Today is October 15th.
Five years ago, I came home from work, and as C trimmed his toenails (true story), I said I still didn’t feel like things were okay between us, and he agreed.
I never imagined what he’d finally work up to say just twenty minutes later.
“I think I need to be alone for a while.”
I paused. It had never in a million years ever occurred to me that we would, or could, break up.
“But I live here,” I finally said.
“I know. I know. You don’t have to go tonight.”
But after an hour of crying and begging and cursing and destroying an apron I’d hand-sewn him with a kitchen knife (not one of my prouder moments), I did go. I put all my belongings into trash bags and hauled them out to the car by myself. I drove to a parking lot and bought a pack of cigarettes and cried in my car most of that night, before finally unlocking the door to my mom’s house and curling up in my sister’s bed.
I went to work the next day and was sure he’d check on me. I stood by the phone like a hawk.
He didn’t check on me.
A week later, he started to delete all the photos we were in together. I called and begged one more time, but he was firm. And just like that, the loneliest and most awful six months of my life had begun.
So what have I learned from that awful time? How am I different five years later, and what do I wish I realized back then?
I’ve learned that sometimes life takes your most precious thing away from you. I don’t know why. I see this every day — from the California fires going on where a wife died in her husband’s arms while they hid from the flames in their pool. Or the parents of young children who were killed in the Las Vegas shooting. There are some really heart-wrenching stories I heard after the Fukushima tsunami that I could barely stomach. And when you’re a mom, suddenly everyone wants to tell you about people they know whose babies died. This happens every day.
It is impossible to find meaning in the aftermath of a loss that catastrophic. Everyone tries to, but you shouldn’t even try. It can feel like a cannonball blew through the inside of your chest…for months. The only question that runs through your mind is “Why why why why WHY WHY WHY?” Suicide can seem like it’d be a relief from the onslaught of pain. (Please reconsider.)
People saying, “It will get better,” while that is TRUE, can sound like the cruelest, most nonsensical thing, and you may want to kill them.
But, inevitably, it does get better. (Don’t kill me.) Now don’t get me wrong — the pain isn’t always erased. Not everyone gets their ex back. As of this writing, people do not come back from the dead. Some losses are so massive, it’s honestly insensitive to be talking about them in a blog post about breakups. But pain is pain, and eventually, the wound scabs over. It may always hurt, when you press on it. It may hurt until the day you die. But function, and ease, and joy, will all return, just the way the tide comes back in. It may take a really long time. And there will absolutely be setbacks. But it will get better, even if you’re standing on the edge of the most impossible heartbreak imaginable.
The loss will come to mean whatever you decide it means. If you’re a person who thinks the world is a senseless whirlpool of pain, your loss will stand as an example of that to you. If you believe everything happens for a reason, one day…someday…that reason will reveal itself. A chance encounter that wouldn’t have happened. Becoming best friends with the wife of the doctor who pronounced that your baby was dead. The world is unimaginably complicated, and meaning shows up in the most creative ways. If you’re a person who craves meaning, you will find some. If you’re not, you won’t.
One thing your loss, and its healing, will give you, is the ability to comfort others who are on that road. I have three(!) friends going through breakups right now, and guess who they’re texting all the time. 😉 If you can use your pain as a way to comfort others, I very strongly believe that you should.
Letting go doesn’t really happen until you decide to. Eventually it will hurt so much to wallow that you’ll come to realize that letting go is your only option. If you can get there sooner, you should try.
We are machines made out of hope and wishes, and sometimes, giving up what we’re clinging to would get us what we want so much faster.
Love is the only endlessly renewable resource. It may not always be supplied from the person you’re demanding it from, but there is an infinite supply if you’ll just open up to receive it.
Some last thoughts:
- I think people should walk away from relationships that aren’t working a lot sooner than they do. (But not when you’re married. I feel that married people often walk away too soon.)
- Sometimes, being apart really is the answer. And most times, there is someone more compatible out there for you, whose meeting you’re delaying by holding onto what isn’t working.
- You cannot force your significant other to want what you want. If you disagree on the big things, the relationship will become impossible.
- I also say that as: you both need your light to be green at the same time. If one of you is green and the other is red, trouble will follow. Before you fall in love, make sure you both have a green light!
