When Writing What You Know Hurts

When Writing What You Know Hurts
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In June I met someone special. Nearly six months on, I can tell you with confidence that I’ve never felt like this about anyone before. I’ve never cared about someone in this way before. She is so fun and interesting. And we get along so well together. I think about her all the time. We spend a lot of time together, but whenever we part ways, I look forward to seeing her again.

We are a great team.

I have never been this excited about anyone. Come to think of it, I’ve never really been in a relationship, certainly not a serious one. I am so happy about being in a relationship with this person! I am having so much fun. We are having so much fun together. I’m a better, happier person with her in my life.

My romantic friend, who I’ll call ‘Lea,’ married a man, who I’ll refer to as ‘Nel’ about ten years ago. This guy is a bit older than Lea and me. (We are both thirty-four-years-old. Nel is forty.)

Lea and Nel have had a long break up — with the first separations beginning over three years ago. They have been permanently separated for over a year now — though their divorce won’t be finalized until February. I won’t go into some of the stories I have heard about this man in this forum. Suffice it to say that this clearly was not a healthy marriage — not even close. He is a remarkably self-centered, controlling and hurtful person.

Nonetheless, Lea and Nel have embarked on a co-parenting journey together. They have two terrific girls, one just turned five and the other is seven. For the foreseeable future, they are going to be raising these girls together (and separately) — in the Washington, D.C. area.

Unfortunately, Nel doesn’t want this (abusive) relationship to end. And, clearly, he doesn’t want another man in the picture. Clearly, he doesn’t want me in the picture.

Nel has made a lot of deeply unreasonable requests about how he would like Lea to live her romantic life and much more. For example, he’s previously stated that Lea should not date anyone because that would just be too stressful for him. He has requested that Lea and I put our relationship on hold until the divorce is finalized. He has demanded that I not have any contact with their two children until the divorce is finalized. He has threated to seek a temporary restraining order against me — so that I will not have any contact with the kids. He has threatened to call the police and request that they go to Lea’s house to ensure that everyone is safe while I’m over there. He has threatened to show up at Lea’s house (uninvited) with a police escort — so that he can make sure that the girls are safe when I am around.

I have read tons of threatening, mean or just plain weird text messages that Nel has sent to Lea over the past several weeks. (Lea lets me read them.) The messages conveyed are a remarkable blend of narcissism, selfishness and arrogance. There are numerous times when he appears to lose touch with reality, as if he’s living in some fantasy world where he is an all-powerful despot and Lea and I are his humble servants. If you read the messages, you would be astounded.

Nel is addicted to power and control. He once wielded tremendous amounts of both over dear Lea, but that’s no longer the case. She has been pushing back. She has regained a lot of her dignity, a lot of her freedom. That said, there are still certain limits to how much Lea can change as it relates to the children. This brings us to last weekend.

Lea has family coming in town from Canada. That sounds great in theory, but here’s the rub: as per the co-parenting agreement, Lea’s time with the kids does not include Friday nights or Saturday or most of Sunday. Essentially, Nel needs to approve that Lea take the kids for some or all of that time.

So, there is an ongoing and deeply unreasonable discussion (which is also in total disregard of their co-parenting agreement) taking place this past week and even on Friday night. Nel won’t speak about the weekend custody arrangements until Lea assures him that I will not be around the kids at all until February.

Lea doesn’t budge and so Nel picks up the children at around 9PM from Lea’s house. Her brother’s family arrived about an hour prior and we were finishing up dinner. Later that night, Lea’s sister-in-law gets an Instagram message from Nel and reads it to the group. The message says that he and Lea are working through some serious issues and that he wants his brother-in-law’s family to be able to see the children. (Lea’s brother also has two small kids.)

I wake up on Saturday morning and read a text from Lea. As I predicted the night before, Nel has said to Lea’s family that that he will only let he and Lea’s children be around if there are assurances that I will not be around. Nel goes through Lea’s family to negotiate logistics for the children.

I’m devastated. Lea is too.

I understand why her family did what they did and I don’t know the precise circumstances surrounding their discussion with Nel. But I fear that it was done in a perfunctory fashion. I fear that nobody even thought about pushing back, that no one realized that by doing what they were doing, they were supporting Lea’s continued disempowerment from a dangerous man who she has worked so hard to disentangle herself from.

