By the time most reach their mid-twenties, they have accumulated at least one awful breakup story. In the game of love or get hurt trying, a few battle wounds are expected; sometimes, by those of the experienced, they’re even encouraged.
I actually don’t have a terrible breakup story. The truth is, this particular relationship was never horrible. For the most part, it was comfortable, responsible, loving and supportive; after all, it lasted an entire six years.
After a few months into our sixth year, we realized something wasn’t working. We both knew it, but we didn’t quite say it. Or so, maybe said it in more than enough words, skirting around it rather than just being the brave one, the one who was honest. The space between us in my bed grew further apart, as did our communication, and the amount of times we kissed. It seemed as though he fell asleep effortlessly each night, nothing on his mind. I would lie awake, writing Poe-like verses in my iPhone Notes about feeling like a stone.
“Melancholy struck the bird in the head or the heart. It doesn’t matter, the chord sounds the same when it hits the ground.” (what?)
I don’t think either of us willingly wanted it to end, but neither of us were willing to “shit or get off the pot.” That is, until we did.
He came over one evening after work and we sat in my bed. The way he entered my bedroom that night was different than before, more hesitancy, but lingering. You could tell that all the energies in the air were being pulled apart.
He said something vague about his feelings, as he often did. I asked, “So do you want to break up with me?” Cowards. The fact that I asked answered his question. We sat there, our arms full of each other’s bodies and felt the most emotion we had in potentially the last few months of our relationship. The weeks leading up to this moment were spent mostly apart. I was over my head in work, fighting mixed feelings and oncoming depression; he was spending time dipping his toes into bachelordom. Not his fault, he did what we said we’d do. We were supposed to be enjoying ourselves apart. Little did I know at the time of this agreement, I would do the opposite.
We kissed, we felt, we slept in each other’s arms. He stayed the night as we cried ourselves to sleep, making false promises that we’d be okay, and both repeatedly wondering if what we did was right.
He got up the next morning for work; I stayed in bed for a couple more hours. I went upon my day, somewhat as usual. We decided to grab dinner together that evening. We chatted, caught each other up on our day, and walked down to a natural spring I had always wanted to visit near my apartment. I felt pretty normal. He didn’t. A few more phone calls and dinners happened, most ending with me in tears and vomiting up more than words in the restaurant bathroom. This was when it was quite evident that we could not be friends.
Okay, so you just stop hanging out. Delete him from your phone. Block him on Facebook. The thing is, we had experienced more in those six years than some have in their marriages. I was so young when we started dating – and he was not only my first love – but as the rest of the story goes, he was my best friend, already part of my family. He was completely integrated into my group of friends. We hardly had any relationships that weren’t within our shared spider web of connections.
I wasn’t ready to admit what had happened, and in most ways, he wasn’t either. He was so afraid of hurting me. He’d do anything not to hurt me except stay with me. We stopped pretending, and we lost our friendship. I lost friends, mostly our mutual male friends; but I soon made new acquaintances, immersed myself in nightlife, work, and spontaneous activities, while leaning on the support of a few really wonderful people.
Mostly though, I felt alone. I would spend most hours of the day after work in bed watching “Friday Night Lights,” an escape from feeling my own feelings. There was true comfort in being sad and connected to people on the screen. I would sit in my car in the Texas heat for over an hour, listening to Birdy’s “Skinny Love” on repeat, crying into my own hair, or worse, not moving at all.
The heartache, the crying, the stupid nights at clubs in downtown Austin, the Netflix…even all the drinking wine (okay, vodka) in bed was just part of the process. Whatever the process was, I wanted to feel it all. Maybe I’m a masochist. Maybe I was afraid of feeling like a stone. There’s a fine line of “feeling all the feelings” and becoming dangerously indulgent.
Somehow, someway, I got out of it. It had to do with late nights alone in my bed. It had to do with going on a few awkward dates. It also had to do with meeting someone really great. But mostly, it had to do with figuring out what I really wanted – not everything I wanted – but what I needed from myself and from others. Trust me, this learning process is far from over.
Now that we’re well over the one year mark of our breakup, I thought that I would finally be able to have a real friendship with him. Not the friendship we had when we first met, not the friendship we had months before we broke up. But a friendship, still based on love, but protected, with reasonable expectations, and much more than an arm’s length distance away.
The thing that I learned (mostly the hard way) is that you can be over someone romantically, and still be bound by old emotions. I thought I could make it work, but sometimes you need to give yourself a bit more time. You can have the greatest new boyfriend in the world; you can be completely happy, but the actions and words of an ex (and the occasional nostalgia) can creep up on you and sink into your bones. Maybe the hardest breakups are the ones that end without a fight.
Truthfully, I don’t know how to end this, because I can’t say with conviction that I even know how it all should end. We’ve grown apart; we’ve grown into something different. And that something different is a bit hard to define. However, through this, I do know that through any relationship, there will be a struggle, even if there is no fight. What I’ve found is that you can be your biggest ally through a break up, or you can be the martyr. I think you know which feels best.