- I think letting go is the answer almost 99% of the time…and I still hate doing it. (Hate. HATE!!!!)
- You have no idea what you’re going to feel in three months, three years, or thirty years.
- Having a family is the most magical and important thing I’ve ever done…and most people do it with the wrong person and years before they’re truly ready.
- In losing your ex, a world of love supplied by family, friends and strangers will open up beneath you…the magnitude of which you cannot even imagine. You will lose the love of one person and gain the love of a thousand. Be open to that. I will never forget the kindness of a woman who gave me the most incredible manicure (yes, manicure!) the week after my breakup. She barely knew English, yet looked into my eyes and said, “Too pretty to be so sad!” And then spent almost an hour tending to me with the affection of a parent doting on a sick child. I’ll never forget the love she showed me. I kept going back to look for her and I never saw her again.
- All of it heals. All of it! You’ll laugh and love one more time, maybe many more times.
- Surrendering to the pain is the fastest way to dissolve it.
There’s more. I could go on forever. C coming back seems to a lot of you readers like a miracle or a LOA trick, but it actually was immensely painful and it took a lot of hard work. And it was absolutely worth it. But we were always extremely compatible. The key always turned the lock. I think most heartache in relationships comes from people not being genuinely compatible.
And lastly, if you think you’re having trouble letting go now, just wait until you have a child! The first time Violet said “No” and pushed my face away, I cried! All of life is a beautiful lesson in when to hold on and how to let go.
And I try to enjoy it, because what I’ve really learned five years later is that even the painful parts are beautiful, and worthy, and short.
Sending love to all of you, always!
I absolutely loved this post and it reminded me of the type of content of yours that I read when I was hurting. I definitely agree that letting go doesn’t get easier the more times you have to do it and it’s a pain each time, but is something that is very necessary. The biggest thing I learned from everything is that I don’t need anyone. That took me such a long time to accept and I didn’t want to accept it because I didn’t want to accept the fact that this person who I grew to love and built my life around wasn’t the one for me. That’s scary and not easy to digest. However, once I started to put myself out there and stop comparing people, I found that I was able to connect and get along with a lot of people. That was so freeing and really improved my overall mood because I stopped relying on a select few people. That turned into me being more ok with spending time alone and exploring more hobbies. I hope this doesn’t come off the wrong way, but I believe people are replaceable in the sense that you’ll probably never find someone exactly like them, but you can find someone else who you get along with in a different, but better way. I’ve become a lot more choosy about who I accept dates from and who I choose to spend my time with. I used to settle for whatever I could get, but now I do myself the favor of spending time with people who make me feel good. This is not something I learned over night, but something that took a long time for me to realize. I was always told it was going to be ok and now I truly believe it and often tell myself that simple phrase whenever I feel stressed.
Thank you for your blog, Jen. It’s always a pleasure to read!
You are right — people may not be replaceable but LOVE is; it renews endlessly and you can always heal from pain and find love again. I truly believe that. I know, that even if C hadn’t come back, that I would still have been happy. The magnitude of that loss taught me that happiness is my choice. Sad things may still happen, suffering may still visit from time to time, but our ability to love and connect always stays!
Sending you love!
That world of love that opens up in the face of heartbreak and loss is such an incredible experience. Even now, distanced from the pain, I appreciate how I’ve become more attuned to and grateful for the love all around me. I reflected on this recently when I was able to celebrate my birthday surrounded by wonderful friends. I also had similar experiences as yours with the woman who gave you a manicure. I continue to revel in meeting and connecting with new people.
Thank you for acknowledging that it may always hurt. If I choose to go back to the loss and focus on it, it will still ache a little. In the past, that has bothered me because I worried, “oh, no! I’m still not healed!” But that isn’t really true. It’s not about making the pain disappear. It’s about facing it, moving through it, and then choosing to move on.
I am curious about one part of your past. When you and C stay in touch after you broke up way back before you ever went to Japan? I’m intrigued by the beautiful ways that you changed and grew throughout your twenties.
Hi! Thanks for your wonderful comment. What you said about the pain is so spot on. ❤️
We kind of stayed in touch. Around the time I was applying to teach in Japan, we had a particularly disastrous and very short dating experience. So while he wished me luck in Japan and would comment on photos from time to time, we weren’t necessarily talking. C and I were never good at being just friends. In fact I’d say it was impossible.
