It could all be so simple
But you’d rather make it hard
Loving you is like a battle
And we both end up with scars
Tell me who I have to be
To get some reciprocity
See, no one loves you more than me
And no one ever will.

I can’t count how many times I played Lauryn Hill’s “Ex-Factor,” singing along to the lyrics, woefully aware of the fact that she was telling my life with her song. I couldn’t let him go. I couldn’t get him out of my system. I kept letting him back in.

We were just kids when it started. He became infatuated with me after we graduated from high school, and it grew from there.

At first I didn’t give him the time of day. He was too nerdy for me. Too soft-spoken. Not gangster enough. But he treated me like a queen and put me on a high pedestal, and I eventually gave in to him. And then I fell in love.

We discovered our sex together. He put me in charge of my orgasms. We loved each other like our lives depended on it. It was deep. It was hard. It was young. And at the time, it meant everything.

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We eventually broke up, but we never broke away from each other. Over the course of nearly 20 years, we had the sort of push-and-pull relationship that Lauryn describes in her song. I knew he wasn’t good for me, but I didn’t want anyone else. He wanted to be with other people, but he couldn’t cure himself of me.

Is this just a silly game
That forces you to act this way?
Forces you to scream my name
Then pretend that you can’t stay
Tell me who I have to be
To get some reciprocity
See, no one loves you more than me
And no one ever will.

We went back and forth for years. We hooked up repeatedly, only to later regret it. It was too emotional. Too raw. Too sexual. Too intoxicating. Too addicting.

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There were times when we sought each other out—ran to each other, even, only to push each other way with painful words and deliberately hurtful actions. It was a game we both played with each other, one that lasted way longer than it should have.

I knew all along that the relationship was toxic. I knew that no matter how many times I allowed him back into my life and back into my bed, things were not going to change. It was always going to be a thing where I screamed his name in ecstasy and later cursed it in pain.

He told me once that he felt like I had a power over him—one that wouldn’t let him be rid of me. He said I had a control over him that no one else did. That no matter what, he knew he would always come back, even briefly, because our connection was that strong.

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No matter how I think we grow
You always seem to let me know
It ain’t workin’ ...
And when I try to walk away
You’d hurt yourself to make me stay
This is crazy …

I took those words in and believed it meant that ultimately we would be together. Even as I found nonmonogamy and discovered a different lifestyle for myself, somewhere in the back of my mind, I had decided that if he ever changed his mind, I would be with him and only him ... forever.

It never worked out like that.

In the end, after hurting each other too many times for far too long, we parted ways for the last time and never looked back.

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I don’t even think of him in the same way anymore. There’s no hate. We are Facebook friends and follow each other on Twitter and Instagram, but our interactions are few and far between, and never do we wistfully reach out to each other in misguided moments of nostalgia.

I’m just glad that I don’t let him back in.

So why do we let them back in?

I keep letting you back in
How can I explain myself?
As painful as this thing has been
I just can’t be with no one else
See I know what we’ve got to do
You let go, and I’ll let go too
’Cause no one’s hurt me more than you
And no one ever will.

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I think a big reason is that it’s hard to let go. When you have been down with someone for so long, as I was with Young Love (let’s just call him that to save confusion), it’s hard to let go of the them you fell in love with, even if that person is no longer there. You remember what was, and you hold on to what could be.

They become a habit, and old habits die hard. As much as we want to wean ourselves off of them, the slightest hint of them can send us spiraling back into what we already know is a bad situation.

We do it because we are hopeful. We want this time to be different. They exhibit the smallest amount of change, and we take that as a sign that they are committed to being better. We repeat the cycle of hoping for the best but bracing for the worst—because ultimately, we know that it is going to end the same way it did before, and probably hurt just as much.

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How do we let go and stop letting them back in? I really don’t have the answer for that. I still go through this myself. I recently let someone back in and immediately regretted it. I’m pushing them right back out, and that is a sign to me that there’s growth there. I’m getting better at it.

At some point you just get tired of the cycle, and that is an evolution you can’t force or perform on anyone’s timetable but your own.

Each time you go through it, you learn something different—but so do they, so beware. They’ll elevate their game when they recognize what you won’t tolerate any longer, but they will only do just enough to weasel their way back in. As your sense of self-awareness grows, so will your ability to counter their actions.

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They will have all kinds of slick moves and slick talk for you. You will fall for some of those antics again, and some of them you will recognize for what they are and push past them.

No matter how I think we grow
You always seem to let me know
It ain’t workin’ ...
And when I try to walk away
You hurt yourself to make me stay
This is crazy …

The greatest piece of advice I can offer is to take time for yourself and figure out what you want. Be clear about what it is that you want. Be sure about it. Then measure him up against what it is you say you want.

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Don’t measure him up against what he was previously, because with even the smallest amount of effort, he will be able to look better to you than he did before. Using what you want is the better measure, because you can easily check off where he doesn’t make the mark.

Try not to be hard on yourself. We all take different amounts of time to get over things—and again, no one can dictate your timetable but you. You will know when you have had enough, and when you have, you will be better able to move on.

Care for me, care for me
I know you care for me
There for me, there for me
Said you’d be there for me
Cry for me, cry for me
You said you’d die for me
Give to me, give to me
Why won’t you live for me?

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Care enough for yourself to want more, though, and be self-aware enough to give yourself that.

Even if it’s just a little bit at a time.