It has always amused me hugely when a friend of mine gets divorced, or is set aside for another man, or in one way or another is unceremoniously dumped. Within days of the ink’s drying, a well-meaning friend is pushing them to go out with this “great gal” when frankly, the wounds that have just been administered are still bleeding.
My humor is not at their pain. It’s at our perpetual denial of that pain.
As well-meaning as our friends may be, the piece here is that often, they have a harder time with our hurt than we do. If you and I have been through a breakup often enough, we know what’s coming.
As I am going through this right now- and for the twelfth time with the same guy over ten years- I am intimately familiar with the process. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross produced the seminal work on the five stages of grief, most commonly associated with death and dying (https://grief.com/the-five-stages-of-grief/).
Perhaps what’s most important here is to recognize that any loss- ANY loss- whether we’ve lost a life or a love or a job or a dog- entails these stages. They are sacred, unique to each of us, and they take time. It’s a process.
To try to push ourselves or anyone else past these essential pieces of emotional geography not only dishonors the work we have to do to heal, but it also denies that person the very reframing they must do in order to allow their lives to move on in some semblance of grace.
To wit, while I wasn’t very happy about the latest breakup, which happened not only on my birthday this year but also the tenth anniversary of our meeting as well as the one year anniversary that this same man showed back up and begged to be allowed another chance, I could skip the denial stage. At some level I knew that it wasn’t just a possibility but a very real likelihood that he would do what he always does: promise and leave. It was simply a matter of time.
That, however, doesn’t relieve me of my anger about it. While it’s a lot more satisfying to direct that white hot anger at him, it is ultimately directed at myself. We make our own beds. Like it or, not, I have to lie in mine. So if I’m feeling the pain of his departure, it’s not as though he hasn’t demonstrated his spots for now a full decade. The anger I feel will pass, and return, and pass, and return, and pass. Last night I was writing an article for PS I Love You here on Medium. After I published it, I went back to read it, and realized how much bile was contained it. I reworked the entire piece, because in the light of a new day, it’s a lot easier to deal. Nights are hard, especially those with a full moon, in a romantic place, when the only thing that surrounds you is pillows.
Writing it out is part of my process. By the same token, I’m responsible for how those words might impact others.
Depression inevitably follows, because as I age, and I am now 66, there is a piece of me that comes out of the shadows to point out that I am no longer in my twenties. Where am I going to find a partner, pray tell? Who is going to want me at this age? Most of us who have gone through a breakup have the same mindless loop which threatens to drag us through the sewage of self-hate. The breakup, frankly, isn’t my fault. I threw my heart into this, this is who he is. That I happen to like a type, and he is indeed that type, is part of what pries the door open so often. That voice, given energy and strength, can keep us down for a long time. This is the place where people who truly love us can add value. Not by dragging a new date over, but by dragging us up and out into the river of life, re-energizing us, encouraging, and supporting. As well as giving us permission to wallow.
Wallowing gets old after a while. If you have the right friends, they will call you on it. While it’s part of the work we do, after a while there’s no point.
After this, we have these insane negotiations. If only, we say. If only I were more handsome. More muscular, she would love me. If only I were skinnier. Younger. Name your poison. It’s inevitable, the dialogue that we create, because we want desperately to rewrite history. Fear of the unknown is for many of us far worse than opening the door and marching out into the brand new day, bereft of said BF or GF or partner or whatever. There are endless fantasies about what to do to get that person back. Sometimes- and I recognize them as what they are- there are revenge fantasies. How dare they dump us? This is what I’m going to say-do-how I’m going to mess up their lives.
Some people act on this, to their detriment. While it’s a normal part of our healing to have those emotions, going out and slicing the tires on their brand new Lexus isn’t exactly going to be cathartic. Especially if you get caught, get charged accordingly, and have to pay the bill in court. It hurts to be dumped. That’s normal. What’s not normal is going postal on someone who simply chooses- as is their sacred right- to be with someone else. While some of you may argue, not without reason- that your marriage was busted due to infidelity and what about those vows? All I can say is that the heart is hugely unpredictable. Having been single for all but four of my 66 years, I’ve had plenty of experience watching the mercurial nature of not only men’s hearts but my own.
This is particularly true with online dating, which promises (but doesn’t deliver) and endless array of ready-to-consume partners who are panting at the opportunity to be with US.
No they aren’t. But the implicit promise is there. For example, Match.com had (and may still have) a six-month guarantee that you’ll find love, if you use their system. First of all this is ludicrous, because love knows no time lines. Second, if your view of what you have to offer is so skewed that you continually chase those who never will be interested in you, then you will be a member for life. In fact, being someone who has used Match.com off and on since 1998, I see several men whose photos haven’t changed in all that time, who are always and forever on Match. I suspect that when they see my profile pop up they have the same opinion about me, but at least I update my profile pics.
My ex, by the way, and this amuses me no end, keeps posting the same photo he had on line when we met eleven years ago. That hair color now comes out of a bottle (kindly, so does mine), and there’s far less of it. But this is what we do. The inner dialogue is that we haven’t changed, but the truth is that we most certainly have.
If and when we have the courage to walk the path of all these stages, we may reach Acceptance a little sooner than most. Our society is deeply uncomfortable with grief, no matter what kind of grief it may be. When it comes to relationships, the easiest answer is quick, another body to hold. Blow-back connections invariably blow up, because we haven’t done the work, haven’t dealt with our anger and resentment, and we still long for what is lost. There is no room for someone new here. As much as I am tempted to shop the sites for someone new, the truth is that this guy is still firmly embedded. That’s going to take time.
That, or else I dishonor anyone else who does me the courtesy of showing interest.
The part of me that buys into a scarcity mentality is scared shitless. The larger part of me knows my value. As my dear friend Melissa said to me after this last departure, “you’ve survived eleven of these before. You’ll survive this one.”
Of course I will.
Heartbroken? Is Valentine’s Day going to be solo for you? Again? Me too. Here’s an RX for that: take yourself somewhere amazing. Drink it all in. Celebrate the miracle of being who you are, where you are in life, and the fact that you did indeed feel love. Many don’t. You and I have.
On February 14th this year I will be on a UNESCO Heritage three-masted pinisi ship (https://www.newmandala.org/unesco-heritage-lists-indonesian-wooden-boat-building/) sailing the Eastern Spice Islands of Indonesia, and snorkeling the famed coral reefs of Raja Ampat. It happens to be a work trip (nasty, I know, but someone has to do it), but I can’t think of a better place to be to process a bit of grief. Somehow I’ll manage.
Then I will have to fly home to deal with the reality of my empty house, and another year starting out with an empty bed. But, as with all things, I’ll handle that when I get there. Meanwhile, I have work to do.
The exquisite, and at times exquisitely painful work of being in the here and now.