What Ending My Engagement Taught Me About Recovery

A few weeks ago, I met my ex fiancé after work. The night before, I told him I was dating my roommate.

Killer opening line, right?

 “Wheyo Linds, where ya been?”

Then, BAM: open with a doozy one-liner.

Actually, more of like a “wait WTF. Didn’t she JUST get engaged? Didn’t I recently like that picture on Instagram? Who is this chick – a bachelorette contestant?”

To confirm: yes, there was an engagement in March. It ended in May. I’m now dating my roommate.

And no, I will not apply for The Bachelor.

More of that later.

Anyway. I meet him; outside on a restaurant patio near our old place (in retrospect: why do exes always seem to meet at the places that are sure to pay homage to their past?)

As I approach him, my shoulders corner.

Hey, he says, wearing that straw hat that used to hang on the coat rack beside our front door.

I feel something akin to betrayal when I notice it. There he is: wearing the same hat.

Every day, waking up on the left side of the bed – still choosing clothes I detest.

Being so… him.

The familiarity of the hat pinches me, and I want it to feel personal, even if it’s not.

Hi, I say. But the way it comes out matches my stance.

What’s with the slinking? He smiles. You don’t have to slink.

I nod. And we hug.

When we sit, across from one another, I comment on his braid: new look?

A little girl from his nonprofit showed him how to French braid, he says. I grin, mostly because that seems like an answer I could’ve concluded on my own.

You don’t stop knowing someone because you leave them, do you? So, I suppose I’m destined to forever ask: what do you do when you know the moles of another – and it’s no longer relevant?

What do you do with all the seemingly useless information of a human?

I can’t forget the intricacies of this person – and yet we are meant to carry on, like we didn’t invest all of that time. As though knowing him is a past hobby, like the Christmas toboggan I (shit) knitted once, and discarded later – with the Thursday Recycling.

When, forever, I’ll know that this man – one of billions – twirls his hair, in specific patterns, when he’s idle.

Sleeps with his left hand under the pillow.

Sobbed into my shoulder & left tear marks down my favorite silk shirt.

Howled at the moon, alongside me one night, on the side of a Colorado highway.

And continues to wear Calvin Klein boxer underwear, with holes, from 2004.

I digress.

At some point, when the pleasantries grow painfully superficial (how are your parents? He asks. Do you really care? I smirk. No, he says. But I do care how you are with them.) and the waiter takes our order (IPA, he says. That triple X one. Before your frisbee game? I question. What are you my mom? He says) he asks the inevitable:

  1. Are you giving yourself the space to grow from all this?
  2. Are you eating well?

To the first question, I scoff. “Knew that was coming.”

To the second: “I wish you didn’t feel you have to ask.”

He moves back to the first:

Of course you knew it was coming, he deadpans. You gave yourself – what – 8 minutes before doing exactly what you said you ‘always’ do? He mocks with his fingers, and I glare.

Seriously Linds, you started dating him not even two… – he puts his hand up. Actually, I don’t want to know.

I look away.

I’ve found over the years: there’s a difference between ignorantly proclaiming to ‘not give a shit about what people think’ – and valuing perspective of the peoples who have taken great strides to know you.

And despite our engagement ending, and the mecca of reasons that led to that, it doesn’t negate that this human knows me. At least some version of me, as he will always know me, then.

I value his perspective.

I just scoff because I’m defensive, and, ego.

When I don’t say anything, he can’t help but push:

How did it happen? Was he just waiting for us to end, lurking in the shadows?

I ask him “Do you really want to know all of that?”

No, he says, agreeably. I don’t. I can connect the dots.

It happened, I offer. Neither of us looking for it.

But, of course, that is textbook response.

And nothing is actually that effort-less.

He doesn’t even have to look at me before I throw up my hands in defeat.

I have a tendency to date without pause.

If you’ve read my blog, you may already know – or have picked up on that. I used to take some twisted pride in it. Now, it seems predictable.

So when I have nothing left to offer the conversation, he looks at me:

“All I care about: are you just giving yourself the respect to not know what you want? Because it’s OK to not know. I wish, in retrospect, I had said that to you more often. I fucked up not seeing you for who you are right now.”

This was an overlying issue in our relationship: knowing what I wanted. And it stings me, as he says it – in that way that people can bite, and all you can do is grimace.

