Every relationship has its milestones: first kiss, first fuck, finally saying “I love you,” moving in together, meeting the parents, going on vacation, etc. But every major breakup has its milestones too, often full of either sadness or relief. Moving out of the place you once shared; unfollowing/unfriending on social media; realizing that his birthday passed and for once, you didn’t think about him or wrestle with texting him on that day; starting to date again — maybe even falling in love again; seeing that he’s done the same and feeling something or nothing at all; and ultimately, both of you moving on to the point where you stop considering or acknowledging those breakup milestones at all. These milestones are usually acknowledging in private, save the occasional “divorce party,” especially as time goes on and the rest of the world seemingly thinks you should be “over it” by now. This is especially true of breakups where the pain and loss is felt more heavily by one person, who, even though they may not want to, finds themselves carrying the responsibility of grieving for two.
If you believe that old standby that says it takes half as long as the relationship lasted to grieve its end, I should have been “over” my longest relationship (which lasted four years, nine months, 14 days), well … a good three years ago. And I am! Mostly. But a tiny part of me clearly isn’t, because I recently found out that my ex is having a baby with his wife (who happens to be the woman he essentially left me for) and, well, my feelings on this particular breakup milestone are complicated. It is the final milestone, really, the one I’ve been waiting for and knew would eventually come. It’s the one I wished so much that I would hit first. It’s the one I knew would hurt the most. But I’ve been surprised to discover that my feelings about it are so much more nuanced than that. So fuck it, I’m not acknowledging this one privately.
Throughout our nearly five year relationship, the biggest issue that hovered above and created turmoil between my ex and I was the issue of kids. Some people know they don’t want to have children. Some people aren’t sure. But I am one of those people who has just known since forever that kids were something I wanted. I loved to babysit as a teenager. I reveled in my six-years-younger brother’s adorableness, until he reached the age where his antics were less cute and more of an annoying distraction during new episodes of “Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman.” Before I started The Frisky, I spent about 10 months making shit money to nanny for three kids, but it didn’t matter because I was really, genuinely, doing it for fun and to dull the ever-increasing ache in my own ovaries. I’ve cried big fat tears of joy each and every time I’ve met a dear friend’s new baby, and have a dedicated Facebook photo album of Not My Kid, I Just Wish snapshots. If you are a person with an adorable child, I highly suggest you walk on the other side of the street from me, because I will stop you and coo at your baby and make small talk with your toddler and you will be late to wherever you are going. Are you someone I know peripherally even through, like, social media and you happen to have a precocious and precious child? No need to alert me, I am absolutely stalking the shit out of you both already on Instagram.
My ex, on the other hand, was decidedly not sure about whether he wanted kids. I know that in the context of our relationship, he really wanted to want them. But for various reasons both common — the responsibility, the cost, the lifestyle change — and deeply personal, he was conflicted about it. I remember most of our conversations about it being super emotional, because having children someday was so very clearly necessary for me and I just wanted to know he would, could be on board eventually; all his hemming and hawing but never giving an outright “no” allowed me to hold on to hope that he would come around. “Someday” was far enough in the future that I think we often both kept shelving the issue hoping that by the time it came up again, we would find ourselves suddenly in agreement. Perhaps naively, I figured his common concerns about having kids would fade as he got older, so it was his more personal reasons that we tended to hammer away at. I held on tight to my faith that if he just worked through those issues, with my love and support behind him, he would come out the other side not just willing to but excited about one day being a dad.
Sometime around when we got engaged, I believe, he gave me assurance that, yes, he did want to have kids with me down the line. I don’t feel like he ever maliciously led me on in that regard. I think we were two people who loved each other, fighting desperately, but in isolation, to save something that we really couldn’t. Neither one of us could face that, let alone actually get real with each other about it. I’ll never really know what he was thinking and feeling all those years, but I certainly had other doubts about our compatibility residing deep, deep down in my gut, and I was working pretty hard to ignore them. I was a bit of a late bloomer, I hadn’t done much dating and he was my first real honest to goodness boyfriend. When I look back at our relationship, I see so clearly now the things that brought us together, that bonded us, that made me not only stay when my doubts started surface but actually led me to shove them far down. I loved him very much; my perspective on that hasn’t changed with the benefit of hindsight. But I also didn’t understand that love isn’t enough.
