I’m sorry readers, I totally fooled you. You thought I was deep. But, I recently had the same philosophical discovery as Kylie Jenner:
One of the things I realized is that I am not great at expressing emotional vulnerability with romantic partners. I’m much more open with my friends, and I started that journey in the fall of my senior year of college when I had to explain to the people who loved me that I was getting my anxiety under control. But I haven’t done a great job of letting my romantic partners see my anxious side, mostly because I wanted to ignore my own issues and act as if I was perfect so that everything would just get better on its own.*
*I do not recommend this strategy.
Until recently, I hadn’t really explain my post-breakup feelings to any of my romantic partners. Instead, I decided to tell the internet. But that’s kind of a cop out. Although the things I wanted to say were getting out there, they weren’t reaching the people who actually needed to hear them.
So, a couple of weeks ago, I had a couple of glasses of red wine and had an honest conversation with one of my exes. And you know what? It was GREAT!
I didn’t go to my friend’s party intending to confront Greg*, a guy that I dated briefly back in the spring. But as I arrived, I was reminded that his old apartment was right around the corner, the beach where we realized we weren’t right for each other was down the street, and his new girlfriend was upstairs at the party.
*not his real name
As we found ourselves alone in the kitchen, I summoned up my liquid courage and asked the question that had been on my mind since October: did his new girlfriend know who I was?
Yes, he replied. He’d let her know about me, and I’d met her more than once, so everything was out in the open!
I surprised myself when I replied, “Well, funny you should say everything is out in the open, because the first time I met Tina, no one had told me about her. You could have let me know that you were seeing someone new before I met her.”
True story: I met Tina at a mutual friend’s birthday party, only to find out that she and Greg had been dating for two months, and none of our mutual friends, or Greg himself, had given me a heads-up. Greg and I had kept in touch over the summer, neither of us had lingering feelings, and we had decided to be friendly. It’s just nice to have a warning that you’ll have to spend an afternoon making small talk with your ex’s new girlfriend before you actually have to do so.
Greg’s mouth dropped open in shock, realizing how blindsided I felt. He apologized, and said, “I’ve been learning this year that I have less social graces than I thought.”*
*True story: this is the same guy who called me at 9 AM on a Monday to ask me about my sexual history. This is a good realization for him to have.
I responded with the truth: “I’m not mad at you, and I don’t have any hard feelings towards her. It just would have been nice to know. I hope that you’re happy with her and frankly that you’re treating her better than you treated me.”
I felt comfortable saying this because 1) wine and 2) Greg and I had ended our relationship by having an honest conversation about the ways that he was struggling to be a better person, how those faults manifested themselves in our time together, and how we just weren’t right for each other. It was a truth that we both acknowledged.
But, I came to that realization earlier this year after I revisited a couple of questionable actions on his behalf and decided that I just couldn’t be with someone who made me feel bad about the things that I wanted. Though that wasn’t the intent of his actions, that was the impact. I let him know how I felt about that when we parted ways in May, but since then snippets of our relationship have come back to me and I’ve often realized, “wow, that was really not okay!”
Greg earnestly responded that he was trying, and that he hadn’t heard that feedback from Tina (to which I wryly replied, “Well, I think you’ve found a woman less critical than myself”).
I ended our conversation by saying that I wasn’t holding on to hard feelings and that I wished him well. I truly believe that Tina is a great match for him, much better than I ever was, and I wish them every happiness.
Greg gallantly said that he still really respected me, admired all that I stood for, and wanted for us to have a good relationship. I believed him. That’s one of Greg’s strongest suits: he is unafraid to express his feelings earnestly and sincerely. We ended with a hug, and went back to the party.
Reader, if you attempt to replicate this strategy, there are two rules you must follow.
1. Know thyself.
If you know that alcohol affects you in a way that you will walk up to said ex and start the conversation with a phrase like “sup, fuckface,” you likely shouldn’t mix alcohol with honest talks.
2. Know thy ex.
If your ex is an abusive piece of shit, loves emotional manipulation, or will use this opportunity to talk about all the things that they think are wrong with you, save your drinks for a more fun activity.
Also, though I know I was presented with a best case scenario when I got the apology that I wanted, I don’t think that you need to get the same result in order for this experience to be valuable. Identifying your emotions means that you are taking ownership of them, and recognizing that they are important enough to be spoken aloud. Even if the person doesn’t respond in the way that you would like, you’ve at least valued your own emotions enough to express them, make them real, and not back down from the way that you feel. That’s a victory in itself.
If you feel like taking on this emotional vulnerability challenge, I commend you. Life is too short to be emotionally constipated. Finally, as the great Audre Lorde reminds us in her essay “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action”*, your feelings cannot stay inside you forever. You eventually have to express them:
*aka the best essay ever written which should be required reading for all humans
“My daughter … said, ‘Tell them about how you’re never really a whole person until you remain silent, because there’s always that one little piece you that wants to be spoken out, and if you keep ignoring it, it gets madder and madder and hotter and hotter, and if you don’t speak it out one day it will just up and punch you in the mouth from the inside.”
If alcohol is that thing that makes your feelings spring up and punch you in the mouth from the inside, so be it. At least you’re now closer to being a whole person.