The first time I thought someone might actually hate me, I had just received an email from my first boyfriend, three years after we broke up. He was replying to an invitation I’d sent to meet for coffee when I planned to visit Seattle from New York City later that month.
“Thank you for the invitation to catch up, however I must very respectfully decline,” he wrote.
Very respectfully decline? Coming from someone I had once known so well, that felt like the Internet equivalent of getting the door slammed in my face. We hadn’t spoken in ages, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I’d imagined that deep down, despite broken hearts, he was still the same person I had laughed with and loved—that we were still, on some level, friends. But he hadn’t answered me like a friend. He’d answered like someone who wanted nothing to do with me.
It’s an unsettling feeling, believing there’s someone out there who might turn and sprint away if he saw you on the street. I wasn’t used to it; I was dorky as a kid, with thick glasses and a love for the performing arts. I didn’t make many enemies. I also didn’t get many boyfriends. OK, any boyfriends.
Until Matt. With him, I found someone who liked me for my nerdy self. He even said he preferred my curly hair to the trendier, straightened style I wear now. But once I left for college in upstate New York and he went to school in Seattle, long-distance proved an immediate disaster. I used to crouch on the carpeted floor of a gutted phone booth in my dorm for hours, trying to make a cell connection with him feel like being together. The more I cried, the more he pulled back and refused to return my calls, sometimes for days at a time.
We went off-and-on once, but thanks to our young, stubborn devotion to each other, it wasn’t over-over until fall of junior year. I broke up with him out of sheer exhaustion. I told him long-distance was just too difficult, and though he insisted he could try harder, he seemed to understand when I stuck to my decision. From there, our communications slowed and eventually stopped.
I emailed him about meeting up after at least a year of silence. I’d moved on, dated other guys, and felt ready to laugh about what naïve kids we’d been.
Full closure in relationships is probably never possible. But taking a moment to reflect on what happened after some time has passed is valuable, even if you end the conversation thinking the other person is a selfish jerk. At least you know. Matt’s “Thanks, but no thanks” response didn’t give me that chance. It only told me that no, we were not on the same page, and no, he did not want to talk about it.
That uncertainty was more than I could handle. What if he’d written it out of pure hatred, to hurt me? Even if it’s only imagined, an ex’s opinion is scary. Matt knows my flaws, and to him, my redeeming qualities no longer seemed to outweigh the bad. Even today, I can picture myself through his disapproving eyes: I’m not a genuine or caring person, or a good friend.
Of course, the truth of our final interaction is probably more complex than that. Maybe he had just started a new relationship when I reached out to him, or our drawn-out breakup might have hurt him more than I realized. Maybe he just wanted to cut ties and move on with life. Who could fault him for that?
If he isn’t the ex who hates me, he’s at least the one with the permanent question mark. I don’t think I’ll ever sort out my feelings about him. Sometimes, I look back and think he’s the worst. I can’t believe he brushed me off like that after such a long relationship. Other times I’m more charitable: We were so young. I hope he’s doing well.
One of my best friends lives in Seattle, so I’m often out there to see her. I’ve finally stopped considering reaching out to Matt before I go. It’s been long enough to know it’s never happening. But if I ever run into him, I don’t know if I should be ready to fight or forgive. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he still stars in my stress dreams and other ex-flames never do.
Anyway, at this point, I’m not even sure what I’d ask him if we did meet. I’m not certain anyone wants to know what his or her exes actually think. What we imagine is bad enough.