Behind Closed Doors: Breaking up doesn’t always require breaking down
October 24, 2011
I’d say that there are all kinds of breakups. A breakup is the ending of a relationship — any relationship. It’s the signing of a new lease without the roommate who never did her dishes, or the cutting off of a friend who only called you when he needed money, or the parting of two people who used to be best friends but something got in the way. The ending of a romantic relationship, or a sexual one, is not the only type of breakup. But sometimes, this kind seems like it’s the worst.
I have been through a lot of breakups. A few were ended by me and a few weren’t. It isn’t easy being on either side, be it after two weeks, two months or two years, because two weeks, two months or two years ago, you decided to let someone else in, and in the end, found out that it wasn’t the best decision. Now you have to start over. Now you just feel alone.
Couples break up because of distance, they break up because one of them met someone new, they break up because getting married is too scary. Sometimes they break up because they just can’t stay together. I spent a lot of time my senior year of high school worrying about whether my high school sweetheart and I were going to stay together in college. We went away for beach week, and I had what I considered the best week of my life with him. Then we came home and spent three days breaking up. Day one: He didn’t want to stay together in college. Day two: He didn’t want to stay together until college. Day three: It came out that he had been cheating on me all along.
The worst part wasn’t that I was dumped or that I was alone. The worst part was that I’d had an idea of how the world works, and my picture of it had been shattered. Nothing seemed to be how I believed it was. I had thought that he loved me, that we would always be together, and that I was all he needed. In reality, he was thinking about other girls, how to get with other girls, and how to break up with me.
“The worst part of this isn’t losing my boyfriend or my bed buddy or even not speaking to my best friend,” I wrote in my high school journal. “The worst part of this is looking this guy in the face that I thought I knew so well for so long, this guy that I always trusted with everything — my feelings, my insecurities, my imperfections — and realizing that I don’t know who he is. That in spite of all the trust I gave him, he didn’t deserve it. That he actually took my trust, my gift, and took it for granted, [messed] with it beyond measure to such an extreme that I don’t believe a single thing he says anymore.”
What do you do when you feel like Alice after she fell through the looking glass, not sure that anything around you, or even you, yourself, is real? You move forward. I cried. A lot. I turned to my friends, expecting them to comfort me with open arms. They did. I changed my view of life. I stopped thinking about him as the most perfect man and started thinking about him as an immature boy, not worthy to breathe the same air as me. (Dramatic? Maybe.)
It didn’t happen overnight. A lot of it was talking big to others, but mostly to myself. I wrote it down. I wrote it down a lot. I got mad instead of hurt, and then I cut him out. Then, I told myself to save myself the energy. It took a long time, but eventually, I realized that he wasn’t worth hating, and that hating him took up too much energy and too much precious time. I wrote a letter to myself: “Most importantly, take that emptiness and that hurt and turn it into something productive. It doesn’t matter what, just do something with it. Live each day as if everything is going your way even if the world is falling down around you. Force a smile and trick yourself into believing everything is great, and someday, it will be.”
It sounds so easy, typed up like that, like there’s a linear progression you can follow. It’s not like that. It hurts, and it’s a hurt that almost consumes you until there’s nothing left but the hurt.
What no one talks about is the weird in between time — the time right between breaking up and deciding whether to be friends or part ways forever, the time when hooking up is like a relapse that puts you back into the pain cycle and makes you vulnerable all over again, even though it feels so good while it’s happening. No one talks about what to do when he says that he’s sorry, or that he [messed] up, or that he misses you. I read something by Greg Behrendt once that went a long way toward reminding me how important I was during this messy in-between time. “Don’t be flattered that he misses you. He should miss you. You are deeply missable. However, he’s still the same person who just broke up with you. Remember, the only reason he can miss you is because he’s choosing, every day, not to be with you.”
And you know what? It’s true. Whether you broke up a very long time ago, have just broken up, or are about to just break up, it’s important to know that life will continue; it’ll just be different. The very first thing you have to do in this new life is decide who you’ll be. It’s a chance to start over, however you want. If you were the girl that waited around for a call, maybe you’ll pick up the phone. If you were always available, maybe you’ll play hard to get. If you settled for less, maybe you’ll expect more. I was the one who was taken for granted, and now I demand appreciation.
I just want you to know that whoever you are and whoever you decide to be after this, you are worth the space you take up, and you deserve the air you breathe, and you will be better because of this experience, if only because you’ll know you can rely on yourself.
__Krystyna Holland is a Behind Closed Doors columnist and won’t be found buying tissues, ice cream and sweatpants anytime soon.__