“I still read the blog sometimes,” my ex told me, then added in a quieter voice “you’ve been so kind.” I’m taken aback. I can’t quite work out what to say except ‘of course’, and then ‘you should probably stop reading soon.’ In that moment I think the greatest kindness I can do is warn him not to read tomorrow. I have no idea if this is appropriate, and later I’ll wonder if that was actually the worst thing I could do – like telling someone not to open a box, torturing their curiosity and making it inevitable that they’ll crack and look inside. This stuff is hard after a break-up. I have no idea what’s right. I have no idea what to say or where my words are or why my mouth is glue and sawdust. I still love him.
I don’t say that, of course. But I do say ‘you smell good’, because he started it.
He smells like hugs and comfort and fun. He smells like the first months of lockdown, when we told each other we were so relieved that at least we were locked down together. He smells like playful nights of fucking and cosy mornings in bed.
He smells like nine years of love.
When he tells me I’ve been kind, I’m shocked. I haven’t been kind, just truthful. When I tell you I miss him, I mean it. When I tell you I wish we’d had the chance to DP a sex machine, I mean that too. When I tell you I have break-up nightmares, you know they’re real as well. When I gently ask people in the comments not to be mean about him, it’s because I cannot bear for him to stumble across something that might make him feel sad and small. Not here. Not in my house.
But I know what he means. He means I haven’t told the whole truth: spewed all the pain along with the poignant sappiness.
I don’t think I want to.
After a break-up, especially with someone significant, there’s often this long period of remembering and analysing that you have to go through before you reach the other side. Asking why you or they did this or that, or what the fuck it meant when X or Y happened. There are moments of realisation – flashes of ‘Oh fuck! That was bad!’ – or big fat questions about why the acres of fun times weren’t enough to pull you though.
I do a lot of that, of course, but I do it in private. What good would it do, right here, to tell you all the things which flash through my mind when I fail to distract myself? How would it help to pour frustration out on this blog, where I know (I know now) he still reads it? How useful would it be to spit spite when it might hurt him?
I’ve thought about that – you’ve been so kind – every day since that awkward meeting.
After a break-up: what are all these emotions
The truth is that I didn’t make an active choice to be kind until he told me I had been. What I do here on the blog is a combination of loyalty and self-preservation. While I definitely carry all the sadness and frustration that comes after a break-up, as well as far darker, more pressing anxieties about the situation I find myself in now, I don’t want him to hurt, especially not about what’s written here. Over the last few months I have been bitchy, angry, bitter and frightened, but mostly I’m just really sad.
Our split wasn’t the end of a long, slow death – not for me, at any rate. There were significant difficulties, but most of our time together was joyful and fun, and until about a month before we broke up I’d have sworn it was forever. Even in our toughest times, I’d have told you – fiercely – that I loved him and we could work this out.
So I could be nasty here now, but at what cost? At the cost of pretending that my past self was foolish and naïve? Or rewriting history to make past-me seem prescient and cool but making present-me look like a total bellend? At the cost of making him hurt because we’re over now and it’s time to stick the boot in?
Whoever he is now and no matter what he does, I still don’t want him to hurt. Whoever I am now shouldn’t trash my past self either: she was who she was. She gambled, and lost, but fuck it she did her best.
We didn’t break up because I stopped loving him. He’s hurting just like I am. I could choose to hurt him more, or I could try to be kind. That ‘try’ is important, because after a break-up there’s still sadness and anger and pain and fear and regret, and I am human after all. But while humans make mistakes, we also make choices. Here on the blog, where I can edit and revise and consider instead of just spilling things out when they bubble up in my brain, I’m strong enough to exercise a choice, so I choose kindness.
I’m sad enough that our love burned down, I’m not going to piss in the ashes.
Besides, he really does smell lovely.