My ex-fiance and I kept running into each other all day long – at the crawfish boil, the volleyball courts, in the cafeteria… It was like something out of an Agatha Christie murder mystery novel where all of the characters are trapped in a secluded set, snowed in at a log cabin or marooned on a private island.
My ex and I would inevitably pretend to ignore one another, avoiding eye contact but all the while keenly aware of the other’s presence. It was awful. Just when I reached another valley of desperation, mind spiraling to dark places, I spotted a familiar face: Patricia. Flynn’s ex-girlfriend. Oh, the irony.
Patricia and I smiled and waved at each other across the meadow and walked toward one another. Still smiling, aware that my ex was watching me, I said to Patricia, “Will you walk and pray with me? I’m having kind of a rough day.”
“Of course!” She looked surprised at my vulnerability but genuinely happy to be there for me. We walked and talked; then found a bench in the warm sun. I told her about my ex; she told me about the pain of watching Flynn with his new girlfriend. We encouraged one another, laughed together, cried together, and prayed over one another, just as I’d done with Grace earlier. I’d known Patricia was beautiful. But before that afternoon, I hadn’t realized what a wise, godly woman she is as well. God truly works in mysterious ways.
As the sun was setting just before the final session of the day, I saw my ex yet again. Patricia had called me over to her table and started to introduce me around to her group. I shook hands with one person after another until I came to my ex, who was sitting in the circle. I played it cool, sticking my hand out to him and saying, “And you are…?”
He looked tired; emotionally drained. He didn’t complete my sentence but said simply, “Hi, Rory.” He reached out and took my hand, shaking it as the others had done.
I moved on to the next person in the circle, smiling broadly and playing the social butterfly I can be when I decide to be. After laughing and cutting up with a few new friends, I walked around the table and put my hand on my ex’s shoulder. “Can we talk for a minute?”
I hadn’t planned on talking to him; in fact, I’d been intentionally avoiding him all day. I had no idea what I was going to say, but after hours of unrest and internal turmoil, I just wanted to face the issue head-on and address the unsettled feeling in the pit of my stomach.
He looked pained and wary about talking with me, but he agreed. “Uhh… we can if you really want to.”
In response, I gestured for him to follow me, and we made our way to the tree line, along the edge of a wooded pathway away from everyone else. Once there, I turned to face him.
“I thought we should just acknowledge that this is awkward,” I began. “I’m uncomfortable, I’m sure you’re uncomfortable… this is just an awkward situation.”
“Yes,” he stated with emphasis, nodding.
“And we’ve been dancing around each other all day,” I added, “So I thought we should just acknowledge that, yes, this is uncomfortable. But I also want you to know that I’m okay. I’m really glad I’m not married to you.”
His change in expression was immediate. “There’s no reason to be mean,” he spat at me.
My eyes widened in surprise. “I wasn’t trying to be mean!” I defended myself as gently as I could. “I was trying to affirm you in your decision not to marry me!”
I paused; then sighed heavily. “This is one of the reasons it’s good we’re not married. I’m a direct communicator, and you’re sensitive. I wasn’t trying to hurt your feelings. I was just letting you know that I’m okay, and this doesn’t have to be so awkward. But I’m really doing okay. I’ve been dating someone the past six months –”
He interjected enthusiastically, “Rory, that’s great! That’s what I’ve been praying for!” What? His whole face had lit up with genuine excitement.
“I’ve prayed for you every day since we broke up,” he told me, “I’ve prayed that you would find a man who will love you well and that you’ll get married and have kids…”
“You’ve thought about me every day? You’ve prayed for me every day?” I was shocked. Even as heartbroken as I’ve been, I have not thought about him every day for the past year. And I stopped praying for him a long time ago. It engaged my heart too deeply, and I didn’t think it was healthy to keep that kind of emotional connection to him.
“Yeah,” he admitted sheepishly. “I’ve been kind of a wreck. I know I treated you horribly. I’ve been in a deep depression for the past year. I haven’t dated anyone, and I’m still seeing our old counselor every week.”
Wow. That shouldn’t make me feel better, but it definitely did. The last few prayers I prayed over my ex were for his ruin – financial, emotional, relational, etc. I know that’s not God-honoring at all, but I rationalized to myself that only through his utter brokenness could God truly reach my ex and make him into the man he was created to be. So it was really a loving prayer, right?
I knew my prayers had at least been partially answered when IBM and NOV tanked. My ex is a value investor who doesn’t believe in diversification, so he was only invested in five stocks, two of which were IBM and NOV. He also invests tens of thousands on behalf of his closest friends and family. I’d wondered how that affected their relationships (and hoped for the worst. I know, I’m terrible).
“Why have you been depressed?” I asked as casually as I could. “Was it all guilt… or did you miss me?”
He shrugged and hung his head. “A lot of it was guilt. Honor and pride played into it. I did wrong by you, Rory. But I also missed you. I revisited that decision multiple times a day, every day for a long time. I would have to call my mom all the time to talk back through the decision not to marry you. But it was the right decision. I totally butchered the decision and dragged you through hell for months – I know – but it was the right decision.”
Although I agreed with him that it was the right decision, I only felt that way because of the way he’d treated me near the end. I would have married him. I loved him. And so hearing him say it was the right decision not to marry me caused my heart to twinge, even though I knew it to be true.
“Why did you propose to me?” I asked suddenly. It wasn’t a premeditated question. It just tumbled out in my moment of insecurity.
His looked at me sadly; gently. “Because I loved you. I was in love with you. And you were the first person who ever loved me back. That’s why I proposed to you.”
