Small Life, Slow Life: My big breakup was almost 9 years ago. Here’s what I thought then vs. what I know now.

Then, I thought the breakup was a series of mistakes that I made that I could have corrected if history had arranged itself differently.
For months I went over the days leading up to the breakup, analyzing every word we spoke to each other, dissecting the fights that had been increasing in frequency. It felt like a house of cards that had collapsed; I had it in my mind that it could have been prevented. I kept thinking If I had just done this or If I hadn’t said that, things would have been different and we would have stayed together.

Now, I know the breakup was inevitable.
C and I were actually in two different relationships — namely, he thought he was in a relationship, and I thought I was in THE relationship. Subtle distinction, but it always would have caused an ending down the line. Maybe we could have avoided it for another year, but unless C and I both had big life lessons taught to us (resulting in a change in perspective), the end was always lying in wait, coiled like a snake about to strike.

Then, I thought I was too needy, trying to further the relationship along before he was ready, and pushed him too much into being committed to me.
In my mind, I had always viewed C as out of my league, so I took the fact that he would be with me as like, charitable giving. (It makes me cringe now.) I never saw us on equal ground. So when he did super NORMAL relationship things like bringing me flowers or making me a coffee, I would swoon over him like he’d saved me from a burning building.
C and I were best man and maid of honor in his brother’s wedding in June 2012. That night, he said to me, “I see the same thing for us eventually. I think by October, we’ll be having that discussion.” I took that to mean he’d put a ring on it by October. And boy, when he didn’t, I freaked out.

Now, I know that I was struggling to ask for what I deserved while also being willing to settle for table scraps.
The truth is that C led me to believe that we would be engaged with no intention of moving in that direction at that time. He led me on. When I tried to ask for what he’d promised, I didn’t fully believe I was worth it. My asking came out like pleading. My pleading made me look weak.
Because I didn’t act as someone who deserved his lifelong commitment, I didn’t get it.
And because I never made him feel like I’d leave, he got comfortable.
What I know now: A power imbalance in a relationship will always cause problems.

Then, I thought that if he’d just show up at my doorstep, all my problems would be solved.
I engaged in fantasy-thinking all during the time we were broken up. Some people imagine getting a promotion or winning the lottery; I however only visualized my ex-boyfriend coming back to me. I would literally close my eyes and imagine him standing at my door in the rain. I imagined him waiting at my car when I got out of work at night. I pretended he would show up with a ring and confess that he’d been an idiot. I jumped every time my phone made a noise. I was just so, so sure that when he came back, all of the pain would vanish and I would be happy again.

Now, I know that once the breakup trauma occurs, you’re in for a rough road that even your ex returning can’t fix.
Four months after the breakup, I was actually seeing someone else and getting back to feeling happy. Was I the same happy person I was before the breakup occurred? No, of course not. But I’d taken the ruins of my life, and from them, built something that could pass as happiness.
Then C came back and everything got all crazy.
Even once we were fully back together, even when we went to counseling, even when he PUT A RING on my finger, I still felt this deep sadness that came from the breakup. Even when I’d gotten everything I’d wanted and more, there was still this exposed sense of loss and pain.
And that’s because, despite any magical thinking we may partake in, the person who broke you cannot be the person who fixes you.
My friend that I mentioned in my last post is going through this right now. Her ex left her, and two weeks later, he reappeared, fully sorry and ready to 100% commit to her. It’s been almost a month since their breakup and just over a week since he reappeared.
Just today, she said to me, “I’ve not been sleeping super well the last couple nights. I also feel like I should be ‘happy’ but I’m not feeling that. But I’m not feeling the overwhelming sadness either. And it’s weird to have this mix of emotions and trying to articulate why I feel that way.”
It’s because she’s been through a trauma, and even though the person who caused the trauma is back + saying everything she wants to hear, the person who put her through the trauma ultimately can’t reverse the trauma, nor can he fix it. Only she can do that, with time.

