Living with a Broken Heart
and Open Hands

Author: Justin Davis

I fell in love with her during our freshman year of college. She was beautiful, intelligent, and clumsy in an adorable way. In a single conversation, she could juggle topics, often shifting from a political rant to singing Taylor Swift at the top of her lungs without a moment’s notice. Her shining smile could be seen for miles, and her hiccup-like laughter was infectious. And at the time, I considered her a good friend.

Our friendship grew throughout our freshman year, and I watched as she dated several guys (one of which was my then-roommate). Throughout the next year, our friendship grew exponentially. We had several classes together, and we grew closer as we bonded over the politics of the French Revolution and marveled at the expansive stars that litter the sky. Then, at the end of sophomore year, I told her how I felt. She said that she felt the same way about me, but her actions told another story. I stood by as she chose to date another guy, knowing that I would still be there. And she was right. There I stayed.

Then, at the beginning of junior year, we worked to reconcile our past. We decided to extend grace to one another and start over with a clean slate. Lo and behold, within a month, we started dating. And for the next year and a half, everything seemed to be going well. Sure, we always had our ups and downs, but we always communicated well and worked through them, becoming stronger together with each passing day. We became best friends, and we shared everything together. We shared our triumphs. We shared our pain. We shared our joys. We shared our shame. But through it all, we chose each other, day after day.

I stood by her every step of the way. The only time I ever skipped class was to stay with her when she was alone in the hospital. I held her in my arms, simply unable to say anything of value when she had panic attacks. I brought her flowers and would always sneak away cookies for her when I got off of work. I surprised her with trips to the Observatory as we further marveled at the stars. I sat patiently, listening to and comforting her when she was stressed about her thesis. I gave her space when she asked for it. I hesitantly trusted her when she told me of the flirtatious remarks that she would make with her coworker. I exuberantly emptied my bank account in order to fly across the country to meet her family, a family that I was excited to join one day. We talked about the inevitability of marriage, and often would excitedly talk about our life together. I knew that she was the One, the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. There was nothing that she was more sure of, she also assured me.

And then the unthinkable happened.

I caught the love of my life sleeping with another man. Later, I found out that this had been going on for a while, behind my back. My whole world fell apart. I couldn’t even breathe. Everything that we had fought for now lay in ashes before our feet. I had invested all of myself, physically, emotionally, and spiritually into this relationship. And now, that trust that we had built over the years had evaporated right before my eyes. Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to elevate myself upon a pedestal of perfection. I was not the perfect boyfriend. No one can be. I have my faults and scars just like everyone else. But I tried. I gave everything that I had to give. And it seemed like it simply wasn’t enough.

If you know me at all, then you’ll know that I suffer from severe depression. So, quite predictably, I spiraled out of control for the first week or so. I couldn’t sleep, and the short respites that I received were filled with dreams of her. I could not eat, sometimes going for three or four days without a single bite of food. I could barely write, which delayed the completion of my thesis even further. Suicidal thoughts reared their teeth most prominently at night, when I realized that I could no longer hold her in my arms. I would dream of waking up to her beside me, but then the façade would be shattered when I actually woke up. It felt like someone was pouring a bucket of ice-cold water over me every time I woke up.

The things that seemed to shine with excitement now seemed dull and lifeless. My body ached for no good reason. It was like getting punched in the gut and then kicked around. My thoughts would drift back to thinking of her feigning intimacy with another man. My stomach would twist in knots, making me physically sick.

But despite how much I wanted to, I couldn’t hate her. No, even despite all of this, I still loved her. Call me crazy. Call me foolish. I’m well aware of how stupid my little heart can be. But I chose to love. I chose to keep my arms open. Maybe there could still be a chance of reconciliation. Or, so I thought.  

