Ella Dawson | Longreads | May 2020 | 15 minutes (3,819 words)
Henry and I had break-up sex on at least four different occasions, maybe more. I wanted to believe it was because we loved each other that much, when really I was unwilling to read the writing on the wall. It took me years to pry my fingers from his pant-leg and let go of our relationship. In fits of pique I wondered if he was the one who got away, less of a daydream than a deep anxiety that I’d bump into him decades later and love him just as much as I did the day we decided it was the last time. And the next time we decided it was the last time. And the time after that.
We technically broke up in May of 2014 at my college graduation only to get back together six days later when we decided we could overcome the hundreds of miles between Bakersfield and Berkeley. He told me his parents offered to pay for half of the gas required to drive up to see me — it was only when the summer was over that I learned he’d lied and paid for everything himself. We were smart kids who knew long-distance was doomed, but there are some lessons you need to learn for yourself lest you spend the rest of your life wondering if you would have been the exception. We weren’t. It only took us another two months of longing and conflict avoidance to break up again in the kitchen of his parent’s home.
The breakup was not mutual. I scream-cried like someone had died. When I stalked off to sob in the guest room, I expected him to follow me and take it back. Instead he folded his hands together on the kitchen table and clenched them tight, his willpower miraculously holding firm. This turn of events was as surreal as it was humiliating: I sat on the floor and stared at the portraits of his relatives above the heavy antique bed, the extended family I assumed would be mine someday. Two months wasn’t long enough to really try, was it? Two months was summer camp. It wasn’t even a full season. How had he already decided this wasn’t possible? Was I just not good enough to fight for?
We broke up for all the same reasons college sweethearts break up: our lives were taking us in separate directions, and long-distance was as shitty as everyone warned us it would be. I was graduating. Henry, two years younger, was moving to Asia for his junior year, for an ambitious study-abroad program and didn’t want to be the guy always on his phone. I was reeling with post-grad identity issues and undiagnosed anxiety and depression, and I often called him crying while my roommate scowled outside my bedroom. Once when my laptop stopped working, I had a full tilt panic attack over FaceTime as he helplessly Googled Apple store locations near my apartment. Simply put, I was a disaster and we were young. It was too much for him to handle and too much for me to understand, and I took our generic problems personally instead of seeing our breakup as the natural progression of events. All I could believe at age 22 was that he’d given up on our future together, and it must mean I wasn’t worth it after all.