Letter to My Exes
To the kid who chased me around at daycare:
I never knew what to expect besides that I was afraid to be without my parents. Eventually I would have another thing that I could count on: You chasing me. All the kids would be playing in the make shift playground the babysitter had created in her back yard. I can remember looking for toads with a friend and daring each other to kiss one to see if it turned into a prince. Somewhere in between picking dandelions and toad kissing, your mom would drop you off. Within minutes you would survey the area, and then decide to chase me. I am not sure if you thoroughly enjoyed playing tag and had an obsession with being ‘it,’ or if you just loved chasing me. Either way, I ran. You never could catch me, and that made you chase me more. Thank you for teaching me that it always works best when the boy chases the girl, and that boys like girls who aren’t caught too quickly.
To the boy in first grade who passed me the note:
I didn’t mean to hurt you. I was sitting in class trying desperately to master those tricky times tables when your note was handed down our row and landed on my desk. “To Heather:” it said in block letters. “Top Secret.” I looked down the row and knew who had sent it before I read the signature. You had buried your face in your math book and your tapping foot revealed your nerves. “Do you like me? Circle yes or no.” I circled no and handed it back down the line. I didn’t even feel bad when I saw you read my reply and then crinkle the paper into a ball in your pocket. I didn’t keep it ‘top secret’ either, and for that, I am sorry. I can remember one of my friends laughing and pointing while you walked by. You wore green corduroy pants and your glasses looked foggy. I want you to know now that I would go on to receive my own rejection. You taught me that life will hand us all our fair share of “no’s.”
To the boys in my sixth grade class:
You made a list of the prettiest girls in the classroom almost weekly and posted it on the girls bathroom door. I would have given anything to just one day see my name ranked first on that list. I never did. There were days I was terrified to go to school. I was scared to see that dreaded list and where my name would fall. You taught all us girls a lesson I wish I could have forgotten: that boys want girls to be pretty. I spent a great deal of my time focusing my energy in the wrong places because of that stupid list. I didn’t care if I was smart, I didn’t care if I was funny, I didn’t care if I had a scholarship, I just wanted the boys to think I was pretty. Thank you for encouraging me to waste so much of my youth sizing up all the other girls in the room.
To the boy who didn’t stay long:
You always had to be perfect. I am not sure I ever saw a hair out of place or an outfit without matching shoes. Your parents had an incredible house, and you had the coolest car. You’d tell me about the scholarships you were offered, but your stories were as fake as your promises. You were the boy all my friends warned me about. The boy even YOUR friends warned me about. You were the life of the party. We’d make plans for a group of us to meet at the movies. I’d spend hours getting ready. I didn’t mind the big crowds because I wanted everyone to see that you were with me. Looking back, I am not sure anyone could have pinpointed that it was even me you were with. You gave so many girls such ‘special attention.’ We’d talk in the lobby after and I can remember wishing that time would stand still. It never did, and you always had somewhere else to rush off to. You never could stay long. You taught me a lesson I should have learned immediately; that boys like you don’t stay long.
To my ‘best friend’ in high school:
You were my first phone call when I failed my parking test for drivers ed. You told me that I’d be a licensed Michigan driver, and you’d make sure of it! You spent the rest of that weekend driving around stealing those orange construction cones. You picked me up on Sunday evening and told me you had a surprise for me. I got into your big truck that always made me feel so small and we drove to an empty parking lot. You had set the cones up just like the parking garage. You smiled at me and without saying a word unsnapped your seatbelt and got out of the driver’s side. I practiced my parallel parking and you were so proud when I passed that test. On cold winter nights when the rest of our friends were out partying, you’d beg me to drive aimlessly around town looking at Christmas lights. I realize now how much effort you put into keeping me right where you wanted me. I remember your mom telling me once that I was so pretty, but while she was talking her face wreaked of pity. I felt special, and she felt sorry for me. I’d sit and force a smile while you’d tell me about whichever girl you were in love with that week. I’d even help you think of romantic dates or nice gestures you could do to surprise every girl that wasn’t me. For four years I wanted to be more than just your best friend, and for four years you pretended like you hadn’t noticed. In college you called me one night and cried. You told me that you realized how foolish you had been. You said that we were soul mates, and that you hoped it wasn’t too late. It was. You taught me that the boy I wanted to be with wouldn’t spend our time together talking about other girls. I learned that people will go to great lengths to keep you within their reach, and that orange construction cones and Christmas lights were how you said, “I’m sorry.”
