Friday, May 5, 2017

Being Ghosted and Finding Closure

Yesterday as I browsed through the "On this Day" feature on Facebook, I came across a post from 10 years ago.  It mentioned a boyfriend I had during graduate school, Hector.  I hadn't thought of him in many years, but reading the post brought up a long haunting question: What ever happened to him?

Hector and I had only dated a few months but I thought things were going well.  I was living in Stillwater, and he was a 2 hour drive away in Wichita, KS.  I looked forward to jumping in my beloved jeep and heading there for weekends, and he made the trip to me many times as well.  We were happy go lucky together, and things clicked right away. I was smitten and clueless, clearly less focused or concerned on the future than he was, and while the things started great, it didn't end that way.

In retrospect, I now see there were very early warning signs I did not heed.  For starters, on our first date Hector came clean that he was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  I shrugged it off, he said medication had helped him level out and I had not recognized any behavior that indicated he struggled with the disorder.  In truth, I had very little personal experience with mental illness and I was interested in him enough to look past what should have been "a proceed with caution" warning sign. I didn't ask questions, didn't worry about it and didn't allow it deter me from getting close with him.

And then there was his recent divorce, and 2 year old son.  He did not open up to the cause of the divorce, but it was clear it had been pretty ugly.  Again, 20-something light hearted me decided he wouldn't have joined the dating website (we met via match) if he wasn't ready for another relationship.  I knew sharing custody of his son meant his feet were firmly planted in Wichita but I had no problem with long distance dating and was carefree about where life would take me after I finished my graduate degree.  The reality was he was carrying some very big baggage, and I had not considered what it would mean for a child and ex to inevitably play a role in our relationship.

And the last kicker was some relationship issues he had with his mother.  Hector's mother was a Jehovah's Witness, and he shared some pretty heart breaking stories about not celebrating birthdays as a child. It was clear he was bitter, angry and somewhat shunned due to disagreements with his mother on how to live his life. What little interaction happened between him and his mother was not positive, and I don't think she even knew we were dating. I knew their history was painful for him to discuss so I only got snipets, none of it good.

I wasn't familiar with the term ghosted, until it happened to me.  There I was, head in the sand thinking despite everything I knew about him and his past, things were fine.  And then Hector simply disappeared.  One day he just stopped calling or answering my calls. I never heard from him again and really didn't know why. I was confused.  Then worried. Then heartbroken.  I even checked the obituaries a few times sincerely wondering if maybe he had died and no one in his family knew to contact me.  Eventually enough time passed that I got the unsaid message, things were over.

A few years passed and my curiosity got the best of me. I sent a few emails to him trying to get some closure.  I wrote out silly stories of the reasons I imagined had caused his disappearance; alien abduction, joined the circus, got married in Vegas, amnesia.  I just wanted to know what happened but despite the fact that it has been several years since he ghosted me, he didn't respond.  My curiosity faded, my life moved on.  The end of the relationship had been hard, but now it just felt like a lingering question; why had he handled it so poorly?

Yesterday, after facebook brought old memories to light, I decided to look him up again.  I found him easily, he was still working for a dual language school in Wichita.  I shot off a short email message, just wanted to see how he was and explaining how facebook had reminded me of him.  Apparently, it takes a decade before a coward writes you back. Within the hour, and much to my surprise, he wrote back a simple response.  I took the opportunity and replied with my burning question that was 10 years in the making: Why did you just disappear instead of having a conversation about breaking up?

It turns out closure really isn't ever what you think it will be.  In the email conversation that followed it was clear Hector's version of history simply filled in the holes as he saw fit.  He claimed while the break up was abrupt, he did end things, he recalled a conversation that never actually happened.  He did apologize for not responding many years ago, and admitted he didn't handle things well.  I should be glad for that.  But it was still a surprise for me how differently he remembered our story.  Our conversation certainly didn't clear anything up for me, and I realized even after hearing from him I was no better off.  The biggest thing I learned is that I needed to accept things as part of my story, even when I don't understand them or deserve better.

I believe the truth is more likely that Hector hit a low/depressive phase with his bipolar disorder, and by the time he had climbed back out the damage was already done to our relationship.  I should not have expected him to be upfront and forth coming with an admission like that, even after a decade had passed.  Its also pretty fair to assume the divorce and his other baggage were things Hector still hadn't fully rebounded from, and he had a lot to get together before a serious relationship would have been possible.  Or maybe he just wasn't that into me and much more immature than I realized. It really wasn't the end of the relationship that had hurt me (though there were many tears!), but more how it was handled.  After emailing with him now, I realized I was holding on to some anger at how he treated me.  It was well overdue for me to let that go, regardless of his admission of guilt or version of the story.  So I gave myself closure, because even though I still don't really know the full story I am ready to stop asking questions.