Forgetting my Phantom Ex
Has there ever been a person from your past that's occupied a place in your mind years after your relationship ended? Someone that you still daydream about, that makes you wonder, 'what if?'
'What if I were to run into them now?' 'What if we tried one more time?' 'What if the circumstances lined up perfectly?' 'What if we've spent just enough time apart, to grow and mature on our own that we could truly appreciate each other this time?'
I dated someone like that three years ago - someone that's made me question all of my relationships since. Someone with whom I've compared everyone else that I've met to. Someone that's held so much power that they could initiate the unravelling of any relationship with just one simple text, or a missed phone call.
When the two of us dated, it was a whirlwind - to say the least. It was three months that I can't forget. I thought that I had met my soulmate. During our initial time together I felt so calm. No worries or stress or questioning. It felt like coming home. This is what I had been looking for, and I didn't even know it.
He was more determined, focused and destined for success than anyone I'd ever met. He came to me with the same passion that he gave to the rest of his life. He told me that I had the kind of beauty that Troy was fought over.
I adored him. The feeling of content spilled into my life in the hours that we weren't together, too. I found that love songs started popping into my head.
It was blissful and exciting for the first month and then I started to feel a distance creeping in. And as it did, I became petrified. Petrified - Meaning that I was so overcome with fear that I had lost my ability to think or rationalize. I was so desperate not to lose what I had found, that I lost a sense of myself.
It consumed me entirely. Regrettably, it started to negatively affect all other areas of my life. I couldn't think straight at work, and it left me with an underlying feeling of dread when I was trying to enjoy my friends and family.
I was getting bad advice at the time, too. I just didn't know what to do! So I listened. I listened to the woman that told me to keep my cool, take care of myself, and pretend like everything was okay. She was insinuating that I essentially put on a mask. Not expose myself.
Don't let him realize how much you care, how much of a hold he has over you. You're dealing with a person that is committed to their work, and you are too. Occupy yourself with your own life, your work life, your social life.
For days that felt like an eternity I went on like this. I remember driving to visit my family on Thanksgiving and crying the whole way. Holding back tears at work. It got to the point where I couldn't take it anymore.
Against her advice, I called him. I called him after work and told him that I didn't like the way it was going. That I was going to stop reaching out to him because I didn't like the response that I was getting when I did. He was sorry that he was making me feel this way, and we agreed to meet up and talk.
That was the undoing. In his mind, if I was having doubts, we couldn't come back from that. He said that life gets busy sometimes and he needed someone that he knew would stick around regardless. He thought about it for a few more days before deciding that it had to be the end.
What in the world was going on?! Never had I ever been so encapsulated with passion and certainty about someone that I'd met, and never before had I experienced the downfall of a relationship that deteriorated quite as quickly as that one.
On our last car ride together, I couldn't believe any of it. What were we even ending it for? He said that when we started dating he fell so hard that he realized he had the real potential to get seriously hurt, and wanted to protect himself. He said that it felt like after that first month, we hadn't been getting any closer.
Hadn't been getting any closer? I told him that I felt like something had been keeping us apart. I felt I had been open with him and responsive whenever he reached out, but that he wasn't available to me.
I questioned the advice that I was given. What if I had exposed myself days and months earlier? What if I told him that I had been hurting, and that he was affecting me? That I had fallen for him and was starting to rely on him emotionally?
I've always been such an independent person that it's hard to really expose myself to people. Since reading Attached, I've become more aware of how this manifests itself in relationships for someone that has an "avoidant" attachment style.
People that are avoidant in relationships have often grown up in a family-setting where they didn't feel like their love was secure. It was there, but it was variable, and it was dependent on their actions, or the time of day.
Without knowing what to expect from those formative relationships, avoidant-personality types put up a kind of wall whenever they feel like someone is getting too close, in order not to get hurt. They develop this headstrong independence.
Unbeknownst to me, though, humans were never meant to live that way. It impedes on their healthy functioning and coping throughout life. We've evolved as a species to thrive in family units. We need there to be people to rely on in order to flourish on our own.
Studies have shown that being in a committed relationship with someone actually benefits our health. Being in the presence of a significant other lowers our stress and can even lower our blood pressure.
When things ended I took a month to regain my senses and think things over. I wrote him a letter that I never sent. I tried to date again. But I couldn't help this nagging feeling that I had messed things up by not being myself, and I actually found comfort in the idea that we'd one day meet again and be together when we were ready.
I entered a relationship that was much more easy and communicative, but reached its downfall for its own reasons. After a while, I realized that although this new person I was seeing was steady, we didn't really connect. Of course the nail in the coffin on that relationship was a call on my birthday from my phantom ex.
A "phantom ex" is someone from your past whose relationship with you romanticize. You remember all of the good times and compare them to your current prospects, but you fail to consider all of the negative aspects of what it was like to actually be with them.
Honestly, there weren't more than a string of a few days at a time that I didn't think about him. Whenever I met someone that I thought could break the spell, I'd hear from him again.
A few times came up when we tried to meet or talk, but it didn't ever work out for one reason or another. Each time I was reminded what it was like trying to make plans with him. I'd chase him for days just to get him to squeeze some time in for a phone call.
Still, as the years and months continued to go by, I wondered if everything would align.
Lately, he reached out again because he noticed that I was moving. A short interaction that sent my imagination soaring again. I went even as far as thinking about what it would be like to move away together. Let me remind you - it didn't even work in Toronto, where we were living in the same city.
But once again, he took over my mind as I went about my day to day. I came home to paint one night, and our song came on. I had to call him. I had to call him, again. One last time.
Finally, we got the chance to talk. We caught up during our first half hour phone call, ever. I told him how I really felt. I told him everything this time. There was no playing it cool. I told him that I'd never met anyone else that made me feel the way he did, and that I thought about him most days since we met.
We made plans to go for a walk the next week, after I returned from a trip.
The day before we were meant to meet I got a message from him. His weekend was going to be busier than he thought, and he might have to stay in the office longer. So, no more walk together. So reminiscent of the past.
I said, 'That's okay, next time."
He said, "Will you be available in the evening?"
I said yes.
I knew better not to change my plans for him, but I'd be home.
10pm came around, and it wasn't until the next morning that I saw a text from him saying, "I'm so sorry, Scotia. I'm still at work."
When I read the message on my morning run, I felt a lightness. A smile came over my face.
Suddenly it was all gone. Everything vanished. All of the dreams I had of a future with him. All of the uncertainty that I'd been living with for years. Poof. Just like that. It couldn't have gone more perfectly.
That's what it took to realize that it was all a fantasy. A fantasy that I had entirely fabricated in my head. I couldn't see it for what it was until I tried to act it out in real life.
I spilled my heart out to him and I expected him to feel the same way, but he didn't. He may have said that he did, but nothing could have spelled it out more clearly than his actions did when he failed to follow through to meet.
I couldn't have known that unless I tried.
What have I learned after all those years of being a silly goose? Not to conceal parts of myself. You connect with people by being vulnerable, not by being strong.
And what is the use of acting like you're someone you're not when you're trying to date? Eventually, the real you is going to come out, and then you'll have attracted someone that you're not really compatible with.
Now I try my best not to hold parts of myself back. I try to say what I want to say. If I'm "too much" or "too needy" for someone, that's okay. It's better to know. It's all good information. One of my dear friends, who also happens to be in a happy, committed relationship once said to me, "You can't say the wrong thing to the right person."
And I'm trying to really take that to heart.
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