky that day down to the taste and texture of that ripe peach, its juices shattering, sweet and a little bit of sour, in your mouth.
You see, I loved these people for their soul, their kindness, their quirks, their heart. And they, at one point, loved me for the same.
When things fell apart, my journal was taken over with violent, angry scribbles. Because nothing hurts your pride more than a broken relationship that you worked hard on, and a broken heart is an agony that throws you into an unusual, almost spiritual, hysteria.
Extreme conclusions were formed in a desperate attempt to regain control of my life. I wrote: “He’s cold-hearted.” “He has serious issues.” “He’ll never be in a successful relationship.” Or at my worst, I’d blame myself. “I should’ve broken up with him sooner.” “I hate myself for settling for him.” “I think he resented me. What did I do wrong?”
I started hating them, wishing them the worst, hoping that they would realize their lesson in some cruel karma-driven way. I shielded myself in a bitter angry sheet of resentment. Focusing on the negatives was a coping mechanism because it’s easier to deal with than the truth. And the truth is this: things just didn’t work out. It is what it is.
But these days, long after the dust has settled, I find myself still enjoying Demetri Martin. I’ve noticed I’ve picked up some of the habits and interests and tendencies of my past loves: I can’t sit on my bed without changing into clean clothes. I sometimes think in an Australian accent (an inside joke). I really like Artic surf clams, and I adore taro pastries. These are all remnants of these men — habits that have been etched into my own identity. These people are a part of who I am, even though I no longer have a desire to reconnect with them, even though I no longer share with them any part of my life.