Over breakfast my partner announced he is falling in love with another woman. I said, “What?” The omelettes had turned out so well. It was a cool, greyish day. I had asked why he kept heaving huge sighs. For a long time I could say just nothing. Then I asked a question, how can this be the first I am hearing of this. Because it is very new, he said. Also she’s married and has kids so it’s complicated.
I think I said, Oh, how dramatic. I felt filled with pain and contempt, and the pain of contempt. I got up and took my breakfast into the other room, shutting the two doors between us. I couldn’t eat. Naturally after a while I went back and had to ask some more questions. He met her two weeks ago, at a friend’s. A friend’s of mine, as well. They talked for ages. The two of them really understood each other. They’ve been ‘texting’ a lot. I was outraged. How could you get to the point of asking a woman for her phone number – without saying anything to me? Oh no, he said, as though that made a difference: we talk online. I said, Why didn’t you just come home and say to me, after that first night, I met a woman last night and we had this amazing conversation, I feel very attracted to her. Everything might have had the chance to turn out different. It might have been the beginning of a new closeness for us. Or is it just that for some reason you wanted out – you don’t wanna live in Australia, you wanna stay in Berlin – and you lack sufficient emotional self-awareness to break up our relationship without using this lever.
His emotional honesty and his courage were the qualities I most cherished in this man. Now those were gone, I felt nothing but a bitter disdain. The dry, unflinching, writerly part of my brain was saying, What a convenient trap. I cannot say or do anything. If I howl and cry I will be making myself more unappealing while this stranger, this mother and wife, remains mysterious and alluring because blah honeymoon. If I say, I’m so angry I feel like I could crack a dinner plate over your head, then I’m a monster and he can take refuge with her and be relieved to get away and thus basically whatever I do, I am making myself easier to leave, easier to get over. The cold tight tiny childhood feeling in the pits of me which whispers: didn’t we always know this, you are unlovable. How old is she? Young. What do you talk about in your endless emails, do you talk about how the two of you are falling in love and how you want to be together? “No, not really, we can talk about everything! Everything!” Oh, how divine. I could feel the grief and fury in me congealing over with a self-preservative lard of dry humour. Underneath this cold gel, the endless pain lurked dark and wild. I thought, well if he is prepared to jettison a three-year love affair, and to leave me in the middle of Europe alone; and if she is prepared to leave her husband and two (or three?) presumably quite young children – they must be made for one another. I just couldn’t get over my feeling of disgust. I said, I’ve never respected you less.
The whole conversation took less than half an hour. He burst out at one stage, But I love you, Cathoel, I really do! Yes, I said, sourly… I can see that. He said, I honour and respect you so much. That cannot be true. For then how could you treat me so poorly? How can you have been so close with me the last two weeks while this was going on, and never even mentioned it? I said, Can I see your emails? “No,” he said, almost primly. “Those are ours, that is our private communication, and I protect that.”
That hurt more, in the instant, than the rest of everything all put together. My wounded child soul was roaring, Wait! What? Help! No! Help! Isn’t it… our privacy that you should be protecting? We are so interwoven into one another’s lives. I thought we were. I threw him out. I went out, too, after he’d gone and walked in sunglasses through the dim afternoon along the green-shaded river. Berlin, so much pain. I passed the spot where in August of 2012 I had sat down on a park bench and cried, overcome by the dismaying enormity of what I had done: locked my house door in Melbourne behind me, and come to Berlin for a week, on a whim, on an instinct, and stayed on and stayed. Homesickness choked me and I did not love the swans. The man, who until this morning seemed so darling, so honest, so filled with love, went off into the greenery and scuffled. People were walking past smoking joints and wheeling their bicycles, I was busy crying as quietly as I could. Moments later he reappeared, holding out a sweet handful of fresh soft summer leaves, heart-shaped they were, I did not know the tree. He said, “Brush your nose,” which was the way he’d learned to say “blow.” In spite of everything I’m sure I must have giggled. He had graded the leaves, choosing only the softest, from smallest at the top of the pile to palm-sized below, so that I could ‘have a good blow’ as Gran used to say and reassemble myself. I thought, all my life I have never been loved like this. And I was right. And also, I was wrong. It is painful to love a weak person, it hurts. And it seems there are only two choices here, as to what might happen. 1: in a few weeks he comes over crying and saying, I’m so sorry I hurt you, I will never hurt you again. Gee… that’s attractive. Or 2. He really is falling in love – ugh, that phrase, in this context, it just fills me with contempt – and this is the end of the nicest, kindest, wisest love affair I have ever been a part of. Thus it is not only over but was partly imaginary. Aye… there’s the raw.