A sun sconce, a mini porcelain doll, a bowl festooned with cheap plastic flowers. These things are what a clutter bug would expect to find in a plastic tote, stowed away for 20 years. At the bottom of the bin, I uncover a two-page email with the subject line “thoughts on us” from the person who once played “Rachel to my Ross,” until I did the most Ross-like of things and married someone else. Rachel got married, too.
I don’t remember reading this exact email, but I know the time in question. The time where I indecisively seesawed between this guy and the one I’ve dubbed “Strangler.” Strangler never physically harmed me in real life, but he did in a dream that I ignored. Now, I have a lesson to teach my kids about when they get older: ‘The Never Pick the F*ck Boy’ Rule to Good Living.”
How often do you get a chance to look at your personal bullshit from another person’s point with 20+ years of insights? In retrospect, this was a personally significant relationship for me, even if I treated it like a “throwaway” relationship in 1998. Not sound too woo, but I’m supposed to write about this period in my life. This email relic is an assignment for the Universe.
I have a relationship type, and it’s emotionally unavailable. This relationship is the only one where I had someone to whom I could connect if I wasn’t so scared shitless. Twenty-year-old Becky wasn’t ready for that kind of connection. The irony is the narrative I filed away for this relationship was I cared for him with an intensity that never got returned. I amassed evidence and stored it in my hurt locker. Case in point; a gentle New Year’s Eve kiss and his immediate denial of any meaning or the perceived rejection the last time we had sex and my subsequent tears outside of his apartment building.
Those times I felt hurt, I did what I always do. I stuffed down the feelings and poisoned the relationship with resentment. After all, resentment is a good recipe for avoiding genuine connections. In hindsight, If I told him I felt hurt, I probably would have received empathy or compassion in return. Deep down, I felt unworthy and afraid of being hurt. This generational trauma is a throwback to my emotionally barren childhood.
I’ve amassed defenses to keep people at bay. This “people don’t like me” filter is one of my faves. I applied it to this relationship. This guy wrote me a 2-page essay-like email with seven different headings like “My thoughts about our respective pasts while we were going out,” “My thoughts about our break up.” You don’t write shit like this about someone for whom you didn’t have deep feelings. He talks about how I hurt him, and he set boundaries. Kudos to him for having the emotional maturity that I might not even know
I couldn’t share this email without the icky part. He wrote about my tomfoolery, as experienced by him. When I got to where he wrote about “Strangler,” I had to stop. Bad Becky. I told him things about sex with “Strangler” that I should never have. Also, in another paragraph, he talked about how I inconsiderately teased him in front of his friends post-break-up. I made a “quality standup guy” feel like a second-place consolation prize—shame on me. I wish I had done better, but I’m not sure I could have. I played out the roles from my childhood without even knowing it.
In this email, I hurt him. Instead of my standard approach of being resentful AF, he communicated his hurts, fears, and hopes. He did this directly and kindly. He even wrote about being true to himself. I hope I replied graciously, but probably not. However, this line hit a little too close to home. “I was also quite scared that you were going to willingly spend your life unhappy.” Funny how unseen childhood attachment traumas have a way of making this happen.
But, there’s always this …