One of the roles in my life that I have the least patience for is playing the fool. When I was in the process of breaking up with (that’s code for “being dumped by”) someone I really loved, I remember saying to myself “I just don’t want to be the dumb girl who was the last to know that was what was going on.” There’s something of (wildly Catholic alert) the sin of pride, in that— I’m used to being smart about things, and I don’t like being the one who doesn’t know things, in love or otherwise. It’s a button for me, right or wrong.
The situation I described in Boomerang, where my ex came around and asked me out to dinner again, bothered me partly because I felt like he thought I’d be grateful that he came back. In a break up like we had, I don’t bother to tell my side of the story. The important thing was that we shouldn’t be together, and we weren’t, so when he said he didn’t feel the same connection anymore, I wished him well and said goodbye. I don’t suspect that my side of the story held much importance for him, at the time, or since. If I’d told him my truth, it would have read something like “you know, I agree. I’m not at all convinced we’re headed in the same direction, and I’ve been trying to make the best of this, because I enjoy spending time with you, but there are some pretty serious cracks in this for me. I don’t feel like you really care about me, I think you want to put up a show of thoughtfulness— asking me about my day and so forth, but I see you mostly blow off what’s actually important to me, when I tell you about it. Also, I’m not at all convinced that our people will go well together, and I’m concerned that, as serious as you’ve said you are about me, I haven’t met any of your people, even though you spend a lot of face time with them.” The truth is that I was grateful—grateful to have made a clean break, with no recriminations or hurt feelings. Reopening a wound that has healed so well is not something for which I’m naturally grateful.
He never said that he expected me to weep tears of joy at his return, but he did seem to think it’d be straightforward to pick things back up. I said yes to dinner, out of a curiosity that I tend to regret, but couldn’t get him on the schedule for a couple of weeks. We finally agreed to go out last weekend, but he lost momentum early last week, and, knowing that I was going to dinner mostly to say, as kindly as I knew how, that I didn’t think dating again was a good idea, I just let it go. If he comes back again, all denial about plans made and dropped, I don’t know that I’ll be able to be as nice about asking him to drop it.
Someone else in my life that I showed the door came back this week. And though he started with neutral banter, he moved pretty quickly toward the suggestive. I reminded him that we’d talked about that. I gave him the choice to escalate to dating or scale back to friendship, back in January, and he picked friendship. Normally, he’s more respectful, but this time, I felt like I needed to put it down a little more forcefully because of the way he pushed, and I don’t like having to be that way with someone who’s been important to me. It was almost better when he was radio silent. I’d started to miss him, but to think that this might be best— him putting his energy toward finding something more like what he wanted, and freeing me up to find something more like what I want.
I know that this is part of the process, when you draw a boundary, people are going to test that boundary. For sure. Every time. It’s not even personal, we’re just like that, as a species. (Harriet Lerner talks about this in a way I found really enlightening in The Dance of Anger.) But it makes me angry. Maybe it makes me angry for all the times before I drew the boundary. Maybe it makes me just angry enough to enforce the boundary. Let’s hope it makes me angry enough to look for something better, next time.