I met Mark through mutual pals, and our shared sense of humor made us fast friends. I’ve been living with a chronic illness for years, and when a flare-up took me out of work, Mark insisted on staying with me. Our friendship turned into something more, and we didn’t necessarily define our relationship, but I knew we were exclusive. By the time my meds stabilized, I was back working another demanding job with long hours, and he was back at grad school. Our schedules were a mess, but we tried to make it work. I drove four hours every weekend to see him because he didn’t have a car, but we fought constantly about it. He would tell me not to bother coming down if I was even running an hour behind, or get stressed out about school while I was there. Eventually our poor communication about logistics lead to multiple painful “breakups.”
A few months after our first breakup, he invited me to his art show in NYC. We spent the weekend together, and I began the familiar weekend drives down to see him again. Things were better than before… until I caught him flirting on Insta with another woman. We had never explicitly discussed getting back together, so I waited to bring it up in person so we could lay everything out and actually be official. That lead to a huge blowout, and we decided to take a week to think. After two weeks of silence from him, I decided to end it with him over email. The saddest thing is I really don’t think he would’ve reached out to me if I hadn’t made the first move. I felt worse than I did after our initial breakup, and became horribly depressed again.
For me, getting really stressed or sad can lead to a flare-up, so I knew that I had to take better care of myself — I changed jobs, and I’ve been actively trying to shove the loss of Mark out of my head. It was tough at first, but a few months later here I am on Tinder, Hinge, and OKC… dating like I just got out of jail. And loving it.
The only thing standing in my way right now is Mark. He reaches out every couple of weeks, with a funny meme or cute Spotify playlist, and at first it was the only thing keeping me going. When he offered to come up and help me set up my new furniture, I knew I was in dangerous territory. The more he texts me, the more angry and confused I become. Part of me wants to block him so that I can move on. Another part of me feels like he’s getting away with being an asshole and deserves to be told off. The loudest part of my inner monologue tells me that I’m just being dramatic, and my tendency to ice him out when I feel unsafe means that I’ve set him up for failure in the context of our relationship — maybe he deserves at least a formal goodbye.
—Hung up in NYC
Dear Hung Up,
Wheww — chile! You got it bad, and I think most of us can relate. First things first: I am so sorry for the pain you’ve experienced from your relationship with Mark and for your illness. However, I am super impressed that you pulled yourself out of the comforting arms of depression and are doing what you need to do in order to stay well. This is no easy task, and I insist you find a mirror and tell yourself: I fuckin’ got this shit.
Mark suuuucks. The reason you’re still hung up on him is because he’s keeping you on the hook. And, frankly, you need to hang up the phone. This is another not-so-easy task, and I’m sure my words may seem harsh because you still have a lot of love in your heart for Mark. Kadeejah has a very low tolerance for poor communicators. If he wants something from you, be it a proper friendship, a casual long-distance hook-up situation, or to be your S.O. — he needs to ask you directly. Until then, let’s assume he doesn’t want anything from you.
When you and Mark were together, did you feel this love was consistently reciprocated, or did you often experience anxiety about his feelings for you? Real love is something that two people develop together, and when it isn’t reciprocated, it’s likely you’re experiencing the high of being in love, not the true depth of love with that person. And, sometimes when words are left unsaid, someone is left without enough information to feel emotionally safe in the relationship. Sure, falling in love or becoming exclusive without having “the talk” isn’t unheard of, but with the information you gave me? I can’t help wonder if you were the one keeping this relationship afloat. It sounds like you made some assumptions, and he let you run with them (very uncool of him).
My other theory is that you are both on the hook for a much deeper reason — shared trauma. Going through a trauma together can deepen the connection early on in the relationship. Unfortunately, it can also become a cycle of how you give and receive love together. The highs of having something to tackle together can become so deeply rooted that the mind must find pain in order to find the presence of love. Trust me, I watch “Married At First Sight” — this is definitely a thing. The trivial arguments over logistics may have been a way for both of you to recreate the calm after the storm, the very same calm that he helped you find after you were sick. There is interesting evidence that those who suffer trauma, like an illness, when young are more susceptible to forming trauma bonds.
Take that for what it’s worth. Remember, I’m not your therapist, or a doctor — I’m just a homie lookin’ out for number one while number one is still on the hook. Something tells me that you already have the answer to your question, but maybe you can’t access it yet.
I don’t think it matters whether you say goodbye or just go silent forever. Maybe it does to Mark, but we’ll never know because it doesn’t sound like he’s in the business of giving information. Let’s assume he would appreciate your heartfelt goodbye — what does that do for you other than keep you on the phone longer? This is about you staying well, fam. And something tells me this goodbye will only open up more communication and confusion.
You DID just get out of jail: Depression is a prison. And if you don’t want to go back, you must stay well. Keep putting yourself first. If it feels good to write him a scathing message, write it down, and don’t send it. If you get an urge to write him a formal goodbye, do it, and yes, you guessed it — don’t send that either. You have time. Do it when you’re completely ready. For now? It’s his turn to listen to a dial tone.