At the very end of our relationship, I begged her to come back home and to realize who she is and who she was created to be. Through tears, I pleaded with her to turn around and recognize her value and worth. I had no expectations of her. She wasn’t any less beautiful or less worthy of love because of what she had done, and I wanted her to recognize that beautiful truth. With hands outstretched and open, I just asked her to choose me. After all this time, simply choose to be present with me. After minutes of agonizing silence, she simply said “no.” And then, after embracing one last time, she said goodbye. That was the last time I saw her. My soon-to-be fiancé walked out of my life.

Questions started to plague my restless mind:

What did I do wrong?

What more could I have done? 

What was wrong with me?

Why wasn’t I enough?

In short, why did this happen?

I never received an answer, aside from her saying that she didn’t find me physically attractive anymore (which is bullshit, because my beard is awesome). I never received an explanation. And I’m slowly coming to grips with the fact that I may never know. And, as painful as it is, that’s okay. I cannot keep obsessing over the past.

I can't keep setting myself on fire to keep her warm. Love is an infinite wellspring through which I can barely tap. Love is a constantly renewable resource. I am not. I cannot forsake everything I am in order to make her stay. I can’t make someone love me, no matter what I say or do. 

One of the last things she told me was that I am loving, caring, supportive, and emotional. She also said that she didn’t want those things in a relationship. Now, it’s far too easy for me to want to change myself in order to accommodate another person’s expectations of me. However, I’m choosing to refuse to give in to that inclination. I have to keep telling myself that the problem is not with me. I can’t let her change who I am. Because of who I am, I have attracted some of the best people who walk the earth today.

I’ve had such an amazing community of people who have reached out and loved me through this time. Looking back, tears come to my eyes not due to the failed relationship, but because of the love, generosity, and kindness of my friends, family, professors, and church. I cannot express in words the thankfulness and love that I have for such a community of people. Even people that I haven’t talked to in months reached out to me when my Twitter feed got a bit too dark. I am honored to be considered their friend, and the love that they've shown makes me believe every time I wake up in the morning. And they continue to do so today. The value of community is indispensable in times of trauma, and I can’t say how good they have been to me. They’ve helped me endure day by day. Though she may be gone from my life forever, time goes on. And so must I. I cannot work to acquire the desire of the one I desire most. It must be freely given. So now I must unclench my fists, breathe deeply, and let go. 

Now, if I’m completely honest, living this way still sucks. A lot. The dreams of her still remain as phantom images of a bygone time, subtly reminding me of an ever-gnawing sense of lack. The walls of this town resound with bittersweet memories. I’ve had to return an engagement ring. I’ve had to cancel blueprints for a tiny house that I was going to build with her. I know that I now have severe trust issues, which will not be easily resolved. It’s something that will affect all of my future relationships, and I pray that God will give whomever I date the patience to deal with me and my insecurities. This is a part of my story now that I must live with. This is what she has done to me.

And yet I choose to forgive. I cannot vilify her, despite how easy that is to do. She’s not the spawn of Satan, despite what all my angsty emo music tells me. What she did (and continues to do) is absolutely atrocious and deplorable, and there is no excuse for it. But I still see the beauty in her. I still see her as a valuable and worthy child of God. Every day, I pray for reconciliation and wholeness between us, even if that seems like a naïve, far-off hope. I may not like her, but if I choose not to love, then everything that I’ve ever fought for in my life has been in vain. If I choose to callous my heart and distance myself from my feelings, what good would that do? If I shut myself off from the world, if I refuse to pour my heart and soul into my relationships around me, then what does the world gain? What good is it if I withdraw and isolate myself from the community that has rallied around me?   

No!

I will live a life that is marked with the scars of love. I will wake up every morning, unashamed of who I was yesterday who I will be tomorrow and who I choose to be that very day I will keep my hands open and my arms extended, choosing to participate in the Crucifixion while somehow keeping the hope of Resurrection. 

I choose to live.

Vibrantly.

Boldly.

Unapologetically.

Irrationally.

Embracing suffering.

And despite all of its trappings,

Dwelling in Love.