The first Christmas I visited home a bunch of us all saw a movie together. My best friend was very seriously dating C’s brother (they’re married now) so C was there. I remember telling her in the bathroom of the movie theater how annoyed I was that even with a short interaction, how much I could still feel the connection with C. “Won’t it ever die?!” I asked her, exasperated. But I had a boyfriend at the time, and he had a girlfriend.
The NEXT Christmas I came home we saw each other at a New Years party; we were both single and the sparks flew. We ended up talking (and kissing) that entire winter break and kept talking even when I went back to Japan. The earthquake struck in March which sent me home promptly after, and that’s when we truly seriously dated for the first time. (Resulting in the breakup a year and a half later.)
So the answer to your question is both yes & no! 🙂
Thank you for sharing that. I’m glad you were able to decipher the question now that I re-read it. 🙂
I didn’t want to ask in the past because I was afraid I’d project your experience onto my ex and it would fill me with hope when I was still hurting for him. These days, I don’t expect I’ll ever hear from him, but I am OK with that. Now I was able to ask with genuine curiosity about you and your story and an appreciation for the overall flow of life and the way that things work out.
This reminds me of my breakup some what. My ex brokeup with me days before our 5 year anniversary and I’m still dealing with the pain. We’ve been broken up a month now I’m finally moving out of the home we shared next week. Even now coming and going he doesn’t speak to me or avoids me. We got a dog together and I thought maybe this is it. I keep thinking that it’s possible that he was the one. He told me he didn’t love me anymore and just came up with reasons like he pulled them out of thin air. I recently found out he’s possibly dating someone else and I can’t believe it. Did C date anyone in between? How is your relationship now? I know I need to let go I just don’t know how. My ex Christian was my second serious relationship I was a late bloomer. I can’t even say we’ve been apart for a month considering we still live together so once I move out I know that will be an official start of nc and being apart. I’m jealous that everything worked out for you. I could only hope for the same thing.
I hear you…but by the time he came back, I’d been through so much misery that I didn’t want him back. I just wanted to forget him. I’d lost 25 pounds and was a shell of who I’d been before. Letting him back in was painful and actually traumatizing. In some ways, I think my life would have been easier if he’d stayed away.
That being said, our relationship is very good now. But we had to work so so so hard for that. Individual and couples counseling, hours and hours of reliving the breakup and getting through the pain. So don’t be jealous. 🙂 There is no easy way out of/through the situation.
He told me he went on some dates when we were apart but it never got past the first date. I was the one who actually ended up moving on.
It’s been a few months since you posted this and I hope that things are better for you now. I went through something similar as you. We were together for 2.5 years. I was broken up with and before I could move out (I moved out within 2 weeks to a month), my ex started seeing someone else. Living together with my ex, and being dumped, was one of the most painful experiences of my life.
I basically refused to be bitter and sad, and I aimed to move on and be better as a person. I did everything that made me happy. I surrounded yourself with friends and love. I read a loooot of breakup websites and forums. I aimed for goals I never achieved and did things I never got to do when I was with my ex.
I hope that you are better now.
I’ve been contemplainting to wright you or not. I don’t wat to come across as too negative.
I’v been checking your blog for the last half year to a year. I’m so glad that you are doing well and seem to be enjoying life. V. looks absolutely precious! You must be very proud of her.
I’ve been doing better then the first time I read your articles or responded to them. But nonetheless i’m still not the same ‘me’ from before the break up with my former girlfriend.
But I think the reason I ” can’t” get over her was something that was allready there before we started to date. After the break up I was in a such a bad place and not loving life that I eventually decided to seek some help.
I started to recognise that my self esteem was so low, or maybe non excisting and totally depending on her; someone who didn’t (seem) to) love me anymore.
It seemed that I had a lot of unresolved issues, where the roots of them started in my teens.
A few years have gone by and I did move forward. I’m independend, I work hard, ‘Im great at what I do (I don”t mean this in an arrogant way) I take care of myself, I try to make new friends ( although there aren’t that many), I started yoga, I moved out of my parents house in to a new town and I”m working hard on myself…maybe a little too much :). I allmost did everything or tried everything to move forward. But I’m still not really happy.
I haven’t been able tot date. I’ve noticed lately that, subconsiously; I’ve built a big brick wall around my emotions. It seems to be that my look upon life has changed and for the worse.
