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Dear Swipe This!
Like a lot of people do over the holidays, I recently reconnected with my ex. We had sex—the sex was great, it always is—and I felt so happy being with him again. I realized he’s still the love of my life and I want us to make things work. So I wrote him a heartfelt email saying when he’s ready to be happy, he should let me know. It felt good to send it and say what was in my heart.
But then, after I didn’t hear from him for a couple of days, I got anxious and upset. I sent him a text saying I wish I’d never sent the e-mail. And he wrote back, “What e-mail?”
I couldn’t believe it. Part of me was relieved like, “Oh good, maybe it was so late that I didn’t know what I was doing and I never actually sent it”? But then I looked at my outbox and the e-mail did go through! It’s not like him to lie. Also, he’s been asking me to tell him what was in the e-mail, or at least give him the gist of it, and now I’m not sure what to say.
Here’s our backstory: My ex and I were together for three years. Two years ago, he dumped me and I’ve never been more heartbroken. I loved him. I really loved him. I was crying on the floor, eating ice cream in my pjs, wailing, “Why did he leave me when I gave him everything he could ever want?” But I picked up the pieces of my broken heart. I focused on my career and my friends and I thought I was starting to heal. I even started dating someone new. I didn’t feel as connected to this new guy, but he was nice to me and I felt like I was moving forward.
Then last winter my ex and I started hooking up again. I thought maybe we could make it work, but we broke it off in February. I was sad, but I still had the new guy to keep me warm. And I ended up having an amazing year. A lot of good things are happening for me—I’ve been performing a lot—and I’m proud of myself. I have so much that I feel confident about.
But I can’t let go of my ex. I don’t know if it’s the holidays or just the fact that he really is the one for me, but I can’t shake this feeling that I’ll be happier if we’re together again. Then, I think, if he loved me, he would be with me. So I should accept that he doesn’t love me and move on? Or at least have sex with him one last time before New Year’s and then we both pretend the other doesn’t exist anymore and forget this whole mess?
The other thing is, my ex’s family is very religious. I know for a fact that since we broke up he’s been going on dates with women who are more religious, who his family would find more acceptable. I believe in God, but I don’t go to church often. I’m a comedian who tells raunchy jokes about sex, and even though my ex says he supports my career, I think deep down he doesn’t want to be with me because I’m not the kind of “good girl” his family wants him to be with. The other day I was joking around with him and sent him my Instagram top 9. Every picture was me laughing in lingerie or shimmying around in something silky. I was like, “This girl needs to go to church!”
I’m not going to give up my career. I love making people laugh and I love doing what I do. I’m in my late 20s and I know who I am and what I want and what I deserve. And maybe he can’t give me that. But I’ll never love anyone as much as I love him. I know it. And then I think why won’t he love me? Why can’t he accept me and love me the way I love and accept him?
So, what should I do? Should I tell him the truth about what was in the e-mail? Or should I just accept the fact that he doesn’t love me? It’s torturing me!
Girl Who Needs to Go to Church
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Dear Girl Who Needs to Go to Church,
The end of the year is the perfect time to torture ourselves, don’t you think? Our social media feeds are flooded with pictures of families and couples and babies and bright lights. And all of that holiday cheer can be downright triggering. We start to wonder if we’re happy enough, if our lives are full enough, and if we’ll ever have all the things we want. In the midst of a time when we could be grateful and share the abundance of what we have, many of us start to focus on everything we lack. I’ve done it, you’ve done it, and I’m willing to bet everyone you know and love has fallen victim to this at least once in their lives if not several times per year.
If I had to put a name to it, I would call this special brand of holiday, end-of-the-year grief “the Empty.” The Empty visits each of us and it’s our job to figure out how we’re going to fill it. We can fill it with food or presents. We can fill the empty with an endless rotation of social commitments. We can fill it with booze or sex, or, as you’ve discovered, we can even fill it with connections that have broken our hearts over and over again. The trouble is all of these fixes are temporary and when they wear off, we are left face to face with the Empty once again. And this is when the Empty feels most ominous and most powerful. Because now the Empty is bigger, bloated with the promise of all that could have been and all that we cannot have.
So how do you fill the big, ravenous monster that is your very own Empty? What does the Empty want from you? What can you feed it so that it will finally leave you alone?
I believe the Empty wanted you to write that e-mail. Because the Empty wants us to share what’s in our hearts. It wants our sadness, our grief, our anger, our fear, our knockdown, blowout tantrums. The Empty wants all of it. But it also wants more.
I believe the Empty wants you to take you to church. And I don’t mean midnight mass.
I mean you need to feed your soul until you feel whole. And you can’t do that with food or social media likes or dick. You’ve got to do that with yourself and whatever gives you faith. If you pray, pray. Sing. Dance. Write. Weep. Do whatever you need to do to visit the corners of your heart and soul that need healing. Tend to your pain like you would a beloved pet. Don’t judge it. Just let it be what it is and ask it what it needs. Listen to your pain. It will tell you what to do.
It’s interesting to me that you think the crux of whether or not you can make things work with your ex hinges on the fact that you don’t go to church “enough” to earn his parents approval. Personally, I grew up mixed-faith and have never had a regular church, temple, or mosque in my life. But I have found that when I’m feeling alone and empty—or less-than-whole—reconnecting with my personal spirituality and all the things that give me faith is an essential part of finding my way home. So when you look at that Instagram top nine of a happy girl in seductive lingerie and you say “she needs to go to church,” I don’t think you’re wrong. But I don’t think she needs any moral scolding. Just a healthy dose of attention, kindness, and your own abundant love.
I can’t tell you whether you and your ex can make it work. But I can tell you that end-of-the-year ultimatums don’t have the best track record.
That said, I think you are in great shape to get all the things you want and more. What I hear in your letter is that you are someone who has survived tremendous heartache and still found a way to lean into her joy. You’ve had a great year—you say so yourself! Your career is blossoming. You are confident and you know who you are and what you deserve. So what I’m wondering is, why are you giving one man the power to decide whether or not you can have it? Why should he decide your fate? Aren’t you the confident, sexy, funny one? How did you make all of these other parts of your life blossom? Is he the magic-maker or are you?
You can tell him exactly what your email said. And if it were me, I would. Because I don’t think you can build or re-build a connection with someone from whom you are always hiding your heart. But when you do, I hope you will do so knowing that he is not the one who gets to tell you whether you can have the love you want. You are. You get to say, I deserve love, I deserve acceptance, I deserve a partnership.
And yes, you may never find a man you love quite like you loved him. In fact, it’s almost guaranteed you won’t. Not because no one is as good as him, but because what you shared is unique and specific to the two of you. Your future loves won’t be him. But that doesn’t mean that no one will ever stack up or compare.
This is where your faith has to take the wheel. You have to believe in the possibility of something new—something that surprises you. And if you’re having trouble believing, that’s OK. There are many things we don’t believe in until we see them. But then one day, we do and we’re like, “Wow, so that does exist!”
Consider this: There was a time when you did not know your ex. You had no idea who he was or what he looked like. You had no clue who he would be or how he would open your heart. And so I want you to imagine that there are other people out there who you do not know yet. And you do not know how they can and will love you and stretch your capacity for love and joy.
If you enter this new year with an open heart, I predict you are going to find people who love you in a way that you have never known before. And that is something to look forward to.