Gently Breaking

Recently, I was practicing how to break a heart.

I practiced in front of mirrors. I thought about what to say as I brewed my tea. I tried to imagine the best possible scenario to talk it out. I rehearsed the dreadful speech again and again, rearranging the words in my head, in futile attempt to lessen the pain. When we were together, I would have sudden moments of silence and sighs, as if trying to expel the crushing weight of guilt and sadness, along with my breath. My boyfriend would ask if I’m okay, and I could only say “yes,” unsure of how I could verbally quantify the mounting emotional conflict I was feeling, or why I was feeling it.

Three days ago, I sat down and told my boyfriend,

“We should take time-off.”

We were on a bench, in a park. It was a sunny day. Children were playing, carefree. A happy group of Down Syndrome people waved to us.

Despite all that, inside me, a storm was churning.

This was it. 

Even with all the rehearsing, the speech was clumsy, clunky, awkward. I spewed off all the reasons why I wasn’t in a mentally good place. Emotional baggage. Biases. Chemistry issues. Communication issues. Fear of holding him back. Fear of unintentionally using him. Hurting him. Hurting me. Being unfair to him. Guilt. Guilt. Guilt.

He remained calm, resigned, understanding. He’s heard it all before.

His gentleness and compassion for me broke me even more. My heart cracked with every word I said.

Even then, I still wasn’t brave enough to suggest that we completely “break up.” I said it, faltered, retracted it, decided that maybe we need time-off. A proper time-off. A “trial breakup.”

What was I trying to achieve? Was I delaying the inevitable, like a coward? Was I giving it time in hope that things would work out? Did I hope it would be “gentler” than an actual break up?

A gentle heartbreak is a paradox. No matter how much you sugarcoat it, even when dripping in sickeningly sweet words— there’s nothing quite as gut-wrenching as knowing that you’re pretty much doing the equivalent of taking an invisible knife and stabbing someone in the heart.

That same night, I cried and cried and cried. I buried my face in his shirt, my face soaked wet with tears. I didn’t want to let go, but I knew I needed to. We hugged for a “final time,” and he was off.

Right now, it’s Day 3, since the “break up.”

I’m still hurting.

Emotionally detaching from a bond is painful. You’ve dug your roots into each other. You’ve become comfortable. We’ve cleaned each other’s ears. I’ve stuck my fingers up his nose. We’ve laughed at stupid Internet videos together. His hands know exactly where to nestle, along the curve of my body. I’ve fallen asleep to his heart beat. He’s seen me in my worst, my most selfish. I’ve seen him cry, sulk, flare up in anger.

There was a growing vulnerability and intimacy that we shared, even if it was synthetic, even if it took time.

I do miss him, terribly so. I miss waking up to text messages. I miss being held. The gaps between my fingers seem hollow. I fight the urge to text him and take it all back.

I know it’s not going to be easy. But at least, maybe my conscience will rest a little easier, this way. My stupid heart won’t have it any other way.

I wish relationships didn’t have to be this complex, but maybe it’s only as complex as it needs to be. Maybe this is the right thing to do, for now. Maybe in five, ten years —we will look back and realise that this was one of the best decisions we ever made. Maybe I need to remind myself, why, after all this time, after trying so hard, something in me still felt compelled to do this. It’s no one’s fault.

Sigh.

And then, on the other side of rationalising, there is sadness, and a lonely, blue silence, screaming to be filled.

I hope you’re okay. I think of you,  I miss you a lot, and I’m sorry. May time bring us clarity, peace and healing.

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Monsters in men

Dear Seafarer,

This is a story about the monster within me. I have grappled with it for a long time. I do not write this to make myself sound good. I wish to come to terms with it. Here we go.


One: The gentlest cruelty

One of the most difficult concepts for most of us to contemplate, is the notion that we can be cruel. We want to believe that we have the purest of intentions, that we aren’t monsters. Surely we know better. Surely we can’t be that bad.

Human cruelty is terrifying, because it doesn’t always look like cruelty. Sometimes it looks quiet and subtle, the sort any ordinary person can perform. It looks like the passengers of a plane who sat back, and watched, as someone else got brutally dragged off.  It looks like the boy who said nothing, when his friends bullied a gay classmate to death.

Then, there’s the sort of cruelty we do to those who love us. It looks like a son who doesn’t call his mother during Chinese New Year. It looks like a harmless fat joke you make to a friend, using their vulnerability at their expense.

It looks like me, selfishly hanging on to a lover I’m not sure I can love.

The exact moment I peeked into my monster within, my mind went white. I grappled with it. I made up disgusting, flimsy excuses. With every rationalisation, I lost inch after inch of respect for myself. Perhaps, deep down, I recognised it. I couldn’t run away from it.

The darker aspects of my personality has always fascinated me. I’m someone who feels physical pain from knowing I’ve hurt or inconvenienced others. I couldn’t kill an ant, or a spider. I feel deep, penetrating guilt, and shame. I want desperately to believe that I am good.

