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!