Whew, I think I'm ready to summarize this saga. We spent about 4 hours hashing everything out and he managed to have the epiphany that I was steering him towards. However, it's a bit of a hollow victory. Being right doesn't fix anything and it's of no real comfort. I left emotionally full of raw and open dialogue, yet empty nonetheless.
We were both very open and he apologized for every aspect of his shittiness during the actual breakup. He acknowledged that he reframed certain things in his written reply and seemed genuinely upset that I wasn't moved by it. When I explained why I was disappointed (by the defensiveness, lack of actual openness/ vulnerability) but that this is what I had expected; he seemed hurt. He maintained that he spent days writing and rewriting and editing. Then he mentioned that he had cut out a whole page "because it didn't flow". That he “wouldn’t have written anything at all if (he) didn’t feel-”.
Of course, that whole page was a part where he had talked about his personal views on his job and how there seemed to be a misunderstanding there, and about the amount of stress he was under. When asked why he thought it didn't belong in a response to an emotional letter that was crafted to be purposefully antagonistic in certain areas, he said "I don't know".
He said we went over it for days and debated leaving it in, then rewrote it and finally just decided against it. When the implications of his redactions finally hit home, he became adamant that I believe that he actually wrote them. I believe him. His honesty has never been in question. Later in the conversation, he would call this choice to "over edit"/ (sterilize) his response a mistake.
After the first hour or so of talking, he said that he completely missed the intent of the letter. He acknowledged that not bringing his initial misgivings to me "was a mistake" after I explained that 'the whole point of being in a relationship is to talk about our feelings'. A lot of his misgivings seemed to hinge on the possibility of me being "angry". Which is something that, to this day, he's never actually experienced. He managed to continually infer that I was mad when I’ve only been hurt.
"I thought about all of this so much but it looks like I kept making the wrong choice." Seemed to be his most quotable revelation... but I think he started to understand the irony of breaking up with me because of "lack of emotional depth" when he was the one holding me at arm’s length. A lot of his questions centered around "when were you going to tell me..." but the answers usually came down to "I would/ have led by example and showed you". That seems to be something that might have triggered his unease. He seemed to need verbal confirmations of certain things... but he never made space for them or did any of that himself.
After a bit of gentle prodding from him, I brought up the issue of how terrible it is to go to bed with someone who is so affectionate in their sleep and to be dropped the morning after. I excused the behavior if it was unconscious but asserted that these sorts of things (cuddling/ neck massages) can be seen as duplicitous behavior especially when that happens so close to a breakup. And he seemed to be genuinely startled by this information. He said that none of his past girlfriends have mentioned this bedtime behavior. This was another big theme.
A fair amount of the issues I brought up around how he interacted with me just seemed to surprise him. One of the biggest sticking points for him was when I explained that he had never directly complimented me on my looks but would instead choose to compliment benign things like my earrings or dress (he is not fashion savvy in the least). (Disclaimer: I am very aware of how attractive I am. So I initially thought this was rather cute.) I told him that my best friend and I had a running joke where we thought he was blind and that he obviously must like me for my personality. (Man that hasn’t aged well.)
At first, he tried to defend the point that he had given me compliments… but could only list things like “your dress”... to which I finished his sentence by giving a chronological list of the things he had thought to mention. I explained the implications of giving clinical compliments, very early on in our conversation. How they are safe and don't serve any purpose, show any openess, or open any deeper avenues of conversation.
He seemed to find new meaning in this particular behavior over the course of the entire conversation.
The questions/ statements went from:
“I don’t know if I am the type of person who gives physical compliments. I would have to ask my former partners.”, at the beginning.
“Why didn’t you tell me?/ When would you have told me this?/ How long until you would have told me this?” (To which I answered that I wouldn’t have. I just told him that I just made it more of a point to tell him that I found him attractive. I reiterated that I like to show people that something is okay with me and open the space for the same treatment.)
