I never saw the letter coming. I thought she loved me too much to give up on me. I thought the choice was all mine. But I was wrong.
I remember the Saturday morning when I got the letter. We’re going to call her Linda, but you know that’s not her real name. I’ve never talked about this letter with anybody. Even now, there are things I can’t say — things that happened after this — because I can’t break the confidence of someone who I loved long ago.
Until this week, I hadn’t read the letter in 10 years. If I’m being completely honest, I’m not entirely certain I read every word of it when I got it. The initial feeling was one of numbness, but I quickly understood that what I was feeling was blinding pain. It hurt so much that I was in a daze.
About six months before this letter, Linda and I were supposed to be getting married — but I backed out just a month before the wedding. Everybody was already invited. The burden of letting everybody know — and “uninviting” them — was hers. She took it well — and she made it clear she wasn’t giving up on me.
I had doubts about her. I’ll never be entirely certain whether my doubts were really about her or about myself. It doesn’t really matter at this point — since she and I have both long since moved on — but I’d like to be able to justify what I did. I’d like to know I did it for the right reasons. I’d like to know I wasn’t just lying to myself when I blamed everything on issues I saw in her.
I loved her. That much is clear. When I love, I love completely. I have room only for one woman in my heart. That was never the issue.
After I broke the engagement, we didn’t talk for a few days. But then we started talking again. I went to see her and everything felt so normal and right again.
But I stayed on the fence. I kept my options open.
For the next seven months or so, things continued like this. We talked constantly — just as we had before — and she told me repeatedly that she still wanted me. If I would just show up, she said, she would marry me on the spot.
But I stayed on the fence. I wouldn’t commit to anything.
And then this letter came. If I hadn’t been a blind idiot, I would have seen this coming. Nobody is going to just wait and wait and wait — begging for my love — no matter how much the person wanted me. But I really was too blind to see that.
Her letter said she had waited long enough. She had lost faith in me. She said she was going to try dating someone else who did want her — someone who had been pursuing her.
My first numb reaction was predictable and ridiculous. I wrote a short response that acted as though none of this hurt me. I treated it as though it was for the best and we really needed to go our separate ways. I wasn’t nasty, but I was cold. There was no love in what I wrote.
My pride was trying to say — in so many words — that I didn’t really want her anyway, so this was no big deal.
Less than a year later, she married the man who had been pursuing her. For months after she sent the letter, I pursued her — begging her to change her mind and give me another chance. But it was too late. I had hurt her too badly.
The story doesn’t end there, but there’s little else that I can say without breaking her confidence. She never asked me not to tell what happened, but a decent respect for someone I once loved requires that I leave the rest alone.
Linda and I aren’t in love anymore. That’s been dead for years. It took me a long time to get over her, but I eventually fell in love with someone else. I’ll always think of Linda fondly. I’ll always believe I made a mistake when I didn’t marry her. I’ll always believe she made a mistake after that. But none of that matters. Our time to get together passed. It’s ancient history for both of us. We haven’t had any communication for years.
Even though the love is long dead, it still hurt to read her letter this week. She had been the biggest supporter I’ve ever had. She believed in me fiercely. She had tremendous faith in me and she felt strongly that we were going to do great things together.
That letter was her confession that she had lost faith in me. It felt like an accusation. And even though the love is dead, it still haunts me to have someone lose faith in me — to give up on me simply because I wouldn’t make a decision.
I’m terrified of disappointing people, which is probably a big part of the reason why I so rarely fail to live up to someone’s expectations of me. If I love someone and she expects me to move mountains, I’m going to find a way to move mountains. And this was a time when someone I loved gave up instead.
I’ve been thinking about the letter for a couple of days now. That probably influenced a dream I had last night. It was confusing — as dreams can be — but there was a woman who loved me waiting for me on a ship. I have no idea who this woman was, partly because she was in very little of the dream.
Most of the dream involved me trying desperately to get back to the ship. I kept encountering all sorts of obstacles and I somehow couldn’t call to let her know. I knew she would think I had abandoned her. The details of the obstacles don’t matter, but they were the narrative equivalent of walking through quicksand.
When I finally got back to her — on the ship — she was hurt and disappointed in me. She couldn’t believe I had left her alone — and I had trouble explaining what had happened. To make matters worse, I even called her by the name of another former girlfriend from about 12 years ago. I had the awful feeling that I was doomed to destroy my chances of a love I wanted.
I’m very driven by an internal need to do the right thing — not only for myself but for those who have trusted me and given me their love. Reading Linda’s letter this week made me feel the pain of someone losing faith in me. Even after a decade, it still hurts.
I used to wonder how things might have been different if someone had warned me — a couple of weeks before the letter — about what I was about to lose. Would I have listened? Or would I have been arrogant enough to believe I still had plenty of time to accept or reject someone who was crazy about me?
I’ll never know. I only know that I never again want to face the pain of someone who loves me losing faith in me. I suspect we keep playing out the same sad story in our lives — until we finally get it right.
The thing I’ve learned is that it’s really easy to lose someone who we were sure belonged to us. It happens without warning. And it hurts like few things in life.
Note: As I was about to publish this, I remembered an obscure song which expresses the painful heartbreak of losing what was “mine.” The song is “I Thought You Were Mine,” and it was on Jonathan Rundman’s 2008 album, “Insomniaccomplishments.”