About ten years ago, I was in a serious relationship with someone I loved more than I had ever loved anyone before. I hoped to spend my life with her. But I was deep in the closet, and the process of coming out annihilated large parts of my life, including our relationship. I dumped her and tried to tell myself she wouldn’t understand. In the years that followed, I came into my own as a proud and potent goddess, but I felt haunted by how I’d pushed my ex away. The regret that marked her absence tinged all my emerging triumphs.

In the chaos of the early pandemic, I sent a simple email, curtailed into a modest how-are-you, and she sent a brief-but-cordial reply. I didn’t take offense. It was kind of her to reply at all. But some months later, she reached out, asking to meet. Apparently, her boyfriend had dumped her, and it reminded her of how I’d dumped her. Despite my nerves, we had a simple afternoon in a park gabbing about poetry and ethics, laughing easily. I didn’t make any overtures. Regarding the past, I said only that I regretted how I’d left things. She replied quickly, “Oh, don’t worry about it. It’s not like our relationship really had a future.” Yikes!

It’s been a few years and she’s become a close friend. We go hiking, drinking, we go on double dates with our partners — me and my wife, her and her new boyfriend. And yet… I still think about her every day. Even my wife knows I’m crazy about her! (We’re poly, it’s not an issue.) I’m writing because I don’t know what to do. For almost ten years I’ve tried to get over her, but I have proven stubbornly head-over-heels. I’ve tried separation, several types of therapy, even fiery rituals, but I still wake up with her name on my lips. I worry that if I were to broach the totality of my feelings, it would alienate her all over again. What’s a gal to do?

Confounded Heartfelt Amorous Damsel

You mention coming out, you mention transitioning, you mention being an out-and-proud goddess now — so, you’re a trans woman who had to end what the world perceived to be a cis-het relationship before you embarked on your transition.

And based on your ex’s reaction when you reconnected and apologized for dumping her (“It’s not like our relationship really had a future!”), CHAD, along with the fact that your ex has only ever dated men (or people she had every reason to believe were men), it sounds like your ex is a straight cis woman. Which means you couldn’t be the goddess you are now — you couldn’t have the life you have now (to say nothing of the wife you have now) — if you were still with your ex, CHAD, because you couldn’t be her partner and yourself at the same time.

I’m going to crawl out on a limb and guess that however bumpy your transition may have been, the trade-off was worth it. You lost some things — including a romantic relationship with your ex — but you gained so much more.

If seeing your ex socially — if having her in your life — is too painful, well, don’t see her socially. If you want to tell her that you miss the relationship you once had and still have feelings for her, you can do that without blowing up the relationship you have with her now. Lots of people who are friends with their exes have said or heard variations on, “If things had been different, things could’ve turned out differently,” and remained friends.

You weren’t the person you thought you were when you were with your ex — or you weren’t the person were coerced into pretending to be — but you had important and meaningful experiences before you transitioned. Feel sad about what you may have lost as a consequence of transitioning takes nothing away from what you’ve gained. But the intensity of these feelings for your ex— waking up every day thinking about her — makes me wonder whether she’s a symbolic stand-in for everything else you lost. Maybe a few sessions with a good therapist could put your feelings for your ex into perspective.

P.S. If what you mean by, “We’ve silently agreed to uphold a narrative that we’re just old friends,” is, “I’m being shoved into a new closet,” that’s not good. If never acknowledging that you were a relationship is the price of admission you have to pay for her friendship, it may be too steep a price a pay. Awkwardness is fine… shame isn’t not.

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