The voice on the other end of the line was like a tea kettle: High, shrill, distressed. One of my dearest friends just ended a two-year relationship. As I went through the standard f*ck him girls and you can do so much betters (both of which I wholeheartedly believe) I realized something: I’m no long getting over a breakup myself.
Paring the story down to the essentials: I was in a long-term, long distance relationship, we were engaged twice and married none, and it ended awkwardly. I told my BFF that the hard part about breakups is that you have to forge an identity that has nothing to do with your ex. You have to be just “you” again. Looking back, I believe that these five actions helped me move through my process.
1) Move. Yes, for many people packing up and leaving is not realistic. But nothing says “new beginning” better than learning a new place, meeting new people that are outside of your current network, and being free of local reminders of the time you spent with your ex. Grad school and my job allowed me to do this. However, if moving is not realistic for you…
2) Move socially. I don’t know about your city, but in Chicago (my home town) this feels damn near impossible. Everyone knows everyone. Or at least it seems that way. Hang out with a circle of people that isn’t based on who you went to high school, college, or church (or other place of worship) with. This may seem daunting, but it helps if you…
3)Do something you’ve never allowed yourself to do. When I say “allow,” I mean the thing that you’ve been kicking around in your head for years, but dismiss as being unrealistic.Â The thing that you think about when you have a crappy day at work. If you aren’t sure what it is, ask yourself this: If the Oprah Show called you and asked you to be on it, in the best case scenario, what would it be for? Your latest movie role? A book you wrote? A company you started? Whatever it is, try it. For me, I’ve wanted to write regularly for years, and I love movies, so I took a screenwriting class. It feels amazing to have this new tool to express myself, and I’m excited to see how far it takes me.
4) Wish them well, but know it’s not your problem. After ending a relationship, you may experience a number of conflicting feelings about your ex: Hatred, love, concern, pseudo-ambivalence, blood thirst. All of these emotions are fine. But when you want the best for your ex, you are on your way to a better emotional place. But be careful: This does not mean that you are ready to deal with them. In fact, you are not. It starts out innocently enough: You’re just “checking in” to see how “they are doing.” You call them, and if they want to talk with you, you may even have a decent conversation. Just keep in mind that once you get to this stage, your ex is not your ex anymore, he/she is (insert name here), version 2.0. They have a life that doesn’t include you and potentially a new partner. In short, ask yourself if you really want to know how their life is, or if you just want to remain in their consciousness. When I’ve had the urge to call in the past, I just said a prayer for my ex and kept it moving. I want the best for him, but it’s no longer my concern.
5) Don’t try to be friends. I’ll repeat this for the hardheaded: DO NO TRY TO BE FRIENDS WITH YOUR EX. Before you try to fight me on this, let me explain. I believe that life should flow. If the last two years of my life have taught me anything, is that there is a difference between challenge and struggle. Challenge is lifting a heavy bag; struggle is trying to lift a bag that’s nailed to the floor. Struggle is a sign that the very nature of the situation is wrong and not worthy of your energy. So, in terms of being friends with your ex, if it has a shot in hell of working, it needs to happen organically. If after all of the internal work you’ve done, (insert name here ) 2.0 comes back into your life uninitiated, then it may be okay, as long as you realize a few things:
1) They are not the same person.
2) You won’t get the boyfriend/girlfriend treatment when you are around them
3) If they are in a new relationship, the depth of your relationship will be limited.
Are you cool with all of that?
Now, one thing I didn’t say was to cut off all contact with them, and this is why: For me, those post-break up conversations helped reality set in. Once that happened, then I cut off all contact. So for me, it helped in the long run. But don’t get involved physically with them, and don’t try to have casual conversations. If you’re going to talk, talk about what happened. If both of you are not ready to deal with the finality of the situation, then cut off all contact.
Now a warning: After you get over the hump, you won’t be back to “normal,” meaning you won’t be the person you were before the breakup. I don’t feel like I am totally different, but I am. I love how I’m different in some ways, and some of the ways I have changed surprise and worry me. It’s the perk/ price of any lesson you take to heart.
So, to my dearest friend and all of the other heartbroken folks out there: Accept the situation. Embrace the uncertainty. Never take anything personally, and know that God has a plan for you that is better than any you can come up with yourself.