In September, I took what was supposed to be a week off Instagram but what turned into three months instead. When you temporarily disable your account, it gives you 10 options as to why:

Screen Shot 2020-01-19 at 2.36.05 PM

“Just need a break” is the one I chose. Admittedly the thing I needed a break from most was sabotaging my relationship, but I figured one way to do that was to give my mind a break from constantly comparing my life to the lives of others. I’m not blaming Instagram for my relationship woes, it’s shitty decisions I make on my own with all of the self-awareness needed to stop them that was the problem. What I’m saying it that my head is full of nonsense at baseline, so I thought it would be nice to stop the external input of further nonsense for a while.

Aside from one or two times reflexively opening the app only to be bummed when I remembered the sabbatical I had taken, I didn’t really miss it. And that’s probably because I was able to get my scrolling fix elsewhere. My Facebook involvement remained relatively the same, and that’s at less than one open a day. I’m not sure what it is about Facebook nowadays but I don’t care much for it. Is it for an older generation? Or maybe it’s because I mostly only keep it for career-related purposes. My Twitter engagement also remained relatively the same which is nil — I’ve never been an avid tweeter, mostly just a lurker.

My need to scroll ended up being satisfied by the news app. I suddenly knew all about the impeachment inquiry in the states, the close race between liberals and conservatives in Canada, and about the eleven elephants that died trying to save a baby elephant from drowning in the Haew Narok Waterfall at Khao Yai National Park in Thailand. After that first week I felt as if I could contribute to the conversations that were being had in politics. I felt like I had an opinion and that it could be backed up by facts. I felt like the break was helpful. But, I also felt like none of that mattered.

And the reason it didn’t matter, was because I realized there was only one thing or rather person I could rightfully blame. Instagram wasn’t ruining my relationship. Instagram wasn’t keeping me from reading. Instagram wasn’t keeping me on my phone. Instagram wasn’t keeping me from being productive. No matter what distractions I remove from my phone, I could always find a new way to procrastinate. Keeping up with the news was simply a way to give my procrastination an air of pretension. Bottom line, I found out that the thing I “just need[ed] a break” from, was not holding myself accountable.

Now excuse me while I go onto my two different Instagram accounts to promote this blog and my podcast @thescriptisbetter. What? It’s not procrastination, it’s work!

Continued…

“So you just get as much free beer as you want?” I ask. “Not exactly,” you reply and then you launch into the intricacies of the credit system followed by, “would you like some?” If I was being honest I would tell you I don’t like your beer all that much. If I was being honest I’d tell you that I’ve actually never sat on someone’s face and if you asked me to I’d be confused by which direction I’m supposed to be facing.

We arrange a day for you to swing by and drop off a six-pack. Only our second time meeting in person but with all the photo-swapping, joke-telling, and secret-sharing, our relationship feels much more intimate. I tell you my street address and you spit back my postal code. “Stalker much?” I say, to which you reply, “I used to live in that building.” Our love story according to Nora Ephron would start with a montage of all the times we missed each other before we met. Her version would also paint me much less like a home-wrecker than you tend to make me feel.

I find you waiting in the lobby holding the six-pack. I extend my hand and go in for a handshake to ease your philandering nerves. You handoff the beer and skip the handshake. “Wanna come up?” In my apartment, I have the time to take you in. You’re every bit as attractive as I remember but I do my best not to let that show. Despite the safety of you having to get back to work and me having a roommate, you are still cautious to maintain a great distance between us. I’m not a predator. I won’t jump you. Those feelings that you’re visibly wrestling? They have nothing to do with me. Though I like having you in my space, I don’t like the stench of guilt that you brought with you. I have to get to my job and you should get back to yours. You offer me a ride. I decline.   I want to be in your car. But more than that I want to be in your heart and right now, I can see, all I am is in your fantasy. After you leave I look around my apartment which now resembles a dingy motel room with drawn blinds and dim lighting. I vow to keep our meeting places neutral because that’s more important than vowing to respect myself.

We go see Iron Man 3. You preface the outing by saying “no touching” as if I’m an animal you need to cage. You don’t understand me at all. I want to be with someone who can’t wait to be next to me. Not someone who has to send me ground rules. I should’ve backed out when I read that message. But I suppose if you being married wasn’t the line, then you being an asshole wasn’t going to be it either.

Our emotional affair has continued long enough that it’s time for you to swing by my work again. We make eyes at each other while maintaining discretion. It’s fun and sexy and I remember how it was before you were married. Or rather, before I knew. You’re done your work and you leave. You take the rose-coloured glasses that veiled our relationship with you and I see the reality of the situation. “I can’t do this anymore,” I text. And I work the rest of my shift with equal parts confidence in my resolve and mourning for the loss of you. I do my cashout and check my phone. “We should probably talk about this in person.” My heart pounds. Another text, “Here.” I consider heading straight for the exit but my curiosity keeps me there. I plead my case. You understand. You plead yours. I understand. We share a drink and agree to be friends. Friends? Yes, “friends.” Look at us being adults. We say our goodbyes. The hug lasts too long. It says anything but “friends.” The movement we made seemingly erased in one silent moment of contact. It was electric. It was tragic. Despite that, we respect our mutual decision and maintain distance. I have an affair with an Irish man that feels like something from a movie. I live, I laugh, I love, and I try not to beat myself for that one time when I fell for a married man. I feel good.