“Then what happened? I hadn’t planned to get into this, but since we’re talking about it… You said so many horrible things to me those last few months. That I’m so Type A that I would drive you to have an affair. That I’m domineering and no man could lead me. That I’m cold and emotionless. That I’m too much… Even though I’ve moved on from wanting to marry you, those words play on repeat in my head. Did you mean all of them? What was the real reason?”
“Rory, do you really want to get into this?” He sighed and looked away, exacerbated. “You take everything to heart and twist it to see it in a negative light. I don’t know if I should tell you.”
I just looked back at him, waiting.
He sighed again. “Okay, first of all, I was a crazy person. Ignore everything I said during that time. My own parents didn’t recognize me. But what it all came down to is, I wear my heart on my sleeve. I’m an emotional guy, and I need a woman who is absolutely dripping with empathy. It’s not a knock against you because everyone has empathy on a different scale, and all kinds of personalities end up together, but it was just an incompatibility. There’s nothing wrong with your personality – please hear that! – but we just weren’t compatible.”
I thought we were.
He continued, “I would have seen our incompatibility sooner if not for my issue with lust. I lusted for you, Rory. I’m so embarrassed by it. It’s humiliating. I had a deep-seated sin of lust, and I’m so ashamed by it. And how it blinded me.”
That was hurtful to hear. “So you proposed to me because you wanted to have sex with me?” Although he wasn’t a virgin, I am still waiting even now, and he had claimed to respect and admire that, although his actions didn’t always align with his words.
“No!” he looked hurt and horrified. “I asked you to marry me because I loved you. I just didn’t see our incompatibility until after we were engaged. I felt like you changed.”
“The change in me – the hardening, pulling away, being less empathetic —” I looked pointedly at him, “– was a response to how you were treating me. I sensed your anxiety and emotional withdrawal and was trying to protect myself.”
“I know I wounded you, but you wounded me, too – in a different way. I was afraid to talk to you today because you know me. You may say you don’t know me – that I’m a stranger to you – but you do. You wounded me because you saw deeply into me and spoke truth into my life. And I was afraid you’d speak more truth into me. And the truth is painful. But I’m thankful for it. I learned so much from you. You have no idea.”
That had been my initial prayer when we first broke up. That he would grow and learn and have eyes to see the truth. He had been so blind and walking in darkness. It was an unexpected blessing to learn that he finally heard the words I had been speaking for months. I only wish he had appreciated it sooner and more fully. That he’d had the maturity to recognize that being married to a truth-speaker is a blessing. That much of marriage is encouraging our spouse toward greater Christ-likeness, such that we present them before the Throne of Grace more sanctified than they would have been if not married to us.
We both just looked at each other. And sighed.
“Well, is there anything else? Anything you need to hear from me?” he asked.
I shrugged. “I don’t think there’s anything you could say that would be helpful and not damaging. Because of your rejection, sometimes I don’t believe I’m marriageable or desirable, but there’s not much you can do to change that.”
“Rory, you’re a great girl. You have so much to offer. And you will get married someday. And that man will be a very lucky man.” He looked thoughtful. “I actually say that to our counselor all the time. You have so much to offer a man.”
I smiled sadly; then asked, “Is there anything you need to hear from me? Have I said anything in this conversation to hurt your feelings that I need to retract?”
His brow furrowed. “No, but I need to hear that you forgive me. Will you forgive me, Rory? I know we’ve been over this, but I need to hear you say that you forgive me.” He looked at me with big eyes. Vulnerable. He needed this desperately.
“Of course I forgive you.” I smiled sadly again. I forgave you a long time ago. Many times over. Over and over again. It’s a process. I was glad to help him move toward peace… and I was glad that I was glad.
We stared at each other again. “I don’t know how to end this conversation…” I trailed off.
“Well, we’re going to hug in a minute here…” he began before he, too, trailed off.
“The last time we talked, you said that you wanted to be friends,” I reminded him. “That you’d call me in a year and try to be friends.”
“Yeah, that was ‘pie in the sky’,” he admitted. “It was my way of comforting myself. I didn’t want to lose you completely, so I told myself I was only losing you for a month or a year. But I knew deep down it wasn’t realistic.”
I know it’s best we’re not friends, and I honestly don’t want the angst of him in my life – I’d never wanted him to call a year later – but it still hurt my heart to come to the realization that we were about to say goodbye forever… again.
Two girls walked past us, ranting loudly about something that hadn’t gone the way they wanted. My ex made his classic “uh oh!” face and started making high-pitched “meep”-ing sounds like Beaker from The Muppets.
I burst into laughter, and he looked surprised before his face relaxed into an authentic grin. He chuckled softly. “Oh, Rory, I’ve missed your sense of humor.”
“I’ve missed yours, too.” We smiled at each other for a brief, shining moment where time stood still and we were transported back to another season when we were deeply in love. My eyes started to water unexpectedly, and I blinked back tears.
He saw my tears, and his expression softened as tears welled up in his eyes, too. “Rory…”
I started laughing, embarrassed. “I’m okay,” I waved him off with my hand. “I’m okay. I know you’re not used to seeing emotion from me.”
“No…” he agreed.
“It’s just… I feel like you’re dying to me all over again. I had to grieve the loss of you like the death of a loved one, and now I know I’m saying goodbye again. It’s just… very emotional.”
He took a step toward me and said, “Who knows? Maybe five years from now, you’ll be married – to that guy you’re seeing; maybe he’s ‘The One’ – and maybe I’ll be married, and we can be friends. You never know.”
“Okay,” I smiled at him through my tears.
He closed the distance between us and wrapped me in a hug. We stood for a moment before pulling away and walking in different directions. As we parted, he called softly, “See you later.”
“See you.” …Just maybe not this side of heaven.