My ex is a calculating man. He is as sure of himself as he is of his day. When he wants something, he goes for it, and he doesn’t bother to wonder if the other path would’ve been better.

For someone like me, rarely sure of what I want for breakfast, our dynamic made communicating hard. I found his decision-making off putting, if not arrogant at times (OH YOU THINK YOUR WAY IS THE BEST WAY. WELL LOOK OVER THERE YOU ARROGANT ASS, THERE’S A MILLION OTHER WAYS TO BE!)

I also found it comforting. When we met a couple years ago I had no idea what the hell I wanted out of a partnership – or my future – but wracked with guilt and late 20s pressure, I dismissed the feelings and forged ahead.

My friends were marrying. Some were having kids. We had ‘calmed down’ in the sense that we were all moving towards something, this big ole Millennial crockpot American dream with the two kids and a driveway. Careers with a window office. Start ups that were finally lucrative. My ‘travel’ friends were starting to seed routes again if not for the occasional Instagram photography trip and my Facebook feed flooded with pictures of couples standing in front of “SOLD” house signs.

I was attending bachelorette parties every month.

In retrospect, the truth is I don’t think my ex nor I were sure of all that commitment and future when we met – but I certainly didn’t mention it, and on we forged ahead towards some version of this millennial ‘settling down’.

In retrospect, I’ve asked him why I appear to be the one choice he made that didn’t make absolute sense.

I wanted you, and I decided that. So whatever you wanted – I wanted, he said blankly. If you wanted the kids, I wanted the kids.

How easy for you, I mused.

In the final months, every choice we made felt like cement, engagement, house-hunting (I broke down one day: I DON’T WANT TO LEAVE BOULDER JUST TO BE ABLE TO AFFORD A PERMANENT MORTGAGE. I WANT TO KEEP RENTING), joint bank statements, and in turn I unraveled – ping ponging between freedom and the commitment I’d kept projecting I wanted:

Van life one day, a kid the next, a kid in a van the next, a bigger career the next week –a home with a garden the next. A 6-month trek to El Camino de Santiago. WAIT. I HAVEN’T LIVED IN ASIA YET. WAIT. MY EGGS ARE DYING.

I wanted a partner that “made the dough” but not “too much” because then they’d be an asshole. Or, like, a Koch brother. And I didn’t want that. But, while Jack on Titanic was exhilarating in the 90s, I also now firmly believe that Rose would’ve made it like 10 minutes off that ship before her privileged ass wondered what the fuck she was doing.

Money was a huge issue. I’d be trying to sugarcoat myself if I said otherwise. I was worried that I’d be locked into paying a significant amount more for the two of us forever – and in turn it would strangle us from doing anything, or strangle me from writing because I’d be too wrapped up in climbing a 9-5 corporate ladder to make more money. He (idealistically, in my opinion) always believed we’d have all we needed. But, how easy I thought, to not worry about needing – when you had a partner who made enough for both.

I never told him these things directly. Instead, I left my feelings in the shadows of every argument, in the disagreements on almond or soy milk, and this restaurant or that. (Can’t we go somewhere different? I’d bemoan.)

In response, my ex dug his heels into his decisions, possibly out of spite, and more likely out of confusion.

And in my inability to communicate I resented the shit out of him, and it began to spill.

I wanted him to be different, to be more financially stable, less rigid, less so fucking sure of himself, to be less… him. All of the qualities I once admired – his giving spirit, his passion for his work, his steadfastness – grew to feel like anchors. And when he proposed, I couldn’t look the other way.

What were you expecting, he yelled one night. I have been who I am since you met me.

I don’t know, I whispered. And I still don’t.

Maybe you can have it all – but that is something I’m still very unclear about, and not sure, it seems, I’d want even if I had it.

Nick Hornby said it best in High Fidelity:

“Maybe we all live life at too high a pitch, those of us who absorb emotional things all day, and as mere consequence we can never feel merely content: we have to be unhappy, or ecstatically, head-over-heels happy, and those states are difficult to achieve within a stable, solid relationship.”

^ Truer words never spoken about you, my best friend mused, when reading this post draft.

I look at my ex the night we meet up, sitting across from me, and predictably my eyes soften, as they do.

In his earnestness I can’t help but question:

Why is it that I seem to glorify and appreciate everything – and everyone – once its gone?

