“You’re gonna die alone.”
Significant others shouldn’t utter this type of morbid hyperbole, but figurative mud—and tangible, heavier things—are thrown when a relationship is over, save for the official drop of the guillotine. I casually brushed my soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend’s words off, anyway; indifference was my super power back then. At 24, I didn’t see the point in dwelling on why our relationship had gone wrong. It was over; the milk had been spilled. But rather than help clean up the mess, I opted to walk away.
I’m no relationship expert, but from what I’ve experienced and observed, they tend to end due to lack of joint efforts. The blame may be distributed differently (especially depending on who you ask), but both parties play a role in the demise. She and I were no different, and even though we’ve become friends since she predicted my solitary death, it took me a good 18 months to apologize for my mistakes. She was taken aback to the point of speechlessness because I had never done that before. In the past, I was never wrong and had an acute ability to justify my actions. I may have tried to make things right on occasion, but had never actually said the words “I’m sorry.” So when I finally did, she was so surprised that she branded my apology a quarter-life turning point.
“Maybe now you can stop acting like Frank Ocean,” she said.
“Frank Ocean? What the fuck are you talking about?” I replied, amused yet perplexed.
“‘Novacane’ is about you,” she said. “You’ve built up this wall so no one can hurt you.”
An insightful one, she is. But in hindsight, another Frank Ocean song is a better fit. “Swim Good” is about heartbreak, remorse and penance—three phases of grief I never fully understood until I experienced them myself. The resulting epiphany sent me down a path to make amends with other women from my past.
Self-interest, insatiable ambition, and the belief that there was a sea populated with other fish kept me from being a “relationship guy.” The aforementioned one was my first, and didn’t begin until I was 23. I embarked on the most serious one at 25, and I refer to it as the “most serious” in part because I actually put effort into making it work. When it didn’t, I felt something new: disappointment. Previous flings and my first relationship ended with apathy; this one left me staring at my reflection, wondering, for the first time, where I erred. I coped as one might expect a single person to: readjusting to my old lifestyle by indulging in the freedom. But after diving into the sea once again, I began swimming with more trepidation. After accepting and conceding that I was the one who dropped the ball at times, my moves became more calculated due to fear of doing it again. New person, fear of the same old mistakes—a development that also made me more reflective.
Aside from letting you know which high school associates can be unfriended with no remorse, Facebook now serves as a relationship timeline for those inclined to share that information. After seeing numerous women who I foolishly thought would be around forever in serious relationships, married and/or with child, my eyes were opened to how much the world around me had evolved. The callousness, the near detachment with which I used to operate began to fade, and I could no longer ignore the wrongs from my past that required correcting. Armed with compassion, I set out to resolve as many loose ends as possible.
Because it’s positioned as some significant breakthrough, the first apology seems like the hardest to make. But the first was made to someone I still talked to and saw regularly, thus making it relatively simple. The more difficult task is apologizing to someone you haven’t heard from (or who hasn’t heard from you) in years. An apology through a random phone call or text probably isn’t the best route, but it definitely can’t be if you aren’t even certain the person’s number is the same. That’s where Facebook comes into play, once again. The second apology was made within the confines of a Facebook message, where I admitted that she deserved far better than my complete lack of consideration for her feelings. Since we started out as friends, the response came quickly and was well-received. Sure enough, her number was the same 10 digits I had in my phone, and we’ve maintained infrequent conversation in the year or so since I reached out. Once that barrier was scaled, the rest were easier to climb.
My assumption was that the first and last apologies would be the most memorable. Although the second crept into the equation, I was correct. Each were important and unique in their own way, but the last one stands out because it came unexpectedly. I planned on making it happen, but without her contact information and the absence of a social media imprint, this proved to be difficult. The process was jump-started when she abruptly followed me on Twitter. A few well-intentioned DMs revealed that her number also hadn’t changed, thus leading to the formal apology. I expressed specific regret over being distant, withdrawn, and eventually vanishing to prevent anything remotely serious from developing between us. In my mind, I was protecting her from something, but the way I went about it was horribly flawed. I could’ve simply told her that at the time, but wasn’t mature enough to do so. She appreciated my overdue explanation, even revealing that things not going further was for the best.
“I would’ve ended up hating you,” she said, never one to mince words.
In the midst of conveying her appreciation, she also noted that this wasn’t something she had spent years thinking about. In other words, it wasn’t that serious. Time certainly doesn’t heal all wounds, but it can lessen impact. Even when she and I talk now, we joke that the right thing happened between us, it just happened the wrong way. It reminds me of the second time I apologized to Ex-Girlfriend No.1, thus commencing what I’ve since christened “The Biannual Apology” in jest.
“Thank you,” she said through laughter. “But if we’re being honest, what we had was only semi-serious.” And she’s right, especially compared to what she has now. That’s what you realize as you approach the weighty, adjustment crisis-inspiring age of 30: the vignettes of your past are steps varying in magnitude along the path of personal evolution—one that isn’t close to being over.
It’s obvious that the path I took doubled as a journey of self-discovery. Every apology was sincere, but at the end of the tour, I learned that I wasn’t Frank Ocean driving around with a trunk full of broken tell-tale hearts. I was on a quest to absolve myself of guilt; to drive into the ocean, as he put it, and baptize myself in atonement for the past. What I gained along the way was a few friends and a clear conscience.
Hopefully, I’ve made my last drawn-out apology. But in the event that I haven’t, I’m well-equipped to deliver more.