My Ex Taught Me About Forgiveness (Essay)
Without delving too much into that torrid history, I will say that my ex had been through a lot. Childhood neglect and trauma haunted him as a grown man. No stranger to conflict, I empathized with him. I understood his brokenness. Things shifted when those broken edges started to dig into me. No longer a child merely trying to survive his circumstance, my ex had grown into an adult who patterned the same behaviors as the people who had caused such pain in the past.
My ex never forgave the people responsible for his own suffering. Yet, when it came to me, attempts to reconcile were near-constant and forgiveness was an assumed outcome. Many hand-clasped discussions ended with something as pointed and manipulative as, “Come on, you have to forgive me. You know you can’t stay mad at me.” So I did–repeatedly. Until I was so exhausted that I couldn’t sit through the justifications anymore. They were too routine. I lost all accountability in my relationship. More out of tiredness than love, I let things spiral for a bit. I lost myself to the mess that was our obviously toxic relationship, until one day I looked at my partner and saw something that I hadn’t before. And then, I’d finally had enough.
“I’d been the manifestation of too many pardons, while my partner was undoubtedly the walking picture of none.”
For months I’d been the manifestation of too many pardons, while my partner was undoubtedly the walking picture of none. I saw the ugliness the extremes caused. I saw my desperation, my boundaryless giving, how hollow I’d become. And then I saw my partner’s bitterness. For all his virtues, his inability to forgive clouded so many of them. All the hate that he’d been harbouring locked away inside himself only grew over time with his resentment. It grew so much until it spilled over and muddied anyone who got too close to him.
The first time I tried to really leave was in February 2015, still in the early stages of our relationship. We had been fighting more than usual, or rather, he’d been fighting with me more than usual. He was too easily set off. When he noticed that I was beginning to distance myself, he softened a bit. He eased effortlessly back into the adoration phase of our relationship. He was showering me with affection, thanking me for my patience but never apologizing for the fuss he’d made before. It made it so that I was more passive during our next argument, still basking in the afterglow of what I’d thought were affirmations of his love for me. I wasn’t comfortable with the woman I was becoming. How could I be? I had to know better than to subject myself to this kind of torment. Still, when I approached my ex about us taking a break from our relationship, I was timid. I couldn’t even wholly suggest that taking a break meant getting far away from him and never looking back. I formed the words for an end-all in my mouth but they never pushed past my lips. “Look, I need you. You know I’m messed up. If you leave me like this, with the way I am now, I’ll kill myself.” I was heartbroken and my ex knew it. He plucked at every heart string I had, laid his hands over every landmine trigger I hadn’t even discovered yet. “I’m sorry,” he said finally, pleading for me to not leave him.
“The day I left him was the day I learned the balance of real forgiveness. I left without any anger.”
I stayed with my ex for nearly two years after that. The day I left him was the day I learned the balance of real forgiveness. I left without any anger. Towards him or myself. Him, for what he put me through. Me, for allowing it. Staying longer than I should have. I accepted it all. It was over. Whatever had happened between us, whatever it was, was done. He apologized again and I did not brush it off. I did not say it was okay. I said, “I accept your apology.”
“Forgiveness was about more than accepting the past. It was about creating a better reality for the future.
When he asked if we could stay friends, I said no. I saw him smile like he was amused by me. “I thought you said you forgave me, that we were good?” he said. We were, I told him. Forgiveness is about acceptance, not invitation. Forgiving him and accepting our circumstance was not invitation to put myself in harm’s way again. Lover or not, he was the same person prone to the same bad habits and outbursts. I was no better off a friend than I was a lover. I would never find comfort in a dynamic that made me feel small. Part of my acceptance of our circumstance was accepting that if I wanted to move forward, that this would have to be the end-all. I could not have a scar of my history pursuing me into my future. In that moment, I realized forgiveness was about more than accepting the past. It was about creating a better reality for the future.