Love Memoir Relationships Sadness/Anxiety

Letting Go of Love: On Grief and Dirty-Faced Boys

When I was in elementary school, I liked a boy whose face was always a little dirty, a boy who wore corduroys that were always patched at the knees. Somehow, I sensed he had less than I did in this life, and for some inexplicable reason I felt a connection to him.

One afternoon, this boy and I held hands during a roller-skating party in our school gymnasium. It was wonderful, the way he whipped me around the room. His fingers tightly gripping mine, I felt alive, chosen.

I started bringing candy to him, assorted caramels rolled in colorful wrappers, and he happily took my plastic baggy filled with sweets, eating everything hungrily and without much appreciation.

I brought him treats for a long time, until I realized it was the candy he liked, not me.

Apparently, I haven’t learned much since my elementary school days.

Because I did it again.

This one knew how to clean himself up well-enough. He told me that he’d stop smoking cigarettes someday and shared enough secrets to make me feel like I was special. I liked the way he curled around me at night, pulling my body against his, making me feel delicate. I loved watching him sleep, hearing his breath, studying the curve of his face, his perfectly shell-shaped ears.

But nothing was easy. Our conversations were filled with miscommunications, and he was forever hanging up on me when we spoke on the phone.

And yet.

I encouraged him to follow his dreams, helped him with his business, opened my home to him, gave him my heart, my body. Some many offerings.

The point is I see it now, this old pattern, this longing to save someone I like. To make him love me.

I want to say that I’m hopeful that one day I’ll find my person – someone who is willing to accept responsibility for hurtful words, someone who apologizes and makes an attempt to change his future actions, someone who is willing to fight for me rather than with me, someone passionate and affectionate – a partner who possesses all the attributes I dream of and which, at one time, seemed so simple.

Time for me to stop offering up what little sweetness I have left.

Time to love myself and eat all the chocolates.

Ever stayed in a bad relationship for too long? How did you know when it was time to end things?

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19 thoughts on “Letting Go of Love: On Grief and Dirty-Faced Boys

    1. Dorothy! Thank you so much for the beautiful, heartfelt text message. Your words mean the world to me. I’m so glad I was able to connect with you over the phone. You brightened up my day, and I hope I did the same for you.

  1. I think a lot of women do this. We are caregivers . We go for the boys who are needy and some how they go for us. Knowing full well how to use us up and leave us heartbroken.

    1. I know that you are right. Except that I don’t want to fix anyone. Now that I’m older, I understand that what we see if what we get. There is no changing anyone; it’s all what we can tolerate. Maybe i have a low tolerance for distress? I don’t know. Seemed like his actions were pretty extreme. I know he didn’t mean to hurt me. He was just being himself. I guess I figured that out a little too late.

  2. When a relationship approaches 30 years, it’s hard to pin down when it goes bad. For me, there were signs for a very long time but I chose not to see them and simply tried harder to make things work. When the realization hit me that my efforts were for naught, it was a difficult thing to swallow. I never gave up but in my heart I knew the day would come when the plug would be pulled. Life isn’t easy before that, during the process or immediately afterward. Time does help one to heal, although I don’t know that there’s a complete cure. It’s all a process and an unfortunate part of life.

    1. Brian, you are so right.

      The signs were there.

      Flashing before my eyes.

      I just didn’t want to see.

      And it wasn’t all bad. He gave me what I needed at the time, lots of love and affection. But love can’t be only present in the bedroom. That path does not lead to Paradise. I get it now. Hopefully, I won’t go down that road again.

  3. Sorry to hear about your sad experiences, Renee. I hope this wasn’t about the guy you told me you’d recently found. I so want you to find happiness in a relationship.

    1. It is, unfortunately. I guess I was prematurely optimistic. We both really care about each other. I know he loves me in his own wounded way. I know he believes he treated me better than he ever treated any other women. The thing is I felt demeaned all the time. The things he thought were funny, little sarcastic jabs, they felt hurtful to me. I tried to have him understand where I was coming from, but he couldn’t change. I learned a lot from him, and I hope that someday I have another opportunity to meet someone who really gets me.

    1. Thanks Kim. You know that your support means the world to me! I sure wish you lived closer! All of us moving all over the world is a big bummer!

  4. Please stay off this merry go round. I know it seems like a mild ride with pretty ponies, but remember, unless you want to keep going around in the same circles, you’re never going to get anywhere. And he’ll probably puke up all that candy anyways. How’s that for a corny analogy?

  5. I suppose the great outcome of this brief relationship is this awareness you gained! I hope you’re able to turn it into a strength that will make your next relationship better and more affirming for you.

    1. Hi Jim. Yes, I learned a lot about myself. I know much better what it is that I want and what I don’t want. I’ve been looking for a house recently and I see so many similarities in my search for the right house and my search for the right partner. First of all, I can’t force it. When I see it, I’ll know. Second of all, it’s important not to ignore the red flag that are there at the beginning. (No air conditioning? Can that be changed? Maybe, but not easily. Smoker? Will he stop? Maybe, but not easily.) Third, I have to see the whole picture. I might love the living room, but the kitchen might be a disaster. Same with guys: He might be great in the sack, but treat me like shit in public. I could go on, but I feel like this is becoming a blog post in and of itself. I feel certain that once I find the house and I ground myself, everything else will fall into place. I never understood how disruptive relocation can be for people. I get it now.

    1. Kim! I’m so happy to find you here. What a mess i’ve been thru. I know you get it because you have been thru your own personal hell and come out the other side. It’s been really hard losing my family, my friends, my health, my house, my community, my readership, and having to rebuild from the bottom up. And yet I’m doing it. So I’m going to believe you that G-d has BIG plans for me. And you know what? She’d better! 🙂

  6. Renee, it’s quite an awakening, isn’t it? I had more than one of those kinds of relationships, too. Some stories I will never share publicly. This one, I can: There was a college boyfriend (whom I’d also dated with similarly terrible results in high school–I was ridiculous about that boy, especially to date him more than once) who finally hurt my feelings enough times for me to get it. In our early 40s, he told one of my friends that he’d really mistreated me. Ya think?

    The man I’m seeing now was my friend for many years. It’s been a refreshing and amazing thing to see our friendship grow into a loving companionship I couldn’t have ever imagined having after my husband passed away. We went into this with the understanding that we are who we are. We brought our baggage with us. We can grow together, but neither is allowed to “change” the other.

    Definitely love yourself–you’re amazing! And eat all the chocolate.

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