“I’m moving out.” There it is again. That ominous glow from my cellphone. But this time it isn’t bad news. You follow it up with apologies for being a stranger and for all the times you may have put me in a shitty position. You left your wife? Am I the exception to the rule? I celebrate by drinking one of your beers. I still don’t like it. And now I feel the freedom to tell you that. I can have an opinion. I’m no longer scared of turning you off because your separation is the ultimate declaration of being very much turned on. The emotional rollercoaster our tryst has taken is finally coming to an end. You send me a photo of you and some friends that helped you move. I send you a selfie of me celebrating.

The next day I check-in. No response. You must need space so I give it to you. The day after that, “everything okay?” and still nothing. I get confused. “Did I do something?” Silence. I read back through our message history to verify that you leaving your wife wasn’t something that I dreamt up. “I’m getting a little worried. I understand you may need space but at least tell me you’re okay.” Nothing. In an effort to ward off neediness I delete our message history and your contact info from my phone. You’ll come back to me when you’re ready. But you were never going to be ready. All along I kept telling myself that this wasn’t about me. I wasn’t the one doing something wrong. This was about your feelings for your wife. Turns out it wasn’t about her either. It was about another woman. The one that you now had permission to be with after my affection sparked in you the promise of something more than a loveless marriage. The one that I learned about from a friend of yours. The one that proved to me I wasn’t the exception to the rule. The one that… the one.

Epilogue

I purposely don’t grab a basket at the grocery store to manage my spending so all I can buy is what I can carry. Arms full I make my way to the cash and choose the shortest line. My body reacts to the man in front of me before my brain clues in. “Mmm… cute,” I think, as I begin to unload my items on the conveyor.

“Hey!” you say with warm familiarity. The woman next to you turns to see who you’re addressing. A moment of confusion and then everything snaps into focus. My smile fades. Hey?! HEY! FUCKIN’ “HEY?!”

“HA!” I blurt out as I retrieve my items and head to another line. I keep my back turned to you. I want so badly to know what lie you are concocting to explain to your lady friend why a woman she doesn’t know would react to you in that way. I look back long enough to see her mouthing “OHHHH” and staring in my direction. I’m certain whatever you just said to her was unfair to me. And though that should make me mad, it actually makes me happy. Happy that I am not that woman. Happy that I am not with a man who lies about his indiscretions. But most of all happy that I never sat on your fuckin’ face. Either facing away or towards your body. Like seriously, am I supposed to pop-a-squat facing your head or rest my knees against your shoulders facing your feet? I just don’t get the mechanics!

I’m cleaning behind the bar when you appear. “Devon said I could come clean the lines.” Your blue eyes offend me and yet I cannot look away. “Did he? Well I say you can’t.” Playful with my game, you turn away “okay, I guess I’ll go.” Your ponytail stares me in the face. “Sweet ponytail, though” I say. The tattoos peaking out from under your shirt accent your arms in a way that starts a pulse between my legs. “I was kidding, you don’t have to go.” You turn back and introduce yourself “I’m [generic boy’s name].” Those eyes again. My cheeks are prone to giving me away so I move my gaze to your lips that lay buried beneath a wealth of facial hair. I bet you’re a soft beard kind of a guy. I hope to find out. You adjust your wayfarers and get to work behind the bar.

At first glance you tick all the boxes of hipster bad boy and I wonder, am I one of those girls? Is this the kind of guy I like or did society tell me that’s who I should like? For a second I thought I had a choice, but the heartbeat in my loins reminds me that I don’t. I find Devon. “Where did this guy come from?” He fills me in and I blurt out, “I want to sit on his face!” Devon executes a real life spit-take. Did I just say that? He urges me to tell you as we both steal glances in your direction. You go about your business: beer. And I go about mine: you. And then all of a sudden, you’re gone.

You know that friend that can find your crush online just off his hair colour? That’s me. And I find you, but only on twitter. Sure “wanna grab dinner?” satisfies the then 140 character limit, but it’s public. I decide on a callback, “sweet ponytail” I tweet. And a follow. You take the bait. “Sweet job finding me on twitter.” And a followback. With direct messaging then possible, things pick up speed. What follows is a laugh inducing, cheek reddening barrage of jokes, memes, and tell-me-mores. I don’t know what the man of my dreams is like but you have to be close. Am I close to yours?

I remember when it happened. I was at the Black Bull playing pool with my best friend. Or rather, I was messaging you and was periodically interrupted to take a shot. We are bonding over our shared love of Hot Tub Time Machine when I quote the movie, “do you have girlfriends? Hot ones? NO. You have boyfriends. Gay ones.” Though not a direct quote, I rework it so that is allows me to ask the question. The question everyone always wants to ask when they meet someone in a non-dating environment. The question which had an answer that should have been obvious after all of our talking. I know your answer is no, but I want to hear you say it.

