To What Depths This Sadness?
Two weeks ago, I returned from a four day getaway to Vietnam with someone that I have been seeing for the past three months. Things are complicated, we both acknowledge this, but there has always been a certain uniqueness and comfort in our time together. I still remember how my breath halted when I first saw Elaine waiting for me on our first date. However, on this trip to sun-showered Danang on the central coast of Vietnam, things took a turn for the worse. She was very introspective during our trip. I understood though. She is a mother of two young boys, going through a divorce and a whole raft of associated matters in her life. She is undoubtedly going through a tough time. But still I got upset when she was unresponsive to my attempts at conversation. I responded by letting her be, but inside, I was becoming resentful.
After three months of intense daily conversations I had noticed that we were slowly drifting apart in the week leading up to our holiday. It was like we couldn’t hold a conversation. On the second day, as I was frustrated at her silence, I too, began to grow silent. This made her angry. She snapped at me because I wasn’t making an effort to talk to her. This descended into a minor argument where she asked if we should stop seeing each other. I said of course I didn’t want that. She ended up dramatically walking out on me, and I travelled alone to Hoi An that afternoon. I cut my trip short that night, as I got food poisoning. I had little desire or energy to talk about things on my return, so we didn’t. The next morning, she told me that she was just spending some much needed time to reflect on herself and her current position in life. I decided to take a step back, and give her some space.
At risk of sounding arrogant, a large part of our quasi-relationship has very much been based on me supporting her where I could. Perhaps I have a saviour complex, but I found her truly interesting when she told me about the life challenges that confronted her at that time. A husband who had walked out on her and their two kids had very understandably left her in a state of shock and in urgent need to rediscover her bearings and to re-orient herself. I could not even fathom what she must be going through, but I thought maybe I could help in my own little way. I wanted to be there for her, and I honestly tried to give her as much of myself as I could. I also tried to want nothing in return. But of course, that would always be unsustainable.
Things got much better the following days, but while I was using her phone, with her permission, to complete our online flight check-ins, I noticed that she was getting message notifications from a dating app from a guy called Jeff. I tried to ignore it, and did not mention anything. Later that day, I again, unintentionally noticed Whatsapp messages were coming in from a guy called Jeff C. In my state of increasing anxiety, I assumed it was the same Jeff. I interpreted this to mean that their online relationship had progressed from the dating app to exchanging telephone numbers. This made me angry. To me, this meant she was actively chatting to guys while we were together on a holiday. Guys that she most likely had not yet met; all while she was supposedly spending time reflecting – and not speaking to me. But I was also coming to the realisation that I was increasingly needy of her attention during this trip to Vietnam. I felt the constant need for affirmation that she wanted me to be there. I wanted to matter, and I didn’t want to be an annoying presence. I was beginning to feel unreasonable, like I was becoming a relationship vampire trying to extract as much interaction as possible. And so, I ignored the messages from Jeff.
It was her prerogative after all. She had consistently maintained that she could not commit to me because of her separation from her husband, and because of her kids, so what right did I have to question her? I just never thought that that was a valid excuse to continue meeting strangers on a dating app, especially considering we had an intimate relationship, and even more so as this holiday was, on her suggestion, one where we might better get to know one another.
As we waited for our flight at Danang airport, everything seemed to be going fairly well. I thought that blocking things out and taking the high road would somehow lead to everything working out. Inexplicably, she decided to bring up another guy named David, that she had been ‘dating’, I am guessing she wanted to tell me these things to alleviate my insecurities about her levels of dating activity, she had said earlier that she was just making friends on dating apps. She told me how this guy was very demanding, and asked very personal questions, very directly. She told me that on their third date, he asked her a number of other quirky questions, which I cannot recall, but he also asked ‘What is your favourite sex position?’
I felt my core temperature rise, I was beginning to fume. If her intention was to put me at ease, then it certainly wasn’t having its desired effect. But in hindsight, perhaps this wasn’t the case at all. Perhaps, she was sending me the direct opposite message. Perhaps it was a warning of sorts: ‘I am seeing other people, you need to deal with it’.
We had had a similar discussion in the past, where she admitted to kissing and holding hands with other men. But then she stressed, ‘I’m not sleeping with other guys. I’m not a slut.’ So perhaps, it was alright, I reasoned to myself. Of course, deep down this ran against my fundamental beliefs. I have always been a firm believer of commitment. If you are to share yourself with someone emotionally and physically, then they are the building blocks of true love. Again, I tried to maintain my cool and continued to listen to her story about David. But the best I could do was to grit my teeth and not react.
As we stood there at the airport waiting for our plane, delayed by 4.5 hours, I noticed her turning away as she looked at her phone. By now I was taking notice, I couldn’t help myself. She probably didn’t know that I had seen those popup notifications earlier, or perhaps she did and simply didn’t care, but I saw that it was Jeff texting her again. That she turned away from me to hide and text a guy that she had likely never met before, while I was standing there right next to her, made me hate myself.
I felt so completely and utterly disrespected at that moment. I felt like a chump standing in the rain.
I tried to not make my feelings obvious, but I lost my composure. Though I remained silent, I was now very obviously agitated. I have always worn my heart firmly on my sleeve, and standing there, I knew I was emitting an aura of hostility and defensiveness at the same time. Unable to bear it any longer, I finally confronted her,
“Are you saying that you are completely ok with me seeing other people then? Are you telling me that you would not be affected if I started seeing other girls?” I asked.
She considered the question for a moment and said, “Yes.”
I looked at her and I asked her one more time, “So you are telling me that you would be completely unaffected if I started dating others?”
“Well, no. But I cannot commit to you because of my two children and pending divorce, I don’t think I can ask you not to.” She said.
“Right now I feel really disrespected. I know that you are sneakily texting other guys while I stand here next to you.” I replied, feeling betrayed.
Silence fell. The tension was pervasive now.
“Maybe we should stop seeing each other.” She said to me curtly.
To me, her tone sounded like a veiled threat. I guess it was a bluff on her part, but this was the second time she had brought it up during our holiday, and by this stage, I had had the last few days to mull over our situation. During that time, I had been asking self-probing questions, such as, ‘What is a man’s limit?’, ‘Where do I draw the line between being supportive and being a disposable punching bag?’, ‘Am I not a good man?’ I could not come to an answer that would devalue myself.
“Maybe.” I mumbled, as I looked away.
On arrival at Hong Kong International Airport she said that she would take the cab home herself.
“See ya.” I said softly without looking at her, and walked away.
Finally arriving home at 3am, I quickly went to bed, and slept through the night peacefully.
Since that time (2 weeks), I know she has been actively seeing other people. She has told me that she wants to expand her network, I just didn’t expect that meant staying out with other guys until 3am. I suppose it is her way of feeling OK about sleeping around.
I am hurt and angry. But as betrayed as I feel, I realise now that I cannot blame her for how I feel. Despite having developed strong feelings for her, I know that after all that is said and done, when these feelings of Love, affection and care are not reciprocated, it all just amounts to nothing.
Everyone deserves to find their own happiness.