One Month

 Well, it has been one month since the break-up. Officially. And the cool part is: one month is a very small amount of time. It is only 30 days. It is 1/36th of the amount of time that my ex and I spent together. It is only two paychecks worth of time, one menstrual cycle, one full moon. What I’m getting at is- not very much time has passed, but I feel worlds better than I did in the beginning. I even feel worlds better than I did two weeks in. Sure, I still think about him/the relationship at least once a day, but it isn’t the pining and painful kind of thought that I was having before. It is usually something benign that occurs out of the blue- like when I hear a song that he would like, or see something at the store that I would have bought for him.

  I don’t feel like I have done a lot of healing, and I am okay with that. I haven’t yet had the feeling that I burst out of prison or something and am enjoying my sweet freedom for the first time. It isn’t that clear to me yet. The shitty relationship that I had 10 years ago (I dated him from age 18-20) left me with an indescribably free feeling when I ended it. I literally felt a weight lifted off of me. I think I had carried around stress and anxiety from the relationship that I didn’t even know about, and so the minute I ended it my body thanked me by releasing all of that stress and tension, and I instantly felt better. In this recent case I had kind of expected that to happen again, but I think that I spent so much of the relationship trying to get rid of the anxious and stressed feeling, that I now have that as a major cause of stress: Am I always going to feel this stressed and anxious? Because it is constantly in the back of my mind how much I have changed, I don’t feel that feeling of sweet freedom. Yet. 

  I haven’t healed yet because I have spent the last month allowing myself to just cope with the change in lifestyle, and with no longer having him in my life. I think it would have been too much to try and start getting to the root of whatever damage I need to repair, while also trying to be okay with not seeing/talking to him. Trying to heal myself would be a constant reminder of our relationship, and I didn’t feel ready for that. I feel ready now though- not just because it has been a month, but because I just feel ready. I drove through his neighborhood yesterday (we live very close and I had to be there, I wasn’t stalking him or anything,) and I really considered how I would feel if I saw him with another girl. I know it is probably impossible to know how you would react to a situation like that until it happens, but when I thought of it- I didn’t even get that initial split-second of pain/anger/anxiety/whatever that feeling is. I used to get that regularly when I would think he was seeing/talking to someone else. This time, when I thought about it, I just thought ‘Hmm. Interesting.’ That’s it. I don’t think I would really feel bad for her like I felt with the last shitty relationship 10 years ago. I mean, J is fun and funny and charming. He is not a bad guy to be around at first. Right now he is not in school, and so is able to give his attention to a relationship. In a regular relationship anything that will be a problem with him will not be a problem until later on. So I wouldn’t really feel badly for her. They are probably having fun (this is all hypothetical, I did not see him with a girl,) and enjoying each other’s company. 

  I think a lot of the healing that I need to do is going to take kind of a long time. I think that it will take prolonged exposure to normal people, who accept my feelings in a normal way. I also think that I need to get to know myself again, and replace the image that he constantly planted in me with the good, healthy, positive image I had before I met him. I am beginning to do that already, because in opening myself up to other people I am realizing what I have always known which is: I am likable and easy to get along with. I have people in my life who genuinely care about me and my well-being. I bring value to other people’s lives. 

  All of those are things that J challenged when I was with him, and I allowed him to challenge them to the point that my perception of myself has changed. I was genuinely curious if once I left the relationship if it would be very difficult for me to meet men because I am so awkward and ‘off-beat.’ Also because I am ‘too sensitive,’ and at the same time, somehow, ‘too insensitive.’ Turns out, I have no problem meeting men. J may have told me once in three years that I was pretty. I don’t need to be told that all the time, or even often for that matter, but what I do need is for my boyfriend to at least be telling me a little more than other people tell me, that he finds me attractive. I found that I was getting compliments from other people at 15-20 times the rate that he was complimenting me. I just didn’t feel like he found me to be attractive really, and I internalized this and I swear to you- I became less attractive! In a way. I think this is where ideas of ‘perception is reality’ or the ‘power of thought’ comes into play. The one person who I wanted to be attracted to me, did not seem to be attracted to me. He would talk about his model ex-girlfriend, but definitely did not compliment me for at least a year. Thus, I began to wonder if I just was not physically attractive to him. This made me feel insecure in a lot of different ways. My insecurity caused me to question my worth- both emotionally and physically. I exuded this insecurity, thus making me less attractive as an individual. I was constantly stressed, lacking in sleep, I started smoking for a while, I wasn’t eating either well, or at all. (All of this was not because of him not finding me attractive, but also because our fights were so bad that these are the ways that my body would react.) So with these factors combined, I really did find a lot less people asking me out, or being attracted to me. This further instilled in me the fact that: You can’t compete with a model ex-girlfriend! 