Then, I would have sold my soul to reverse the breakup and stop feeling the pain associated with it.
The breakup felt “wrong” to me. A lot of you write to me and say this same thing. “This just doesn’t feel right,” or “I can’t believe this is real; it feels so wrong.” I had that feeling too. I thought I’d found my life partner. I thought I was in my last relationship. To have that ripped away from me is still one of the most painful things I’ve ever experienced. Every day, I felt like I was bleeding out. I would have given ANY amount of money to be done with that pain.
The truth is, I wasn’t done with the pain until it was done with me.
I can clearly remember the last day the pain was unbearable. I’d just eaten lunch and was sitting on the curb outside the restaurant, smoking a cigarette (hey, don’t judge me — I don’t do that anymore). It was three months since the breakup and I still got no breaks from the pain — it was just so constant.
I looked up into the sky — cloudy and grey — and said, aloud like a crazy person, “I can’t take this anymore. I’ll do whatever it takes to make it stop.”
Inside me, I felt the tiniest twinge of a part of me coming back to life.
So I went on.
“I’m willing to have my mind changed about this,” I said. “I’m ready to receive the wisdom about why this has happened. I am willing to do anything, ANYTHING, to stop feeling this pain. I will let him go, if you’ll just make this stop.”
I felt something inside me open up — the tiniest crack appeared in the pain. Within a few days, light began to flood in, and within two weeks, the pain was taken from me. All because holding on was drowning me, and letting go saved me.

Now, I would repeat it 100x over because of all the gifts that it gave me, and continues to give me.
To this day, I still help people in my personal life and in this blog with their breakups. I still feel a deep compassion when I see others who are suffering in this way. Beyond that, I feel a deep compassion whenever I sense anyone in pain, even if it’s not related to a breakup. An empathy awoke in me from living through an experience in which the pain almost killed me. Some of you will say I’m being dramatic. But I mean it when I say that my breakup almost killed me.
Now I can sense when someone is on the edge of that cliff. And every time, without fail, I reach out and grab them to stop them from falling.
I actually consider it my responsibility. After I lived through that horrible time, I felt tasked with helping others with their deep grief.
In fact, doing some work on my vision and goals last year, I rewrote my purpose to state:
I place my hand on the heads of the grieving. I illuminate a path in the airless night.
Surviving my breakup gave me a gift of kindness and compassion. The sorrow took away everything from my life that wasn’t real (C, our relationship as it was, and so many ideas I had about myself).
Khalil Gibran said, “Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.” He also wrote, “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.”
Because I survived my own pain, I am filled with a deeper joy than I ever knew was possible. Having survived this pain is my superpower.
And because I survived my own pain, I am here to help you with yours.

Then, I thought that nothing in life could fill me up the way loving him did.
C was my everything. My compass always pointed to him. My sentences either started with his name or “we.” Everything was “we;” I merged my own identity right into his. When I lost that, I felt like nothing could take its place.

Now, I know that when life takes away a loved one, a thousand loved ones show up at your door.
But you have to answer the door.
My friends showed up in droves. Coworkers I barely knew sat with me in the weeks after and listened. I got gifts, people wrote me notes and sent me cards. People stayed on the phone with me all night long.
I lost my most important person, but a thousand others showed up.
My friend going through her breakup also experienced this. All of her friends and coworkers rallied around her. The first time I saw her after it happened, I held her like she was my own child and let her fall apart in my arms. A coworker’s mom made an entire carrot cake and left it at her doorstep. I bought her books and flowers. A friend gave her a stash of sleeping pills to get her through the hard nights.
She lost his love, like a net beneath her that vanished. But when she fell, a thousand of us were there to catch her.
You will be surprised by the way love will show up for you during this time of loss. Be open.
When we knock at the door, answer.

18 thoughts on “Small Life, Slow Life: My big breakup was almost 9 years ago. Here’s what I thought then vs. what I know now.

  1. Hi Jen,

    I read your reply to me on your last post and I also read this new post of yours. Lucky for me I signed up for updates and got an e-mail about it, otherwise who knows when I would’ve seen any of this. I come and go.