It seems, still, that I’m very good at the past. And it’s the present I have trouble understanding.

“And your food,” he asks, when we agree that we don’t want to talk about the dating anymore.

It’s better, I say. I recorrected, for lack of better wording.  

He nods. I was probably too critical of you about that, too.

You were, I agree. But some things you had a right to be critical about – and this is one.

I lost weight initially when we split. To this day, it still feels like the most desirable thing to do, and I fall into it easily.

Something uncomfortable happens? Don’t talk about it. Starve.

How do I express pain? Bones.

How do I show that I care, or that I’m hurting? Self-destruct.

It’s an interesting pattern.

And by interesting, I mean not at all interesting and monotonously routine.

I started down that path, when we split, as I do.

I don’t know what it is I’m trying to prove when I do it either.

All that therapy, and I still don’t really know what I’m trying to get out of all of it.

Do I somehow equate self-destruction to caring?

Did I watch too many Rom Coms where someone let their life go to shit when their partner left? And this is my like movie scene destructive breakdown scene?

Do I rely on it when my life changes, because I’m trying to control what I can? Or is that just cliché?

I don’t really know.

But it’s the ‘known’ choice in my patterns. To react, instead of speak.

And at the end of the day, often we are just patterns of behavior. Easily profiled, it seems, by a Criminal Minds behavioral analyst.  

So, there I am, losing weight when we split. Rejecting food while we still lived together (because of course we continued to live together for a month or so. Bc #leases…. And also, I have a tendency to draw out days, when I see them reaching their end because #indecisive.)

It was amicable– the ‘final days’ we’ll call them. Everything came out, over itself, and it never could’ve happened without his impossible directness and unwavering, steadfast ability to take emotion out of conversation and dissect how point A got to point B.

It was a casual dose of heartache and healing that makes you wonder how different things had been had we just tried all of this disclosure earlier.

And as I sat there, losing weight, late in the evenings in a house that no longer felt like a home – but a stage for us to air our monologue grievances:

I recognized that so many things might have been different, had I allowed my uncertainty – my indecisiveness -to surface. Mostly, had I allowed myself to exist in it instead of pushing it away as feelings that I “shouldn’t have” at my age.

How different things might’ve been – had I had the voice to own the discomfort of those feelings.

How tired I’ve grown – of airing out feelings online, but so indirectly in real life.

There came a point in the whole thing – as the month went on – and my awareness heightened.

And it surely surprises me still, as I write this.

I made a different choice:

And I stopped starving.

Shortly after we ended <3

Maybe there’s a secret key to recovery: wear yourself out with your own bullshit long enough, and you’ll do something different.

(I’m joking.)

I used to think–and given the way my ex and I ended up, maybe I still really do–that all relationships need the kind of ferocious push that infatuation brings, just to get you started and to push you over the humps of self-denial, anxiety, past pain, and Instagram-stalking obsession. And then, when the energy from that push has gone and you realize that once again you’re back in a relationship, flawed and endlessly (sometimes disappointingly) human, you have to look around and see what you’ve got. And weigh whether it fits in with the life you have now.

Sometimes it feels like it does, and sometimes you realize it’s nothing more than a booty call bandaid – masking the same pain that you know you’re gonna feel again at some point anyway.

Perhaps, in some far out way – anorexia isn’t all that different. infatuating in the beginning every time, but inevitably you have to look around and see what you’ve got. And weigh whether it fits in with the life you have now.

Whatever it is, for the first time in my life, I can claim the smug entitlement that I left anorexia, and left her faster than I have in the past.

It seems, with eating, I learn still how easy it may always be to return to anorexia.

She is my boring, but familiar, coping mechanism.

I go to her, when I don’t want to speak.

I glorify her, when I’m uncomfortable and I don’t know how else to be.

Perhaps I learn, this time around, that I rely on her – to help voice unpleasant feelings I don’t have the words to say.

And I return to her, for instant gratification, when I don’t know how to feel about myself, or where my life is going.

How interesting is that?

I still learn about myself – breaking up with her again.

As humans, one of our most difficult feats is choosing to be conscious of the patterns we create that make us fundamentally fucked – and then enduring the long, monotonous road of recreating said patterns.

I wish I could gloat that I’ve taken these newfound perspectives and implemented them as a new way of life.