  Turns out: people are still attracted to me. But I do think that if you feel insecure or down on yourself, you will come across that way to other people. Since J and I have broken up, I feel confident and on-the-mend. I have had multiple guys ask for my number, and the ones I have talked to have seemed genuinely interested. All of these things have been important for me to realize because I lost myself a little bit, as one tends to do when they’re in a relationship. You tend to become ‘Me in a relationship,’ as opposed to ‘Me. In a relationship.’ And in doing that, you can often lose sight of who you really are, and how you function as an individual. 

  I function just fine. I’ve made a little bit shittier decisions in terms of going out drinking more than I should, and sleeping with the rebound guy from work, but overall: I feel happier when I wake up. I know that I am in 100% control of my own emotions. I can spend my days and nights however I please. When I feel a fleeting pang of stress or anxiety wondering how he feels about the situation- I can instantly shut it off because it is no longer my problem at all. People like me and want to spend time with me. I can do anything that I want to- I can travel, I can take impromptu trips, I can go to shows, I can spend my day sleeping, I can cook a feast for myself, I can get a roommate if I want, I can apply for a school across the U.S. It is important to realize these things, and to realize that I can find someone that fits with these things- it doesn’t have to be one or the other. 

  I guess the upshot is this: Have you ever gone for a strenuous hike, and then you get to the top and you enjoy the view, and then you start heading down and as you’re heading down you think ‘damn, this is steep, I can’t believe I made it up this.’ And then by the time you’re halfway down you start to wonder- would I do that again if I knew how difficult it was going to be? This break-up is sort of like the opposite of that. It is more: would I have done it sooner if I had known how easy it was going to be? I anticipated something terrible and difficult, and it has been at times, and now I’m starting to enjoy the view and realize- that was easier than I thought! I can’t believe I put it off for so long. But I don’t know, like I said before- I think that when you’re ready you’re ready, but I also think that when it comes to break-ups, they might seem worse than they actually are. 

  

Day 21

What’s cool is that I now have to count how many days it has been since the break-up. What’s not cool, is that I am still counting. I think I have realized something necessary about myself during this process, and I have never thought myself to be this kind of person, although I think that it is common: if I am not in a relationship, I like to at least see potential relationships on the horizon, or have someone that I am seeing/sleeping with to keep me occupied. I am not sure that, even when I was single, I was ever really content being by myself. Sure, I enjoyed being single, but that is because I get the perks of dating without any of the bad shit. As in: I have people to do fun things with, and I can get laid if I want to, and I get the opportunity to get to know people and have them get to know me, but- I don’t have to tell anyone where I am/when I will be home, I don’t get into arguments, and I don’t get bored. 

  I have always thought of myself as someone who can be happy alone, but I just don’t think that is the case. When I reflect back on my being single, I always have at least one person that I am seeing, and thus am never really all that alone. Part of being single for me, also, is that I can talk to whomever I want without repercussion. That doesn’t mean that I’m giving my number out to every guy I come across, and sleeping around- it just means that I enjoy getting to know new people, and even though I immediately think strictly platonically about almost every guy I meet, I enjoy the freedom of getting to talk to anyone I want without worrying about offending or misusing the trust of my partner. 

