Last week, I broke up with my boyfriend.
We were in our usual positions, Graham at the computer playing videos game, me with my book in bed, when he asked a usual question.
“You still don’t think I’m neglecting you, do you?”
Normally, I responded with a quick, “of course not.” Considering I pretty much lived with him, most of my clothes at his apartment, there six nights a week, it didn’t bother me to do a few things alone. When we both got in from work and the gym or yoga, we had dinner, a chat, and a maybe watched a show, then we did our separate things until bed. It was nice to not have to entertain each other constantly and every so often, between maps and missions, he would come cuddle for a moment, tell me I was sexy or ask what I was reading. I was happy with the ways things were, so, no, for a long time it didn’t bother me, I didn’t feel neglected. But a few a weeks ago, our constant immediacy with each other but lack of actual contact seemed different. I felt a void between our stations rather than the gentle hum that used to cross back and forth.
I had already chickened out from mentioning this when he got home from the gym, so when he asked, I hesitated, unable to force my expected reassurance.
“In this moment, no. But maybe, overall, yeah.”
It’s hard to say exactly where it started feeling strained for me, but I know our fight several weeks before had not been a good sign. The onset was banal enough, a simple miscommunication. Instead of texting him, I waited until Graham came home to tell him I was leaving to play foosball with my friends. His disappointment that I wasn’t hanging out with him all night was obvious. He tends to wear sullen like a clear coat polish. But I made the bigger mistake of trying to talk to him about five minutes before I was supposed to leave. He made a show of flopping on the bed and I couldn’t just leave.
To begin with, Graham doesn’t care much for my friends. But he also doesn’t have much in common with them either. He doesn’t drink, ever. He doesn’t smoke, anything. He doesn’t like people, at all. Because of these things, his frustration turned into a screaming match from both us, way beyond that night’s events. Suddenly, it was about the massive discrepancies in our belief structures, from what a relationship should be like, to his overly critical opinions of people who smoke certain herbal remedies, which includes my friends, and as well as my past. A past I can never talk to him about because he thinks getting drunk or baked is stupid and doesn’t want to hear stupid stories. The more we fought the more frustrated I got as well, explaining to him that I wouldn’t do this, that I couldn’t tolerate a relationship with fights. He saw fighting as necessary to a relationship. It isn’t supposed to be easy and perfect, he said. Perhaps not, I agreed, but I didn’t see why we couldn’t try.
As the argument went on, the weather seemed to mirror our turmoil as heavy, icy snow, layered onto the pavement and our cars. It got so bad that by the time we stopped fighting and I managed to leave, it took fifteen minutes to scrape my windshield clean and I still couldn’t see well enough to drive. In what was probably more an act of penance than it was generosity, Graham cleaned off his own car and drove me to my friend’s house. Before I left, he asked if we were ok. I told him we were. I knew we weren’t, but I thought we would be, which seemed like the same thing.
That fight was the crack in the wall, the point of weakness everything else seemed to dig into. Some of it was small things, like tiffs about money. I felt taken for granted when he asked me to chip in for a bill when I bought groceries and cooked most nights for both us or when I never asked for money after I picking up meals he wanted like Zaxbys, but I needed to pay him for getting sushi if he didn’t want to eat what I already had in the fridge. Then there were bigger things, like the way we would talk about doing things, whether going to Nashville or a comic-con, or even just out for dinner, but nothing ever panned out, or he’d simply change his mind, not feeling like it anymore, which is why I didn’t get to meet Matt Smith, the eleventh doctor, in Louisville. Gradually, we just did less period. He went to the gym more, played more video games. I watched our television shows without him. I masturbated more.
Even with these issues, our relationship wasn’t horrible. He still took care of me, doing laundry and such. He still told me I was beautiful and cute more times in one day that some previous boyfriends had in the entire spans of our relationship. He still supported my writing and listened to my tales of annoying students at work. He still kissed me goodnight, every night. And maybe that’s why it was so hard to admit we needed to let go. He made me happy, but our relationship didn’t.
But I knew this decline in fervor for each other couldn’t be ignored when discussing said bill, I suggested staying at my dad’s a few more nights a week and Graham was completely for it. That would solve the problem, he said. This coming for the guy who used to beg me not to leave, who pleaded and convinced just to get me to stay an extra hour, which inevitably turned into an extra night. He used to object to my determined stance that I HAD to go home at least one night at week. So, when he encouraged me to make it three nights instead of two, I knew this wasn’t me reading into things anymore.
I explained this as well when I talked about feeling neglected. I told him that I thought he was bored with me, tired of me. That we had become comfortable rather than happy. He shook his head, agreeing with all it.
