Fourteen years with Dan started wonderfully, went sour, and ended badly. After he walked out, I struggled with choosing life over death for what felt like forever.
He left me with no money, no future, and no hope.
Ohhhh, I had lots of those. Lots.
But not for long.
Even if I could rewrite the past, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Yes, I was destroyed by what he did and how he did it.
Yes, my finances are a disaster, and my trust issues have plateaued at an astronomical all-time high (particularly my self-trust)…
My first 8 or 9 years with him taught me how to love and how to let myself be loved. My genius was matched and appreciated, both. I experienced flagrant affection that I hadn’t experienced before nor since.
It was the life of warmth and laughter I never thought I’d have.
Until it wasn’t.
Our years that followed were marked by my chronic and (apparently, allegedly) incurable illnesses surfacing out of nowhere, my inability to work, and his growing resentment, disdain, and disgust.
After he walked out, he said it was because I “limited his options” and that he didn’t see what I could contribute to his plans and aspirations.
Terrifying experience. Devastating words. Unforgivable betrayal.
And yet, if I changed even the tiniest thing about those years with Dan — the delicious and the dread-filled, and even the years of struggle after he left — I might not arrive at where I am now.
And where I am now is a very good place indeed, my disastrous finances and distrust be damned.
Even the worst part of it all would be worth reliving, as it’s essential to arriving at this unexpected and oddly fortunate outcome.
The worst thing wasn’t his leaving, by the way. That was good for him and even better for me.
Did I tell you that, after he left, I didn’t need my anxiety meds anymore?
Like, within a week, I stopped taking my daily Xanax.
Depression came for me, yes, but that tickle in my chest went away and didn’t return until the pandemic.
For my bodymind, those first months and years of struggle without him were less stressful than life with him.
So yes, his leaving was good for me, and I’m glad for it. If changing something wouldn’t change everything, I’d say I wish he’d done it sooner.
But what started as a civil separation swiftly became abandonment, and that wasn’t good for either of us.
In an open-hearted moment soon after he left, he said, “I don’t want to be defined by what I ran away from,” which made good sense to me. I was proud of him for that realization.
But apparently, his habit overcame his convictions, because in the end, he treated me just as he treated jobs, his legal problems, and even his two young sons.
When it got difficult, he walked away, likely adding to his weighty pile of regret — adding tons to it, I hope.
That’s not kind to say, but I’m honoring my truth, here, not vying for sainthood.
What he did and how he did it needs to cost him something, and I want it to be a lot, because while I have no regrets, in one way or another, I’mma pay for inviting him into my life ’til for the rest of my days.
Anyway, yes, he ghosted me as if we’d dated for a few weeks instead of being immersed in a 14-year relationship that included marriage.
A month after he left, he stopped replying to emails. The next week, he stopped answering my calls. A couple of weeks after that, he wouldn’t return my texts.
These weren’t angry messages or weepy begging for his return, by the way.
They were for practical things like paying bills, doing the taxes, and the twice-monthly courteous thank yous for his deposits that I withdrew from our accounts.
The emails in particular asked questions, however. I suspect my requests for clarification made him wary of saying another word and regret what he’d said already.
So, he stopped talking to me, alas and thank God.
Because after a month of it, I couldn’t deny what he was doing — and to this day, more than 8 years later, continues to do.
And after I got over it, got used to it, my mind cast back to 2 people I’d done the same to. People I’d walked away from without a word of goodbye.
I called them both and apologized.
And one of them called me back the very next day to hear the rest of the story.
That was my Mister Montana, picking things up where we’d left off years before Dan and I met.
Setting things in the motion that saved my life and forever altered his, though he hadn’t imagined that at the time.
We talked nearly every day after that for a year or so, and we’ve lived together for 6 years now.
The first year was rocky, the next two were hell, but we’ve found our peace point at last.
Our relationship is in a precious place we had to grow into; a warm, easy comfort that Dan and I started with but eventually grew out of.
And if Dan had handled our breakup better, I wouldn’t have all the goodness I have right now.
I wouldn’t have loyalty and love from a man who, as he once put it, knows the fabric of me.
I would’ve been in a busy, populous Maryland suburb throughout the pandemic instead of on the vast isolated plains of Central Montana.
And it wasn’t just the hidden machinations that led to my calling the Mister to apologize … anything could have brought that about.
It was that the loss of Dan damaged me so deeply that I could meet The Mister on common ground — his beloved first wife died when she was 28 and they just a few years married.
He’s been devastated. So was I. And that was new to us.
Before Dan’s actions destroyed me, I was too optimistic, too hopeful, too trusting that things would go my way because they mostly had. I was all too familiar with the pain of rejection, but I hadn’t yet suffered a crushing disappointment.
I used to say that Dan and I “grew up together,” as we took on adulting hand-in-hand, but it wasn’t until he started ignoring me that I truly aged.
It was horrible.
And a good thing, too.
When Mister Montana and I met again, I was the same woman he’d known before, but different. Better.
