Over late morning coffee, far too bold for my liking even when cut with sugar and cream, my friend’s companion said, Sometimes the right decision is still regrettable. We were packed into a booth like matchsticks in a box, and once he said it, I couldn’t shake the smokey remembrance of the time I’d stubbed myself out of a relationship despite being lit in a white hot flame of passionate happiness. The conversation wafted on, but I burned myself with the memory of my right, regrettable choice.
How do you explain the unexplainable? I tried, at first, to find the words that would somehow communicate to my soon-to-be ex-boyfriend what he deserved to know. Except there wasn’t anything to know at that time, other than I wanted to save him, and spare him. I didn’t believe he’d love me at my worst, and my worst was setting up not just camp but an alter for me to lay down in front of. My worst was a beast who w-hiss-pered just how undeserving I was, how good he was, and how there was clearly someone better out there for him.
So I left.
Blinded with sorrow and love, I told my best friend about the beast. She loved him close to as much as I did, because that’s how our friendship works. Our knees were almost touching, just as they had when we were two kids sitting on the soccer field, as she looked at me and said, “You did what you had to do. And it’s hard right in this moment, but you’re going to be better.”
Those two sentiments – Sometimes the right choice is still regrettable, but you did what you had to do and it’s hard in this moment and you’re going to be better – melted into each other a week later with alarming clarity. I was nibbling my first fluffernut sandwich at a lakeside picnic, trying not to get marshmallow fluff on the crest of my lip, and talking to someone for whom I’d beaten dead horses six months prior.
We artfully danced around the subject of us without ever discussing us.
“Are you better?” I asked him, meaning from wherever he’d been when we’d left off, when we last had a conversation that wasn’t doused in hospitality industry niceties.
“Those first few months after the divorce were hard,” he said. “Letting go of a decade long relationship. My house flooding so I couldn’t even live like a normal person. Then Christmas. Figuring out how to live alone.”
He said it all like a story I hadn’t been part of, like we hadn’t texted all that holiday week, like he hadn’t come over to see my pink dresser.
And suddenly I realized I actually hadn’t been there because he hadn’t let me in. He’d kept truths cloaked from me when we were whatever we’d been. The ending of us (which came before we ever began) wasn’t about my not being enough or not being a person who he’d be great with.
He’d made a right choice that was regrettable. “But yes. I’m better. I’m going to start online dating soon. I’d like to meet someone not at work.”
Everything that (didn’t) happen between us suddenly made a lot of sense, and I was thankful to have kept my heart compassionately open to whatever he’d been going through.
On good days, I feel like I did the hardest thing a human can do: commit mutiny on their own love, torture on their own soul, and the same to the one person they didn’t know they had waited their life to find. On bad days, I feel like the stupidest mother-fucker on the planet. Except the bad days are fewer and farther between.
And on them, I can say gently remind myself that I am not, in fact, stupid. I know that now. Just like I know a lot of things I didn’t know then. I know what self love is. And loving kindness. And what peace feels like in my mind and body. I’m not saying all the kinks are worked out (just ask my acupuncturist) but I know how to send quiet stirrings when the beast awakens.
Maybe the issue is more that we can’t regret our regrettable decisions, even if we want to. We’re all better for them. Maybe I did save him, after all, in a way I will never get to see. Maybe, even better, he saved me.