  Here is what has happened: Remember how I said I was already talking to other guys? Well, I have exchanged numbers with a few fellas since the break-up- mostly just to exercise my right to do so, because I have had zero interest in any of them. However, there is one guy, who I happen to work with, that I somehow decided that I was interested in enough to sleep with. Now, there is nothing particularly interesting about him for me. In fact, he is in general the opposite of the kinds of guys I date (which is maybe why I am drawn to him after a shitty relationship with the kind of guy I usually date.) He is quite a bit younger than me, doesn’t seem all that interested in having a deep connection with me, is in a very different place in his life than I am, and is a bit flaky.  I knew all of this going in, and decided to sleep with him anyway- several times. Here is the upside: The sex with my ex was good, but only because we had three years to make it good. It certainly did not start out that way, and it was never mind-blowingly good, like where when I would mull over the possibility of us breaking up, the sex would go into the ‘Pros’ category of him as a partner. It was just mediocre sex that became as good as it could be with three years of practice. However, as I mulled over breaking up with him in the past few months, the sex did occur to me. Mainly because I was worried that it might be a long time until I could find someone that I felt like sleeping with, and thus would have to resort to a much less interesting alternative. 

  But then…enter: Work Dude. Not that attractive to me at first, but just attractive enough after a night of drinking with co-workers. So we slept together once, and then again, and then we started texting/calling each other just about every day, and slept together again, and the thing is- the sex is just as good with this guy as it was after three years with my ex.  Rebounding can be a double-edged sword though, and here is why: It was really, really good for me to see that I can find other men that I not only find attractive, but who are good in bed, and have attractive personalities as well. Without this discovery, you can get caught up in some pretty shitty thoughts about ‘But what if I never find someone who is –>insert quality here<–‘ And those are exactly the kinds of thoughts that can lead you to call an ex that you have no business rekindling with. On the other hand, though, as in my case: If you start to catch feelings for your rebound person, and the feelings are not reciprocated, you are now dealing with almost a double break-up. You start to combine the feelings, and then are feeling terribly shitty about rebound guy not liking you when in fact, you are probably still dealing with an array of emotions from the initial break-up, and then lumping them onto this other person. 

  In my particular case- I probably wouldn’t even like this guy if given a little bit more time with him. It is just the fact that he has the audacity to not like me!? Of course I want to chase him. So now here I am pining over him while I’m pretty sure he is off on a romantic trip with another girl, and I am no longer going to talk to him (except at work because we have to,) but instead of shrugging it off and chalking it up to incompatibility, I am now revisiting all of my feelings of ‘But what if I never find a guy who does…’ 

  So be careful with the rebound situation. And be realistic about how much time you need between relationships so that you don’t end up making a few inconsequential dates into one big, long, shitty relationship. 

Day 16

Navigating through a break-up can be a very nuanced process.  Things that are supposed to make you feel better can often end up making you feel shitty, and vice versa. One area that I am finding to be particularly confusing is: The Rebound.  Now, I know that “rebounding” is somewhat of a point of contention amongst breakup survivors.  Some people swear by it, others vehemently swear against it, and I can see validity in the argument for both camps.  Here is my experience, though, and take it with a grain of salt because I have already mentioned that I think my situation is anomalous in a few relevant ways.  For one, I was already long ago checked out, and so I did not have to go through that weird period where you start to realize that you are attracted to other people, and then start to realize that it is okay to act on that attraction, and begin to slowly relinquish any ties you have to your ex, and ignore the guilt you may have because for so long what is now okay to do would have been considered cheating.  See, I had already gone through all of that in a way, but stopped at the ‘acting on’ part.  Part of the reason that having a rebound relationship can be detrimental to your healing, is that often times you are constantly comparing the new person to your ex, or you are feeling guilty for doing the things that you are doing, and want to call your ex up to check in or something.

I think that being rid of these things simply comes with readiness- not necessarily time.  For the past year, I had been equally ready at all times to leave my ex.  There really were never days where I felt like ‘I have to get out of this right now,’ any more than there were days where I felt like ‘Hmm maybe we can make this work after all.’  We had nice days, and we had shitty days, same as any relationship (only not the same, and riddled with emotionally damaging behavior,) but regardless of what was going on that day or that moment, I knew that the relationship was not right.  However, for some reason I was not ready to end it and accept that end, until I was.  There is no formula to it, and I can’t tell you that it was the last fight that we had that drove me to do it- I was just simply, inexplicably, ready.  We did get into a fight, and that fight was the catalyst that led to the conversation where I ended it, but it was in no way the fight that I broke up with him for, because terrible fights like that were a dime-a-dozen in our relationship.  The point is, is that I was just ready- my body and mind.  I knew  that physically I could no longer continue to be talked to like that, or to be constantly feeling anxious and worried.  I knew that mentally I was on the verge of breaking, and freaking out.  I was on the verge of, for the first time in my whole life, losing complete control of my emotions.  If a specific situation causes your body to have such adverse reactions, your mind will only let it go on for so long before you just have to put a stop to it, out of self-preservation.  Obviously the length of this threshold varies by person, and mine was about three years.

