The last time I’d broken up with Scruff, it didn’t end well.
It was eight years ago and we were still trying to be ‘friends’. We talked regularly and we both realized that we would be in Antigua at the same time. The last time that had happened was over a year and a half prior when we were talking but it wasn’t as deep.
Scruff was excited to be in the same place at the same time again. Yes, we were ‘friends’, but it was clear he expected to be much more once we were in each other’s presence again. I didn’t feel quite the same. I was tired of the back and forth we’d had going and wanted something solid. I didn’t want to talk to any guy who kind of wanted me but didn’t really want to figure it out. I had developed an all-or-nothing rule for myself. If I was entertaining a guy, we’d either be seriously working towards a relationship or we’d have nothing. I didn’t want any inbetweens.
It also turned out that I was already working towards something with someone else. And Scruff had started to become an inbetween.
Once again, Scuff and I had initial plans for when he landed and even though I felt differently about him, I didn’t want to back out (do you see a pattern?). It wasn’t a complicated plan. All I had to do was pick him up from the airport and drop him home. Our expectations aligned on that and nothing else. I knew Scruff was expecting me to properly welcome him back, whether in his house or the car (if you get my drift) and I was expecting to break it off.
On my way there I was rehearsing in my head how I’d break it gently to him. I knew Scruff’s history of lashing out and I still believed then that if I expressed myself clearly he wouldn’t have a reason to jump down my throat. I’d just explain my all-or-nothing rule and express that maybe it wasn’t possible for us to have it all. And he would completely understand and wish me luck. I told myself it was possible.
Picking up Scruff went fine enough. After greeting him at the airport, we jumped in my mother’s SUV and chugged along to his house. We made small talk, but as we got closer to his house, a rising panic traveled up my chest. I knew I needed to break it off before we got there, before he got confused about why I wasn’t coming in with him.
Scruff could always tell when I had something to say but didn’t know how to say it. He asked and I hesitated as I tried to manage my fear of his retaliation. How would he take it? What would he say? What else could I do to make sure this went well?
I slowly tried to describe my all-or-nothing rule, to give Scruff a chance to understand what it was I really wanted.
“There’s someone else, isn’t there.” He stated but it felt like a question.
I hesitated, not sure how he’d respond. “Yes, but that’s not the point. This is between me and you.”
The mood in the car shifted to a dark, turbulent one. I felt a cold sweat pricking on my brow and under my armpits as Scruff refused to look in my direction.
“Whatever you say,” He huffed darkly. “You just wanted to come down here and have your fun with someone else, I see that now. I see how you are now.”
Panic and frustration came over me in waves. That wasn’t who I was. That wasn’t what I wanted him to think of me. I’d went to the lengths of explaining where I was at, that I didn’t want to just ‘have fun’ with anyone and he still didn’t understand. I tried to defend myself.
“He’s not even here. I’m not talking about anyone else, I’m talking about us — ”
“Yeah whatever, just drop me off. I knew this was gonna happen. I knew you were gonna to disappoint me.”
No matter what I tried to say, or how best I tried to explain myself, Scruff didn’t want to hear it. The last thing he wanted to do was listen to me or understand where I was coming from. He kept accusing me of being this cruel, heartless person who didn’t care about him and I kept trying to prove him wrong, despite the rising fear, panic and guilt that ate away at me from the inside.
Finally, I got to his house where I inwardly let off a sigh of relief. He quickly grabbed his stuff before dipping.
“Thank you, and have a nice life.” He’d said before slamming the door and hurrying to his house.
A multitude of emotions swirled through me as I made my way home. First was guilt that I’d broken it off, then relief that it was finally done and I could move on with my life, then guilt at the fact that I felt so relived that I’d never have to talk to him again.
Once I knew I needed to break it off with Scruff, the rising panic began again. I tried to rationalize with myself. We had all these plans. I was going to stay in Virginia through Christmas. Was I sure I really wanted to break it off?
The guilt crept in next and tried to get me to change my mind. Scruff had so many expectations of our time together, was I sure I wanted to disappoint him? I thought of how Scruff would respond to me breaking it off again and almost physically recoiled in perceived pain.
It was then I realized: this wasn’t healthy. Why was I so afraid to express myself to him?
I was afraid he’d curse me out. I was afraid he’d blame me for everything. I was afraid he’d make the guilt I was already feeling ten times worse. Scruff just had that power over me. He was scarily skilled at not taking accountability, at making me believe that everything was my fault, at taking my negative emotions and multiplying them endlessly.
In short: this was not good. I was insane to want to be with someone who could be so manipulative without a second thought. I was insane to put his expectations and emotional well-being over my own comfort. It was insane for anyone to expect that.
I was insane to believe he’d changed.
When he’d said he was no longer that person who emotionally lashed out, I honestly believed him. But when I asked him to give me some courtesy when he’d disappear for days visiting his daughter, he didn’t take it well. When I told him I felt neglected and needed more, he didn’t take it well. And I knew what I was about to tell him, he wouldn’t take well.
I was once again in a place where I was afraid of what his reaction would be. So how exactly had anything changed?
I gave myself a pep talk. This wasn’t eight years ago. He didn’t have any power over me. I didn’t have to be afraid. I steeled myself against what I thought would be Scruff’s emotional retribution. I told myself I wouldn’t argue or explain myself. That my emotions were valid and that’s all that mattered.
I had left my skincare products at Scruff’s apartment in my hurry to leave after his birthday and had asked him to come over that Wednesday to drop them off. I decided that was when I’d do the deed.
Wednesday came and I was filled with nerves when Scruff sent the I’m here text. I walked outside while giving myself another pep talk. He couldn’t harm me. He couldn’t guilt me or make me panic or make me want to explain myself or make me feel anything I didn’t want to feel. I would remain calm and resolute.
I sat in Scruff’s car and made small talk after he gave me my products back. There was a natural pause that stretched on awkwardly and I knew I needed to say something.
“I also wanted to talk about us…” I began.
“Yeah, I think we should call it off.” He replied.
I looked at him in shock. Excuse me?
I was shocked. Especially because that was not the vibe I intended.
But what could I do? Argue? I was going to break it off with him anyway, if for different reasons.
“Yeah… it’s probably best.” I grimaced. We sat there in silence as something within me insisted on filling the void, on explaining myself to him like I had been in my head for so long, on asking why exactly wanting more than the bare minimum was a dealbreaker.
“We work if we keep it fun and light,” I supplied. “But beyond that — ”
“It’s just not gonna work.” He said dismissively.
A tiny piece of me curled up on the inside and I couldn’t resist feeling crushed. Once again, I tried to explain myself. Once again, he didn’t want to hear it.
“Well then, let me know if you ever want a plate,” I tried to remain polite and put on a brave smile as I left his car.
I walked back to the house feeling much more dejected that I thought I would. I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling in the back of my mind that Scruff had never really understood me, and had never really wanted to.