    That being said, thank you so much for taking time out of your day to reply to me. It means A LOT. As for this post, it truly resonates with me as this exact thing has happened to me. So many people have gathered around me in this difficult time that it baffles me. More so, though, I’ve made amends with people I never thought I would and with others… well, I’ve had to cut them loose. My ex-roommate, who was one of my best friends for five years or so, well… I had to let him go. His lack of comprehension was inconceivable to me. I actually at one point called him by my ex’s name, adding the junior part. I also told him that if I could, I would FedEx Ground him in a box with airholes to my ex’s apartment. Not one of my finer moments admittedly. :/

    My ex-roommate apparently has been asking about me through the grapevine and everyone is shocked I cut him off. It angers me. My ex cut me off and I’m supposed to accept it, but I cut someone off and I’m told to talk to them? The hypocrisy. Did you lose any friends in your break-up with C? I’ve read so many posts of yours regarding the dynamic (his brother being married to your best friend for one), but I don’t recall you mentioning anything about how any of these friendships specifically changed (aside from awkward interactions).

    Other than that, I know you’re right about the fact that I shouldn’t want my ex back. The relationship had turned toxic, him even saying so. We were constantly arguing and we were both unhappy. I had initiated the break-up, regretting it and hoping to get him to react, and instead, he reacted all right… reacted by turning the break-up into him dumping me. I feel he probably was checked out already and I just gave him the perfect excuse to finally end things. He immediately had offered to be friends, reiterating the same thing to my ex-roommate nearly two months later, the day I happened to have my nervous breakdown. I had called him two days afterwards from the hospital and he just turned out to be total jerk, not caring whatsoever about me. It was insult after insult, plus a refusal to take responsibility for his part in the break-up. His words still wound me two months later.

    Overall, I feel I deserve this for being an idiot. I had my reservations on dating him as when I met him as he dated a girlfriend of a friend of mine. I actually really liked the woman and we were on our way to becoming good friends when they broke up, and well, they stayed friends (until she sent him to hell) and he eventually pursued me. The entire experience was awkward as I was still hating on my prior ex (eh… it took me ages to realize that I was still pining, but fortunately I am over this and we are civil). Lesson learned in all this? Don’t date within your friend group.

    Anyway, I’ve gotten into a long rant. So sorry. Thank you for posting this. I think I may pin it, at the very least the whole “the person who broke you can’t fix you” because right now… despite heavily trying to keep going, I still long for my ex to knock at my door (but eh… only if he’s there for good intentions; if not, I rather be left alone; breadcrumbs are awful).

    • I didn’t lose any friends during my breakup, but I definitely got closer to some and drifted away from others. I really felt like I needed to be around people who understood what I was going through; people who told me to get over it weren’t high on my list.

      I don’t think you “deserve” anything. It sounds like a painful situation all the way around. That said, initiating a breakup trying to get someone to react generally doesn’t go well. So if you felt like you had to do those things, it was a sure sign you were with the wrong person.

      Thinking of you.

  2. Jen,
    Tears were rolling down my face when I read this part ” I looked up into the sky — cloudy and grey — and said, aloud like a crazy person, “I can’t take this anymore. I’ll do whatever it takes to make it stop.” I don’t know why it touched my heart so much, really, like I can feel it myself how you felt on that day. I haven’t seen you in person, I haven’t spoken to you face to face, I live at the other side of the earth where you live and we only communicate here on the blog via comments but every time I read your posts ( yes I come here again lately often as we both know why 🙂 ) it feels like you talk to me, to us, like we’ve already been friends, not strangers, not people sit behind their screens typing away.
    Jen, I promise one day I come back here again to share a happy story, and I hope this day is not so far away.

    Lots of love to you and your little V.

  3. Jen,

    Your timing is impeccable! I am returning after yet another break up and like usual you are one of those good friends I can count on to get me through. Your site started when I was trying to get back an ex that was not worthy of me and now your site has become my “how to get myself back” guide. Over the years I’ve discovered that breakups are more about my feeling of being not good enough and I know that I am. This last break up was tough because it came right after the end of an engagement and just turning 40. With a history of fertility issues its become more of an acceptance that I likely will not have kids. I haven’t been alone for years and now is the time to do that. I want to focus on my mental and physical health because I’m the only one who can in this crazy world we live in. Maybe my ex will come back, maybe he won’t… in the end I KNOW that I will be ok.

