The Five Stages of Grief: Bargaining

I’ve never been good at bargaining. Asking for what I want instead of what is being offered has always made me feel uncomfortable, and guilty.

We’d just finished an in-person argument, continued from an increasingly mud-slinging email argument. We’d sat out on my balcony with cocktails and a few seconds of small talk before we brought it all back up again and I got to say things like “are you fucking kidding me?!” because I couldn’t believe how differently we saw certain, very important details. Relationship-ending details.

Before he left we calmed down and went inside. I walked to him, put my arms around him, and he hugged me back, tightly, and whispered into my hair, “thank you.”

Later I texted him a few more thoughts I’d had since our talk. I’ve never been one for enlightenment in the moment. I’d been asking myself why my method for getting through pain is to simply stonewall someone. Don’t let them in, don’t look at them, hear them, touch them. Engage only topically and minimally. Give back or get rid of every gift they ever gave.

But with him, this wasn’t working. The moment I saw him everything crumbled. It made me angry that I couldn’t shut him out of my heart. Angry at myself.

I realized that of course it made sense. I’ve been hurt by men since I was a small child, and I learned all the way back then that I couldn’t depend on anyone bigger or stronger or older or better to protect me from pain. I had to do it myself. The best way I found to do that was to shut myself down; to cast an icy, dead glare at whoever was hurting me.

I tried to convey this realization in a few short words via text. Then to convey the connection between that and my undying little-girl’s fantasy that a Knight in Shining Armor will one day rescue me and beat back all of the hurtful moments for me, so that I can finally, truly, rest.

Then I took a step that frightened me, but also suddenly felt so clear and necessary. I said, “come back.”

I’d been so adamant that ‘once we break up, we break up. No break up sex, no back and forth, no maybe we should get back together. No. Break up means it’s broken, and done. That’s it.’

But on this night I realized how silly all of those self-imposed rules are. Here we were fighting through one of the most painful experiences of our lives, trying to make sense of it, when we could be taking comfort in each other. It didn’t feel like bargaining to say “I won’t say no to one more night of the magical bubble that we create when we’re together. Where only we know the language.” And so I said, “come back.”

He came back. We smiled and talked and laughed and wrapped ourselves around each other. He touched my skin and kissed my body and we fucked until I cried, and so we slowed down to allow the emotion to work its way through me. Almost finished, from behind me, he paused with his hand on the back of my thigh and asked, “is this the last time we’re ever going to have sex?” I said, “it might be,” and he crumbled. I reached around and pulled him down to me, lowering us both onto the sheets, where he sobbed into my hair at the back of my neck.

We fell asleep entwined together, naked, after talking about what this was like for us. He whispered “I’m afraid I’m making the wrong decision. I love you so much, Amanda. I’m a completely different person than I was when we met.”

I told him “I hope that you find what you’re looking for. I really do,” and I said “I think you’ll find it. You deserve to feel like a whole man.”

Later, himself again, he asked “did you invite me over here just because you shaved your legs and wanted me to remember you this way?” and I laughed.

In the early morning, still dark but with birds starting to wake, his hands found the warmth of my body again. He said “I was thinking about slipping out. I don’t think I can say goodbye in the morning.” I rolled over to him, we kissed, slowly, and made love again, this time better and with more love, less sorrow. When I came the first time he held me tight while I caught my breath and he said “I needed that.” I laughed softly and said “did you?” With my face by his ear I said “me too. Nothing compares to that, baby. Nothing.”

It was the best possible way to say goodbye.

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