On Breaking-Up

I wrote this a couple of months back now. I am trying to find a line between using this blog as an honest reflective space, and also being sensible in sharing appropriately. The break-up this refers to happened over six months ago now and I thought now would be a good time to share. So that’s the reason for the delay (and where you see TG – it stands for ‘this guy’ haha).

The following is my haphazard reflection on what I felt I learned from all that happened in the time after breaking-up. Every break-up is different, but maybe it can be of help to someone someday. I know that I certainly found writing this out helpful, if nothing else. It sometimes reads like general advice, but know that this was just the easiest way to formulate my thoughts back when I was writing this, if anything, it’s advice to myself for when/if I find myself here again.

On the pain of breaking up

There is always pain when you break-up. Something has happened which made at least one of you think the negatives outweighed the positives and that the relationship should end. And when the relationship ends, you lose whatever your end goal was, your sharing in a journey together. This affects how you view all the memories you had together; everything seems to have this bittersweet twinge. You find yourself doubting all that happened. You wonder how you could have so much fun and be so close with someone just x amount of time ago, and yet now find yourself going your separate ways.

This is the worst feeling, so be generous to yourself, because you’re expected and you’re allowed to feel pain. You’re also allowed to be absolutely fine for long periods of time, and then feel pain again. Don’t restrict yourself to a time-frame for processing, and expect to be caught off-guard once in a while. I’ve found going back to places where I don’t go so often and last went with TG, the most painful. Last week I went to Greenwich with the Japanese students I am working with. The last time I had been was with him in September 2015, on a day-trip visiting the Royal Observatory. I have such fond memories of that day, and I found it strange to visit less than a year on – it stung to think about how much has changed in just a year.

On ‘staying friends’

I used to think that after breaking up, it would be easy to just maintain a friendship. After all, so much of what it is to have a good relationship is about having, first and foremost, a really good friendship. But, when you end a relationship, friendship is what you are taking away. If this wasn’t the case, you wouldn’t be broken up, you would just have said ‘let’s stop all the verbal and physical affection’. This is why breaking up is so hard – regardless of the how and the why and the where and the when and how considerate the break-up was. There is a tenderness and hurt left over which you must let heal properly. The temptation is to go back to that friend who you are used to sharing your hurt and your vulnerabilities with. You feel lonely and insecure, and they were the person that used to help you counteract those emotions. This makes things doubly painful and is exactly the reason that you can’t seek to maintain a friendship without making a greater mess than exists already.

There was a point when I came back home from University after breaking-up where I really wanted to spend time with TG, all in the name of working out how to be friends again. Ultimately though, working to maintain a friendship was a little too much like putting salt on a wound. When I was around him I swayed between anger and sadness because of how hurt I felt. I found myself both wanting to withdraw myself from him, and then desperately wanting him to say that he’d make a mistake and that he wanted to start over, to return to the closeness I used to know around him. I was conscious of wanting to power-play, which was never something that was part of our actual relationship, and is obviously so unhelpful to let start.

I’m now not sure that it is possible to break-up and keep exchanging the benefits of a relationship. After breaking-up both people need the comfort and guidance of a friend(s), to re-construct their support system – and, in my experience at least, you cannot be that friend for each other.

On ‘becoming friends’

I now think this is the only real way to stay friends: to actually and properly start over. Sadly, this involves becoming strangers. Strangers who have no romantic intention towards each other, strangers content and confident in their lives without each other. Only then can you become acquaintances, and only then, friends. The sadness and strangeness of this is that, by the time this happens, you will be different people. At the end of July, I ran into TG in town by accident and it was genuinely the strangest experience. Nothing like that happens when you are in a relationship, because usually you’ll know that you’ll be the same place at the same time (and if that’s the case you plan something around it to do together because you love time spent with each other). This incident confronted me with the reality of our separation and of things really being over. In the time that’s passed since our break-up, I’ve developed sections of my life, entire friendships even, that TG knows nothing about. That’s difficult, and it’s still more uncomfortable and painful than I’d like to admit.

I’m now much further along from that point, and not having TG around has become normal. I’m still not fully in the place in which to start a friendship again, but I am trying to prepare myself for the sense of déjà vu that I know I will have upon eventually spending time with him. Hearing his laughter and it sounding familiar and foreign all at once. Hearing his name and knowing it’s the same but finding that it sounds different. Seeing his smile but knowing it’s not directed at me in the same way it once was. Acknowledging the past and what was but allowing the both of us to be different people from who we were and not longing for what no longer is.

On becoming you again

The acknowledgement of the relationship and simultaneously leaving it behind is so hard and so contrary to what is wanted. But I think accepting what has actually happened, past tense, is the first step to moving on. Moving on means proceeding without them, leaving each other alone and re-learning independence, identity and confidence without them. Remind yourself, repeat to yourself, and remember: you don’t need them and they don’t need you. I don’t think I can do justice with words to just how much strength it takes to get through this process.

I’ve concluded that it requires self-respect, wisdom and maturity to step away from, and to be free from, each other after a break-up. If you find yourself in this place, use the time to grow and learn from mistakes. Change into a newer, better version of yourself. Endure the reality of the heartache, and don’t act like it didn’t happen. Let the pain visit and let it teach you. Put away their things, put on a break-up playlist, write about how you’re feeling and what you’re learning, and delete their number (and message histories) until that point you meet as strangers again. This last one I resisted for a long time, but I am so glad that I did it. It removed the possibility for those moments when the temptation was there.

Letting go is hard and it’s easy to try and cling to the bits that are left over. I cried real tears watching Monsters Inc. last week because I identified so much with Sulley when he must close the door on Boo and say goodbye. The sadness on his face as he hugs her for the last time and then stands and watches as her door is shredded to prevent him seeing her ever again is exactly what the break-up process has felt like for me. Breaking up is saying goodbye to all that was, and all that now won’t be, and the heartbreak of that is real. Closing a door is such a great metaphor for what it is to break-up, which is why I think this poem captures so much so well:

That’s the thing about heartbreak.
It’s the smallest of worlds ending.
Everyone goes around you smiling,
like it’s nothing to close a door.
Clementine Von Radics

Finally

Once you have let the pain visit and teach you, do not let it overstay. Time doesn’t heal all wounds, but Jesus does, truth does. God uses our times of brokenness, vulnerability and weakness to benefit us and glorify Himself. It is not in any relationship that we are made whole, only in him. So rest upon his grace in this time of heartache, and find what it is to rely on the lasting satisfaction that only he can give you.

3 thoughts on “On Breaking-Up

  1. NK says:

    You make such an important distinction here between staying friends and becoming friends. My first “adult relationship” broke up pre-Facebook so it was simple to move on and not be reminded of him. And I did just that. We reconnected once we were both on Facebook and while we tried becoming friends, after a few years I realized it simply wasn’t what I wanted. It’s different for everyone but for me this was someone who didn’t treat me very nicely. As much as he was funny and interesting talking to him always reminded me of the nonsense he’d pulled. Some of it, I’m sure, is generational. Some of it is personal. I like the possibility of “becoming friends” and the fact that you are offering that to people as a really sound alternative. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

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