But I can’t stay inside, because out in that foreboding world, you exist.

I’ve met you many times before. You come in many different shapes, and when you’re present, I would walk on thin ice to have you in my arms.

I’m afraid of weather, vague outside threats, rejection – but I find you in the hearts of many, and it makes the world seem that much safer.

Right now, you live in a dear friend of mine. We speak your name to each other, though there’s something muted about it – he says your name to someone else with more force. You can carry many meanings, sometimes romantic and sometimes platonic. He and I say the latter but are both aware I crave the former, too. You are almost a threat – the last time we discussed you in your naked wholeness, he spoke of fears. That to invoke you meant making promises he doesn’t feel prepared for, that this other guy came with less expectations. I never felt like I wanted too much – but I’ve always gotten the sense that I’m never aware how much I demand.

That you can drive us so, it’s only natural you likewise spark terror.

But even as that desire hangs over me, I’m so thankful to have you in the form he and I do share. To have someone worth going outside to see, to speak of my fears and desires, it’s a beautiful thing. I just wish you could quiet down sometimes, or maybe you could someday embed some of your power inside my own heart – but then I’d again have nothing to seek out in this scary world.

Even if I never get what I currently find myself wanting, I know you’re always there. I may not know where to find you at a specific moment, but I’m as sure of you as I am of life itself.

Even when you leave, I trust you to return. You’re a blessing and a curse, but I’ll give you that positive tilt – you’re the reason life is worth living.

Wouldn’t It Be Nice

I started crying in the middle of Night of the Living Dead.

Not at the film, of course. My distracted thoughts reminded me it was October 5, the day that would have marked six years since I began dating my partner if I hadn’t asked for a divorce only a few weeks earlier. I had to walk out and get some fresh air, and you were the first person I thought to bother.

We’ve been at a distance since our own break-up, because who wouldn’t be, but you were fully there for me that night. You were my one friend who could relate; I’m getting divorced before most of my friends are even considering getting married. But you’re older, and really, our lives this last year have sort of paralleled each other.

The most important topic we hit that night was that we never wanted to hurt our husbands; that, because of this fact, we likely delayed the inevitable. The relationship we had built together was supposed to be a side-thing, but we both realized that we only wanted a side-thing because we weren’t getting what we needed from our primary. And, because we weren’t getting what we needed, we could never give what they needed, either – we could put on a performance, but that could only go so far.

And who wants to only be given performative acts of love?

When you love someone enough to marry them, I think there’s something there that forms that goes beyond romantic love. There are so many ways to love someone, ways that might blind us to the truth. I do believe we both still love our ex-husbands – just not in the way they need. But they’re, well, like family. We want what’s best for them, and we’ve realized we’re not that.

There’s only so much time in this world, and I’d rather all of us go back to finding new loves than committing to a futile struggle to reignite old ones. We both came to the conclusion, wouldn’t it be nice if the person being broken up with could accept that this was simply what had to be, that things would turn out better for them in the long run than if we tried to stick around? That the end of romance didn’t have to be this tragic thing, that we could all be happy we had this person in our life for this certain period of time?

Why do people only see value in love if it lasts forever?

I was in a panic that night because I had convinced myself I was eternally scarring my ex-husband. But that’s not true. He’ll grow from whatever wounds I have caused. Someday he’ll meet someone new and be thankful I let him go, so that he can experience this new wonder. Who knows how many times that cycle will repeat, for all of us? But I just want to be happy with whoever I have in the moment – if it’s for a month, a year, until the end of time.

We can talk about future plans, the things we want from a partner in the long term – and we can focus on the loves we lost until it drives us to madness. But all we ever really have is now; the future is a series of present moments we’re yet to live through. Cherish the memories, but spend that precious time with the people who love you in the current shape you take.

You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away

Thanks to you, I’ve always been kind of afraid to tell someone I love them.

We were cuddling in your bed one day, and I shifted to lay on top of you. “I love the boyfriend,” you seemed to say, which was a weird way to say that for the first time, but I took it. I returned the words back to you, but in proper English and everything. I don’t think I really knew what love was back then, but it didn’t feel wrong to say.

A few weeks later you came to my house and immediately broke up with me. I was, of course, devastated. You had only just told me you loved me, and now you’re leaving. How could you go through such a change so suddenly, with no explanation?

We met up a few weeks later to talk about everything. You said you never loved me. I pointed out that you had said it first, and you said no. “All of the boyfriend.” Some stupid rage comic meme language, because that’s what you brought to the bedroom.

This is one of those things I wish I could look back on and laugh, because it really is quite dumb. But it just kind of hurts. I dunno, maybe it would sit with me better if we didn’t have sex between the confusion and the breakup. I could say it was all one big miscommunication and you realized this relationship didn’t mean as much to you, but I can’t. I felt used.

Even seven years later, having gone through a marriage and everything, I still doubt myself when someone says they love me. Maybe I’m mishearing, or maybe they realize they can get something from me if they say it. My first experience with being loved was a lie; not one you meant to say, but one you let me believe for far too long.

Despite their issues, I look back on my other two relationships with fondness. I had many more good times than bad with them. They ended, but a good relationship doesn’t have to be this eternal thing. I’m happy I had them in my life. I wish I could recall anything about our time together that I look at in a positive light, but this is the only thing I really remember. You made me feel weaker than I am.