Being ready doesn’t mean that you are not going to feel any pain, or that you’re not going to think or wonder what/how they are doing.  Being ready does not mean that it is going to be easy, or your’re not going to pick up the phone a time or two on the verge of dialing their number.  I think that being ready simply means that you feel all of the same things, and know all of the same things, and have all of the same worries, but that you are now allowing yourself and your needs to trump everything else.  Meaning: you may miss him, but the feeling that is stronger than you missing him, is you needing to get away from that situation.  You know it would be nice to see/hug/kiss/sleep with him just one more time, but you also know if –>Insert Bad Behavior<– happens just one more time, you’re going to snap.

I went on a bit of a tangent there.  What I am getting at in terms of rebounding, and all of the other stuff that is good or bad for you to do during the beginning stages of a break-up, is that: everything will come together when you’re ready.  And that’s not to say that if you meet a guy, and the idea of sleeping with him disgusts you because you still have emotional ties to your ex, that you should go running back to him! Do not do that.  That simply means that you’re not ready for that part.  You were ready to walk away in the first place, you were ready to spend your first nights alone, you were ready to go days without talking to him- you don’t have to be ready for everything all at once.   For me, J and I broke up for about two days a year ago.  I was already checked out, and the night that we broke up, I agreed to go have dinner with a new male co-worker of mine (in retrospect this was unhealthy of me,) and the guy and I had already gotten to know each other over the past few months of working together (nothing romantic,) and so it did not feel like a first date-type situation.  So I went to dinner with him, and all I could think about the whole time was J (Duh!!!) and how he would not say or do this, or he would have laughed at this joke, or whatever.  And so of course, when two days later J showed up at my door to tell me how much he had F’d up, I went running back to him with open arms- having taken my first stroll into singleness and finding out how terrifying it can be.  And that night started another year of angst and turmoil, but I wouldn’t take it back.  I wasn’t ready at that time to end it I guess, or I would not have taken him back.  I think that I was waiting for all of those feelings to go away- the sadness, the wondering, the thinking about the fun times- but they just don’t, they simply take a back seat to your other feelings, which allows you to deal with those instead.

Day 14

It’s hard. Still. Some days are fine, like when I’m drunk at the baseball game with my friends, or when it is a busy night at work and I have no time to think. Other days are shitty and terrible, and I let my mind wander and start to think: There’s no way he is talking to other girls already, we had such a connection. But then, I am talking to other guys already…and we had such a connection…which means that he is probably talking to other girls already. What the hell!? And then I think- if he called me up, and wanted to get together to talk, would I do it? And then I get this anxious feeling, and start to feel stifled just thinking about it, and then I realize- maybe he is dating other girls, and that is okay with me. And while I like to think that I have a special place in his heart or something like that, the truth is this: when a break-up happens, I am willing to bet that most of the time it is a long time coming, at least on one person’s end. A lot of people say that they were “blindsided” or “totally caught off guard,” but I think that the decision to break up with a long (or long-ish) term partner, means a sort of emotional break-up long before the actual deed. 

  For instance (and I know my story is somewhat anomalous,) I knew that my relationship was really, truly over about a year ago. It had been rocky from the beginning, but about a year ago I felt completely fed up, and like I had had enough. I felt something snap, and I realized that I could not longer put the same amount, or type of effort into making that relationship work. He drank too much and was unable to communicate with me in a healthy way. These were things that were not going to change, and they were also things that I could not adjust to. Meaning, in a way, they were “dealbreakers.” 

