Forgive and forget. It’s a phrase we’ve all used, whether we’ve said it to ourselves or to someone else, used it as a mantra, or as a consoling statement for a friend when we weren’t sure what else to say. It’s overused isn’t it? Does anyone actually take the advice? When was the last time you completely forgave somebody and then erased the memory of the source of whatever it was that caused you pain?
Humor me: say your boyfriend of two years was seeing someone else throughout your entire relationship, living a sort of double life because you were living three hours away at college, and because he could, frankly. You had your suspicions about a specific girl and you brought them up, often. Every time you brought them up, he made you feel like a raging lunatic, a bitch with trust issues whose favorite pastime was jumping to conclusions. One night, you were almost positive you saw a picture of her at the same party where he was, so you brought it up the next day, in a peaceful tone, on purpose because you didn’t want him to think you were accusing him of anything. Still though, he convinced you that you were inherently argumentative and volatile, and that you were constantly looking for reasons to be mad. You’re a negative and hostile person, and his whole friend group agreed.
It’s a recognizable crock of shit now, but at the time you believed it because you didn’t want to believe the alternative: that you were falling short of his expectations, that he was seeing exactly who you thought he was seeing, that your relationship was a mess of wasted time and you’ll never get it back. At the time you blamed the girl, but it wasn’t all her fault. It wasn’t all his fault either. The show couldn’t have gone on without you. You were weak and naive and insecure. You were afraid of being alone.
Continue to humor me.
The breakup took you awhile to get over. He continued his relationship with the other girl. In the beginning stages of your recovery, it got so ugly that you crashed a party where they were, and provoked as many people as you could until you finally got punched in the face. You barely knew yourself anymore. That was the night you decided to cut him out of your life completely. You changed your phone number, deleted him from social media, deleted mutual friends, and you stopped visiting home on weekends. You consciously decided to be alone. It took years for you to get your confidence back.
Fast forward about six years. He’s still with the girl. You’ve let it all go. You genuinely don’t care anymore. You come across Instagram and Facebook posts, and the fire of jealousy you once felt at the sight of them together has turned into dried up wax at the bottom of a candle you should’ve thrown away years ago. It’s over. You’re you again–a better version, even. Stronger. More confident. More aware. One day, you’re in line at a Starbucks and he sends you an Instagram direct message: “Hey, I know this might be inappropriate, but can you text me?”
The mantra resounds. Forgive and forget. Forgive and forget. Forgive and forget.
What do you do? Even if you have personally forgiven everything that has happened, it wasn’t because you ever received an apology. You forgave on your own because you had to, for your own sanity and peace of mind. So you ask him what he needs and he says he just wants to touch base, like you are a past client of his. If you don’t respond, are you coming across as hostile and bitter? If you do, are you doing yourself a disservice? What would the you of six years ago tell yourself now? Do you text back, cordially, and pretend those months you spent at your lowest are just introduction pages in your autobiography?
Just because you forgave him doesn’t mean you forgot. For years you tried to forget. You would have given anything to forget, but you couldn’t. Maybe our brains do that automatically, to act as a built-in mechanism that serves to protect us from our vulnerability and naiveté. At a certain point, it has nothing to do with the person or situation that hurt you. It has to do with you, with self-love. It has to do with remembering what happened the last time you opened the deepest parts of yourself and showed them to this specific person.
If you were to forgive and forget, and something similar were to happen, the you of six years ago would roll her eyes and laugh. And then she’d look away.