How I Accidentally Got Closure On One Relationship From Another

a broken heart-shaped mirror sitting on a red flower on what appears to be pavement
Image by TimOve / CC BY

“I love you,” Skyspook said. “And that’s why if you go back there, back to that house, this relationship is over.”

“Yeah,” Seth said. “You’re not going back there.”

I’d just gotten done telling them (my husband and boyfriend) and two of our friends — Crock and Hilda — about an unfortunate incident with my other partner Rob. I’d been conflicted after it happened, sure, but I was completely blown away by the reactions from the four of them. They were unanimously outraged.

They told me I’d just described a sexual assault. That it was completely unacceptable. And that there was no way I was returning to Rob’s house, where I lived at the time.

Hilda began to make preparations for an emergency move, calling around to friends.  It was no small feat — a holiday weekend. Memorial Day 2011. But she rounded up an impressive crew of folks who committed to getting me out of there the next day.

Seth called my girlfriend (who was also play partners with Rob) and broke the news to her.

Skyspook set up a U-Haul rental and made arrangements for a friend who’d worked at Rape Crisis to come talk with me about what happened.

Everyone had gone into contingency mode, and I froze. Half shut down.

And I don’t know why I didn’t react with the same certainty they did, but I didn’t. I knew I hadn’t liked what had transpired that afternoon, but I hadn’t left that house to hang out with them knowing that things were over with Rob. If anything, what I felt was disappointment over how Rob had acted. And a lingering sense that I’d somehow mismanaged my half of the relationship — and his expectations — if Rob thought that pushing so aggressively to have sex again was a good move.

I hadn’t felt violated — just disappointed in Rob and in myself.

I hadn’t even intended to talk about it with them that evening. It had just come up when Crock was discussing some minor gripe about her ex. The conflicted way she felt had reminded me vaguely of that afternoon. And so I shared the experience.

I never expected their reaction.

It was all moving so fast.

But four people who cared about me were all telling me the same thing, and so I listened.

I didn’t return to that house. In fact, I never spoke to Rob again.

The Break Only Looked Clean From a Distance

From the outside, it looked like a clean break. Rob as villain.

But the break only looked clean from a distance. Up close, held under the microscope, the edges of the break were jagged, infected.

missed Rob. We’d had something together. Prior to that final day at his house, the greatest tension between us had come not from our own relationship but from a strained dynamic with his wife, my metamour Michelle. Shockingly, this was due not to our sharing Rob as a romantic partner — but the reality that I had made other friends in Ohio, after I’d moved 900 miles from Maine to live with them. She felt attacked by the fact that I’d found additional social supports:

Well it’s good to know I can count on you to stab me in the back, Michelle’s first text read.

The texts kept on coming. A flurry.

The finishing move: It’s just another case of make one friend, lose three.

I shook my head, sighed deeply. All I had done was go out to dinner with a group of people while she was out of town. And true, one of my dinner mates was someone she’d had a falling out with. But we were accompanied by several others. And no one had uttered a single word about her.

In the weeks that led up to my moving out of their house, the situation became unstable. Michelle interrogated me about my Google Calendar. Would spend hours sending me berating instant messages via IRC while we were both at work.

During her final barrage, Michelle declared herself monogamous and promptly changed her Fetlife to reflect this.

This left me to wonder if she now considered Rob and me to be cheating. But I didn’t dare ask since, for now at least, the flood of abusive messages had abated.

Still, I began to feel like my relationship with Rob was placing a strain on their marriage I didn’t want to perpetuate. So when Rob threatened to cut off our sexual relationship, I agreed.

He was visibly taken back. “Subject to change of course,” he added.

“Well, everything’s subject to change,” I replied.

“But I might want to have sex with you again, I mean,” he said.

“Then you’d need my consent, like anyone else,” I said. “I’m not an automatic ‘yes.'”

I’d written this exchange down in my journal just a few minutes after having the conversation. I’ve long kept meticulous records of conversations, especially ones that seem important. It’s a habit that stems from childhood, a self-protective measure. Even if the other person denies later that they said those things, I’ll know that they did. That I’m not crazy.

It had felt like an important talk at the time because of the conflict involved. But I never knew that those words about consent would be turn out to be so telling.

Was It the Metamour From Hell?

Still, post breakup, the Michelle factor complicated things so much. I found myself wondering — more often than I admitted to anyone else — would Rob and I have made it if Michelle weren’t in the picture? Were our relationship problems largely a function of the Metamour from Hell?

If she hadn’t made the situation into such a pressure cooker, would Rob and I still be together?

I could even see the consent violation as an act of desperation by Rob to regain control in a situation where he’d been rendered effectively powerless. And less by me but more by Michelle, who really did seem to enjoy controlling others. But when I tried to voice this hunch to friends, most of them were horrified, dismissing it as self-directed rape apologism and misogyny. Blaming a woman for the sins of a man.

Closure Is What Happens When You Stop Looking for It

The years wound on. Seth and I divorced, painfully but ultimately amicably. Skyspook and I became functionally monogamous for 4 years. I went to therapy, figured myself out, went back to school, studied to be a researcher, worked as the training manager of a psychological consulting firm.

But quietly, I never quite got over what happened with Rob. And I never stopped wondering if we would have made it, given different circumstances.

You could say I never got my closure, but I’ve written before about how closure isn’t really a thing that you’re owed or guaranteed to get:

It’s something I hear a lot talking to people: “I didn’t get my closure.”

