I have learned with age that sometimes we measure our progress in this life not by our successes, but by how gracefully we handle our failures. I endeavored — and for the most part prevailed, I believe — to walk out of my marriage with as much grace as possible. I have broken up with friends and walked away with my head held high while they hurled venomous insults at my retreating figure. Sometimes, I have discovered, dignity is all we have left when everything else has crumbled.
My therapist spends a lot of time talking about “speaking your truth.” This is a mighty hard one for a lot of women, myself included. Being able to calmly and clearly state your needs and boundaries and feelings, without playing games or manipulating or succumbing to the victim role…. well, it’s not easy. But under her kind and gentle tutelage, I am gradually learning its profound value.
Today, I finally spoke my truth — cleanly and clearly and gently and without drama or accusation — to the man who has been in my life, off and on, for 7 months. I was finally able to say to him that I cannot date as we have been. That I like him too much to keep things casual and that dating in this manner is neither who I really am or what I want at this point. That I understand that he is in a different place and that his feelings for me are not strong enough to prompt a commitment. That I would never want to be in a commitment with someone who didn’t offer it freely and willingly and with an open heart. That I don’t blame him; I’m not angry at him. That I recognize that he has done nothing to mislead me or intentionally hurt me. That people simply can’t control their feelings; sometimes “it’s” there, and sometimes not. That I’ve been in his position before and had to deliver this same conversation in reverse to men I’ve dated. And finally, that because I am not enough for him at this point, he should date other women, but not date me.
None of this was easy to say. There is, beneath these admissions, a painful humiliation that, if permitted, could easily swallow me whole and munch on my self-confidence for dessert.
I didn’t want to say these things. What I wanted to say was, “Sure, let’s keep dating your way. That way I don’t have to let go of you and tell you goodbye forever and run into you someday with some beautiful woman on your arm.” But saying those things would have dug me further into a falsehood on which I was already beginning to choke.
So I had to say these things. I cannot make him feel more for me, nor me less for him. I cannot continue to date him as I have been and have it eat away at my self-esteem. I only had two roads before me, and I chose the high one. And by doing so, I salvaged from the wreckage of our relationship some modicum of dignity, some piece of respect for myself and for him, that will hopefully enable me to put this relationship into the “It Just Didn’t Work Out” column, rather than the “What a Fucking Mistake THAT Was” column.
At the close of our conversation, he said he needed to do some “soul searching,” and I know that I will hear from him again someday. But I don’t anticipate a different end to the conversation. My life is not a Hollywood movie where it takes Richard Gere just a short barefoot romp in the grass to realize that Julia Roberts is simply too amazing to let go of. No, in real life, more often than not, they let you go.
We had a second chance, my guy and I. But sometimes second chances are just a chance to find out that the only possible outcome for you is the outcome you got the first time. The only difference this time is that I spoke my truth. Gracefully.