That I’ve magically become an assertive woman, who embraces her indecisiveness with grace and will never again use starvation as a tool.

But, what a phony way to wrap a big bow around this post and call it reality.

I am still me, indecisive and scared of that indecisiveness.

I still live with anorexia, and feel antsy for her on the days recovery seems like a boring task – with little way out.

I am in love with my new partner – in that easy way that new love brings.

In the beginning, I glorified him, only to be reminded, crushingly so, that he is human. And that all relationships, past their initial jolt of ecstasy, bring as much happiness as the work you are willing to put into them.

He is – laughably – equally a man of decisiveness. Wholly aware of who he is – and what he envisions for his path:

And of course I find that a partner with that quality still evokes panic.

But I suppose, this time around, the only choice I have – is to tell him.

And though it’s uncomfortable, and squirmy, and instigates difficult “are we doing the right thing?” conversations:

There is a comfort that settles in, amidst the disclosure.

A feeling that we are pushing ahead, into the waves of the unknown – on the same lifeboat.

“You certainly have no problem being direct in this relationship,” he joked the other night.

And in a way, I feel pride as he says it.

I notice, with each disclosure and difficult conversation:

The feeling of panic – the compulsion to run:

It subsides, for however long.

And I can breathe again.

My best friend said to me once: buy the van if you want to, Lindsey.

Buy the f*cking van and go on the road and travel around to every state and landmark you see –

But I promise, she whispered.

I promise you will still be no more free than you are right now until you own who you are, and what you want to be, regardless of what you think we all want for you:

How right I think she is. And how much I continue to learn it.

I imagine we only ever really recover – when we choose the discomfort of doing it differently, and speaking the ugly truths we bury so deep.

Never knowing, of course, what it’ll all bring:

But willing to try all the same, if only to allow a new perspective to seed –

A bigger purpose to unfold –

And a chance to stay rooted to this fleeting, and so terribly confusing, yet bittersweet, life.

June Van Trip
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5 thoughts on “What Ending My Engagement Taught Me About Recovery

  1. Chloe Daniels | Clo Bare

    Wow. I needed to read this today. didn’t realize that’s exactly what I was doing with my ex, and this highlighted it perfectly. I was just checking the boxes and settling for what I thought I was supposed to do with someone who I thought would do. Thanks for your gorgeous story.

  2. Stephanie

    thank you for these gems, i appreciate your words more than you know and i am glad to feel less alone as i try to weather the enormity of human emotions and the relentlessness intensity of, well, EVERYTHING in recovery <3

  3. This was beautiful & I relate to SO SO much in here; how easy it is to return to ED patterns, feeling like you have to meet society’s norms by a certain age, being with someone because they fit my list of what I need for ‘balance’ & ESPECIALLY the craving of freedom that feels so distant you shrug & feel as though it’s unreachable. That’s SO awesome that you went on a van trip & met up with your ex. I’ve been going through a rough spell and it’s inspired me that maybe I just need a little fun and excitement.

  4. Nina

    Thank you for being so candid and for sharing so much of your life. I can totally relate to using ED tendencies as my only way to cope. It is. tough journey, but you’re doing an amazing job. Stay strong xo

  5. Elizabeth P.

    Oh this made me cry. I’ve never been in a serious relationship, because I get claustrophobic in situations (and small enclosures). If I can’t always see a way out I panic, and I normally leave long before it gets to that point. The quote your friend said, about not being any more free if you just bought the f*king van, hit me hard. It’s so easy to think if you could just get into a different situation things would change. I feel you too on nostalgia- its a bitch. I spent over two years trying to convince myself that I loved the guy I broke up with, because he seemed so perfect and I just SHOULD want to date him. But I didn’t. But, I always glorified our very short lived relationship, where I always felt like something was wrong.
    Anyway, don’t mean to ramble in the comments. I just wanted to say thank you for sharing and for the record, I think it was very brave to end your engagement. I’m younger than you but I’m at a stage of life where it feels like everyone else is dating, getting engaged, and getting married (really. my friends are getting married at 20.), and it makes me feel like I should too. So even if I felt unbearably trapped by the situation, theres a big chance I would be holding out for the sake of not having to delete the insta photo.
    You have a beautiful way with words and I really enjoyed this post 🙂

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