Despite that, I am shockingly good at cruelty. My cruelty looks tender and warm. It hides its cowardice and selfishness with polished words, good intentions, love, and hope.

The gentlest sort of cruelty. 

I know this, because for the first time in my life, I am currently someone’s girlfriend. Every morning, I wake up, and I question if I can love my boyfriend. My mind recognises a thousand things that could go wrong with our relationship. I’ve noticed myself become impatient, sharp, condescending, selfish, unreasonable.

I tell him that I may leave him, but our hands remain intertwined. I tell him I’m not sure if this is what I want, but my hands stroke his head at the same time. He looks at me with his big eyes, and I know he is wounded. I apologise, and we kiss. He holds me in his arms, and caresses my body to sleep, his heart satiated. My body dissolves into peaceful slumber, but my heart remains empty and confused.

Have I found home within him? Is effort more important than the right guy? Shouldn’t it be enough that he’s so loving and kind? Does it matter if we don’t have the best chemistry? Would things change if we kept at it? 

A thousand questions race through my mind.

When did I get so selfish? When did I fear loneliness so much, that I would ignite love I’m not sure I can return, in another’s heart?

By objective standards, there is nothing wrong with my boyfriend. He is handsome, patient, and caring. Whenever he comes over, he makes sure to bring little things he knows I’d like. Smoked salmon. Tea. Blueberries. When I tell him something important, he listens attentively. He shaved clean because I made a passing joke before on how his stubble feels like sandpaper on my skin. He constantly asks how he can make my day better. He’s curated a long list of notes about me in his phone. so he doesn’t forget any details. It is full of things I’ve said, things he plans to do for me, things he wants to ask me.

He would give the world to me, in a heartbeat.

But, I am still trying my best to give the world, to him.


Two: He loved me too soon

I’ve been here before.

Prior to my current boyfriend, I was dating a loving, established man. He gave me the world too. He lavished me with gifts. He caught on to all the things I liked, and made sure he would treat me to them. He sat with me through my thesis. When I was sick, he drove an hour to see me, with a bag of medicine, then drove back. We dated casually. Enjoyed each other’s warmth. My heart was always light and happy when I was with him. We had an easy, natural chemistry. However, I remained conflicted. The only thing that was missing was physical attraction. I battled with this for ages. I wondered if I truly loved him, but I enjoyed all benefits of a wonderful relationship at the same time.

That was the first time I realised there was an ugly, shallow monster within me.

I never labelled our relationship, and made him feel insecure. We dated casually for too long. Eventually, I rejected him. Almost immediately after, I started a new one with my current boyfriend.

That was the second time I realised how cruel and thoughtless I truly was.

I allowed myself to be swept away by the thrill of having a handsome, new lover. Over time, I realised that our chemistry wasn’t quite natural. Conversations fell flat, we didn’t quite meet intellectually. I found myself mentally checking out with him. I didn’t feel the security I felt with my older, more established ex.

It’s like a demotion, I cruelly thought. Almost immediately after, this was followed with a flood of guilt and shame.

Ironically, I am a better girlfriend now with my current boyfriend, compared to my ex. I try my best to be caring, attentive, and kind. I tell him frequently that I appreciate and value him. I remind myself to be patient daily. I thank him for loving me.

In some strange way, I feel as if I am atoning for my mistakes. I feel like this is karma. I didn’t want to make my current boyfriend feel unappreciated and insecure, the way I might have inevitably made my ex feel.

The only problem was, I realised at this point that my heart belongs to my ex.

However, it was too late.

He loved me too soon, and I loved him too late.


 Three: Moving Forward

I am worried that I won’t recognise love or a good thing, even if it is staring at me in the face.

Perhaps that is why I’m afraid of letting my current boyfriend go. Some part of me hangs on to the promise that it could become love, eventually. I am afraid of making the same mistake I made with my ex, of letting another good man go. I tell myself, perhaps everything takes time. Perhaps I’ve been wrong in thinking that natural chemistry is important, the way I overestimated the importance of physical attraction to me.

Ah, but then it sounds like a justification, does it not? 

Perhaps, the bigger, deeper reason, is that I don’t want to be alone. I have been alone for a quarter of a century. I have had nights where the gaps between my fingers ached to be filled. I miss feeling the warmth of another. I miss being held. The world is big and cold and frightening, and I want to face it with someone by my side.

Ah, but then, it sounds like I’m a coward.

They say that life unfolds in proportion to your courage. The more you do things that frighten you, the more you discover strength within yourself.

Is it courageous to let him go now? Am I inadvertently holding him back from his true happiness? 

Tomorrow, he is coming to see me. I’ve made him some ‘omurice.’ He wants to hold me in his arms, and I will let him.

As I smile warmly at him, I will quietly pray for the courage to do the right thing. If I need to let him go, I hope I can sit with the discomfort of him hating me. Perhaps that is the only place where cruelty can be useful, when it helps with emotional detachment.

Until then, I might dangerously still try my best to love him.

That is my kind of cruelty.

Fin