A Love Letter To My Ex
Once upon a time, at the ripe old age of 19, I made the admittedly questionable decision of marrying my high school sweetheart.
It was questionable not because he was a bad guy, or because we didn't love each other, or because we didn't have a plan. He isn't, we did, and we had a plan. It was questionable because we were basically still children. He was just shy of a month older than me, we had both been homeschooled, brought up in somewhat-to-extremely religious homes, with families of varying degrees of dysfunctionality (you know, like every family). We started dating at 16 years old. I had been not-so-subtly pursuing him for quite some time. He was kinda shy, wicked smart, played bass, was a skilled photographer, and he was as good at building computers as I was at programming them. He was sarcastic as could be, which I adored. He was shorter than me, had a Beatles-style haircut, and frameless glasses. I thought he might be the most handsome guy I had ever seen! The first time I saw him (at church of course, because where else do homeschooled, religious kids meet people in the South?) I told my friend, "I'm going to marry that boy!"
Our first conversation that I clearly remember, we were sitting on a swing set arguing about the use of photoshop, and how that differed (or not) from what Ansel Adams did in his dark room. Where does the line between photography and digital art lie? Does the natural world need to be edited? What about the purity of the craft?
He shared his German 101 notes with me - we were both starting college quite young - and introduced me to new things, like television shows like Arrested Development, and the world of highly sugary processed foods like pop tarts. Honestly, I don't remember what I brought to the table other than being a girl who liked the weird, nerdy, snarky kid. We were an odd pair, but a cute one. He was my first boyfriend, and I his first girlfriend. It was sickeningly cute.
He joined the Navy right after high school, and I continued college for a semester, then (after taking some bad advice from my advisor) dropped out and moved away to a strange city where I worked at a coffee shop. We dated long distance, visiting one another when we could, got engaged, and then got married. I don't know what the rush was, looking back, other than we were young, in love, and both running away from things. We were what each other needed.
Between the time we got engaged and when we got married (which was about a year gap), I got very sick, my disabilities cropped up, and one of my best friends died tragically. I was a mess many times over. I've always been something of a mess, due to some childhood trauma and what have you, depression and anxiety disorders, as well as being very emotionally sensitive, but this compounded things. But he didn't let me down. He married me anyway, supported me, cared for me as best he could, and I did everything I knew how to make his life better too. We lived in Charleston SC for a year while he finished school at the Navy Nuclear Power Training Command, then got stationed up in Groton, CT, where we would remain for many years.
As we got older, we both grew into ourselves. Became the people we were destined to become. And at the age of 24, we were divorced. It was amicable, and heartbreaking. A lot of things we both wish the other had done differently. A lot of things we wish we had done differently. It was really sad, because we had truly loved each other. But who you are in high school and who you are in your mid 20's are often radically different. Or they should be. There was nothing wrong with my former partner as a person (though I am saddened by some of the choices he made, as I'm sure he is of me). But the incredible person he grew, and is still growing into was no longer romantically compatible with the woman I was and am becoming. Different goals, different values. And while there are 10,000 things that went into actually coming to the point of signing those papers, honestly if you boil it all down, that's all there was to it.
When we parted ways, although amiable, there was a lot of hurt, anger, sadness. I cannot speak for him, but for me I know it lingered, in ever-diminishing amounts, for quite some time. To this day I occasionally experience little waves of bitter-sweetness. He moved on, moved away, quickly found a beautiful woman to start a family with, got out of the Navy and got a job he likes (as far as I know). I partnered with a kind fellow as I pursued my masters and then doctorate degrees, and launched multiple businesses. We both are so much happier now than we ever could have been together. But even so, there are those moments of reminiscence. And even moments of anger, or frustration. Times when I am upset at choices I made, or ways he treated me. Ways I treated him, and choices he made. But such is life.
Here I stand, on the cusp of 30, already married, divorced, remarried, and wholly unsure what the future holds. When asked about my ex, about my divorce, about what happened, I always say "we just grew into very different people," or "we got married too young," or "military life is really hard," or a mixture of those. Not untrue. But not entirely true, either. It glosses over the hurt, as well as the good times. I know without a doubt that I needed that young man when we got married. I know he needed me too. I am not sure if I would have very literally survived my teens and early twenties without him, and I believe I helped him grow into a more well-rounded, compassionate man. But I also know our relationship, young, broken, did a lot of damage. To both of us. We didn't know how to really love well. We learned the hard way, at the cost of our marriage.
I know the common thing is to hate your ex. To wish fucking good riddance to your former marriage, and move on with your life, spitting venom at the very mention of them. And while there are moments I feel that way, I honestly owe him a lot. If it weren't for him, and what he provided me, what we went through together and separately, I strongly suspect I would still be that sad, broken, hyper-religious, overly-modest, suicidal, apologizing-for-existing, doubting myself at every turn, afraid to try girl I was. But thanks to his kindness and hurt, I have become better. Not perfect. Ha, so far from it! I'm still very broken, lacking in oh so many ways. But I am better. I am aware that I am smart, and kind, and actually pretty fucking awesome (even though I don't always fully believe it, or feel it), things that, before him, I never knew or belived about myself. I have learned to set good boundaries, say "no," stand up for myself. I still apologize a lot, but less than I did. I fearlessly pursue new things, not giving a damn what others may think of my choices. I communicate better. I have a looser grip on the idea of relationships, knowing that the beauty and value is in the moment, loving someone exactly as and where they are, and understanding that you have no guarantee of tomorrow. Your lover is not yours to control, or confine. That being stingy and clingy with love is not a way to cultivate a deeper, lasting relationship, but in fact how you extinguish the flame. I'm continuing to grow into someone who is unabashedly herself, strong and loving, and for that I can, to a large extent, thank him.
I hope he looks back and remembers our good times. We had thousands of them. I hope he doesn't loathe everything we created together. But you know what? Either way, it's not my problem. I have no hatred towards the boy I married. Nor any towards the one I divorced. I have no shame about my past, or my present, and I refuse to allow any into my future. So Stephan, wherever you are, I want you to know I appreciate you. And I love you. And I wish all the best and most beautiful things in the world for you and yours. I am so sorry for all the heartbreak we both went through. I'm sorry for the ways we hurt and broke each other. But I am so thankful we came out stronger, more compassionate, softer, better. And thank you. Thank you for the memories and the scars. The adventures and the heartbreak. Thank you for the good and the bad that helped me become who I am today. Because, I dunno... I kinda like the girl - nay, the woman! - I am becoming.