I got dumped for the second time by the same person. The first time we met and started spending time together things were becoming serious and communication wasn’t clear and each party wanted something that the other party didn’t and the whole thing became messy. He announced he wasn’t ready for a relationship and the relationship ended in a big, painful, and ambiguous mess that hurt quite a bit.
A month later and this man comes back into my life with flowers and chocolates and he’s changed his mind, he misses me, he’s been depressed, he knows what he wants and it’s me. So we dive in, probably a bit quicker than we should have. I meet a parent and we make all these plans for the future, but we bicker here and there. One day we bicker all day and we talk about it, but only briefly. We almost end it but we don’t.
A week later out of the blue I receive a text message saying we need to talk and I know where it’s going and it happens via text. Here I am heartbroken because I wanted it to work and it didn’t because he ended it. I never got closure and I guess my question is how do I not dwell on what could have been if we had done things differently or, more importantly, if I had done things differently? I’ve had several epiphanies but it’s too late, because the relationship is over and I’m just now realizing all of the things that I should have done.
Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda
Dear Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda,
If you don’t want to dwell on what could have been, you have to let go of what could have been and trust in what can be.
This may sound simplistic, even spiritual, but stick with me. Let’s give into this whimsical possibility together.
If you want to make peace with your past, you’ll need to let go of this dream that your past could have gone any other way and trust that how it went is how it was meant to go.
What’s so bittersweet about heartbreak is that if you experience it enough, you’ll eventually sober up to the reality that the shelf life of an affair is largely in hands that are not our own. The best you can do is offer yourself up for the experience, trusting that wherever you end up is exactly where you always intended to be.
For three and a half years, I went to bed with every shoulda, woulda, coulda. And I did this while the man I was shoulding and woulding and coulding was in bed with me.
Do you think that brought us any closer together?
Do you think me lying in bed dwelling on everything he should be doing differently strengthened or severed our love?
What about all the thoughts I had about myself and what I could be doing differently, do you think those thoughts ever made me feel like I was enough?
Do you think dwelling inside every rift that was between us disguised any of the emptiness?
Do you think it made sex feel more sincere?
It just kept him from kissing me.
In the beginning, he called it lovemaking and in the beginning I was hopeful but, the reality is, sex with him was always a coin toss. I always held my breath and closed my eyes and wished for it to be what I called out for.
Do you think that holding your breath and wishing a man could be what you need turns you into what he needs?
That’s the heartbreak right there. That’s the delusion.
It’s what you’ll need to sober up to.
The reality that none of us can control what we are to each other. None of us gets to decide that we are who another person needs.
Take it from me.
If the person in your bed triggers question after question, they are not your answer.
So to answer your question, if you don’t want to dwell, you’ll have to let go of who you hold in question and trust that your answer is ahead of you.
You’ll have to live boldly, choose wisely, love easily, and let go quick.
I learned my lesson, that’s for sure.
That rather than dwelling, the better choice is to be brave.
The braver choice is to move when sinking feels so easy. The braver choice is to get out of your mind and into your life. Out of your doubt and into your dreams.
If you want to be brave, you must trust the men who leave you. That leaving you is better for you. You must soften around the chances, the chance that leaving you is better for him too.
Ask yourself why is it that to feel good about yourself, you must turn into someone’s forever?
To stop dwelling on what could have been, you’ve got to see that what you have been is what was needed. It’s what he needed at this particular time. It’s what you needed as you flesh out who you are when all the ideas you have for yourself melt and fade.
To stop dwelling, you’ll need to accept that what you did and who you are and what you gave was exactly right.
That it wasn’t supposed to go differently.
That it never was going to last, and not because you aren’t worth committing to but because life has a reason to turn you loose again.
Get curious about that reason.
We are only called to be single when life isn’t done surprising us.
Don’t dwell on this, remember this. Remember, the better choice is to be brave, and the braver choice is to move into the surprise.
If I had trusted in the likelihood that such surprises do arrive, I would have let go sooner. If I had known I could make myself this happy, I would have left my ex long before he lost interest in kissing me. I never would have allowed that torture into my life.
Listen to me, I never would have stayed in bed for three and a half years with a man I was not convinced by. I never would have let him break up with me, only to then continue showing up for him as if I were his girlfriend. I never would have made allowances that did nothing to help me feel any bit more powerful.
This is what that heartbreak taught me. This is what I learned. I learned love will never feel so difficult, so backwards, and cruel if you let your ex go when he lets you go the first time. Love will never feel so painful and you so pathetic, if you let go when you first feel that the pleasure and integrity of your romance is a coin toss.
You see, these are some of my own epiphanies. Like you, I had several after my relationship was over as well. But none of them were ever too late. They were always just in time.
Epiphanies take time, that’s what makes them so striking and special. They happen in the space between what we could have done and what we can do. They happen in the space between regretting ourselves and exonerating ourselves.
The power of an epiphany is not that having one will resolve the past but that it will redeem our future. Epiphanies are the fireworks of dating. My God, they are the whole point of what we put ourselves through. Having them is how we enable ourselves to date better, to love greater, to choose wisely. It’s how we put some of love’s power into our own hands.
Hold onto these epiphanies of yours and make sure they are less about him and, for the most part, are epiphanies centered in you. Let them embolden you. Let them accelerate you into the magic just ahead, into the surprise. Let them challenge you to do better, to want better, to be better for yourself. Have your epiphanies be the reason you look for more with the next man, like less ambiguity and bickering and more clarity and conversation early on. My advice is come up with prerequisites and have your epiphanies be the reason you crave more for yourself and expect more from yourself, too.
I want to tell you a story about what can happen if between one love and another you live in this way. I want to tell you what happened when I stopped dwelling on my shoulda, woulda, coulda saga with my ex and chose to brave my way into a world I felt too insecure for. I’m telling you this because I think it might surprise and excite you. I think it might make you look at loss in a new way.
Previously Published on Huff Po