First, a word on change: I’ve been going through an awful lot of change recently. In fact, my life is different in almost every conceivable way than it was just last month.
One month ago, I lived in a tiny apartment in the heart of downtown Portland with my boyfriend and dog – walking to work in the rain every day. Now, I live in a roomy, ranch-style house in a suburb off of San Diego – where I (gulp) am bunking up with my parents and little sister, and telecommute to work from their sunny backyard patio.
In Portland, I had very few local friends and spent most evenings watching Netflix and drinking wine in my pajamas. Now that I’m in San Diego, I have many local friends and spend most evenings watching Netflix and drinking wine in my pajamas.
But perhaps the biggest change, as you might have guessed, is going from being one half of a couple to one whole person by myself.
Yes, we broke up.
We met when I was 22, and vying for a promotion at work. Before I could muster the courage to ask my boss, he had hired an outsider for the position instead. I was expected to train this outsider, the nerve, and (I’m sure you see where this is going) we hit it off.
The first 6 months of our relationship were strictly secret. We would lock eyes across team meetings and steal the occasional kiss in the office when no one was looking – it was very butterfly-heavy stuff. We did eventually go public, to giggles and arm punches from our coworkers.
Not long after that, he was offered a position in Arizona – where I made the first major lovesick decision of my life and followed him. In fact, we spent the next 3 years bouncing around the West Coast – from Tucson, to the Bay Area, to Vancouver, Washington.
It was in Vancouver that we stayed put for awhile – in part because I found a job I adored. But it was also in Vancouver that we hit our first major roadblock (or rather, series of roadblocks) and broke up.
…the first time.
And because change = thoughts = words = writing, I wrote a blog post back then, in an effort to chronicle my own journey of emotional discovery.
Then, I spent a brief period living by myself for the first time ever, and wrote another blog post about what it felt like to be alone for the first time in so long.
After six months of that, we got back together – and (surprise) I wrote about that too.
This time around, we were together for another 2 years – action-packed, fun-filled years across three living situations in downtown Portland. We made friends, we threw parties, we ate out at fancy restaurants, we attended concerts. We went hiking. We bought a dog.
And then we broke up. Again. For reasons that were maybe the same, maybe not quite the same.
So, I guess in True Susie Fashion™, here I am writing about it.
I know I don’t owe an explanation to anyone. In fact, it might be in bad taste to provide one – “airing your dirty laundry,” as my mother would put it. But I’m doing so for a couple of reasons:
- Because, frankly, I am selfish. Writing is how I process information, untangle my emotions, and find truth. So even if no one else ever reads this, it will still have been a therapeutic exercise for me. I hope someone does, though, for my second reason:
- Because I’m not alone. I know this, because others have shared their stories with me. I’m not the first person to venture through this particular minefield, and I won’t be the last. So if anyone reads this and finds strength because of it, it’ll be words well spent.
So, if you’re one of those people and need some advice on such a situation, or if you’re just bored and want to kill a few minutes…
Without further ado, here are all the things I’ve learned about breaking up (twice):
It’s not your fault. This is important to remember, because there is a mean voice in your head that thrives on breakups and wants you to believe otherwise. In your darkest, quietest moments it will overcome you, and will try to convince you that you are solely responsible for your current situation.
It will remind you of all the mistakes you’ve made, in this relationship or outside of it, and will dutifully chronicle every personality flaw you have. It will convince you that you’re the problem, here – you’re too needy, too self-absorbed, too attention-seeking. If you’re exceptionally unlucky, the voice will also detail physical flaws – and make you believe that if you had put in a little more effort once in a damn while, maybe you’d be more lovable. It will say that it could’ve ended differently if you tried harder, held out longer, trusted more, asked for less, or were just a different person in general.
Don’t listen to it.
It’s not necessarily their fault either, though. Blame is like Saran Wrap: it wants to stick to something. It’s hard to imagine Saran Wrap just fluttering about in the wind – and, likewise, it’s hard to come out of something like a breakup and not want to point fingers.
But the thing is, relationships are layered and dimensional and excruciatingly complex – and unless someone was disloyal or abusive, there is usually no clear villain or victim. Each one of you could be a great person (maybe even a great partner) and it still might not be the right fit. That’s okay. Crumple up that Saran Wrap and throw it out – it just isn’t serving anyone.
Other people’s opinions of you are none of your business. This one is hard for me – I’m still learning it. I might never stop learning it. But for some reason, I’ve found that how the story is told is really important to me. (Case in point, I felt the need to write this blog post.) I’ve spent an absurd amount of time worrying about how his mom will react, what his brothers will think, how our shared friends will perceive the news, etc. etc. I imagine them at some family dinner party where he’s probed for details, and I cringe at the type of hypothetical things that might be said.
But the very sad truth is, I have no control over that interaction. He can tell his version of the story however he’d like, and it isn’t a courtroom – I won’t get to plead my case on the opposing side. Likewise, my loved ones will probably only receive my very narrow perspective, which is probably why they’re all fervent supporters in my corner of the ring. That’s just life.
But perhaps more importantly, it’s hubris to believe that people are thinking about you that much to begin with. Chances are his friends and family will hear the story and move on with their lives (and if you ever need reminding of this, bookmark this poem by Phillip Lopate). Try not to fret about it too much.
Last but absolutely not least, you didn’t fail. Just because a relationship is over doesn’t mean it didn’t serve a purpose. You were a different person when it started. You’ve grown and learned and loved, and that’s something to be proud of – regardless of how or when it ended. You liked bands in 7th grade that you would never listen to today, and yet you don’t regret that period of your life. You can still be happy you were in it, you can still look back on it fondly. It wasn’t wasted time.
There should probably be more to this list, but hey, I’m learning as I go. Hopefully I continue to.
Anyway, here’s to change.