I used to think that breakups were humorous. I know, I know, how naïve, right? I used to think they were cured with boxes of Godiva chocolates, girls’ nights, and lots of carbs. I envisioned the scene from “Legally Blonde” where Elle Woods is lying in bed, mascara streaming down her cheeks as she watches some old soap opera. Tragic breakups were entertaining and they were for the movies—a quick four or five-minute scene before a musical transition into a rocking night out on the town with the gal pals. I thought breakups were the gateway to female independence in a world where tube-tops were cool and the Spice Girls were still relevant.
I used to think breakups “happened all the time” and that there were other fish in the sea—for other people. My relationship was solid. I didn’t know what it felt like to have a broken heart until I did and I wish I had been prepared for the truth. Breakups aren’t just a tough week, an evening of scraping the bottom of the ice-cream carton, or even a heartfelt conversation with best friends. Breakups SUCK and there’s no reason to believe otherwise. Even if you’re the one who did the breaking up.
The first week without him I was inconsolable. I wore sunglasses on even the cloudiest days to hide my puffy eyes and cancelled all the coffee dates and lunches I promised to go to. I slept close to 10 hours every night and skipped even my favorite classes. In the beginning, the hardest thing was explaining my noticeably changed behavior (I originally blamed it on a bout of strep pneumonia—a surprisingly welcome distraction), but once I figured out how to hide what I was feeling, the reason behind my pain became dismissible. It was as if my friends and family were scared to acknowledge the fact that I was ever in a relationship at all and their wanting me to move on seemed like an overt effort to ignore the relationship entirely.
Everyone expects breakups to be hard initially. Friends, family they can count on the tears that fall after hanging up the phone that one last time. They know putting away the pictures, changing the Facebook status (something I didn’t ever think about until then), and boxing up the memories will be difficult. But once the overflow of tears stop and all visible signs of suffering disappear, it seems like there’s a pressure to be healed even if it still feels impossible. It seems like there’s a shift in which lamenting the past is no longer acceptable and embracing the future becomes mandatory. But getting over breakups isn’t so black and white.
The thing they don’t show you in the movies is all the in-between—between the breakup conversation and the scene where the girl sobs quietly in bed three weeks later as Bon Iver plays softly in the background. They don’t show you the reality—folding laundry, making dinner, pumping gas, sending emails—normal things that normal people are expected to be able to handle. But those things? Sometimes they’re the hardest. What I found was the more normal I tried to act, the easier it was for people to assume was I was back to my old self. But what so many people failed to realize was that my “old self” was with him. My “old self” was part of a three-year relationship and someone who was scared as hell of being alone.
The first time I was told, “You seem fine today” I wanted to scream.
Fine? Fine?? Fine is something you pay at the library when your books are overdue or when you park on a busy street for one hour instead of two. Fine is something that settles conflict, pays off debt and actually makes things simpler. Me? Oh no, I am NOT fine.
Yes, today I successfully managed to get through the day without crying whenever someone asked how I was doing, but what no one saw was my tortured nail beds that have suffered a constant assault from my nervous biting for the last month. They didn’t see me sigh with relief when I got home, proud of the fact that I kept it together during class only to lose it completely when I was in the shower that night (No, I didn’t “just get soap in my eye”). Right now I am not fine. So don’t tell me I am.
Don’t tell me I’m fine because that song we danced to in the fall now makes me want to slam on the brakes every time it comes on the radio. Don’t tell me I’m fine because half of my wardrobe reminds me of our dates and I can’t stand the sight of that green floral dress. Don’t tell me I’m fine because even though I packed up the photos and T-shirts and three years worth of Christmas and birthday gifts, I kept the thin strip of photo booth pictures hidden under the decorations of my bulletin board. Don’t tell me I’m fine because I have to go home to a small town where everybody knows everybody and everybody knows we were highschool sweethearts. Don’t tell me I’m fine because there’s a spot on the wall where the paint tore off along with his picture. Don’t tell me I’m fine because getting over him feels like breaking.
I’m composed and I’m distracted, but I am not fine.
No matter how well I manage to present myself, inside I still feel like the puffy-eyed sobbing mess of a person I was a month ago and the hardest thing is to pretend I’m ok. To capture everything I’m feeling in that simple word—fine—feels like a slap in the face. It’s dismissing three years of not only a wonderful although imperfect relationship, but also the person I was for those three years. I still don’t know who I am without him, but I know “fine” isn’t it. I’m still trying to answer the impossible questions, mull over the “what if”s, and find peace with it all.
So please don’t tell me I’m fine right now because I’m not. But I will be.