The Perception Project: Talking With An Ex

Two weeks ago, I decided to be more active about facing my fears rather than overthinking. Rather than going off on crazy thought tangents working out all the possibilities, back stories and evil intentions, I decided that I should talk directly to whoever is concerned. So in order to learn and grow from past relationship faults, I decided to get in contact with those who were in the best position to give me more information, the experts if you will, my exes. What could possibly go wrong?

When I made this spur of the minute decision, it seemed like a really good idea. Who could give you a better perspective about you in a relationship? The other person in it, right? It really seemed like a no-brainer. It was exactly what I was looking for. I wanted information about me from different perspectives because the lens that I had been looking at relationships through was clearly broken. Or faulty. Or dirty. Either way, that lens was crap.

So here I was on Thursday night deciding to open myself up to conversations with those who had the key information about me in a relationship. I was simultaneously excited and scared at the same time, which has always been a sign for me that something is the right thing to do. However, first I had to work out how to contact them and what to say.

This was going to be difficult because whenever I break up with someone, I become very good at culling everything of them. I’m pretty brutal. Does anyone else do this because I am not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing? Either way, it’s definitely what I do. I delete all the photos from my phone. One. By. One. I mentally say “see ya” to each one. Actually, if that one by one process is too slow, and sometimes it really can be, I delete the whole lot in one gigantic and effective sweep. I mean I generally rip Band-Aids off all in one go. I live on the edge like that. I also go through and delete all the messages and emails, but not before I’ve deleted their phone number and other contact information off my phone. If necessary, I delete on social media. I throw out memorabilia. Everything goes. Why? Because it hurts way too much to have those reminders around. It hurts too much to have those items there and to accidentally look at them when I’m not quite ready to. It hurts too much knowing that yet another relationship ended, which leads me to the dangerous and depressing thinking of will I ever be loved? Total sadness. I need time to heal. The constant natter in my head is one thing. I don’t need to tip that over the edge with actual feelings when I see such memorabilia. That stuff just has to go.

Therefore, this process of cut-throat culling makes it difficult to look for contact information.

Thus, the only way that I could think to make contact was to reach out through a Facebook message to those who were visible. Two of them weren’t on Facebook, so that plan really couldn’t work. I did, however, remember where one worked and was able to google his work email. It felt so awkward typing an email to a work email address that may or may not have been visible to others. I kept the message short, though, just in case. I wrote, “Are you able to help with some advice?”

So all in all, I made contact with all that I could find. And then I waited and wondered. And then I wondered some more. But then I realised that I was wondering, starting to verge on the edge of too much thinking, so I told myself that wasn’t helpful and carried on with life.

I should take this opportunity to mention that I do have a handful of exes. I have spent a large portion of my life (over) working, studying, and living overseas. I’ve spent most of my adult life single, which really means that I’ve spent a large portion of my adult life deflecting relationships. When I realised that I was doing that in 2013/14, I started opening myself up more and admitting that I was looking for love in my life. However, in opening myself up, I became insecure and anxious that I was revealing too much and could easily be hurt. What I didn’t realise and what was a crushing blow to learn last year was that my fear was actually sabotaging the relationship. And quite possibly sabotaging my life in more ways than just the romantic relationship that had just ended.  

This Perception Project and more holistically this Rich Inner Life is all about me learning, or more accurately me unlearning and then learning new ways of thinking and being. This year is all about healing myself properly physically and mentally, and it’s been a long time coming.

So off to work I go on Friday. I’ve made contact with all that I can, and all I can do now is sit back and see what the universe will do with that.

After work on Friday, I’m sitting on my couch contemplating dinner when I get a phone call from an unknown number. Usually, I just ignore any phone number that I don’t know or that is private, but for some reason – perhaps my Spidey sense – I knew I had to answer.

“Jo. It’s *Doc. How are you?” [I’ve changed the name for pretty obvious reasons. However, please enjoy the nickname that I did give him.]

