“I do not believe that I am a vindictive man, but when the immortal gods take a hand in the matter it is pardonable to observe the results with complacency.” —W. Somerset Maugham
In my life, I’ve often experienced a strong connection to certain people that defy normal rules of reality. You might call it synchronicity or kismet. In Korean culture, the concept is called inyeon—“human thread”—which connects all kinds of relationships from trivial to the most profound. Inyeon can explain why you keep running into someone whom you have no rational reason to keep meeting; it can also explain the sudden disappearance (ie ghosting) of others. (“That just wasn’t an inyeon.”) It can also, perhaps, explain the return of an ex from a distant past.
It was a recent Saturday night. I had just come home from teaching a fiction class at a university, which I’d dreamed of for a long time. I was exhausted and happy when I opened my Instagram to zone out, and discovered a message from M. It only said: “Did you move to Portland?” But my heart was immediately pounding. It was so out of the blue, after so many years—why was he reaching out now?
When we last talked almost four years ago, I was working at a downtown startup and living with 2 male roommates in distant Inwood. This was not the most stable time of my life. He’d come over, and I was so ashamed I didn’t have a bed frame or even a nightstand to rest a glass of water. Rewind a few months further back, and I was between jobs and living in a legitimately ramshackle sublet room in Washington Heights. When M left NYC to work at Goldman Sachs in San Francisco, I had good reason to believe that it wasn’t just about the job. Even if he were to stay, I wasn’t successful enough for him.
Of course, I’d been rejected before romantically, but not that many times. Certainly, it was never because I wasn’t successful. I can tell you that being rejected for not being successful is far worse than that for not being attractive enough (or insert other reasons here). It shattered my confidence for a good amount of time. I started fantasizing intensely about emailing him once I was successful enough to prove he was wrong.
Over the course of the next 3.5 years, I accomplished much—and the more I accomplished, the less I thought about him. In the past few months I was beginning to feel ready for the potential revenge email, but my busyness had made me put it off. So it was extremely uncanny that he reached out to me when I was feeling high and mighty and on top of the world. I replied back that I had just bought a condo in Portland last year, and he said something anodyne about Goldman having been a great learning experience (gag).
Then I launched into how I just sold a story to a major Hollywood production company for TV adaptation, not to mention my freelance environmental journalism, working for an international nonprofit, and teaching writing at college level. I explained that I had long dreamed of telling him about my success because of how he treated me, but that I don’t bear him any ill will as that takes energy that I simply don’t have. (The only thing I didn’t add was how I am now with a man who is much more successful, mature, and loving than he is—but again, this was about my success and not my partner’s.) M didn’t say anything after that, but the read receipt next to my outrage bubbles was the validation I’d been craving since 2016. (God bless you Instagram, for read receipts.)
I would guess that M’s feelings on this are: “I walked into a trap! This vitriol wasn’t what I expected.” But honestly, I don’t care what he thinks about the future or past me or my revenge message. What matters is that I got to get something off my chest that had weighed heavily on my soul for years. Immediately afterwards, I felt a lightness of my soul and knew that a certain big trauma had healed. I also believe that this happened at this time for a reason. On my way back home the next day, I ran into three high school classmates on my flight, 2 of whom I hadn’t seen since graduation. I wondered if this could be Mercury Retrograde and lo and behold, it was. Now, I’m not saying the stars were helping me get my revenge on a callous cad, but I’m not not saying that. Right?! (See above Maugham quote about the “immortal gods.”)
But here’s the thing. Without M and the highly motivational pain of rejection, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I realized I turned around a lot of things in a relatively short amount of time. (I mean, I now have a king-sized bed and a pair of nightstands, and everything!) This inyeon had served its purpose. And when it came back to remind me how much control I have over my own life, I finally cut the cord—and pressed delete.
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Photo: Josh Rangel via Unsplash