There’s something really nice about being on the other side of fifty. You’ve seen it all and done it all (well, maybe not everything, but quite a lot) and you know that you don’t have too much tolerance (or time) for crap… your own or anyone else’s. You know what works for you, and conversely, what doesn’t. And if things fall into the “not working for you” camp, you can say without hesitation and without too much delay, I’m done.
There’s a certain freedom that comes from knowing when you’re done, and calling it. It means you can walk away, without a backward glance, without wasting any more time or energy or resources on something or someone that has proven themselves to be too difficult or too boring or too unpleasant or too… whatever.
You remember the fucktardedry that I was involved with earlier this year? When I called it quits because I smelled a rat? Well, you may (or may not) be surprised that that wasn’t quite the end of the story. I thought I was done, but I wasn’t, and neither was he…
Attached or just avoidant?
Three weeks after I finished it with The Saigonese, I messaged him. I’d had a chilled weekend in Hoi An trying to restore some calm and perspective to my deeply saddened soul. How could I have gotten it so wrong? Again? I thought that this time, with this man, things would be different…
While I was there, I had an epiphany: what if he wasn’t attached? What if he simply had an avoidant attachment style, which made it seem like he was married and therefore unavailable? What if his behaviour was about creating distance because intimacy and closeness made him uncomfortable, even though he seemed comfortable with intimacy? I thought he had a secure attachment style — but what if I was wrong, and I’d read it incorrectly? The more I thought about it (and searched Agony Aunt Google) the more it seemed likely that this was the case. Given how lovely and kind and thoughtful he was when we were together (Missing In Action behaviour aside), I told myself to give him another chance.
So when I returned to Hanoi, I texted him. I told him that I thought I knew what had happened, and could I email him my thoughts? Yes dear, he replied. So I emailed him my theory, and (assuming he was indeed single) asked if we could press the restart button. Yes dear, he said. And I can confirm that I am 100% unattached. So we started communicating. I was still feeling my way and mindful of not getting caught up in the emotional relief of being in touch again (stupid, sexy attachment system) but we were talking, including face time. I have to admit it was lovely chatting to him and I looked forward to each message, although I noticed they weren’t as regular as before. Sometimes days would go past before I heard from him, and it was always me initiating the communique, although he always responded quickly when I messaged.
A grand gesture
There was no future, despite the earlier promises of travel and retirement and building a business — and a life — together. It was all a mirage — a house of sand and fog.
In the three weeks we were apart, I had booked another weekend away, and told him about it. On the day (night, actually) before I was supposed to fly out, I heard a knock at my door. I wasn’t expecting anyone, and asked who it was. Vietnammmm, was the response. I knew that voice, and opened the door. There he was, standing on my doorstep. I was gobsmacked. What are you doing here? I asked. His hand went gently to my cheek and cupped it, and then he drew me to him and hugged me. Shush, he said. And shush I did.
The weekend was magical. We spent almost every waking moment together. He rented a motorcycle and we went on a big day trip to Duong Lam Ancient Village and spent time in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, soaking up the atmosphere with coffee and che (a sweet soup) and music. We strolled around my neighbourhood and ate pho and hot pot and barbecue and sang karaoke and drank hot chocolate and coffee and mango smoothies and beer. We went to my local pub and listened to music and then went to jazz bars where he talked the performers into letting him play their guitar.
He told me he had never done this before: just jumping on a plane and showing up unannounced on someone’s doorstep. I took it to mean that things had indeed turned a corner and didn’t press him further about where we were going with our relationship. I did ask him a few times why he came, and received an evasive response. Shush, he said. Ok, I thought. There’ll be plenty of time to talk about this. And about the future. And how we can make this work.
Except we didn’t. We didn’t talk about any of it.
A pen pal by any other name
He returned to Saigon on the Monday and the messaging continued, but became was less frequent. Days would pass before I’d hear from him. If I didn’t initiate the communication, it didn’t happen. My attachment system was going haywire as my spidey senses picked up on his imminent, anticipated withdrawal. I asked when he was coming back to Hanoi, and got the same evasive, busy excuses that always came up. He wished he could, but he was very busy with work. His clients. His daughters. His friends. Church.
I tried to communicate my needs: that I needed more than I was getting, that I was bored with the status quo, that we needed to be vigilant about our communication, but he was never in the mood to discuss what was bothering me. Or he was too tired. Shush, he would say.
We continued messaging, but it was becoming increasingly clear to me that we had moved into “pen pals who had sex occasionally” territory. There was no future, despite the earlier promises of travel and retirement and building a business — and a life — together. It was all a mirage — a house of sand and fog. Despite my best efforts, this was going nowhere. And relationships have to go somewhere, or they wither and die. If they are not tended, they end. It’s that simple.
The nail in the coffin was my lovely friend Robyn’s send off. She was returning to Germany and had settled on a date to bring all her Hanoian friends together for a going away party. I asked The Saigonese to come (he had promised to come and visit me again in April anyway so it seemed like the perfect opportunity) and he told me he had clients visiting from Singapore on that date. I suggested the week before and he said, I’ll have to check my schedule.
It was then — right then — that I realised I was done.
I really don’t get it
I ended it that day, and I ended it without hesitation or remorse or a backward glance, although (if I’m honest) there are things I really don’t get about this whole episode.
I have questions, so many questions. Questions like: why did he want to see me the day after we met (it would have been so easy for this to just have been a pleasant hookup)? Why would he keep things going for the five weeks I was in Australia? What the hell was the point of a grand gesture when he had no intention of following up? Why would he want to continue things when I gave him plenty of opportunity to back out right up until the week before I ended it? Why was he so lovely to be with when we were together? If this was all he wanted — pen pals who had sex occasionally — why did he promise me a future, and a life together? And one of the most pressing questions of all: why did he still not tell me where he lived?
I will probably never know the answers to these questions. There is no closure other than me realising I was done.
And done I am.
I’ve deleted him from my contacts, from WhatsApp, and archived all our messages.
I have no desire whatsoever to see him.
Ain’t no one got time for his kind of crap, least of all me.
On 31 December of each year, I do a review of the past year. I look at what I’ve learned, what went well, and what didn’t. I revisit what I know for sure. This year it’s a little later because of, well, stuff. And by stuff I mean life and all that that entails. It has been a jam-packed year, though. Moving to Vietnam does that to a girl. From nearly dying to reinventing myself as a writer to almost falling in love, there hasn’t been a dull moment. I’ve had the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. But what it has done is cemented in my mind What I Know For Sure, and I will be sharing these things with you over the next few months. This is the third one.
Then how about buying me a glass of wine — or even two! — for writing such an awesome essay?