For me it feels like I’m enduring life and not enjoying it. And I must say, I find it so hard, from time to time.
Like you said in one of you’re latest comments; you can find love again; but the person is lost. And I still miss the person; I still don’t understand why this is the way how the universe/life works. And if i’m honest, It still kills me a little bit inside.
I feel that I’m holding myself back and I feel that I’m stuck in moving forward. I don’t fully understand what is wrong with me; maybe there is nothing wrong but my expectations of life are just too high.
But one thing is for sure: I’m not the light bubbly and happy person anymore that I used to be, and I miss that person. I wish I could flip the switch that would make me little bit more thoughtless again.
I’m not quite sure why I”m wrighting all this. It’s quite late in my country but It felt like the right thing to do right now. I hope you can sleep well this night I hope to hear more from you and I mean not especially in a response but in articles and I wish you and your family well
Sorry for spelling mistakes 😦
Oh Laure, it’s so good to hear from you and I’m sorry it took so long to reply!
I’ve missed you.
I do feel like you’ve been down about this for a long time, and I think you’re right…there were some issues popping up even before you began to date her.
If it was a perfect world, what do you think it would take for you to get back to the light, bubbly person you were before?
Or even just to get 50% there?
Thinking of you ❤️
A year ago I went through a horrific and traumatic break up with my fiancé of three years. As many of your commenters, I am not over it and feel like I never will be and that I lost “the one.” All attempts at reconciliation over this past year have been made on my part and to no avail, though he gave me plenty of indications he just needed time and space and would return–but never did. Recently, my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and the shock and terror that comes with that has amplified the absence of my ex, who was my best friend, future husband, and rock. I read your articles right after he left, a year ago, at my lowest moments, and still read them now. Although I am far from strong or healed, and I still pray every night that the love of my life will give us another shot, I wanted you to know your writing has helped me and when I feel complete despair I pull up some of your quotes that I’ve saved in my phone. Thanks for doing what you do and sharing your experiences; it has helped me more than you could ever know.
I’m so sorry about your mom! Of course that would make you miss your ex even more. Though he’s not there, do you have a support group in place to help you get through it?
Don’t pray every day that the love of your life will give you another shot. Pray instead that the true love of your life will be present in your life.
It may be your ex, it may be someone else. But if you only pray for your ex, you could be blocking yourself from the greatest love you’ve ever known.
I read your articles before about your process after your break up and how he came back. I am currently in that predicament. I just had one question…. She ended things and we havent spoken since and Ive been doing my best to move on. Its been 5 months she hasnt contacted me and as of late all i want to do is contact her.
Should I take the step or no? I know the answer would be no. But its eating away at me.
You think you’re going to gain something by contacting her. But you won’t. You’ll actually lose something by doing so.
Its been so long..i really dont think i have anything to gain. Someone told me i have nothing to lose and that i should. I do believe and understand your advice. I also think that even after moving on, embracing being alone and bettering ones self that one can/could make contact. It takes two hands to clap yes. And in some cases pure luck
Hi Jen, what do you mean by compatible?
He broke up with me about a month ago after 22 months, saying we are incompatible and too different. But I feel it was all the meaningless fights I was picking with him over nothing – also when we travelled – that got worse in the last few months due to work events, not knowing how to agree to disagree, etc.
I loved our differences (he was more outdoorsy, I’m not as much but open to new experiences even though I get frustrated when it gets tough). I feel we have the same values – loving family, friends etc.
We used to have so much laughter together and inside jokes, and now it’s all gone.
I’ve read all the comments and your advice but it’s so hard.
Not knowing how to agree to disagree probably means you’re incompatible.
C and I, even now, rarely fight. I mean, maybe once a month? Maybe not even that. We can disagree sometimes, and we are by NO MEANS the same person (he works out everyday; I will…never do that, haha), it’s just a good fit and it makes being married much less difficult than it already is.
If you were constantly picking fights, there was either something fundamentally missing between you two that always made you feel unsteady, OR you need to do the work of being on your own and feeling 100% confident and lovable that way before you can enter a truly harmonious relationship.
Being compatible also means being on the same page in terms of what is desired from the relationship and how committed both parties are.
Either way, it’s tough stuff. I have been there and I’m sorry.