They Always Come Crawlin' Back

One of 12 fundamental truths

The wife of King Edward III, queen Philippa of Hainault, intercedes before her husband to ask that t...
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low to the ground

I know exactly 12 things to be true. Here’s one: affability is an important instinct to cultivate. Another one: If falling in love doesn’t feel like a return to some tenderness that got kicked out of you in second grade, it isn’t the real thing – everyone just wants to be called “baby” by a person who means it. A third truth: Two people can get over almost anything with each other except repulsion. You’ll have to pay for the other eight, but here’s a final one, the most important one, for free: They always come crawlin’ back.

What does it mean, that they always come crawlin’ back, and is dropping the g on “crawling” part of what makes this maxim irrefutable? The easier part to answer: Yes, dropping the g is essential. Say crawlin’ like a world-weary woman trying to ride out a humid summer night on her front porch in a semi-rural Wisconsin town nursing a no-longer-cold beer when she sees a shadowy figure from her past roll up the driveway in a banged up Ford F-150, prepared to lie prostrate on the gravel begging for a little bit of mercy. You can also add a Well, well, well to the front. As in Well, well, well, they always come crawlin’ back. Don’t they?

They do. It might be a few months, or seven years, or multiple decades for them to come crawlin’ back. When it happens, you may no longer recognize the person who’s squirming around on their knees beneath your nose. Maybe they found God. Maybe they got a new chin and some tasteful filler. Maybe they started dressing for their body type. Bully for you if you no longer care, or if you don’t forgive them, or if you were in the wrong in the first place. None of that changes that they came crawlin’ back.

I never offer advice. Nobody’s ever asked me for it, and if they have, they were just trying to make conversation. This is not a strategy for living well that one can adapt to, nor is it a blind faith that everything eventually works out okay. Most things don’t work out okay — sometimes people come crawlin back in the way a cockroach might, to your displeasure — but that doesn’t make this less of a truth.

You need proof? I have so much proof. Here’s what’s publishable:

Once, a guy I sort of dated for two months my sophomore year of college contacted me to formally make amends when he got sober. Very mature! But at that point, it had been seven years, and I couldn’t even remember what he’d done to me, besides barfing on a sweater I had taken from my sister’s closet anyway. He washed it for me in the dorm basement, and while it shrunk to ⅓ of its original size, I remember thinking it was a nice gesture at the time. Maybe I needed to have higher expectations. I texted him back and told him it was OK. I forgave him for whatever it was he was talking about. They always come crawlin’ back.

A different guy I sort of dated for two months when I first moved to New York once forwarded me all of his spam emails for a month after we stopped seeing each other. This was an insane act of soft terrorism on his part, though I can admit it’s an ingenius avenue of being a dickhead. Two years later, I saw a guy with a little bit of cream cheese on his lip in a bagel shop flashing a peace sign at me. I didn’t recognize this V symbol for what it was immediately, an olive branch from the cyberterrorist I used to have sex with until I was down the block. They always come crawlin’ back.

One more, unrelated to sex: A few years ago, someone I know wrote a minor character based on me into a work of autofiction, and among other offenses, she described my body and face in unflattering physical terms. This one, I lost my mind over. I started running up a mountain for hours every day, mostly as a metaphor, just to process it. I got into one of the worst fights I’ve ever had with my mother about it, because she didn’t think it was all that bad. I alluded to this insult in lazily veiled terms scattered through blog posts and tweets, knowing that one day, if I just kept adhering to the maxim I observe, the author would come to know I’d read the book. A few months ago, she saw one of my insinuations, as expected, and it was a whole thing. They always come crawlin’ back.

And it’s not just me.

In any meaningful sense, all “u up?” texts are a They always come crawlin’ back.

The United States and Great Britain’s friendly allyship 225 years after the colonies gained independence from King George III? They always come crawlin’ back.

J.Lo and Ben Affleck? They always come crawlin’ back.

Gawker, the website? They always come crawlin’ back.

It’s hard to disappear lately, and repenting is sexier than it has been in decades. I’m living through an era of television reboots and hotties BeRealing from Catholic mass. TikTok syncs with the contacts in my phone without asking for my input on the decision, and I’m beset with front-facing confessional-style comedy videos from people who are still in the first leg of a dozen in the process of crawlin’ back to me. It’s a thrill to shore up the cruelest parts of my psyche, the ones I try to tamp down on outside of my blogging job, and clown on their amateurism or the scarcity of life behind their eyes. But the ability to check in at will on those who should be crawlin’ back already is merely a trial of your strength, and one you will pass. TikTok cannot disrupt the natural order of truth, and your phone will never free you from anger. Remembering that they’ll always come crawlin’ back, even when it’s taking forever, will. Mute them, forget them, but don’t block them. Reconciliation might not be on the horizon, but a follow-up always is.

Unfortunately, the inverse of they always come crawlin’ back is that sometimes, probably even half the time, you need to get down on all fours and do a little boot-licking yourself. It’s simple mathematics that you, too, are a villain – and you might be the one humiliating yourself online. In the examples above, you might tease out some shirking of personal responsibility. Did Gawker need to come crawlin’ back, or does that venture capital-backed professional wrestler who killed it the first time around need to? Did I behave in a way that warranted some extra spam in my inbox for approximately 30 days? Maybe.

Last summer, I had a professional break up with a person who worked with me on a book manuscript. A few days after I got canned, I crafted a low-grade revenge plot for myself in which I achieve professional success in 20 years. Underestimate me now if you dare, beg for my forgiveness later, that sort of thing. But now that I’ve gotten back to work on that project, I wonder, wait am I the one that needs to be low to the ground? Was the manuscript bad? Am I bad? Do I have something to apologize for? Maybe. I don’t know yet. This is a bug in the software that’s hard to swallow, and maybe I lack the insight to do the required work of crawlin’ back. Don’t rush it. It’ll come. Give it a few months, or seven to 20 years.