A Letter to my Ex

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To my Ex,

It must be nearly eight years to the day since I called you to tell you it was over, and I still feel sick when I think about it. It was one of the most painful experiences of my life, and regardless of how right the decision to end it was, I hated hurting you. I hated how shocked you were. I hated that I had to call you at work to end a seven-year relationship. I should have ended it sooner. I wasn’t in love with you by then, and I only wish I’d realised that years before.

But that’s as far as my guilt extends.

I’m not writing to you to say sorry for breaking up with you, because I’m not sorry. It was the healthiest decision I’d made in a long time, and the feeling of relief that I experienced after we hung up confirmed that I’d made a lucky escape. I say lucky, because I could so easily have become trapped. I thought that I was in love; I knew that you loved me, and you told me (repeatedly) that I was extraordinary and that you were unworthy of me. You would have given me a comfortable life, I’m sure, but I would not have been happy. You wouldn’t have been either, once you’d pressured me into having the children you knew I didn’t want and I’d abandoned you out of utter desperation. 

I’m writing to you because I’m angry with you. I didn’t realise it at the time, but you damaged me in ways that I haven’t been able to fully comprehend until nearly a decade after the fact. I imagine you’re surprised to hear this. I imagine you’re indignant. I imagine that you think you treated me like a princess because I was ‘special’. Because I ‘wasn’t like all the others’. You think that by worshiping me and telling me over and over again that I was ‘extraordinary’ that you were an encouraging and attentive partner, but if that’s all you remember then you’re missing half of the picture. 

Not too long ago you contacted me out of the blue after I’d posted on Facebook about my body issues. You proceeded to tell me that I was the most beautiful and compelling women you’d ever met, and that you were sad that I felt that way…or something. I can’t remember exactly what you wrote because I read the email precisely once and then I deleted it. Because you missed the fucking point.

If you’d read my post properly you’d have known that it doesn’t matter what anyone tells me about my looks – I can’t even trust my own perception of my body, let alone other people’s opinions – but more importantly, you’d know that you are implicated in my disorder. I realise I didn’t name you, but surely you recognised the description of the ex-boyfriend who grabbed at my flesh and gleefully highlighted my weight gain. And while that may not sound like a big deal to you, remember that you did that repeatedly, often in public, and to a girl who was just that. A GIRL.

You systematically shamed and humiliated me between the ages of 18 and 25, constantly pointing out my flaws under the guise of honesty and integrity. I was young, insecure, and going through the late stages of puberty. I was carrying more weight than I was used to, and I had spots. Fucking spots. Because OF COURSE I did. Apparently, you saw spots as an invitation to humiliate me. You knew how much I hated them and you knew that I suffered from them more than the average woman my age, and STILL you pointed them out to me. Again and again. No matter how many times I asked you, told you, BEGGED you to stop, you refused. You had to, you said. You had to be honest. Not drawing attention to the spot on my face / the weight I’d put on / the shape of my breasts would somehow damage your integrity. Well bullshit. Fuck you for excusing your behaviour in such a self-righteous way. You were hurting me. Deliberately and repeatedly, so fuck you.

And you didn’t just restrict yourself to my appearance. You constantly undermined and belittled my degree choice, the books I read, my moral compass, my autonomy, my lack of desire for children, and women in general. Do you have any idea what it’s like to have the person you love ignore, negate, and refute almost everything about you? To feel like you are never taken seriously unless you are already in agreement with your partner? Of course you don’t. You were always in the position of power. You were 10 years older than me and even then you felt threatened enough to continually diminish and undercut me for fear that I would leave you for someone ‘more worthy’.

Because that was always your fear. You never failed to remind me that you were afraid I’d leave you; that women just couldn’t be trusted; that you weren’t a ‘real man’, whatever the fuck that meant. You created an environment where the guilt was conditioned – Pavlov-like – to the point where even the thought of leaving you would leave me stricken. And then, THEN you had the audacity to tell me that I was the most beautiful, the most extraordinary, the most wonderful, the most incredible woman you’d ever met. You built me up with one hand and tore me down with the other. Are you fucking surprised that I’m angry?

So please, the next time you see that I’ve written a post, or I’m involved with a project, or I’m raising money for charity – do nothing. Ignore it. Don’t read my words or condescend to support my work. And certainly don’t reach out to me to tell me you think that I’m amazing. Because I am… but not for you. Never again.

Article by Jessie Matthews