  So once I realized that I could not continue to be proud of myself as a person and as a girlfriend if I continued to be in that relationship, I began to take the necessary steps to end it: I found my own apartment and moved into it, I told him that I was unable to continue to put effort in, I distanced myself from him physically and emotionally, I began setting up my support system and leaning on them, I began to think like a single person. However, in this particular situation, the harder I pushed away, the harder he tried to keep me. And the thing that is really hard is, when you’re in a relationship with someone who is emotionally abusive and terrible at communicating, and then they start saying sweet things to you and communicating better- you almost can’t help but be sucked in! 

So for about a year this went on- I was checked out in a major way, but I still loved him and had love for him. I still talked to him 10 times a day, saw him during all of my free time, thought about him and what was best for him. At the same time, though, I knew that I had reached capacity with my effort level. I would start to dread every day situations, like flat tires or dropped phones or heavy traffic, because having to be sympathetic toward him for those things was even proving to be too much for me. I knew it wasn’t right, but continued to not only passively accept his affection and his gestures, but I also actively continued trying to make it work in certain ways. I wasn’t seeing other guys or anything, but when guys would ask for my number or something I didn’t immediately tell them I had a boyfriend. For the first two years of our relationship, I wouldn’t even think about it. In fact, I would almost feel offended if someone asked me out, and I would immediately say: No, I have a boyfriend. But in the last year, it more just became a coy ‘No,’ or (depending on how cute he was,) ‘I kind of have a boyfriend.’ 

  So when it came time to really end it, it wasn’t a shock to my system in a lot of ways, because I had already adjusted. I think that one person has always adjusted in a way, and that is why breakups can be so confusing. If one person is “blindsided,” and they are super upset and going through all of the usual breakup feelings, and they are wondering why the other person is being so cold, it is because that person has already had plenty of time to adjust in certain ways to life without them. The thing is, is when you’re blindsided, you are actually possibly just ignoring signs of something having gone awry. And that’s okay! Because if you try and look for these things, you’ll end up paranoid and unhappy, taking everything as a sign that you’re about to get dumped. But it is also important to understand that maybe you didn’t get blindsided either, but were simply looking past changes in him, or choosing to ignore them or something- because saying that you “never saw it coming,” undermines your intuition, and will also make you feel shitty later on in relationships, while you spend every good day thinking that the other shoe is about to drop. 

  What I think is this: there is always a possibility that you are going to get dumped. There is always a possibility that he is, right now, in the process of checking out of the relationship. All of that comes with dating. You either break up, or you stay together forever. So there is a 50% chance of either one of those things happening. So that means that while there is always a possibility that you are about to get dumped, there is also always a possibility that you are about to go to dinner with the person that you’re going to spend the rest of your life with. And sometimes he is upset or angry, or he shuts down a little bit because he had a hard day at work, or you guys get into a fight, but at the end of the day you love each other, and you don’t need to spend your time worrying if he is about to break up with you. The problem is- there is a fine line. No one wants to be blindsided, but no one also wants to spend their whole relationship being paranoid that the other person is about to dump them. I think it important to let that want outweigh the want to not be blindsided. 

  After being in this shitty relationship, what I think is this: a good relationship doesn’t leave you wondering all the time. I mean, like I said- being broken up with is a risk that you’re willing to take when you begin dating. It is important to accept that, and then find someone who won’t constantly remind you of that fact.

Day 7

Well, things have been pretty shitty this past week.  Not insurmountably shitty or anything, but definitely not at all pleasant.  I worked a lot over the weekend, and that was good for taking my mind off of things, but it turns out that taking your mind off of things can sometimes have the adverse effect of…putting your mind back on things.  For instance, going to a sporting event with friends, learning something new, reading a great book, even a busy day at work- those are all things that I would have talked to my ex about.  So instead of thinking ‘Wow, this is fun!  I love my friends, and we are having a great time!’– instead of thinking that, I am thinking ‘Wow, this is fun! I can’t wait to tell J what happened!  Oh shit, J and I aren’t talking anymore.  We are never going to talk again, and I will never get to tell him about this.  I wonder what he is doing…’  and on, and on, and on.  Now, I know that having these fleeting, painful realizations is normal, and probably better than the alternative: a constant stream of realization as I sit in my apartment and watch break-up movies and cry.  But I do think that it is important to maintain a healthy and realistic balance.  I have to feel this stuff, or I will never get over it.  The sooner I allow myself to accept everything as it is, the sooner I will begin to heal.  Spending time with friends every day, and picking up a bunch of extra shifts at work, is nice- but it isn’t sustainable.

