30 August 2023 | BY ANDJELKA JANKOVIC | Life
If I was ever to leave, I'll say before I go / That you're the best woman I ever known
It was undeniable.
He had the most beautiful hands I had ever seen.
I told him the first time we met.
I was coming out of a season of solitude and trying the dating thing again. I had just got my haircut and he messaged to ask if I wanted to get a drink and I thought, why not? A gal can’t waste an expertly tousled Mandy Moore bob.
We caught up for some coastal Mexican fare and dived straight into interesting conversation fodder around a philosopher we both loved (Kierkegaard – as I had made a pilgrimage to visit his grave in Copenhagen) and other light topics such as what we think happens after death. I didn’t have any exceptionally romantic feelings for him, but then I caught sight of his hands – with a tattoo on each thumb – and was in awe.
After dinner, I said had to leave soon as I had a tea ceremony early the next morning. We said our goodbyes but not before going to look at wildflowers, the street side lit up by his phone torch and his voice pointing out all the different botanical names in the dark.
We swapped numbers. As I unlocked my bike, I said “You have beautiful hands”. I think people should know nice things about themselves, and I also didn’t know if I was going to see him again.
Then I rode off, proud of myself for going on an actual date more than anything else.
The next morning I got a message from him with a link to a playlist he had made me, a YouTube playlist with my name as the title. A bold move considering I had told him of my allegiance to Spotify, but a very appreciated one considering music is my love language. I put a few songs on, nothing really obvious was screaming out to me, and thanked him for the gesture. In later weeks, on a ferry to work, I played it again and one song got my attention and head bopping right away. I then did that thing where you listen to it obsessively on repeat for days.
The next time we saw each other wasn’t particularly remarkable either – dinner and drinks in a pub on a rainy night. But there was something unfolding between us, slowly and organically. An unravelling; two people getting to know each other over long phone calls and cooked meals and the hunger of wanting.
She and I were giving each other the only we truly have to offer: our time. We were going to give each other the living minutes of our life. — Ethan Hawke
Curling into him under his jumper in the rain. Firm hands on the back of my neck waiting in line for Persian food. Walking back to my car in his shirt after The Killers concert. The way he would say my name in a sentence. And his impeccable grammar.
But this isn’t a love story.
This is what happened after four months of realising what someone is not.
After the most bizarre and devastating four days of my life.
Then when my heart was obliterated in four seemingly straightforward words.
“I can’t do this”
He ended it for reasons that my friends know of.
The grief hit me in waves for months.
If a sadness rises up before you larger than any you have ever seen; … You must think that something is happening with you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand; it will not let you fall. — Rainer Marie Rilke
For the first few days after, I wanted to wear a bib that said ‘Freshly Heartbroken’ while riding my bike so that cars would be kind to me when I was finding it hard to merge because SORRY – I can’t see through my splitting headache and chaos of tears.
I was broken and my friends put me back together. A phone call to my brother. Dinner with my mum and stepdad. Jars of food and flowers on my steps. Kind souls checking in.
This is what happens when love gets real for some people. They run and all I wanted was for him to stay.
I craved him like a drug, and it was fucked.
Possibility is a powerful narcotic.
The missing is mental. We miss the physical form. We are creatures of touch.
I just wanted to hear one song without thinking of you.
I was unmoored in an ocean of deep sadness.
It was emotional torture and my heart was so so tired.
In the final month of us being together, I felt myself getting smaller to fit in the spaces I could find around him to make him feel comfortable. We can all be so nimble when we like someone. I was dying to talk to him, and he would take days to reply. He would arrive and say that he had to leave soon. I was going crazy with frustration and yet full of desire.
Now I had to live the “can’t”.
He wasn’t the love of my life, I know that now. But he was selfish and inconsistent, deeply angry, and in the end – cruel, mean and unkind. That last one hurt the most.
I still don’t think he is a terrible person, but his actions were terrible.
As Ram Dass said, hurt people hurt people.
The fact that he showed me his worst traits and I still wanted him seems impossible to me now.
Was it the dopamine? His hands? The sight of his hurting inner child?
I knew something was up when I told him he was beautiful. And he didn’t believe me.
I have observed there is a silent endemic of men who don’t love themselves or don’t think they are worthy of receiving love and no one is talking about it.
We all need connection, belonging and touch.
Sensitive people; even more so.
All that love that had grown for him, had nowhere to go, so it imploded.
You can ask “why why why?!?@?” and cry to the sky for days and you won’t get an answer. (Also side topic: what is it with men hiking in jeans – is it poor planning or a lack of luon?)
I remember reading in The Surrender Experiment that ‘very intense situations don’t have to leave psychological scars if we are willing to process our changes at a deeper level.’ That is, to throw yourself into the hurt, not away from it. Why would you do that? So you can ‘deeply honour the transformative power of life.’ Apparently.
So that’s what I did. I cried, I processed, I spoke to my friends, and sat with tea. I swam in the sea. I pulled tarot cards. I hugged my very soft cat. I smiled at the sun. The tendency to close your heart because it’s just been ripped out of your chest is normal. I get it.
But as Michael A. Singer also writes, ‘joy, excitement and freedom are simply too beautiful to give up.’
I decided to feel the loss fully, as I read in the Tao Te Ching one morning during tea, so I could be completely at one with this loss. Being at one with such a big disappointment is easy to conceptualise, and very hard to do. But making sense of something in the now and not in ten years’ time better serves you and your relationships to come.
Heartbreak begins the moment we are asked to let go but cannot… Heartbreak is an indication of our sincerity: in a love relationship, in a life’s work, in trying to learn a musical instrument, in the attempt to shape a better more generous self. — David Whyte
Angie McMahon’s song ‘Soon’ was pretty much my break-up soundtrack, “I’m so tired of being messed around / I’ll have to face this all alone” since we never spoke again.
I still caught myself thinking of his beautiful hands.
It was not meant to be and it was a hard truth to be okay with.
But still, I didn’t believe that there would be anyone in the world as beautiful as him. I was certain of it.
And for a while, that’s how it seemed.
Then one day, completely out of nowhere, a beautiful Irishman is reciting Yeat’s poetry to me on a work call over Zoom. At like 11 am on a Wednesday.
I was shook.
I hadn’t noticed another person until now.
Then I couldn’t stop.
A Casio watch with sun-glow skin and three lines of small tattoos from a bus window.
A husky, baritone voice in the museum hall.
Sea-filled eyes at the farmers market.
The arms of Thor.
Any man reading Braiding Sweetgrass.
Hands that have worked.
There is more than one beautiful man.
These words dropped into my head and I wrote them down in my journal. And in this space of no expectation, just appreciation of the male form, the loveliest things started to emerge.