I am not the first person to mistake pathological dysfunction for love. I am not the first person to have years of youth devoured by an unhealthy relationship. I am not the first person to have that moment where the veil lifts and suddenly, in the blink of an eye, the truth that you worked so diligently to avoid, obfuscate, deny, and reconfigure crystallizes into a moment of blinding self-honesty and you realize, “I have to get myself out of this.”
I did it the right way. I drove two hours and said, in person, “It’s over. I don’t want you to contact me anymore.” Closure, they call it. Closure, they say, liberates you. Don’t believe them.
It’s called intrusive contact, which covers everything from unwanted phone calls and e-mails, but no threats to the actual “I’m going to kill you,” stalking. Most of the research for non-violent intrusive contact seems to center on adolescents and young adults, because people my age—those far past college years—are supposed to be mature enough to leave someone alone when asked to. Colleges say it sometimes lasts as much as two years. Don’t believe them.
It’s now more than ten years since the Closure. And a few times each year, no matter how deeply I bury myself, I hear from my intrusive contacter. It’s kind of like the flu—comes a couple times of a year, makes me a little nauseous, can strike unexpectedly, was acquired upon contact, has no cure.
When your intrusion contacts you, after you make the initial declarative “I wish to have no further contact with you,” statement, you are supposed to never respond again. If you do, it gives the intrusion a way back in, something to respond back to. Silence—deadly, empty silence, like a black hole in space—is supposed be what drives the intrusion to lose interest, they say. Don’t believe them.
My intrusion makes no threats; I’m not worried for my personal safety. But it long crossed the line from annoying to creepy; what part of a decade of silence doesn’t the intrusion understand? Actually I know what the intrusion doesn’t understand. The intrusion doesn’t understand that I lost interest a decade ago; that the opposite of love really is indifference. The intrusion is convinced that somewhere in me is a responsive chord and it just needs to be hit and everything will go back to the way it was.
My friends have lots of advice. Contact the intrusion’s spouse is the most popular. The spouse is easy to find on social networking sites; spouse has loose privacy settings. I wonder if the spouse knows about the contact—that once or twice or three or four times a year the person the spouse refers to “as the one, the love of my life, my best friend,” is trying to force a response from a former lover. Even if spouse knows, I don’t believe for a moment that spouse genuinely hopes that I respond, although I wouldn’t be surprised to find spouse pretends to be supportive. The intrusion was masterful at those popular relationship games, “My behavior is your fault,” and “The problem is not what I’m trying to do, it’s your reaction to it,” and “No one else will be as patient with your many, many failings as I am.”
I would never ever consider contacting spouse. The very last thing I want is the intrusion free and unattached. I want the intrusion wrapped up in as many strings and balls-and-chains as possible. I regularly consider changing my name. To paraphrase Garbo, “I want to be let alone.”
So a decade after my youthful relationship mistake, it continues to haunt me like a particularly disagreeable and obstinate poltergeist, howling and moaning in the background, threatening to manifest someday.
It seems bitterly unfair because it does influence how I live my life. How can there be a second act if the first act refuses to completely clear the stage? And that’s what’s most galling. Despite doing everything right, a decade later the intrusion can still intrude upon my consciousness.