The Year I was "Catfished" / by Sarah Schwartz

(The following is a guest post from my best friend Natalie. Natalie's razor sharp sense of humor is rivaled only by the tenacity with which she loves. She is the poet I hope to one day be. Do yourself a favor and follow Natalie on twitter @nertzie_lynn)

“I really think you need to see what else is out there.”

There. Those words. Out loud. My mother, God love her.

It was because I couldn’t shut my mouth about my ex. Literally. That Christmas I wandered around the family reunion like a drunk at a dry wedding, pouring over 3-word text messages and picking through past conversations.

He was my undoing.

But this idea of pages of men with a picture and a first name, interested in me? I liked it. I mean, anyone with half a brain could have told you what an unbelievable wreck I was, but putting together an online dating profile? Easy. I could construct the semblance of an emotionally stable twenty-something looking for love.

In his profile picture, he sat under a Christmas tree with two dogs. White male, 23, professed Christian. I was absolutely sold. Mississippi? No problem. I wasn’t trying to date him.  I was “seeing what else was out there.” Mississippi was certainly out there.

I don’t remember who initiated, him or I but either way we hit it off immediately. While with most others it would take a few weeks to even establish consistent communication, he and I began texting that first night.

Pictures, emails, Facebook, Skype, we were separated but inseparable. He made me feel like I was worth something again. But the funny thing about getting to know someone who lives over a thousand miles away is that you can’t. He could have the best parts of me, the parts that may or may not have existed in my shrinking reality. But he didn’t have to do life with me. Sure, I talked to him on my morning walk to school but he couldn’t see me crying on the way home, he couldn’t tell that I wasn’t taking care of myself. It was a match made just short of heaven.

Days turned to weeks, weeks turned to months, and time with my friends because less fruitful because I was glued to my phone. My grades were on thin ice because I was plastered to my computer screen. I withdrew more and more to hide the things I sent to him.  And as time went on, he became both more distant emotionally, and more explicit sexually. If I upset him, he would disappear for days at a time. Valentine’s Day came and went with no word from him, and the next day I got a “good morning beautiful :)” as if nothing was different. There were so many red flags along the way, even Taylor Swift herself would have been singing “we are never ever…” well, you know.

So come spring break (I’ll save my pride and let you do the math) I had enough. I had gathered enough self-respect and lady-rage to let him have it. Digitally, and at his own convenience, but have it nonetheless. I wrote him a poignant email. I was diplomatic and kind, but I told him all that I felt. I was worth more than this. I cared for him deeply, but I couldn’t continue on as the half-naked weeping model in residence. And do you know what he said? Nothing. Absolutely nothing, ever again. I never heard another word. I even had sent him a package a few days earlier, an Easter basket full of candy, CD’s I made for him, a lovely card. As I was slouched on the couch in a medium-depression after the silence that followed the email, I got a call from the UPS store saying what? His address NEVER EXISTED. I had sent him things before! Never existed.

I don’t mention his name because he doesn’t deserve it. I don’t say it out loud any more because I’m still convincing myself that he was real. Those first months in the aftermath I navigated my way through a murky mess of shame and embarrassment, not to mention looking up the definitions of “rebound” and “off the deep end” several times, half-expecting to find a screenshot of my online dating profile. I know now that I was only looking for relief, for someone to call out and away my deepest fear: that I am not worth being loved. There is no user’s manual, there is no crash course in healing for the broken-hearted.

And yes, I recognize the great deal of responsibility I hold as I grieve this relationship, (that was incidentally born out of grief of another relationship). It takes two to tango, and for the last year, I’ve been calling out ghost after ghost telling me I got what I had coming. The truth can often be buried pretty deep, and the gut-wrenching work of the soul is pulling it out of the trenches. That’s not really my point. He isn’t the point. And the he before that? He isn’t the point.

My point is, healing can’t be done alone, with a computer, a cell phone or a promise of future companionship. I’m writing this because I’ve looked for relief just about everywhere: online dating, food, alcohol, isolation, work–I’ve masked my addictions the same way I mask my skin with loads of “good for your face” mineral makeup each morning. Relief was nowhere to be found, and all I got was more layers of rejection, about 10-15 lbs. in my midsection that I really couldn’t afford, a shrinking list of people to call during a crisis, and a slightly endearing dismissiveness of my own feelings.

What I’ve found nearly 2 years later is that healing is done over lopsided tables in crowded coffee shops, with “tell me your story,” and “I’m so sorry that happened to you.” Healing is done in a cluttered living room shared with 6 other twenty-somethings saying, “I’ve never told anybody that before.” Healing is feeling the deep delight of the Spirit as I move gently towards those now in the trenches, and although I can’t pull them out, I can sit right beside them, whispering “we can,” instead of, “you can.” What I’ve found is that to get rid of the demons and find this so-called relief, I had to first feel pain I didn’t even know existed in me. I had to bend back, way back, and stare decade-old wounds in the eye. I had to sit on my therapist’s couch and say out loud that I didn’t know how to feel anything anymore. Healing is not a destination to be reached. Healing is not for the faint of heart.

See, I’ve got a date with a few friends of mine to throw clay pots at brick walls, a ceremony to destroy the lies and the wounds we’ve worked so hard for. I’m thinking about throwing a party for each stage of grief I enter as I learn to grieve things that matter–and I plan to party all year long.