Either a glutton for punishment or worse, attention, I sometimes find myself reaching out to people I’ve resolved to be finished with. I can’t say this decision is entirely unmotivated. I’m unsure if I do this out of boredom or out of what I now consider “research” for my column. Either way, I’ve harbored a habit that doesn’t always bode well for me. I found myself in an interesting predicament last weekend when I was motivated to reach out to an ex. It was 2 a.m. in Prague, which meant 8 p.m. in Boston. I messaged him, as one does early in the morning, mostly to see if he would respond.
If there were a scale of bad decisions weighed by the possible destruction of the action, this one would tip the scale. Recently, we seemed indifferent to each other, keeping to an interesting communal sense of passivity. One look at our short sentenced responses and you’d wonder if communication were akin to golfing with the lowest number of words used winning the game of passivity. Thanks to the weird way we failed to end anything, we destroyed the scene of the crime, making it nearly impossible for any investigator to find any reminiscences of sentiments one showed toward each other.
The six-hour time difference made for an interesting Friday night conversation. Surprisingly, it took about only 20 minutes of slightly painful small talk before we found ourselves back in the throes of our typical banter. We had a pun-off, his submissions being rooted in a deep love for history, mine rooted in a general love for words. There was a familiarity, a recognition almost, of a feeling that I thought had been lost a long time ago. A rush of feelings was brought back to me, both of excitement and fear, uncertainty and spontaneity. The scariest part of the interaction was how easily I had forgotten everything that happened between us − his coldness, his inability to communicate properly and a shared history starting in my freshman year.
Somehow I avoided the burning question on my fingertips, “What happened to us?” It lingered there anyway, hiding behind every pun, waiting to surface behind every inside joke, every nod to our shared past. I always find myself with the same conundrum, knowing the right questions to ask to relieve the anxiety and curiosity within me, but never mustering the strength to ask those questions. There is neither forward nor backward advancement if I never press them for answers. I don’t believe the gravity of the situation will settle in because I’m abroad. That’s the artificiality of abroad that lingers behind every choice made, every day passed. There’s a pretense that this situation is permanent, and I will go on living in London forever. At some point, however, I must return the United States. At some point, I might see him again. Which is to say this: there is a danger of keeping things in the limbo where they stand right now.
One author who visited our class recently described revisiting a memory as pulling on a thread so the events unravel before your eyes. Revisiting personal history is much like pulling at the veins of our relationships. When we pull, we must be prepared for everything that follows — the good and the bad, the embarrassment and the laughter, the lingering feelings and the shared hurt. Which is to say this: when it comes to unresolved history, one should know the costs of engaging in it. Knowing the 1,000 ways you can hurt someone, perhaps because you’ve done some of them, can be dangerous information. On the other hand, engaging with someone who knows the 1,000 ways to hurt you can be equally as damaging.
Leaving those feelings in a sort of limbo, keeping those avenues of communication open, come with the lingering cost of uncertainty. By having a history with someone, you acknowledge, to some extent, the hurt that occurred between the two of you. Maybe you reconcile, maybe you resolve to leave the past behind. Either way, some form of closure is necessary only for the purpose of relieving those burning internal questions.