I will say this:  Over the course of this relationship, which was three years long, I would venture to guess that J told me over 100 times that ‘We don’t have to be in this relationship anymore,’ or ‘You can find someone who does not do such and such,’ or ‘Have you ever thought that maybe you will just never be happy in this relationship?’ or ‘I can’t do this anymore,’ or ‘I am getting really sick of this.’  So naturally, each time he would say something like that, I would take it seriously and start to treat the situation as a potential break-up.  I would cry a lot, read books and advice, call my sister crying, start thinking about my future alone, etc…  Then, within a day or two we would have a talk, and work it out, and everything would be fine again.  However, those things would stay in the back of my mind, and I was constantly wondering if we were just one fight away from breaking up.  We never went a whole day without speaking, but those days following fights like that would be terrible and anxiety-riddled, usually with me spending the day waiting for a text from him and then eventually breaking down and calling/texting him to ask if we could get together and talk.  I often wondered if I hadn’t done that if we would have broken up a lot sooner.  Probably.  Anyhow, the good news…

All of those times that I thought that we were going to break up, and I became devastated and couldn’t imagine life without him, and couldn’t imagine dealing with all of the feelings I was going to have to deal with, and I had all of these thoughts and ideas of all of the terrible things that were going to happen- it really isn’t as bad as I ever thought it was going to be.  It sucks, sure, but during those times when I was sure that it was happening and would have done anything to stop it, if I had known that it was only going to be like this– I probably would have done it much sooner.  The bottom line- it is not as bad as you think it is going to be.

Something else I thought about:  During my time with J, whenever we would get into a fight and I would feel terrible and spend my day crying and miserable- what I was doing, was waiting to talk to him so that, essentially, he could make me feel better.  Don’t get me wrong- he wasn’t sympathetic or compassionate at all.  He did not apologize, or pet my hair, or touch my face, or tell me that he didn’t mean things- in fact, he did the bare minimum: he participated in the conversations.  But that was all I needed in order to feel better, I guess.  I just needed to have a conversation.  At first, I needed the conversation to contain apologies, and a compassionate moment in which we affirm the way that we feel about each other, and that we both messed up.  Then, after I found that I was never able to get that from him, I began to need the conversation, and maybe an apology, but was fine with no compassionate moment.  After even more time of not getting this, I slowly began to only need the conversation, and I would commend him for simply talking to me- thinking that he was making great strides emotionally, and he truly was focused on making things better between us.  Just because he was willing to have a conversation.  So when  we are in relationships, it is important to communicate, and a lot of that communication is imperative following a fight, and with the fight comes bad feelings, and so regular people have a regular conversation about their feelings, and then are able to come to an understanding of how they can prevent the same situation from happening in the future, and what themselves and each other need in the future.  And after having that conversation, people generally feel better (at least they should,) and then they move on. So during the break-up, you feel really really shitty, and you are used to something making you feel better when you are feeling shitty about your relationship: Your partner, and whatever it is that you two do to make things better after a fight.  So it only makes sense that the minute you start to feel shitty about some aspect of the break-up, you want to call him/her.  This is a habit that you have formed over the course of your relationship!  Feeling better = talking to your partner.  But you know what is kind of cool about this new situation?  You are now 100% in control of your feelings, and of the situation.  You don’t have to wait for them to start feeling better.  You don’t need to get their validation, or accept their point-of-view, or admit to doing something wrong that you don’t necessarily feel like you did wrong.  You get to learn to start working things out on your own, and while there is a quick-fix to your bad feelings (calling, texting, seeing them,) doing those things is not going to build you up.  It is just a habit that you have to change, and it is going to be painful and hard at first, but in a little while you will start to realize how gratifying it is to make yourself feel better, and take back control of your feelings.