“A wife actually.” Ummm, pardon me? My heart sinks. Another message, “you?” And without missing a beat, I reply, “yes I have a wife and she’s definitely a gay one.” I let you off the hook. You’re welcome. Now instead of having an emotional affair with a woman, you are simply making a lesbian friend. I wonder, do you feel lighter? Does my apparent homosexuality bring you solace? Our banter continues as if uninterrupted by the talk of significant others.

Some time later, maybe a week, you bring it back up, “do you really have a wife?” That’s when I had my answer, but not to my initial question. Whether or not you felt lighter I may never know, but I did now know that you were disappointed. Well, we had that in common. I take a deep breath and decide to go with honesty. “No. Let me put it this way, the first time we met I told Devon that I wanted to sit on your face.” I’m not looking for praise, I’m not looking for pity, I’m not even looking for an answer from you. But I get one. “Oh. For the record, I’d love for you to do that.” Fuck, fuck, fuck! Fuckity, fuck. FUCK! You didn’t let me off the hook.

to be continued…

According to google dictionary, of which I am not sponsored, to gaslight is to, “manipulate someone by psychological means into questioning their own sanity.” Up until a week ago, I was not familiar with this term though it was an experience with which I was all too familiar.

My ex was a master of manipulation. It would start off by me making some completely reasonable statement like, “I’m just going to go relax in a bath.” Next it would become unfair of me to have alone time when there was nowhere he could go to get away from me. I’d offer options, “go for a walk, go to the gym, have a bath of your own” to which I would be told that I’m not understanding his point. Am I crazy? His point was that he had nowhere to go to be alone, wasn’t it? He then clarified that he didn’t want to go for a walk, the gym isn’t relaxing for him, and he didn’t like taking baths. Okay…? I wasn’t sure how to solve his problem because I couldn’t find what the problem was anymore. That’s when he would let it come out, “the problem is that you shouldn’t have to need alone time.” But everyone needs time alone. He would counter by saying that he didn’t need time away from me. But WAIT! That’s not what I was saying, I wasn’t saying “I need time away from you specifically, I was saying I need time to myself.” Then all of a sudden, I was told I was being selfish. And I’d struggle to find anything that proved otherwise. I would stand there in a moment of confusion as the reality of who I had believed myself to be my whole life was being dismantled. Then after a long moment of silence, “you can come with me?” Posed as a question because I was grasping at straws to figure out what he wanted. I’m not selfish and I wanted him to know he was loved. He’d run over and kiss me. Ten minutes later I’d find myself in a cramped bath that was anything but relaxing, telling the man squished up against me “I love you” while the woman in my head screamed and banged against the walls of my skull for someone to save her.

When he wasn’t in the mood for a bath, he’d come in and sit on the toilet while I took one. And if it wasn’t the bath, then it was drinks with coworkers, which then morphed into drinks with friends, which eventually became doing anything at all without him. In hindsight it is so easy to see that what he was doing was wrong. But in the moment, all you can do against the psychological attacks on your character is come to the conclusion that this is what compromise looks like. That is until the day you look in the mirror and all the changes he skillfully forced upon you don’t look like compromise, but actually look like abuse.

I was lucky enough to get out of that relationship, made possible in part by two friends who could hear the screams from inside my skull. If not for them, I would not have found the courage to stand up for myself. If not for them, all understanding of who I am and what makes me unique would be long gone. And here’s the hardest truth: if not for them, I don’t know if I’d still be alive.

Rifling through my “memories & keepsakes” box the other day, I came across a collection of photobooth strips. While many were of me and my ride-or-die best friend, there were an equal measure of me with ex-boyfriends. I looked at one specific set of 4 black and white 2.5 x 1.5 inch squares showing me and one of my exes seemingly in love and all I could think was, “ugh, I look so cute.” Is that weird? Most people would be reminded of that failed relationship and think any number of damaging things like, “you cheating fuckin’ asshole” or “how could I have been so clueless” or even worse, “I miss you.” But, nope. Not me. I feel nothing. Except vanity of course. Seriously though, so cute!

And it’s for that very reason that I never throw photos like these away. In a perfect world, I would be in that photobooth alone and when it got to the fourth photo where we are oh-so-adorably smooching, he’d be replaced by some fierce individual like Idris Elba or Cara Delevingne. Babe. And then the photos would cease to be of me and my ex, but me and my future. DREAM BIG PEOPLE.

In a world with 7.6 billion people, the odds are that I am not alone in this form of photographic memory hoarding. And it goes deeper than just photobooths. Three laptops, each spanning about 4 years of my life from the age of 19, that wreak of exes. Kisses, dinners, holidays, trips. Disposable cameras developed to include a CD copy so those kisses could be immortal. Did I really think we’d be together forever? My pride doesn’t want to let me say yes because it means admitting that I was stupid enough to make the same mistake over and over. But, it’s the truth. And whether it’s considered “healthy” or not, it’s something I will probably never stop doing. My only hope is that the next person is actually the real deal.

DISCLAIMER: If we have ever been in a photobooth together, YES I still have the photos, NO you cannot have them back, NO I will not throw them out, and YES it’s possible that I’ll post them with you replaced by someone more deserving of my time.