I’ve been thinking a lot about my ex recently – and not in the way you might think.
Primarily, my thoughts have been about reflecting on particular moments, where I should have been more open and communicative with him and what I would say now if I had the chance. I always tout myself as someone who’s main solution of working through their problems and conflicts with others is by talking through them. I recognize that relationships take two to tango and not everything that created points of conflict between us was necessarily my fault (another blog topic we shall spare for another day – my Unhealthy All or Nothing Thinking Patterns).
What I should have been open about when communicating with him, however, was how unresolved trauma and abandonment issues from my childhood, may tend to manifest themselves in our relationship.
That being said, I can’t and won’t be too hard on myself. I have heard many times before that concerns which surface in adulthood are often a result of what took place in childhood, but it’s truly taken attending therapy for me to recognize this connection and see examples of it in my own life. It’s also taken therapy to make me realize the importance of communicating your mental health concerns and/or giving a head’s up to your current partner about your past trauma. Some people may read that and say Well of course Lindsay! Why would you not want to communicate that to your partner? I suppose in the simplest of ways I can outline it, I did not connect the dots that select arguments we had perhaps unconsciously stemmed, on a different plain, from my unresolved childhood concerns.
I should also note that we only dated for roughly 2 and half months and while we did share a lot of information with each other in that short time period (and even if I had in a hypothetical situation, say, “connected the dots”), I may have still held back from telling him because we were so new. Thinking back I feel too as though it would been a lot to handle, or too much for him to deal with – you want to keep things light and fun when you’re first with someone – would I make things too heavy if I had told him? I’m not agreeing with this necessarily – more so musing different outcomes in my mind. But even in the “honeymoon” phase of our relationship, concerns manifested themselves, so really, I should have been honest, regardless.
My own experience with unresolved childhood trauma, involves my father not being a consistent figure in my life. Yes – I have daddy issues. My parents separated when I was quite young. I was too young to remember it or to understand it, which for me, translated into it not having an affect on me in a profound way (which I am actually grateful for – some folks who’s parents split up when they are young, are greatly affected – this was not the case with me).
To sum up his life pattern in one word, especially in my conscious memory of him, it would be transient. He frequently bounced around to different living situations, in different buildings in different cities. I don’t recall there being one particular place he stayed in very long, the longest I think would have been a townhouse he resided in for a few years. I can’t remember his exact reasoning he gave to me as a child, when I would ask him why he was moving again, but I would wager to guess now he’d either a.) Skipped out on paying rent one too many times b.) Crossed a line with someone or c.) A combination of the two. It should be noted as well, that my dad perceived himself to never be in the wrong and never be at fault (it was always someone else’s fault), which did not serve him well when dealing with other people, as well as creating and sorting out conflict.
In addition to an inconsistent living situation, his presence was inconsistent throughout my life, too.
When he was present, I remember he’d take my brother and I out for dinner a lot, I remember gifts on random occasions which he would present to us, and randomly show up at our sporting events and moments of importance in our lives. This would irk my mum to no end, as when he showed up, he liked to pretend he was a fully fledged, fully supportive parent – “Joe Dad” as my mother referred to him – a facade of always being there, always supportive, all the time, when this couldn’t be further from the truth.
On the flip side of this consistency and showering of affection, there was a gaping hole. Birthdays missed, not seeing him for weeks or months at a time, maybe a phone call – maybe not. My dad also walked through life with a poor grasp of money and what to do with it when he had it. So even if he showered us with meals out and presents, he couldn’t save money to save his life and spent it faster than he made it. I recall one particular situation when we were spending the day with him. He stopped for gas and he put $5.00 in his tank. What is an average amount of money to put in your gas tank – $30? $50? Even as a kid, I remember thinking that it was weird and not quite right.
The final blow to the gaping hole came in 2010. I was 18 and it was my aunt (his sister) and uncle’s wedding. I had driven my brother and I, and I remember as we were leaving, my dad walked us out. He was drunk (now a particular detail which I view as insightful foreshadowing of the years to come), got teary-eyed (from the alcohol), and in his best “attempt to sound normal but slurred nonetheless” voice, said he loved us, and watched us drive away. That would be the last time I would ever see him. He eventually moved 45 minutes away from my brother and I to be closer to his sisters and for the next 6 years, until his death in 2016, he would on/off call to chat, but never make plans to see my brother or I. From here, we dive into a whole other story which I will share eventually, but for the sake of staying on track with today’s topic, we shall save that for another day.
I compare it in my mind to a fishing rod in the water with bait attached. The bait is my dad and I am the fish, being lured by the bait. It’s like when he was around it was like bait – exciting, amplifying a pretend normalcy despite the fact I had not seen him in months, despite the fact it was anything but normal. I know most people at this point would say what even is normal? but you get my point here.
So now we return to my ex and how this may have played a role in certain points of conflict.
We’d met in December, and spent most of the month together, including pretty much every day of the Christmas break. I work for a university, and the school had let out for it’s customary 2 week holiday break, so he’d requested time off from his own work so he could spend it with me, his new gal pal.
When January rolled around and he had to go back to work (as did I), I remember that first week back being so hard. I went from seeing him every day and talking to him every day, to now not seeing him and now not hearing from him for hours at a time.
I remember not being in a great mental state on that particular Friday when that first week wrapped up – we’d met up after he got off work, having already canceled dinner reservations because he’d been asked to work late. I remember him pulling his car into a grocery store parking lot because he needed to pick up a few things and I started to cry because I hadn’t seen him and it had been really difficult. Even writing that and thinking back to it now makes me want to cry. I’d communicated to him it had been hard. He’d tried to make me laugh to cheer me up, then reasoned with me that he has jobs where he can’t be on his phone or talk to me as much, which I understood.
Upon telling my therapist of this situation, she said the common theme here is that I felt unsettled. Feeling unsettled because my father himself was unsettled – moving around, all the time, never staying in one place too long. Feeling unsettled with the inconsistency my father created and manifested by always being in and out of my life. Feeling unsettled when I go from seeing my partner every day to suddenly not seeing him at all. While I saw my ex more consistently than my father, it would be fair to suggest that the same panic, fear and sadness I experienced that week of my ex not being as present and as with me as he had been, were unconscious emotions related back to my experience with my dad.
Of course, my ex didn’t literally abandon me, but perhaps my inner little fish felt baited again in a similar fashion as it had all those years before.
While it could very well have been simply me having a hard time adjusting to a new normal (as my mother has pointed out, it can be hard to go from seeing someone all the time, every day, to not seeing someone nearly as much), it’s possible I unconsciously felt slightly abandoned. This is what I would communicate to my ex if I could. That while I am content with my own time and recognize people have their own lives outside of those connected to their partners, I perhaps need a higher level of communication than other people when in relationships to feel secure – at least in the beginning stages of a new relationship when you’re working out common ground and feeling not as secure as say a year, or 5 years down the road.
I don’t feel shame surrounding my abandonment issues. On the contrary, getting them out in the open and talking about them, allows me to work through them. Identifying particular mental states which may not serve my future relationships well, but that I can communicate to my partner in advance, can help to mitigate them in the long run. Not to mention, writing articles such as this one helps me to better recognize my wants and needs in a relationship – it allows my partner to be better equipped in making me feel more safe and secure when I am with them, which ultimately translates to me showing up as the best (AND HEALTHIEST) version of myself for my partner.