“Ahhhhhhh. Doc. I’m great.” [Oh. My. Gosh. This is actually happening. This is pretty cool.]

“What are you doing? What’s this that you need help with?”

I then proceeded to fumble my way through explaining what I was doing. I’m realising that as I’m talking to him I don’t actually sound convinced that I know why I’m talking to him in the first place.

The first thing he says is that he is worried about what I was doing. [What??] He said that he didn’t think that I needed to be worrying what exes would say as I had my head screwed on pretty well. [What??] He then started to laugh and told me that he had thought this conversation would have gone the other way and that he would have been the one calling to find out more about potential faults while in a relationship. [What??] 

I was seriously not expecting the phone call to go like that. In fact, we ended up talking easily for an hour and a half. Laughs and jokes were involved. I was able to explain what I was wanting to do. We discussed our relationship. We spoke about some of our fears, and the difficulties in opening up to others. We spoke about burying ourselves in work and how that could have a detrimental effect on our lives and our health.

I told him that I was wanting to learn more about self-sabotage and how that harms relationships. He said the only one thing that he could think of to tell me was that he always wondered if I told him the full account of things. He said that he got the impression that I might not tell him everything, and he would always wonder what was left untold. I think he was right about that. I didn’t tell him everything. I did keep things close to my chest.

In all honesty, I didn’t think the relationship felt right. I didn’t feel that I could open up to him. I got the impression that he was somewhere else and constantly distracted. Once I spotted that, I couldn’t un-see it, and I certainly couldn’t un-feel it. Doc asked me what I thought was wrong with the relationship. I told him that I thought that he was cheating. He told me that he had never cheated in his life. I told him that I had felt like his mistress and that he was married to his work. In the time that I dated him, he worked 6-7 days a week, and he would often be distracted by his phone or an email in the short time that we did spend together. As much as I felt like an outsider in my own relationship, I totally respected his passion and enthusiasm for his work. I still do. It’s hard not to be amazed by someone following their passion, and by someone so knowledgeable of it.  

I really enjoyed the entire conversation. I remembered the interesting features of Doc and the general ease of conversation (when he is 100% present). And I also remembered why that relationship didn’t make me happy. He told me that it was impressive that I was doing the Perspective Project. The conversation ended with his suggestion of a coffee the next time I was in his area.

After I got off the phone, I realised that my understanding of what worked and didn’t work in that relationship hadn’t changed. I hadn’t gotten any revelations about how I potentially self-sabotaged from the get go by getting into a relationship with someone who hadn’t yet worked out his work-life balance even though he said that he wanted to. I didn’t learn anything new from his perspective about me.

What did I learn?

In the end, I realised that this whole adventure of getting in contact with exes and asking them questions is not where the learning lies. I thought that it was. As I read over what I have written, especially in the first Perception Project blog, I think part of me thought that I might learn something vital and intrinsic from what they might say. That the only reason I sought to get in contact was to learn some massive lesson. That’s not to say that I won’t. However, I realised something when I hung up the phone and thought over what I hadn’t learned. The learning from this is that I was not scared of reaching out and getting in contact. I had created a mental block in my mind. A wall that my hurt, fear, shame and embarrassment over the relationship ending – over ALL my relationships ending – had lived behind. When I decided to get in contact, that was where the learning and the breakthrough happened.

I let the baggage go. It’s ok that not all of the exes responded. They didn’t need to. If I’m being honest, I didn’t expect anyone to. The act of me reaching out was enough. However, I am so thankful that Doc picked up the phone and called. That my first contact with an ex went as it did. In fact, all of the contact that was made was really positive. They are lovely men who were still willing to help when I asked, which says a lot about their characters.

By taking this first step, I actually got up the courage to face an even bigger fear. Bigger than exes! And I did it the next day! Later in the week, I faced yet another fear. Talk about momentum. It’s amazing. This is absolutely the right thing for me to do.

The lesson is clear: Face you fears. Don’t let them own you.


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