    Thanks again, I appreciate you and your kindness. I hope that you continue to spread love through your words and wishing you and your family great love and health!


    • Hi Kristin ❤

      Thank you for this really sweet comment. I think, in your comment, you revealed something about how I write that I had never even realized. Underneath all the talk about breakups, you nailed what I am ACTUALLY passionate about, which 100% is how to get YOURSELF back. I don't know why the straightforward way you said it struck such a chord with me, but you're absolutely right. That is what I love to talk about.

      I am sorry you are going through a break up. I am here if you want to share your story. ❤ Anytime.

  4. Hi Jen,
    Hope you and your little family are doing all well. I didn’t see any post came out the last 2 months( yes I come here every now and then as you have already known 😊) just wondering how you are and give you some updates so as seeking for your insights.
    4 months have gone by after the breakup, 4 months of me experience pain, loneliness, sadness but it does get better as time goes by. I have done quite a lot in these months. Did 2 further education, took a trip to Turkey with friends ( yes how lucky I am to be able to travel in this time), learn to ride horses, help out friends when they need. But I have to admit I still think of him daily. Was it normal for you back then with C?
    And then after 4 months of silence, he reached out to me on my birthday which was last month on the 26th to wish me happy birthday. I would be a big liar if i told you I didn’t expect him to reach out. I was happy to hear from him, I kept myself polite but not overwhelmingly warm. The conversation lasted about 2 days with long pause in between each text was sent, we asked each other general questions and then that was it. I went back to silence ( I was the one had the last words ) since then my emotions have been again up and down. You would laugh at me when I tell you I had some tarot reading asking the question will we be together again, the answers each time was both positive and negative ( please don’t judge me for doing this, I just can’t help to know what the future holds)…
    I know I must let him go, if I ever wanted him to come back. Do you think I have gone that far for what I have done in these 4 months?
    Looking forward to hearing from you and send you lots of love!

    • Hi Annie! I think you’re doing great, and definitely don’t judge you for seeing a tarot card reader. (I saw a psychic when C and I were apart.) Ultimately, these people can only tell us the future path we’re currently on energetically…it’s up to us to create the future we want.
      I think it sounds like you’re making good progress, going out and taking trips and doing things again. Hopefully the pandemic is getting better where you are so you have more and more opportunity to do this.
      I’m not surprised he contacted you on your birthday. That was the kind thing to do.
      All I can tell you is to keep moving forward, and try to let go, little by little.
      Love Jen

  5. Hi Jen!

    I love your post on making sure to let go, this is the only way that greater love can come to you, whether it be your ex or not. I hope you’d hear me out: my most recent ex and I broke up and we wanted to see if things could work out in the future, after we both heal. We called this our agreement. I have my own personal trauma from being cheated on before dating my most recent ex, and it caused a lot of insecurities for me. Unfortunately, i became friends with a gossipy guy after my break up with most recent ex and coincidentally gossipy guy is friends with one of my ex’s friends, S. S has always been super flirty with ex, but he never made a move for her, and they were friends long before I knew ex. The first thing gossipy guy said to me when I met him for the first time was how much he heard about my relationship with ex from S, and how I wasn’t a good person. Yes, I will fully admit, I had toxic tendencies that stem from my insecurity said above. In a rage, I texted my ex and ended the agreement of wanting to try again later. I was hurt because supposedly if S gossiped about me, then that meant ex talked poorly about me behind my back. But ex has never been the person to talk poorly about me ever even when he found it hard to support me through my bad mental health and vented to his friends about it. The only thing he said was that “it’s stressful for me to support CJ, and she must be going through a lot”. I think it’s a red flag that the first time I met gossipy guy, he tells me gossip from other people to me. This surely means he gossips about me to others. I think S exaggerates because she likes my ex. Is it ever worth texting my ex an apology for quickly assuming something I don’t even know if he said, and try to patch up the agreement? This has been hard to let go.

