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.