If I know memes (and believe me, I know memes), we’re supposed to hate our exes. Your ex-boyfriend is trash. Don’t pick up the phone; he’s just calling because he’s drunk and alone. Based on my extensive research, most people don’t actually loathe their exes. The majority of relationships fall apart in a slow, sad and confusing way. There are more shades of grey than a poorly written Twilight fan-fiction.
Last year, my boyfriend broke up with me over WhatsApp Messenger on our anniversary. Nobody in the history of the universe has ever experienced rejection or heartbreak like this; I won The Worst Breakup of All Time. Then I spoke to somebody whose partner broke up with them by leaving a note on the dresser in the night and walking out. A note in the night! I ask you! Like a Clark Gable movie! I was humbled.
However the breakup happens, it hurts. One day you’re watching Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow together, the next day there’s an empty space which can’t be filled with observational comedy. This person was an important part of your life and readjusting to existence without them can take a long time. You feel an overwhelming mixture of emotions and setting those feelings straight can be hard work.
Did I feel angry? Oh yeah. Did I fantasise about keying his car while listening to Carrie Underwood on repeat? Big time. But I set a limit on this anger before it seeped into my soul and corrupted my sweet heart. Anger serves nobody, especially not you Margaret. It’s exhausting to be constantly angry over something you can’t change, when you could be doing way cooler and more interesting things. There are planes to catch and pecan pies to eat. Letting go of anger is choosing to live a more contented, peaceful and fulfilling life.
Did I feel sad? Oh yeah. Did I lie on the kitchen floor crying for several whole minutes at a time because this seemed like a thing that sad people do? Affirmative. There is not a limit on how unhappy you are allowed to feel. I thought my grief would reach a peak, plateau and then decline towards a perfect resolution like a lovely graph. For what felt like the longest time, the pain just built and built to new, crushing levels.
Grief comes in waves and can hit you when you least expect it. There isn’t some magical day where you wake up and realise that it’s all better forever. Healing happens in unseen increments, which don’t feel transforming in isolation, until one day you’re too busy living your peaceful life to even notice that the sadness has totally lifted.
It’s so very normal to feel hung up on your ex. I know you want to feel like the only person who has ever felt this goddamn broken, but you’re not. Come in, take a seat and help yourself to a biscuit at the Goddamn Broken Club, Sandra. Sorry to be a kill-joy as you busily post faeces to their house, but the only way out of the labyrinth of suffering is forgiveness; forgiveness of you or of them, or both.
Forgiveness is not at all similar to rolling over and accepting unkind behaviour. Forgiveness is taking a very large, powerful step back and saying “no more of this misery, thank you and goodnight”. Taking a long, hard look at their behaviour is their job, not yours. You look at your own strengths and your own flaws and work on those.
From now on, refuse to accept anything less than respect from others and just watch yourself grow stronger and stronger. No more being hurt, no more feeling like a wretched fool, not a single drop of the bad milk, please. Forgiveness gives you the space to come alive again, as their significance slowly fades into irrelevance. It seems very hard to believe right now, but I promise that in time, their opinion of you will cease to matter.
So, what to do when you are struggling to move on from a meaningful relationship:
- Don’t put your hand in the fire to see if it’s still hot.
Spoilers, it’s still hot. Unless both parties are fully committed to the idea of gently rebuilding the relationship, do not hang out with your ex in the immediate aftermath of the breakup. All the feelings are still swimming around like creepy eels just beneath the surface. Meeting too soon will just prolong the healing process, unless you’re incredibly smart about it or extraordinarily resilient. Friendships between exes are possible in the long-run, but it takes months and even years for this to be remotely feasible. Take your hand out of the fire and put it somewhere else warm, like inside a nice pair of cashmere gloves or down your pants.
- Getting under someone else won’t help you get over them.
If you’re having sex with someone in order to forget someone else, it won’t work. You’ll cry before/after/during the sex and you’ll say it’s just because you were thinking of a really moving episode of Fraiser you watched earlier that day. Everyone will feel uncomfortable and suddenly painfully aware of their nakedness. It’s not fair to drag someone else into your healing process. You gotta weather that storm alone, sailor. It’s okay to not want rebound sex. It’s also okay to not feel like touching yourself for a while. It’s okay if you think about your ex sometimes when you touch yourself. It’s okay to think about your ex when you touch yourself and then have a little cry. Healing is neither pretty nor straightforward and getting your sweet mojo back will also take time, so be patient.
- Take it all at your own pace.
A breakup is as unique as the relationship and the individuals involved. People told me it takes half the amount of time you were with your partner to magically get over them. This is nonsense-talk. Every relationship has many different narratives within it and the more intense and meaningful the connection, the more complex this is to unpick. Holding yourself to a rigid timetable of healing is only going to make you feel more anxious and distressed. You are on your own journey and it will be imperfect. So don’t hold yourself to other people’s standards and firmly assert that you will get there whenever the damn hell you feel like it.
- Stay in your lane.
Once you’ve moved past the “just putting one foot in front of the other” phase, you can start to place your own needs at the heart of everything you do. The relationship is over and your purpose in life is not to figure out what or how they are doing.
It’s all too easy to get into an obsessive cycle of wondering whether they are as happy as a clam without you or if they spend their days weeping at your memory while burning scented candles. Not your lane, I’m afraid. Your purpose is to prioritise your own needs and make a life for yourself that functions without them. A life where you can pursue your interests, spend time with people you care about and connect with the person you always were before them and will continue to be after them, amen.
We are all resilient flesh-coated skeletons. Even if it feels like you’re totally stuck, you won’t be totally stuck forever, like until you’re old and have a perm and go to weekly bingo with the gals. The trite things are often the right things. So if you give it time, focus on activities that bring you happiness and practise forgiveness, then slowly, slowly, you will begin to heal. Then you can spend your days happily hunting for the freshest memes once more.
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