To the first boy who said ‘I love you’:
You’d drive an hour and a half just to put a rose on my car and tap on my window. I’d whisper that you were crazy but I was obviously thrilled. You got me extravagant gifts and always made me your number one priority. You were a gentleman. You were kind and thoughtful and for a long time I thought I’d only ever have one boyfriend. Life never felt real with you because we never had any problems. Money was no issue, time was no issue, other girls were never an issue. I knew if I married you I’d have adventurous vacations, shopping extravaganzas, and ‘date nights’ where we could do whatever I wanted. But you taught me perhaps the most valuable lesson I would ever learn: that more than I should build a relationship on attraction, or kindness, or dreams, or even love, I had to build it on a shared faith. You taught me that more than I wanted something magical with a boy, I wanted something magical with Christ. I never did date a boy who I couldn’t experience God with again. I learned that from you.
To the ‘bad boy’ I wanted so badly my freshman year of college:
I can still remember the first moment I saw you. You were standing in the gym and I whispered to the girl next to me, “who’s he?” and she responded, “bad news.” They warned me but I didn’t listen. I thought that I would be different. I thought that I could change you. My father told me not to believe the things that boys say and to instead watch their actions but I couldn’t stop hanging on your every word. I just wanted to believe you. You broke my heart one day in July and then just drove away. I kept standing there watching your car pull off. I saw smoke come from your exhaust but what I wanted to see was remorse. I kept hoping that I’d see you look back. You didn’t. I learned that day that boys like you don’t look back.
To the boy that I left:
In my mind you are sitting on the old wooden bench in front of my parent’s house and you’re crying. You keep repeating yourself but I am mostly numb. I wasn’t good to you and to be honest, I hope you did better. I had a lot of things that were right with you but a big thing that was wrong. I just didn’t love you. And finally I understood how the boy who never stayed long and the one who didn’t look back did it. They didn’t love me. I know now that real love stays long and that even when you leave it you keep one eye trained on your rearview mirror. You taught me that you can’t force yourself to feel something. That the next boy I let hold my hand I wanted to be crazy about. The other boys taught me to live life more cautiously but you taught me that I would be happier if I just jumped in. You taught me not to let fear hold me back, or ease make me settle. I wanted to fall passionately in love, and maybe I never would have let myself, had I not learned that from you.
To my husband:
I had never had someone swallow me with affection like you did. I can remember the first time you kissed me. I was talking about how I wanted to be a writer and how I had just submitted my first book for publication. While I was in the middle of my sentence you kissed me. I always thought someone should ask permission before doing something like that… But I don’t think boys that looked like you ever had to ask for much of anything. On Christmas Eve 2010 you proposed to me. Your mother had told me the summer before that she didn’t think you’d ever commit to anyone. Despite all the lessons I had already learned my gut told me she was wrong. You had me opening about fifteen presents in my one bedroom apartment. You were smiling so bright and I remember thinking that I had never seen a more perfect face. You handed me the last gift and when it was opened I forced a smile. It was a book, an old classic literary work. You knew I loved writing and reading and so I figured you were trying to be sweet, but I have never read a Tale of Two Cities, or anything by Faulkner. Classics aren’t my style. You lowered your head and said, “you don’t like it, do you?” and I tried harder to make my smile appear genuine. “It’s a special book. You have to read it a little different,” and you took it from me and started flipping the pages slowly, like how my mom used to when I was a kid and she wanted to show me how the once standing still man could run. “Will You Marry Me?” flashed across a thousand pages and in the back of the book a hole had been carved for a ring.
Seth, I wrote this because there are so many days that I find myself wishing it had just been you all along. I wasted so much time and so many tears over boys who would never come close to being what you’ve been to me. But then I realized that there is more than one way to write a fairytale. That every experience I have had has taught me how lucky I am. I can’t change my past but I can let my past help direct my future. I think I did that, and I think that’s how I found you. I’ll stop wishing now and just be grateful that I found the boy who always looks back, who always stays, and who puts my name at the very top of his “pretty list.”
Most importantly I found a boy with whom I could share my faith and whose belief could lift me up in the moments when I can’t breathe. You are a reminder that God writes love stories. Marriage is the very first institution God ever made. He is a champion of marriage, and wants to be involved in the dating and relationship choices we make that lead us to that celebration. Your history is not your destiny and I wish I had consulted God before I ever went on my first date.
I love you my dear husband, and I realized as I wrote this, that I’ve been learning to love you all along.
Heather Thompson Day is an Assistant Professor of Communication at Andrews University. She is the author of five Christian books, including Life After Eden, and writer for The Spilled Milk Club. Facebook her, or check her out on Instagram.