About a year ago, I broke up with my boyfriend. Long story short, it was a mistake. I never got over it, and I never stopped missing him. It was a dumb move anyway — my family didn’t like him, he wasn’t the type of person I thought I would be with. But as soon as he was gone I realized how much I loved him. I came crawling back, only to find that he had moved on and was seeing someone else. Now I can’t move on. I keep thinking if only I could talk to him again and make him listen he’d see that I’m right. What’s a borderline stalker to do?
Have you ever read the story of Daphne? Fearful of her amorous pursuer Apollo, she cries out for help and her father the river god turns her into a tree to protect her. That story is all kinds of contaminated with daddy issues, but I thought of it when I read your letter. Your inability to move, your rootedness. So often we plant ourselves in places of great pain for us, terrified to move on. Right when we should be looking for ways to increase our flexibility and mobility, even if it hurts a little more and we will have to turn and face whatever is chasing us, we think, Oh no, right here in my despair and anxiety, I’ll fix myself to this spot.
It turns out there’s an older version of this story. It’s not her father she calls to for help, it’s her mother. And she’s not turned into a tree, she is whisked away to Crete and a tree stands in the spot where she disappeared. We don’t have to harden in our traumas: there are other options.
It’s like David and Annabelle in Patricia Highsmith’s This Sweet Sickness. (I mean in the beginning of the book. When the bodies start to pile up, it probably diverts from your own experience.) David is so sure that he and Annabelle are right for each other that he refuses to entertain any other options. And as a result, he sees what he wants to see in Annabelle. And what he refuses to see is the pain he is causing her. If he has to drag her out of that house by her hair to show her how much better off she’d be with him than her husband, then by God…
Because at some point, a split occurred between the idea you have, or David had, about what the reconciliation would be like, and the reality of the situation now. David doesn’t simply put down some roots, he builds a house in the spot where he waits for Annabelle to come back. And he waits. And waits. Sometimes it helps to read an extreme version of the result of that kind of split, that stubborn refusal to move on. The shock of recognition can be swiftly followed by a relief of “at least I haven’t fallen so far…” It can help you see your way out.
You are going to have to pull up your roots. De-tree yourself. Replace sap with blood and start moving again, even if it means confronting the possibility that he won’t come back. Obsession hides the love that it grew from, and you’ll only find it again when you are back in your own skin.
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Illustration by Thea Brine.