There’s no manual for this stuff. There should be, but there isn’t. So we’re left to muck through the remains of broken relationships like someone in a war zone who’s trying to figure out their best shot at finding safety again while stumbling blindly through the smoke and rubble of someplace that used to be familiar.
I know I’m always talking about relationships, and some of you might be saying, “Enough already, geez….” but give me a second -there’s a reason for it. We have all been through hard times, and even though the individual circumstances vary, I think it helps (at least for some of us) to share those experiences and talk to each other about how we got through it. Sharing experiences from “the trenches,” so to speak, bond us in ways that nothing else can. And to me at least, this is the stuff that makes us human. This is the GOOD stuff. Even though it sucks big-time to be smack in the middle of it.
When I say there’s no manual for this, I mean there’s no set protocol for how to handle a breakup. Even when you should have seen it coming ten miles away, it still feels sudden for some reason. You’re together one day, you’re not the next. Is it permanent this time? Yep. And with every passing day, one thing becomes clear: this is new territory. Familiar in some ways, but foreign in others. And it’s uncomfortable.
I was having a conversation with a friend the other day who had written an essay on how difficult it is to rid our lives of things when they have become part of our identity- he’s right, and I reminded him that relationships fit into that category too. It’s incredibly uncomfortable to end a bad relationship when that person, and your life together, have become very much engrained in who you are. How do you handle the discomfort of unwinding your lives from each other? Do you flat-out disappear? Fall off the grid? Or do you try to act like friends before you’re ready, in an attempt to normalize the situation? Maybe you respect each other’s space but still find ways to every once in a while cross paths (because there might be some comfort in knowing that they’re still out there somewhere).
What do you DO to make this feel normal, when it feels everything BUT normal. Let’s face it…you’re used to having someone in your life. You talked to that person throughout your days, you knew what was going on in each other’s lives, you made plans together, setup various get-togethers with friends…your default mode was to be with them. And usually you ended up in the same place at the end of the day. But now that your life has veered down a distinctly unexpected path, you aren’t sure how to handle the day-to-day. Your days and nights suddenly look quite a bit different.
I’ve done pretty well I’d say, without any sort of handy guidebook to help me navigate the last few weeks. It was weird at first, realizing the sheer volume of “free” time I now had on my hands. I guess I didn’t realize how much of my life was shaped around his for a long time…until he was gone and I was left to plan my time in whatever ways I wanted to, without automatically thinking about what someone else wanted to do. The realization of how very little I had done for myself while we were together was absolutely staggering. I wonder at what point I stopped asking myself what I needed in my life to feel whole and happy…and why I accepted that self-neglect as fact.
The last few weeks have felt like I’m literally raising the blinds and waking up to my world again…
I’ve spent tons of time with friends, but plenty by myself. I’ve followed my whims and done whatever sounded like a good idea at the time, whether it was having an impromptu cookout, going to a friend’s daughter’s school play, meeting for a beer and wings, throwing a frisbee, spending late nights at the shop getting orders printed, taking Ryan to get milkshakes and playing countless games of Skip-Bo, or rearranging the furniture in my entire upstairs….I have followed my instincts, surrounded myself with only amazing people, and drifted from one day to the next finding comfort in getting back to being me.
But in that process, it’s been impossible to ignore the obvious: that my life is different now. There is still an absence, a nagging feeling of loss despite the many things I’ve welcomed back into my life that I had missed. But it’s impossible to act as though the relationship never existed. It did. And it left an impact, just as they all do. So throughout the experiences of the past few weeks there has also been the underlying “how do I actively (or passively) deal with the breakup…because it still exists at this point, whether I want it to or not.” So what, pray tell, do I do with it?? This is where a manual would be awfully helpful…
There’s really no rhyme or reason to what we go through immediately post-breakup… I seriously feel like the person on the battle field trying to see through the smoke and attempting to not step on any land mines even though, by all accounts, they should have all been triggered by now. To the best of my recollection, here is the mess of stages I’ve gone through over the past several weeks…
- Respectfully agree that this is for the best and we’re going to be friends.
- Cross paths too soon, failed attempt at reconciliation.
- Hurt feelings ensue, leading to huge emotional exchange lasting several days.
- After feeling crappy for long enough, acknowledge feelings of concern for each other’s well-being.
- Plan for the final exchange of stuff.
- Fight over what will be returned and what won’t be…which turns into…
- Petty threats, bitterness, anger, and decision to never be friends.
- Agree to drop off stuff and never talk to each other again.
- Drop off stuff, make more angry comments because it feels absolutely awful to be doing this.
- Take comfort in friends who show unconditional love and support, which helps.
- As do copious amounts of wine.
- Which leads to: a) weepiness b) remorse over petty nastiness from days before and c) possible drunken texting
- After which you agree to stop talking to each other because it’s not going anywhere good
- Stop talking for a few days
- Have time to think things over, feel like the only thing left to do is move on and share positive feelings about the relationship in an attempt to get closure and put everything to rest.
- Sharing —–> more remorse ——> sympathy for each other —–> …
- Another attempt at being friends.
- Which feels nice…but then reminds you that you’re still vulnerable, shouldn’t be friends, it’s too soon.
- Annnnnnd, now we’re back to not talking again.
Sigh. Where the hell is my stinking manual??!
And that’s how it goes….I’m sure at least one or two of you can relate. It’s a roller coaster. But the way I look at it, it’s impossible to act like you never mattered to each other because YOU DID. And you can’t act like everything is fine, because it isn’t. Not quite yet. It will be, without a doubt, someday in the future. You know this because you’ve done this before. You remember what it felt like to think it would never get better….and miraculously somehow, eventually, over time it did. But right now you’re in this place where there are no rules. There are just a bunch of messy feelings flying around recklessly, with no real purpose or anyplace solid to land. And with every passing day comes a new set of rules, and a new set of actions and reactions. Which will continue until it runs its course.
This is all part of it. We learn as we go. We keep doing those things that bring us comfort. But we slip up sometimes too, trying to wade through the messy broken aftermath, hoping that before too long the smoke will clear.
The good news?
We each get stronger by going through this process. So I keep going through it, not around it….one day at a time, one unscripted decision at a time. And before too long, I will realize… I’ve come out the other side.