I wrote Collection of Flaws about my last big breakup and it occurred to me that I actually don’t write a lot about breakups here. The reason for that is because I’m generally over it. Heartbreak isn’t really where my heart is these days; I’m busy being deliriously happy (I’m finding being single agrees with me to a scary degree). But I thought I’d write a little about my breakups in general and my process for getting past them.
I’ve heard a lot of people say things like “never trust someone who isn’t friends with their exes” like this is some kind of pearl of wisdom. People, I am not friends with either one of my serious exes. A few more casual relationships, sure; but not anyone who meant anything big to me. It is just not how I’m built. It doesn’t make me an untrustworthy person. It’s okay if you’re not friends with your ex.
And actually, I think that there’s a certain amount of pressure to be friends with your ex that can be harmful. I’ve definitely felt before like choosing not to be friends is equated to a big public statement about how much you hate that person, or maybe how vitriolic the breakup was (whether that’s true or not). It leaves you open to judgment.
But sometimes no one was abusive or cheated or ran over anyone’s dog or stole anyone’s bank account and moved to Mexico. Sometimes nobody was A Terrible Person and the breakup wasn’t particularly angry. Sometimes the reason you can’t be friends is because it just hurts too much–until it doesn’t hurt anymore, but you’ve grown so far apart that you wouldn’t really want to be friends anyway.
I’ve had two really big, serious relationships (so far). The details were different, but the way the breakups unfolded were weirdly similar. They went like this:
- Ex and I decide to be amicable. We swear we’ll stay friends. We talk wistfully about getting back together someday.
- We keep talking for a while; maybe we try getting back together. Drama ensues.
- My ex stops talking to me at some point. It sucks but I give him his space.
- I find out through Facebook that he met someone else.
- I defriend, unfollow, delete his phone number from my phone, delete pictures and love letters from my computer, throw out everything he ever gave me or that reminds me of him, and go full scorched-earth.
- We never talk again in any meaningful way.
The moral of the story…I guess there are a lot of morals. But a big one for me is that maybe it’s crucial for me to despise this person so I can stop loving them. And the only way that happens is seeing they’re dating someone else.
I’m not really ready to let go–I don’t actually believe it’s over–until that happens.
I don’t like being prescriptive in my advice to friends. What’s right for me isn’t necessarily what’s right for you blah de blah blah. I’ve done my fair share of backsliding, I completely understand it and I never judge a friend for doing it with an ex. The pull is strong.
But I’ve also seen what happens when my friends backslide; it’s happened to me too. And it does. Not. Work. I’ve realized that the best way I can be on my own side in this process is by believing it’s over when it’s over, and behaving accordingly.
There are things I miss about my exes, but I don’t miss those relationships. I’m realizing slowly how incredibly happy I am on my own. One thing I’m realizing is that in both my serious relationships, the people I was with didn’t want to talk about the future too much with me because they didn’t want to get married. They weren’t all-in. I guess I wasn’t either, if I’m being totally honest with myself. Talking about serious future plans was scary for everyone, because we’d have to be truthful about whether we were going to be IN those futures with each other.
In the two years since I left my last serious relationship, I’ve had a lot of space and time to think of my future–the one that could include a significant other, but doesn’t rely on one. I don’t know if I’ll wind up in another relationship, but I’m all in on my own life plans in a way no boyfriend has ever been before with me. It’s really exciting.
The thing about breaking off all contact with an ex is that nobody will do this until they are ready, and when they are, nothing will stop them. But my opinion is, go scorched-earth. It’s the only way. Maybe you’ll get over this person while still texting them funny emoji poems and stalking their Instagram and being Totally Platonic Friends with them while secretly crying every time they hint they might be dating someone else. But it will take a long time and it’ll only hurt you. This is no way to live. Just rip off the band-aid.
At this point, I could probably hang with my least recent ex and get a beer. I actually wouldn’t mind catching up. I don’t feel that way about the most recent one yet, but I imagine I might someday. I think being friends is a thing that happens naturally, only when the previous relationship is completely dead, and it can’t be forced.
The great thing about breakups is that you realize you don’t have to put up with that person’s sh*t anymore. You’re free to think about what you want for your future–without anyone else’s plans or limits getting in the way. And you’re free to learn how to make yourself happy. It’s the best, most freeing thing–especially if you’ve been in and out of relationships since your teen years, like I was.
Breakups suck, but it’s better on the other side. Trust me.