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  • Writer's pictureJessie Cheng

sometimes, being a strong woman is messy (but we try anyways)

crawling back to emotionally unavailable people is so much easier but it ain't it

To those who were in relationships that ended before they ever began, this one’s for you. 

There was this guy (Is this ever a good start to a story?). Our hearts, minds, and intentions aligned in a way that was so rare, and we’d often end our conversations with the same sentiment: “This is crazy.” Our emotional connection felt so natural, safe, and healing, and we both put in the extra mile to get to know each other better. We talked exclusively and discussed everything from family, music, and our shared values in mental health and faith to our most interesting life lessons, future goals, and dating intentions. Long story short, he ended things - as far as I'm aware of - because he didn’t want long distance (I don’t blame him; I didn't want it myself, but I did want him), and because our long-term vocational goals would land us indefinitely in two different continents. I know, how lovely.

He offered genuinely to stay in touch, saying I was someone he truly cared about and that he’d give me all the space and time I needed to consider the invitation. My first thought, while he was saying all of this, was, “There is no way we are emotionally capable of being just friends.” When we ended the conversation, there were deep sighs and hugs so tight I was honestly struggling to breathe. Later, when I was alone and allowed the entire conversation to sink in, I thought to myself: What just happened? We went from making future plans and talking about how excited we were to introduce our friends to each other to exploring “friendship” between two people who were never friends to begin with. I wanted to understand what exactly he was thinking before asking him not to snip the bud to something we both knew could be good, but I never heard from him again, even after multiple humbling attempts to reach out. Then, something happened (that I won't publicize), so I sent one last text expressing how I hoped he would be more considerate towards other girls in the future, before blocking him because my basic needs for honesty and communication weren’t met. 

There’s a certain pain about the word “potential,” because it never blooms into something you can truly experience. I found myself even begging in my mind for arguments I’ll never get to have with him, and overthinking why things had to end so poorly. What if I lived closer? Did I scare him off because of how emotionally intimate we were? I know I'm weird, but was I too weird for him? It’s honestly like playing a useless mind game with yourself, where you’ll always end up losing because no amount of ruminating will change the past or the reality. 

Perhaps that’s why these relationships that end before they even begin have such a mental stronghold. It’s been over a month* since things ended, and when I stand in the crossfire of wanting to read old texts one more time or throwing my phone into the ocean, I grow incredibly frustrated and feel as if a second body is controlling me. I realize that it’s because sometimes, I am just tired. Sometimes, I don’t want to be a strong woman who sticks to her boundaries and moves forward with life but a hopeless romantic who crawls back to an emotionally unavailable man, simply because it is easier. 

Journaling about him, attempting to decipher his mood by analyzing his playlists (I need help), talking about the same situation for the umpteenth time with friends who are so done with this man: I feel like a loser and obsessive freak doing these things. There’s something so inexplicably silly and frustrating and understandable and desperate and necessary about these small attempts to stay connected to an idea of a person who ultimately discarded me and what we had into his past. I've noticed this tendency in many men I know to compartmentalize their feelings, as if there is an emotional on-and-off switch that excuses them to run away from the women they claim to care about. I suppose it's part of being a messy human being, but I've seen this inclination occur more disproportionately among men. It’s also why my girlfriends and I will ask men our age reasonable questions about relationships, and their answers will often go along the lines of “I don’t know; I haven’t thought about it.” I’ve seen it play out too many times, and every time, the only thing I can wonder is, “Do you not realize how different things could be if you just had the courage to feel?” 

A few weeks after this thing ended, I remember feeling the immense urge to unblock and send him a string of texts asking if he ever cared or regrets the way things played out. I think being offered a genuine invitation to stay connected and then being left in the dark was like a punch to parts of my younger self. It brought me back to my elementary school days when I dreaded recess, because I had few true friends, and the ones I had often abandoned our friendship to tag along with the popular girls who already wore training bras and had crushes on the boys who swore colorfully because they thought it sounded smart. So I paced the basketball courts, trying to keep my feet on the white lines while I daydreamed about fighting villains, having superpowers, and standing up to bullies. Thankfully, I had my imagination to keep me company, but those recesses were awfully lonely, and I felt invisible. What hurt me the most was that this man was capable of making me feel that way again, like the ten-year-old girl who was offered something meaningful and then pushed out, deliberately ignored, and left to her own loud thoughts. 

