How Do You Give Up The Ghost of An Ex?

by Meredith Turits

My ex-boyfriend lives one street away. Our Brooklyn neighborhood is part of the reason we met in the first place, and I can basically Romeo-and-Juliet a rock to his window. I haven't, for the record, and a lot of the reason why has to with with the fact that I assume he hates me.

I think this for a few reasons, the most notable being that the one time we actually did run into each other, he refused to make eye contact with me. I saw him heading up his street as I was going home and called out his name. "I have nothing to say to you," he spat, and continued to walk past me.

I felt like I'd been hit by one of the cars that'd just driven by me. It's not like I didn't deserve it — to be reductionist about it, in summer 2012, I pretty much let another one of my exes break us up, despite how much I knew it hurt him. (That other relationship quickly fell apart, unsurprisingly.) He'd been going through a hard time, and my selfishness just piled on top of it. I was horrible, and every day I regret how I treated him.

Even if he had given me the chance on the street that day, I'm still not sure what I'd have said. The only thing I can come up with is "I'm sorry." It's the only fitting thing to say.

Carrying around guilt for hurting someone, my "ghost," is such an arrogant thing — it assumes that I am so important that, even years later, I'm continuing to ruin someone's thoughts, or days, or even life.

Before that day I ran into him, and even more since then, I've let my ex haunt me. Mostly, what hangs over me is my own guilt. Guilt for how I treated him. For being so immature. For the fact that he still has to waste energy hating me. That is my ghost. The ghost of guilt.

I thought that getting into a new serious relationship, one in which I fell deeply in love, would exorcise him, and that I'd be able to put my ex in the past. But the thing about ghosts is that if you carry one with you, and you find someone else who does too, they have a way of coming out to play with one another.

My current boyfriend, whom I've been with for several months, has his own ghost. He also carries the guilt of hurting someone. Sometimes we'll be sitting together, and all of a sudden, without reason, we'll find ourselves lost in our own mind-graveyards.

There's a look he gets in his eyes, one in which the light blues of his irises dull out just a bit, and I know he's wading through things that have happened to him. (I know I do the same thing, because he's told me.) As we stare off into space, one of us will pull the other back to earth — "What's on your mind?" — and because we're not jealous or judgmental about pasts, we can do that. But usually, we'll just shake our heads.

We are both living with parts of ourselves in the past; as happy as we are, we worry about the hurt we've caused, and that affects how we navigate the present. Guilt is our shared guide.

As badly as I want to push my ex out of my head for good, I haven't been able to. As I pass his block on the way to the train, I can't resist the urge to turn my head, wondering if he'll be there, walking up the street again. At once, I fear seeing him again and hope for the opportunity to finally apologize.

But here's the thing about guilt: It is an indulgence. And as I've witnessed my current boyfriend's ghost, I've come to realize something else — no matter how heavy an energy feels, there really isn't such a thing as a ghost — in a library, in a creaky old house, or in a relationship. The feeling that you are haunted is there only because you let it be, and the more I think about what haunts me, the more I realize that I need to let it go. We both do.

Carrying around guilt for hurting someone, my "ghost," is such an arrogant thing — it assumes that I am so important that, even years later, I'm continuing to ruin someone's thoughts, or days, or even life.

But how likely is that to be the case, really?

Maybe the reason my ex had nothing to say to me when I ran into him was not because he still hated me, but because he'd simply released me. Perhaps letting me back in — even by hearing my voice again — could have threatened that.

It's time to take myself off of the pedestal I've put myself on. It's time to realize that my ex has likely moved on; it's me who hasn't. And like my ex, I deserve better than that. I suppose we both deserve better than me keeping him as my ghost — and so I should let him go.