D was not my first boyfriend, but he was my first real relationship outside of adolescence, my introduction to adult love. Since leaving school and moving away from home at 18, I had spent two years making a chaotic mess out of my life and had the romances to match. Guys who didn’t care about me or who I only saw when drunk. People who promised only further mess, not anything nourishing or safe or even interesting.
To get to know D was like waking up in the middle of a hangover and drinking a cold glass of water. Shyly, we gave the other books with witty eager to please inscriptions written inside. We discussed them earnestly in pub nooks, pressing the other’s hand for encouragement. He came to my apartment late at night after finishing work and I spent hours just waiting for him in the pale light of the Guinness factory I lived beside. Content with the precious, charged feeling of his imminent arrival. He was exciting and beautiful and funny too, but a big part of what he gave me was relief. He made everything I had ruined in my life seem suddenly fixable, and the very fact that someone like him existed was enough to make the world seem good again, let alone the fact that he loved me back. He treated me with kindness and respect in our relationship and this was true also when he broke up with me. The bones of a year had passed and although I could feel something was shifting between us - he was irritable with me and I was investing an inappropriate amount of time and energy on a new male friend - I was somehow entirely blindsided when he ended things. He sat beside me but couldn’t meet my eyes as he spoke, kept looking down at his hands. He told me he realised things were over when I went home for Christmas and he hadn’t missed me.
I had never been broken up with by anyone I was in love with and I felt strongly that it ought to be illegal. How could he? I kept thinking. I don’t mean that I was angry with him - although I became that also for a time - but that I truly didn’t understand how it was possible. How could this be true when he had recently loved me so joyfully and passionately? And how could it be true that I sat there still loving him as he did this to me? Why didn’t my feelings matter? Who put him in charge of what was going to happen to the both of us?
By then I lived in Grand Canal Dock in Ireland and I walked around it tending to my heartbreak painstakingly. He had given me a mix CD only a few weeks before the break up (further outrageous proof to me that his decision was incoherent and unjust). I traipsed around the docks listening to it, Without You by Harry Nilsson on repeat, reflecting with indignant awe on the magnitude of my loss. I missed him so much. I couldn’t believe we would never be together again. I kept trying to assemble justifications for what he had done. I went back over the timeline hunting for clues, ways to explain to myself why he had stopped loving me. There were any number of things you could try to pin it on: I had shouted at him the time I burned a casserole, I had gained weight, I went out too much. But none of them seemed adequate. Soon, I pushed my heartache further down and threw myself into a new relationship.
D and I became close friends eventually, and I think it was this that allowed me to see the truth. Because he did still find me funny and interesting and pleasurable to be around. It was only that he wasn’t in love with me, there was no rationale or grand design behind it. D breaking up with me was my first time seeing the terrifyingly arbitrary and unpredictable nature of romantic love. It really could just come and go, a harrowing and unresolvable reality we must make peace with. I did not understand this at first, trying to illuminate some elusive reason - that he loved somebody else, or that I was unlovable. But there was no secret. He had been telling the truth when he told me his feelings had changed, I just hadn’t been able to believe it.
When I did, though, begin to believe it, it became an important lesson. In years to come, when I was struggling in relationships that didn’t make me happy, I would think of D, hurting someone he still felt so tender toward because he knew he had to. He taught that the passions of other people are not under my control. That someone you once supposed you would be with forever could change their mind seemingly overnight. But he taught me something else, something more valuable: which is that you do not die when this takes place. Even when everything you counted on is removed in a moment, your body will go on living, shielding your heart until it can begin its recovery. And sometimes, if you're really lucky, there will be a different kind of love waiting for you on the other side.
Megan's debut novel Acts of Desperation is out March 4th, and available to pre-order here.