    On the other hand, this breakup has shown me so much about myself. I have been more capable of loving myself, and realizing that happiness comes from within. 🙂

    Thanks. ❤

    • Did your ex respond when you broke the agreement? I would make my next move based on that. If you regret what you said and want to calmly explain yourself, you’ll have to ask for a chance to do so, which he may or may not be willing to give. Will you be okay if he’s not open to hearing you out? Make your decision based on that.

      • Hi Jen,

        Yes, he did respond. He accepted it, and told me he did not want to talk if the only thing he had to do was to move on, because I broke the agreement. I was upset, so unfortunately I said some inconsiderate things. I don’t know if he will respond if I ask him to hear me out about this, but there was a time where we had a terrible terrible miscommunication and broke up over it and I heard him out when he came to apologize. I am hoping he would give me the same chance, but if he doesn’t, there is nothing I can do except move on. What do you think I should text him in order to see if I can get him to talk?

        Thank you, 😍😍

        • In all things I recommend being open and sincere. It doesn’t matter what words you choose as long as they’re authentic. Whether it’s “I’m regretting our last communication” or “I keep wishing I would have heard you out before I listened to others’ gossip” — truth is the best, and try to understand if he’s not ready.

  6. Hi Jen,

    For whatever reason, I am not seeing my reply to your comment. I wanted to let you know how true your words are. I need to find my other green light and someone who is ready and available to make me a priority.

    I have written an edited version of my original comment, removing some of the specific details. I am having a lot of anxiety about oversharing. I still want my story (and your beautiful reply) to be there to help others. I am going to post my edited version below. Could you please copy and paste your reply to the new comment and delete the original thread? Thank you so, so much.

  7. Hi Jen,

    Thank you for your continuously kind and helpful words during such a difficult time for so many people. My situation is unique because my “ex” wasn’t technically ever my boyfriend. We had met on a dating app 2 months ago and it was instant fireworks and chemistry, both emotional and physical. I fell so hard very quickly because everything seemed so right and we just “fit.” He planned really unique dates and they flowed so effortlessly. No one has ever treated me so well, not even me towards other people! It was such a fairytale!

    The communication between dates began to lack to 3-4 days with no replies. The last time I was with him, I even saw a notification he had a new match from the app. I had reached out a few times asking to plan a date, but things started not to align with our schedules/weather. However, he always expressed how interested he was. After not hearing back from him for a few days, I asked him where we stood. He said that while he enjoyed getting to know me, he wasn’t in the position to fully invest himself in the relationship due to his busy work schedule. He said it wasn’t fair to me and apologized.

    Jen, I am mortified to say I am so, so heartbroken. I feel worse about this than I did about my 3 year relationship ending! I fell so hard for him and have been having so much anxiety about everything for the past week. I keep blaming myself and then his job, but I also think, “If I was worth it, he would have made the time for me.” I keep wanting to hear from him that he changed his mind, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. I’m struggling with the idea that when he’s ready, he’ll just hop back on the app and meet someone else, rather than contact me again.

    • Well, it sounds like you had a really incredible connection, but that he also stayed on the dating app, which is a red flag.
      Something I tell my friends who are dating a lot is: “Chemistry doesn’t matter if both of your lights aren’t green.” Meaning — think of a traffic light. There are three lights: red, yellow, and green. Red means STOP. Yellow means slow down. Green is go!
      If you meet someone and it’s instant fireworks, and you’ve done all the appropriate inner work and your light is green, the relationship can ONLY still work if the other person’s light is green too. It’s something you can’t control. So before you blame yourself or his job, consider that he did have a rather fairy tale start with you and clearly showed interest, but his light at this time may not be green. Something is holding him back and that’s got nothing to do with you.
      It’s really hard when something is broken off in the honeymoon stage because that’s when we’re the most infatuated and attached. I have been there as well and it’s a real kick to the ego. Ultimately, I think this person was withholding something from you, and you could have potentially been hurt even worse further down the line. Take time to heal and then make sure you find someone whose light is also green.
      Oprah always says, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them. The first time.” Ignore the words he said and follow his actions. Him going radio silent on you is a big red flag.
      I’m so sorry this happened to you. ♥️♥️♥️

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