“But you are. Why didn’t I tell you that?” (The latter was asked several times to which I could only shrug ‘cause why the hell would I know? I mean, I know why… but like, you're supposed to tell me.)
Somewhere near the end he just told me: “I think that you’re gorgeous.” But it just hurt to hear at that point. It hurts to type it. Because it just doesn’t mean anything now. It doesn’t hold the weight that it should have and would have just a mere month ago. It was just sad. I am just sad.
At a point towards the middle, I acknowledged my own shortcomings in relationships (mostly from the feedback I’ve gotten over the years and have worked to improve or, at the very least, be open about): appearing aloof, being slow to trust, and thus slow to open up about certain things, and a dependence on logic in places where most people would be emotional. He hadn’t had any critiques for me, so I figured I should be a bit more open so he’d feel welcome to. Mostly, I didn’t want the conversation into a “let’s dump on this guy” session. He looked a bit beaten down at that point.
He mentioned a specific moment, about 2.5 months into the relationship where he had asked me a personal question about my family history. He remembered what I said verbatim: “I would rather not talk about that right now, but I will tell you later.” I have a lot of trauma around that specific thing and I really don’t like talking about it. He respectfully never brought it up again. There’s a beautiful irony, at the time of our breakup, I had been considering sharing that part of myself so he’d understand me a bit better. At one point I had one of those “emotionally tumultuous” laughs where I told him flat out that “I’ve had friends for over a decade who don’t know everything about me!”
I explained how I go about dating. That I have a rigorous checklist. If you fit the profile of someone I can love, I decide that dating is a viable option. That for me, it’s just a matter of when not if. That I understood that most people don’t think that way because it’s a bit calculating, possibly cold. But that reasoning is why I wish he would have just told me when he first started having misgiving so we could have tackled the issue. Because I don’t have doubts in my feelings. That “I am dumb- some relationship stuff flies over my head- but I am honest”.
Something about these revelations surprised him, but I am not really sure what. He responce: “I made a mistake” “I should have just talked to you.”
We agreed that we were on different emotional timelines. That perhaps the weird timing of dating during a pandemic and subsequent lockdown affected our relationship in a unique way. That it may have thrown a wrench in the pacing Just two people trying not to cry, in an outdoor city cafe, surrounded by pouring rain.
Okay, I am not going to leave it on that dour note. We managed to bring it around towards the end. We officially concluded the conversation after checking that everyone said what they had wanted. He mentioned that I could still call him to talk about it, if there was something else I forgot to say. He offered me his coat several times, which I refused every time. (Because I would rather freeze than rely on him to keep me warm). However, he did eventually convince me to switch seats and sit next to the outdoor heater. He was nice enough to sparingly mention how much my teeth were chattering. It was a long 4 hours…
I told him that I was willing to look past his absolutely abysmal breakup, blight it from my memory, and be his friend because everyone gets a case of the stupid from time to time. Because he had been exemplary up until then. That we could be friends but he would have to respect my “personal space” and my physical boundaries. He said he understood and he could do that.
We chatted like normal people for about another half an hour until the server came by and made another suggestion that I possibly “get a to-go bag for my food”. I finally agreed and he took the time to ask for the check. We were there quite a while but I’m sure he tipped well and no one else wanted to sit outside in the cold rain, under their covid safety tent but us.
I walked him to the bus so he wouldn’t get lost. I didn’t wait around because I was freezing. Because I felt very exposed and raw and I wanted to just be home. So I excused myself and he said he’d let me know when he got home.
But then I got home, and there was just a pile of my crap on my floor. He had brought over a bag with all (mostly all) of my overnight stuff. I had taken the bag upstairs, emptied it haphazardly all over my floor, before going back downstairs and heading off to the conversation cafe. Most of it is still there. There’s a package with the last part of my birthday gift. I still haven’t opened it because I can’t right now.
So that’s where I am. Just full of emotions, yet empty.