“I don’t know what I want anymore,” he said. “I don’t want to lose you. But I don’t feel any different than when you’re here or when you aren’t. But it’s not just you. It’s everything. I don’t feel anything about anything anymore. I haven’t for a while.”
For me, the change had been our fight. For Graham, it had been his stepfather’s death. Cancer had finally taken him last month, after a painful struggle. I had met the man once at Thanksgiving, not long after the diagnosis. I had offered to go with Graham to the funeral, like I offered to go with him to visits. But he wanted to do it all alone, and I respected that.
“I feel like I’ve changed. I didn’t expect his death to affect me this way. And I’ve wanted to talk to you about it, but I didn’t want it to affect our relationship either.”
“But it has. It already has,” I told him. “I understand though.” And it wasn’t some sympathetic reflex response either.
I had met Graham in May of last year, just two weeks after the confirmation that my grandfather’s prostate cancer had spread to his bones and his lungs. In the span of six months, his years of hormone therapy had just stopped working and the cancer, finally released, had boomeranged around his body. I spent the summer bouncing from house to house to hospital. Most nights I slept on the couch at my grandparent’s house, there for the middle of the night emergencies like leaking catheters and the daily needs like medication and inhalers between visits from hospice nurses.
My first date with Graham occurred on a night off, when my sister took over her shift. When I was losing one of the most important people in my life, he was just getting to know me, which was good, because it felt like I was getting to know myself again. Loss changes a person and perceptions. When someone who helped make you is gone, an irrevocable change occurs with your self-definition. Graham met this new part of me in tandem with myself.
However, as he experienced the same alteration, I was not a fluid part of rediscovery, I was an obstacle. This was not a failing relationship, it had become an existential crisis, one which neither of us seemed ready to solve in that moment. We decided to let it go. I told him he didn’t need to know or have any answers right now. He came and cuddle with me some more in bed. We kissed and kissed before falling asleep. But when I dreamed, I dreamed about death.
The next day, he went to see family, in hopes of advice and consolation. I tried to write but only cried over my keyboard. When I finally called my father, explaining the situation, the line remained awkwardly quiet until he told me it was a crapshoot either way.
“But if you’re calling me, you already know what you need to do. You’re just looking for a second opinion to confirm it.”
“Yeah, I guess I do.” I sniffed, wiping snot on my sweater, grateful that 25 still wasn’t too old to call Daddy for advice.
I pulled out a couple of garbage bags from the laundry room and began shoving in my clothes. In old grocery bags, I packed my makeup and toiletries. I emptied my bookshelf into a storage box my sister had gotten me for Christmas. But I kept everything discreet in the bedroom, so aside from the shelf, everything looked as should. It was an hour and a half wait, doing nothing but watching my phone, until Graham finally got home.
When he walked through the door, I almost started crying again instantly. But I swallowed it down, my voice still shaking I asked what his family had said, if he made any decisions.
“Not really,” he said, pulling out the groceries he picked before coming home. I told him, he only need to get dinner for one, that my friends were grilling and wanted me to come over. “They said I just need to grieve. But I take it you have since your books are gone.”
“I have,” I shuddered and all the tears came streaming out. It hurt and ached, but I explained how it kept echoing all day, his comment about feeling the same if I was there and if I was gone. It wasn’t the kind of relationship I could be in. What he was going through, I couldn’t fix. I couldn’t even help. I knew that if I stayed I would eventually stop loving him. I told him that he was still the best boyfriend I’d had, that even in this state it was the best relationship I had ever had, but not the best relationship I could have.
God, it hurt. But the more I explained, the freer I felt.
He sat beside me on the couch. We held hands, talking it out.
“I don’t want you to go. But I know I can’t ask you stay when I feel this way,” he said. The side of his nose glistened from the tears that matched my own. “I don’t know how long it will take for me to snap out of this. I can’t make you wait for that.”
I kissed his temple and cheek, grazing my hands over the short hair on the back of his head.
“Thank you for not making me feel guilty,” he said.
“There’s nothing to be guilty about. This is just how you feel. This is nothing we’ve done,” I told him. He wiped the tears away from those beautiful brown eyes of his.
Neither of us could stop this ending. He even helped me carrying the bags and boxes out to my car. I loved him even more for being that man, the one who could let me go because it was right, even if it wasn’t what he wanted.
With my keys in my hand, we held each other by the door. Our last kiss was soft, and when that wasn’t enough I pulled in more. I wanted to be able to remember the feel of his lips in this exact moment until the day I died.
I left the apartment like I always did, jumping off onto the sidewalk, while he leaned out the glass door, telling me goodbye and to kick ass at foosball. It was all the same but when I looked back to wave at him, it, of course, wasn’t. My heart sunk when the door closed completely and I broke down miserably once in the confinement of my vehicle. I wept all the way to my friend’s house, where distraction and a bottle of wine waited for me.