One September night, we went to a friend’s birthday party and while sitting in a corner at the bar, I remember kind of blathering on a bit about our still unplanned wedding and how I thought that we’d enjoy being married for a year or so and then maybe we’d start trying to have a baby. Oh, the small telltale signs on his face that I must have missed thanks to the dim lighting in the bar. The next day, I came home from running errands and he called the whole thing off, although he positioned it as being hopefully temporary. “I don’t think I want to get married, I don’t think I want to have kids,” he said as I wailed. He needed space to work on himself and his issues, he said. He was out of the apartment we shared within the hour. He never, physically or emotionally, came back.
Our split wasn’t officially official, at least to my knowledge, for another few months, when he finally confessed to no longer being in love with me. But I would later learn that “needing space to work on himself” was really just a line to cover for what he wasn’t brave enough to say, and that in the weeks after our “break,” he started seeing one of his coworkers. They fell in love. A couple years later, they got married. And now they’re expecting their first child. I don’t think the word “bittersweet” has ever been a more apt description of my feelings.
I’ve witnessed these milestones in his life from a distance. At first, when I was still so incredibly wounded by betrayal, they hurt. But as I came to understand just how incompatible we were, how much better off we were apart, the more I looked upon these moments in his life with, yes, curiosity, but also genuine affection. Though we had been engaged, I’ve never been particularly gung ho or romantic about marriage, so when he married someone else the thought that it could have been me was weird more than anything else. They looked so happy in the one photo I saw. That he married the woman he left me for? Maybe this will sound like bullshit to some, but I swear, it actually is a relief that something good and real and worthwhile was an end result of our very difficult and painful breakup.
I’m not going to be pretend that I’m some highly evolved being that isn’t also pissed off about having shouldered basically the entirety of the pain of that breakup, however. I’ve wrestled with a deeply rooted feeling of being disposable ever since. I was swapped out. Erased. His mind is seemingly spotless of my having ever existed. And while I have done my best to release my anger and have forgiven him for his very poor handling of our breakup, I have definitely had moments where I’ve been so furious about the unfairness of him just seamlessly moving on, leaving me with all the baggage and grief. That I’ve dealt with it and emerged a more forgiving, compassionate person, albeit one struggling with self-worth issues, makes me proud.
But goddammit, I just wanted to be the one to have a baby first.
I’m not proud of this reaction. Life isn’t a competition and all that. But in the context of everything that happened with us, my own struggle since to meet a nice man who treats me with kindness and respect and emotional availability and commitment, my fertile years ticking by, it feels incredibly unfucking fair. Because life isn’t fair, of course, and I need only take a look around to see just how good I have it by comparison. As a person with depression and anxiety, I already try to be very mindful of all that I have to be grateful for, not wallowing in what I don’t, and on days when I’m at my most capable, making decisions that move my life forward that aren’t dependent on anyone else. That’s how I’ve come to terms with and even started to get excited about the fact that my Plan B is likely to become Plan A, and am prepared to pursue single motherhood in the not too distant future.
Then, of course, he got there first. And yeah, fuck it, I’m a little bitter about that, and the fact that Plan A worked out for him, just like everything else has seemingly worked out for him. I’m left with questions I’ll never get the answers to, though I begrudgingly acknowledge they’re no longer my business. What changed? Was she, and all the things that make them more compatible together, all it took to make him want kids? Or did all those years of me telling him what a good dad he would be have an impact? Does he remember how many times I told him that I knew, I just knew, he would be a dad someday and he looked at me with doubt? When he found out he was having a child, did he reflect back on that and think, Amelia was right?
But you know what the real rub is? Underneath the sadness for myself, which I’m really trying not to indulge beyond this essay, and the bitterness about the unfairness of it all, which I’m absolutely putting a cap on whining about, I am actually almost bursting with HAPPINESS for him. I am. Once upon a time, this was a person I loved very much, not just romantically, but like my family. And in some small way, he will always be that to me. I think we are cut from very different emotional cloth, and his actions — like ignoring an email I sent him about my dad’s death a few years go — indicate he doesn’t hold me in the same regard. That hurts, but I accept it. It doesn’t diminish my lingering affection for the person I once knew, a man whose silliness and warmth and protectiveness would one day make him a very good dad. And while this final breakup milestone is the most bittersweet of them all, I’m happy I can say, even if it’s not directly to him, that I was right.
Original by: Amelia McDonell-Parry