There’s a problem with this: Misery results when we stake our happiness on answers that others can’t or don’t want to provide. Closure isn’t a thing you get. Closure is a thing that comes and finds you. And only when it’s good and ready. Not on your schedule.

Closure is what happens when you stop looking for it.

Dating CC Was Like Dating Rob Again

As it would happen, after the hiatus, Skyspook and I would eventually begin to date others again. And I would date my new boyfriend CC — not once, but twice. Dating. Breaking up. Redating a few years later.

CC had that same goofy energy that Rob had. An endless capacity for conversation and witty banter. An immunity to the walls-of-text that I’m guilty of sending. Rob and CC are both ENFPs. They even have moles in the same places.

I think you get where this is going.

While I intellectually understood that CC was a different person than Rob, I couldn’t escape psychological transference effects — and in this case, they were rather positive. I instantly felt a warm affection for CC that had taken months to foster for Rob.

And it wasn’t an illusory connection, this resemblance. The energy was basically identical in the two relationships, in spite of the fact that Rob had topped me, and I was topping CC. We were goofy kids in on a bunch of private jokes, acting like fools.

“It’s like I’m dating Rob again,” I told a friend who had known him and Michelle.

“Rob but much better looking,” they agreed. “And without the Metamour from Hell.”

Radical Honesty Didn’t Make Us Compatible

As it turns out, Michelle was never the only problem.

I could chalk the first breakup with CC to inexperience. I was his introduction to polyamory, after all, and while I’d definitely felt annoyed with him on multiple occasions, I hadn’t told him. Instead, I’d pushed my frustrations down deep, beneath the surface.

I’d fallen prey to a reflex that I occasionally have where I think, If they’re doing thatthen they’re hopeless. Why bother trying to correct it? 

Giving up on people before they have a chance to do better.

It’s not something I like about myself. And in the time between CC 1.0 and CC 2.0, it’s something I worked on extensively for professional reasons. Because I wanted to be a better manager.

When CC and I started to redate, I made a commitment to myself that I would tell him when things bothered me. Even if they seemed like things I shouldn’t have to tell another person. Value systems are individual, right? What’s obvious to me won’t be obvious to someone else who’s lived a different life. Grading someone on a test I hadn’t taught for was patently unfair. I would do better this time.

Things would go better.

And for a short time, they did. We had some amazing conversations — about Pokemon, replacement fears, you name it.

But the truth is that it wasn’t my fault we didn’t work out the first time.

We just don’t work. CC and me. Rob and me.

Looking for Reassurance

Would you like to hang out for lunch some time this week? CC writes.

Could work. 

He tells me his schedule.

Do you have time on Tuesday to come over and talk a bit? I write.

Yeah, that would be good, he writes.

Ok. Let’s plan on that.

Okay then. Kind of ominous over here, hope everything is okay, he writes.

I look at my phone and sigh. What am I supposed to say to that?

He’d told me when we dated again that the one disservice that I’d done him was breaking up via email. That if I ever broke up with him again, I should do it in person. That I owed him that. And in general, CC has always wanted to have important conversations with me in person,  even though it’s my personal preference to get bad news over text so I can have privacy while I deal with it, without another person scrutinizing my facial expressions and putting me under a microscope.

So out of respect for him, I don’t want to get overly serious over text.

It’s Sunday afternoon. The in-person talk is a few days away. He’s looking for reassurance, but I don’t want to lie to him or lull him into a false sense of security. What the heck do I say?

I thought you didn’t want to have important/heavy talks over text is what I finally decide to send him.

I don’t, but you do make it sound like that’s going to be a tough talk from what you’ve said there, he says, doubling down on his earlier worried text.

He’s opening a wider window for me to reassure him. And I know I just can’t do that. Even the middle line I’m toeing feels disingenuous, like a lie. I do my best, texting I suppose that’s the downside of waiting to talk about things. Builds them up. Provokes dread. I think there’s a downside to everything maybe. 

True, he writes back.

The Breakup Talk

We don’t text again until the morning of the talk. I let him know as soon as we’ve sat down that I want to break up. What follows is ninety minutes of Q&A. The conversation keeps running in circles. We can’t agree on anything, really — aside from the fact that we shouldn’t date a third time.

“All I know is I’m not doing this again,” CC says.

“Oh, we’d be idiots to date a third time,” I say. “And if we did, we’d deserve anything terrible that happened to us.”

Even though we’re conceptually in agreement, he flinches at the intensity of my statement.

He says he appreciates my breaking up in person, but nothing about him seems settled. He says what he wants to say, but none of it makes any sense to me. It’s like we’ve been in two different relationships all this time — and maybe they were good sometimes, but even during those good times, they never quite matched up.

After ninety minutes of talking, he tells me, “You said you missed me the last time we broke up.”

I nod. “It’s true. I did,” I say. “And I’m going to miss you this time.”

It’s at that moment that he suddenly stands and heads to the door. Fusses with the knob for 10 seconds or so, since it’s kind of a tricky door to open. And then he’s walking down the steps.

“Do you have everything?” I call through the screen door. “You didn’t bring a bag or anything, did you?”

“No,” he says, getting in his car. He drives away.

Doesn’t even say goodbye.

His departure is sudden and mysterious.

And for the life of me, I can’t imagine I’ve given him closure.

*

Books by Page Turner:

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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