A sadder soul, but softer edges. Kinder words. Goals and intentions tempered by hard lessons, not painted rosy by naivety. A bitterness that improved my flavor.
Because of that, because of us, I coined the word traumaste — the wounded child in me recognizes the wounded child in you.
I’ve often thought my years with Dan — years Mister Montana spent mourning his first wife and divorcing his second, then going on bad dates before deciding ‘to hell with it’ and settling into a sullen solitude…
Years I spent falling in love, being loved, and snuggling deeply into that love, only to have it end abruptly and without a word…
I’ve wondered if those years of joy and its loss were all to circle me back to The Mister as a stronger and equal partner for sharing the rest of his life.
Even as the years of his second marriage followed by a decade alone primed him to appreciate the pleasures of my good company. And my good cooking 😄
Mister M and I no longer have the raving romance we started with, but we do have what was lost in our first marriages and what my unhappily married friends wish they had — kindness and affection, understanding and appreciation. An easy comfort.
All hard won and entirely worth it.
Worth, even, loving and losing the man I so enjoyed growing up with and fully intended to grow old with.
But Dan wasn’t the right man for that, I see that now. Too late, of course.
Dan wasn’t, and likely still isn’t, a good partner for the long haul after midlife, and especially not a short one.
He’s a man who likes new things and the large, loud entertainment of amusement parks, and hates to track his spending.
From what he said toward our end, he didn’t like watching me and himself grow older, didn’t like our quiet pattern of living, and he loathed that his $80,000/yr income wasn’t enough for him to spend carelessly, particularly when he had to share it with me.
It’s a good thing that he’s gone.
He made room for this other man I’m with now, a man I love who loves me whose losses taught him the value of loyalty.
A man whose quiet company can’t be beat — especially on writing mornings, like today.
And he’s a miserly mister, if there ever was one. I’ve never known or even heard of a person who could spend so little.
I’m teaching him how to treat himself, which he enjoys. He’s teaching me to spend much less and save a good bit, which is an adventure 😆
That’s how we do: we nudge each other away from our extremes to meet in the middle, which is a blessing to us both — and everyone else.
It seems a fine way to grow old, I gotta say.
And I’ll tell ya…
Eight years ago, in that dark and endless winter after Dan threw me away like an outdated iPhone, there was a snowy night in what would be my last weeks in that apartment I treasured beyond measure…
And I’d somehow detached from my grief for a logical look at what was happening around me.
I sat on the couch in silence, watching the snowflakes’ aimless yet inevitable descent, my thoughts empty and idle while my mind replayed the high points of the previous year from Dan getting his dream job to his unheralded defection.
Then I cast a line farther back and drew forth my unexpected illness, my career shift to writing, and his apparent aversion to both. How his easy acceptance had devolved into resentment of my weaknesses and my strengths.
How all his stories of evil old girlfriends were told with him cast as the victim, but as he revealed more of himself, I’d come to sympathize with the women I was meant to hate.
I saw my lifeline weaving with Dan’s, viewed from an angle that revealed the painful patterns which had been there all along, latent, perhaps dormant, until they weren’t.
And I saw the irreversible snarl our lives had become.
I saw it extending into a hopeless, helpless future.
I saw what I’d long closed my eyes to up ’til then. I saw what would’ve been.
Then I returned to my life as it was at that moment, and I saw my lifeline continuing without the tangle of his.
My future was frayed, for sure, but unbound by my desperate need to recover the life that was our last known good — when I was well, when I could work, and when he loved me.
I saw my life untethered, and it was a finer thread than his.
Frayed but fine.
I saw and I sighed and I nodded in my mind, Ahhh, okay … okay. Okay.
Because it was clear then rhat Dan hadn’t walked out or left me.
He’d been moved aside by a gracious hand who had other plans for me, who knew I’d be far better off without Dan but my loyalty wouldn’t let me leave.
A choice which wasn’t mine to make, and I often thank God for that. I would’ve chosen to carry on together, wishing for things between us to be as good as they’d been, waiting for him to rebecome the man I’d met and married, hanging on for things that were long lost, long past, and that I’d never see again.
I would’ve chosen a life of endless longing and missed out on this good and better life plus all the possibilities that became available the moment Dan walked out.
Even his choice to cut off communication was a gift and a blessing, though it sure as shit didn’t feel that way at the time.
Without conversation, there was no chance of reconcilation.
He was gone.
And I was free.
With a shattered spirit and a ravaged heart that would never be healed, it seemed…
With questions that would never have their true answers…
With my lasting love for him left hanging…
Burdened grief and fear and debt and doubt, but also holding a grain of hope and happiness…
I was set free.
The years since haven’t all been fun, but they’ve all been good. Certainly better than I expected, but I also approached this after-life in the best possible way.
That first winter without him tried to kill me, but it didn’t. I found the courage to stay and was rewarded with a better me, a better life, a better man, and a better plan.
I stepped into the spring after that fall carrying loads of grief and gratitude.
And zero regrets.