“Why do you care?”
I recently posed this question to a friend of mine. She had just gotten through telling me that after a string of great dates with a guy, he began to fade. Though they continued to communicate, he stopped asking her out, his once frequent texts began to wane, and he was active on the same popular dating site where they first met. She liked this guy – a lot – and judging by her demeanor was rather upset.
But her words spoke otherwise, even though I knew better, as she claimed that she was over him and moving on.
“Great,” I applauded. “So, you’re online then?”
She gave me a funny look. “Well, not exactly,” she conceded. “My profile is up, but I hardly ever log in because I want him to think that I’m busy. Or that I met someone else.”
I was confused. Because any time a relationship of mine came to a close, I immediately put myself back online, sometimes within minutes, believing the best remedy for an aching heart is finding someone new to soothe it.
“So you’re NOT really putting yourself back out there, only pretending that you are?” I asked, making sure I understood her logic.
“Yes,” she sheepishly affirmed.
“But he’s searching,” I reminded her. “And, besides, you said a few minutes ago that you were fine. Obviously you’re not, and you do still care what he thinks.”
What I wasn’t sure of is whether she had acknowledged to herself why.
In situations like this, most of us don’t. That is, admit to ourselves we still have strong feelings for someone even though we speak and behave to the contrary.
It really is an art – looking like we don’t care when we actually do.
My ex-husband is the master of it. I like to think of him as Dr. Schmeckel and Mr. Snide. Whenever he speaks to me without an audience, he’s pleasant. Even, dare I say, nice. But whenever we converse and his significant other is anywhere in the vicinity, he goes out of his way to be nasty or at minimum cold, proving to her his disdain for me, and my insignificance in his life. Then when we’re alone, he’s back again to Mr. Nice-guy. Everyone’s happy.
When I first learned that my husband was leaving me, and for another woman no less, I cared. A lot. To the point where I made it my mission to find out every last painful detail about the woman who stole my husband from me, when their relationship started, and what they were presently doing as a couple.
Admittedly, I employed some pretty sneaky tactics and high-level snooping techniques to garner the information I wanted. Why?
At the time, it seemed pretty obvious to me that my husband did not. Phone calls to his girlfriend (now fiancée) from our family room with me nearby, his purchase of gifts for her that he didn’t go out of his way to hide and, for the grand finale, arranging to meet her in Paris before returning with her to the place he was now declaring his permanent home. He was brazen. He wanted me to know. He wanted to punish me.
I had always wanted to visit France, and over the years my husband and I had spoken about one day going there together. Somehow all of a sudden he was going with another woman. It was supposed to be me who was on that plane.
I stood in my driveway during those last few moments of the week during which my husband came home to leave me, still whirling from the events that had transpired over the previous days. During our marriage, I never hung up a phone without telling my husband that I loved him, probably the lasting effect of losing a parent so suddenly when I was an adolescent. The same applied when he left on business trips, with me always saying I loved him before he walked out the door. But over that last week my husband told me that for the past however many months he felt as though he had been saying something he no longer meant.
As I watched my husband walk down our driveway for the last time before officially separating, I wished him a safe trip as I always did. I was in shock, as well as emotionally distraught, a feeling that, unbeknownst to me then, would last for many months to come. For the very last time I told my husband I loved him. I had said it countless times over the preceding days, my heart breaking further with each silent rebuke.
I’ll never forget it though. Before getting into the car to go to the airport, my husband stopped and turned toward me. Then he said what we had both been taking for granted for so long.
“I love you, too.”
My ex-husband has not said those words to me since, nor I to him. And among the countless men I have dated, I have said those four words to only one person, under pressure, and not because I meant them. I did not. And when I left that relationship for the last time I felt relief, underscoring further that I never felt the same for him as he did for me.
I rarely think of that man. If I do, it’s not in a way that brings back any fondness for me, or interest in seeing where he is in his life.
I don’t care.
I no longer care about my husband’s new life with his fiancée either. Only to the extent that it affects my children. When my children try and offer me details about their father, I am legitimately ambivalent. In fact, I tell them it’s not my concern.
I don’t care.
I venture to say that my husband was right when he said all along that I was the one who pushed him away. I did. I had fallen out of love with him years earlier, and it showed. In retrospect, how much I cared when my husband left me had more to do with ego than with love.
Love is painful. It makes us hurt. Feel exposed. Vulnerable. It’s a risk, one with high stakes but a huge payout. For those who don’t like those odds, it’s much easier to act as though you don’t care. Take measures to show that you don’t care. Believe that you don’t care. That way, you can’t get hurt.
But, if despite all you do, you still find yourself caring – thinking about someone a lot, keeping tabs on them, posturing, seeking out others who remind you of that person, or recreating a familiar set of circumstances with another – ask yourself why.
You may be surprised at your answer.
Do you ever portray yourself one way but feel another?
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