I was sprawled on the floor and called a friend, asking her to talk me out of reaching out to him again. “I hate this guy. He’s literally trash,” is the first thing she said, and it made me laugh so hard. Partly because his ghosting behavior was indeed trashy, but mostly because I couldn’t help still liking him and clinging onto something that was already gone for good. Pondering "why?" and “what if?” was so addicting that resisting my urges to reach out again felt like severe caffeine withdrawal.

In my last text, I also said that I still cared about him but wished we would never have to contact each other again. This is still true, partially because it'd be fatally awkward or I might do something stupid like ask him to try this again. But mostly, it’s because I think it'd be unnecessary. My presence is a gift, and he handled it with so much carelessness that closure was mine to give myself anyways. But telling him this was also hard, because if we only have one chance at life and only a few decades here on Earth, my text felt like an ultimatum I needed to emotionally commit to. And truthfully, wanting to fight for his attention again because he was so perfect on paper felt easier. 

Now, I also want to articulate that I’ve never truly understood the justifications for ghosting behaviors, with exception to when the other person is harassing, disrespectful, or unsafe to interact with. We cannot complain about relationships being hard because people are non-confrontational but have no qualms about ghosting others the second we grow uninterested or are afraid of being rejected first. I feel that shying away from clear and mature communication is lazy and cowardly. If the counter-argument is that ghosting is the norm, then I say: getting into the practice of being communicative combats the norms we see in relationships these days, both platonic and romantic. It’s self-empowering. It's kind. It’s responsible. It gives words more weight; it makes each “Let’s meet again” and “See you later” and “Sorry” a bit more true, a bit more meaningful, and a lot more believable. I wonder if ghosting, especially when someone else asks respectfully to be communicated with, is an ego-centric attempt to show the other person that we have the power to reject, push out, and discard them without warning. And if it is, may this be a power we never wield against another person.

I remind myself that being a strong woman isn’t being a nonchalant person who denies she has longings (albeit unhelpful), and it’s definitely not being a hateful, unforgiving, or pessimistic one either. To me, it’s permitting myself to feel and navigate uncomfortable, complex, and often conflicting emotions, rather than pushing them away or shaming myself for not feeling immediately okay. To me, it’s identifying how the different parts of me battle each other, so I can advocate for my future self’s best interests before I do something inauthentic and self-sabotaging. And to me, it's reflecting on the ways I was also imperfect without blaming myself for the outcome, and it's refusing to define him by what happened but to know with gratitude that in my case, he was never a bad person but a good person who made regrettably bad decisions.

Being a strong woman is remembering that despite everything I liked about him, my boundaries need to be stronger than my desire to get back something that I thought - that I wished - was good. 

And let’s be real. The advice of “Try not to think about that person and move on” is hardly advice at all, and the more we try to push things out of our minds, the more aggressively they barge in and demand our attention, anyways. We get through things before we get over them. 

I’m relieved I haven’t caved in and reached out to him, and for something that only lasted a short time, I internally cringe before patting myself on the back for having so many reflections. I do wonder how he is and pray he is less anxious and fatigued. I sometimes worry about him, until I remember it's no longer my business what he does or doesn't do. I occasionally also miss how he made me feel seen and heard, but then I remind myself that I needed to walk away because he chose to run away. So I come to the conclusion that I can still forgive and wish him well while never wanting to grant him my energy or my heart again. This would be the most caring thing to do for myself, as well as for someone who did once bring joy into my life until he couldn’t anymore. And all of these things, as frustrating and exhausting and heartbreaking as they sometimes feel, are okay. 

*This essay was written in December 2023.

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