I could have gone over to Lea’s on Saturday evening after dinner, once the kids had been dropped off at Nel’s. But what would be the point? I am so disappointed. So upset. I would not be good company. I understand that Lea’s family wanted to be around her two girls. I understand that that’s the priority. I just fear that they didn’t fully understand the context in which they are operating.

I’m in a relationship that is getting increasingly serious. I am around her children sometimes. They know me. They like being around me. I like being around them. We have fun.

Frankly, Nel’s wide-ranging demands are ludicrous and it’s sad and frustrating to see such an unserious person taken so seriously.

It’s now Sunday. Tears are streaming down my face as I write these words. I am literally bursting with tears, wiping them off with the sleeves of my sweater. I cannot stop crying. I cannot remember the last time that I cried this much. I cannot remember the last time that I cried for this long.

I can be an emotional person, though it’s rare for me to feel so full of profound sadness and anger at the time. Sadness at the way the weekend turned out. Sadness that I didn’t get to spend much time with the woman who has become the center of my universe. Sadness that I felt powerless as all this was playing out.

And, beneath all that sadness, I feel rage. I’m angry. I’m angry that Lea married this man and that there are times when it feels like she’s not fully free, like we’re not fully free. I’m angry because Nel is clearly a sick man. And he’s a sick man who Lea will have to be in touch with for many more years because they are raising two beautiful girls together.

It’s Sunday afternoon. I’ve left the Takoma Park area in Maryland (where Lea lives) and am back where I’m renting a room — in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Lea is going to pick her kids up at her ex-husband’s and then texts to see if I want to come over to her house and celebrate the birthday of her younger daughter. (I had made it clear this morning that I would not be able to make the party, just too sad, just couldn’t interact with other human beings.)

“Everyone understands, but want me to express how much they really want you here,” she texts. “Not trying to pressure you at all. Just want you to know. Xoxo.”

“Thanks but I can’t make it,” I say. “I am literally bursting with tears and don’t want to be in a public place.”

Then Lea responds.

I know. Totally get it. Want you to know that this is a private safe space with people who get it and are crying with us too. I could even pick you up. But, won’t mention anymore. Also, totally understand. Just mentioning because it’s been good for me and I think it could be for you too. And, I really want to be with you through this. Again, to be clear: all good, understand, sending you so much love.

Before I met Lea, I had basically given up on real romance. I realize that sounds so silly, but it’s the truth. I have always harbored certain anxieties about intimacy, have always been shy in that way.

I have always had every intention of living a full life. I just didn’t think the whole romance thing was going to happen for me. And I do like being alone — reading and writing and thinking. I love solitude, not all the time though.

And then Lea appears on the scene and shakes things up in a way I didn’t think was possible — at least not for me. She has changed the way I think about relationships. She has changed the way I think about life. She has changed the way I think about romance. And, dear reader, we are having so much fun! I cannot fully capture in words how much fun we are having together.

This is all so good, but there are complications. There is other stuff and there are other considerations to keep in mind. There are times when things won’t be easy, of course. There are times when things will be very messy. This weekend was not easy. I don’t know what next week will be like. You never really know what’s going to happen.

You never really know what comes next. But you don’t get the soaring highs without some of the lows. People can be complicated. Things can be complicated. Life can be complicated.

In some ways, as remarkable as it feels to have met such a wonderful person, meeting Lea now feels like the easy part, or at least the easier part. The hard stuff is, well, a lot harder. The harder stuff sometimes means that you have to take some punches, that you might get hit and bloodied and not be able to fight back. The harder stuff is about making it sustainable and taking a long view.

More specifically, the harder stuff means realizing that this person you care about so much has not fully extricated herself from a truly toxic relationship. The harder stuff means that, to some degree, Lea is going to be connected to a bad person — because they are co-parenting.

But the harder stuff also has bright sides. The harder stuff means thinking about everything that’s transpired in recent times and putting it into a broader context.

I want to be with Lea more than ever. Yes, I want the good and the bad — because I understand that you can’t always neatly separate the two.

I’ve got more crying to do tonight. I will almost certainly break out the scotch at some point. Yet I also have clarity. So, bring on the pain and the tears and the frustration. Hit me with your best shot — and then hit me again.

Then bring on the joy. Bring on the smiles and the laughter and the hand-holding and more. Bring on those moments that make your heart flutter. Bring on the passion and the excitement and the adventure. Let’s have it all. Let’s enjoy every moment because life is simply too short.

After all, there is a lot more of the good stuff. And I don’t see that changing.

*This piece first appeared in Medium.

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