I ran into my ex
"Boo!" -A ghost of lovers past
Last weekend, I saw my ex-boyfriend Devin* for the first time in three years. My younger sister Jessica was visiting from Los Angeles and we were walking through the East Village on our way to smoke hookah, a youthful habit we still indulge in from time to time.
As we walked past the seafood spot Devin used to work at, I jokingly said to her, “Let’s look inside and see if he’s there.” Lo and behold, he was. Three years later, he had the same strong, tattooed drummer’s arms, the same short, brown hair, the same flirtatious smile. The same server job.
I was shocked to see this ghost of my past suddenly conjured in front of me. So many fantasies that had stewed inside me for years flashed across my mind. I could walk in, smack him across the face, and walk out. I could sit for dinner, pretend I don’t know him, and leave without tipping. I could go in and scream to the entire restaurant, “Do you see this man? He’s the worst man I ever dated!” then lead them all in a food fight, violently hurling oysters. I could pull a Charlotte and curse the day he was born.
But I didn’t actually want to do any of that. Other than a brief rush, I felt nothing. All of the agony of our torturous back-and-forth—the times he’d shown up at my place at 3am, his drunken bad behavior and lies, when he told me he was falling in love with me then ghosted me—I just couldn’t feel it anymore. And I had learned my lesson from our toxic dynamic; there was no way I would ever put myself back in his manipulative orbit, nor would I ever allow someone to treat me like that again.
He didn’t see me, and Jessica and I kept walking. We smoked hookah, watched people stand in the middle of the street to take bad photos of #Manhattanhenge, and continued on to a great weekend at Coney Island and Central Park. His specter had appeared to me at just the right moment to remind me that time passes, feelings shift, growth happens. The pain I feel today—caused by another man who loved me so much better than Devin, but took little more care with my heart in the end—will slowly melt, like the ice caps, until I’m floating in calm waters once more.
*Name has been changed to protect the sort-of innocent.
#CruelSummerBookClub reading list
The Goodbye Diaries by Marisa Bardach Ramel and Sally Bardach
When Marisa was 17 years old, her mother, Sally, was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer and given two months to live. Sally fought like hell to stay longer with her husband and two young adult children, and nine months into her chemotherapy, she called Marisa at Syracuse University, where she was a freshman in college, and presented her with a big idea: “Everyone keeps telling me to write a book, but I don’t think I can write one on my own. What if we wrote one together?”
Seventeen years after Sally’s death, the book Marisa cowrote with her is finally out. The book is an intimate look at a mother-daughter relationship that has to rapidly adapt to face an imminent, wrenching loss. Marisa’s teenage perspective, full of worries about first loves and denial about her mother’s diagnosis, is in stark contrast to Sally’s, who tries to grasp leaving her family behind and her changing marriage and friendships. As I read it, I was struck by the sorrow Marisa feels at the end of her tender romantic relationships. She loses her virginity to her first boyfriend, ends things with him, and next dates a depressed man, who then goes abroad and distances himself from her. She is so consumed by all of this, even while her mother is dying.
I related to some of what she experienced—when I went abroad on Semester at Sea my junior year of college I stayed with my boyfriend back home in San Diego, who promptly broke up with me because he met someone else. Though my grandmother Betty, who I was extremely close to, had died six weeks earlier, his loss was staggering. I skinnydipped in three oceans, saw it snow from the Great Wall of China, watched the sun set on the Taj Mahal, had a love affair on Phi Phi island in Thailand, and made friendships that sustain me a decade later. But through it all, I mourned him.
It’s tempting to say, What a waste! and dismiss that sort of young person’s pain as childish and naive. But that’s not how heartbreak works. To a certain extent, it has its way with you; there are no shortcuts or magic fixes, only healthy ways to minimize the length of your anguish. A decade later, I of course miss and think about my grandmother much more than that ex. But I, like Marisa, had little control over the trickle of intense feelings I had to sort through after the end of a romantic relationship that meant a lot to me, no matter how much fun I was supposed to be having or whether I had just lost a much more important person. There’s no point in feeling shame about that, or chastising yourself, as I so often have in the past.
In a few weeks, I’ll send you my interview with Marisa, who’s now 36 and married with two children of her own. In the meantime, start reading! And remember to order from your local bookstore whenever possible.
I’m also reading
Ariana Grande on grief and growing up by Rob Haskell in Vogue
How to be happy by Tara Parker-Pope in the New York Times
Natasha Lyonne: “There’s a fighter in me that wants to survive” by Eva Wiseman in the Guardian
Ann Friedman’s reading list for the broken-hearted
The replies to Alexander Chee’s Twitter thread on grief after losing a longheld dream
Rachel Syme’s Twitter thread of women discussing the brutal and often bright changes that happen in your mid-thirties
Support I got that you might need to hear
Remember to be nice to your parents.
Questionable self-care advice
A Minerva moment
This is my 7-year-old cat, Minerva, named after Professor McGonagall of the Harry Potter universe. (Heard of it?) She comforts me every day, and I hope she does the same for you.
This cheered me up
Every year, I buy tickets to actor/comedian/president of the Toni Collette fan club John Early’s live show that he puts on during Pride week at the Bell House. And every year, I live for his Britney Spears impression and his absolutely iconic giggle. I’ve also watched this video dozens of times. If you don’t yet know him, you’re welcome.
Anthem of the week
I have learned to be my own #1 fan. I write myself supportive notes, buy myself flowers, tell myself outloud (sometimes while running around the park while people stare), “I love you, I am here for you, I will wake up with you and walk with you every day, and I am so proud of you.” It helps!
Starting this newsletter meant overcoming a lot of fear and ego, and choosing to Make It Art. Thank you for being here.
My dear friend Samantha recently broke off her engagement five months before her wedding date. My own breakup happened two weeks later. You’ll hear from her about what it’s like to call off a wedding, break your Upper West Side lease, put your belongings in storage, and flee to your parents’ home in Atlanta, all within 72 hours. Then, we’ll interview each other about the experience of unexpectedly going through heartbreak with your best friend.
If you liked this newsletter, please subscribe and share! And you can always email me with any thoughts on grief, loss and heartbreak, or constructive feedback. I’d love to hear from you.
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