I have been trying to get over a breakup now for 5 months. About a month ago, I was talking to a girlfriend about it and feeling stupid for still being so sad. I honestly expected her to give me “getting over it” advice, but she didn’t. Instead, she named what I couldn’t. I am grieving the loss of a relationship, yes. But I’m also grieving the loss of my best friend — a person that I talked to every day and counted on to be there through the thick and thin. I went through a move, a career shift, a college degree, and the declining health of my daughter with him. He listened carefully and offered comfort. I wholly believed that he loved me. And in fairness, he did — just not in the way I thought.
I remember this emptiness settling in the pit of my stomach after he broke up with me. We had both cried over the phone. I was angry and hurt, but also resigned. I knew he meant it. I hung up and just sat there in shock. I texted some friends. I told my sister. She flew up the following week, understanding what a tremendous loss it was. My daughter was really ill and considering medically assisted suicide, and all I could think is that I was losing everything. My daughter, my lover, and my best friend. What the fuck was I supposed to do now? No answer came, though, just the stillness of grief. It felt like a death. And in a way, it was. There was no hatred on either side, no malice. We still loved each other — but we were broken and I couldn’t try to fix it. I just had to walk away and let it be.
At first, I tried to throw myself into the dating pool. I knew he was dating, and thought maybe getting out there myself would help me get over it. But dating is hard. I was having stupid conversation after stupid conversation, and I missed the easy communication I had with my ex. Then one day, I had to pick something up from his house and about had a panic attack thinking he could have his new girlfriend there. How was I going to handle that? I didn’t want to burst into tears in front of them. I remember putting my head on the steering wheel and thinking that I clearly was not over anything.
When there are still feelings of love on both sides, it makes the loss of the friendship that much more acute. My ex has a daughter that still likes to hang out with my boys. They were always really close. When he drops her off, he usually stays to chat a bit in the doorway. I both crave that time and am damaged by it. I see how much he cares for me and I can’t reconcile that affection with his decision to walk away. The bottom line is I don’t know how to trust my feelings anymore — or how to read anyone else’s feelings. In some ways, his affection unsettles me. It reminds me of the friendship that I lost and desperately want back, but it also serves to illustrate how resolute he is in his decision to walk away from me. He doesn’t want me — even though he cares so much — and somehow that feels even worse.
I have to remind myself that I don’t know what he is thinking or really how he feels. And though playing the part of the victim is tempting, it’s not accurate. I don’t think he ever wanted to hurt me. But regardless of his intentions or feelings, we cannot be what we were on any level. And that is painful. Every time I talk to him and share a little of my life: how the boys are, how school is going, how my daughter is coping — I feel like I’ve lost a little. I feel like he gets the satisfaction of thinking we can still be friends, while I am left with the devastation of knowing that this little conversation is just that — a little conversation. I can call him in the event of an emergency and I know he will do his best to help. I can rely on him to ask me how I am and to care about the answer. But he is not here for the big or small anymore. And someday, when he becomes more serious with someone else, I will (necessarily) shrink from his field of vision altogether. Sometimes that is unbearably sad.
If you find yourself in a similar situation and are wrestling with your own version of heart-sickness, I know how much it hurts and I’m sorry. Here are some things I have found to help me through the day-to-day:
- Building my base I have taken inventory of my friendships and made conscious efforts to connect more regularly with the people who nourish me. I plan lunches and have long phone calls. I am more vulnerable with them, allowing their warmth to take the space I used to hold for my ex. I reach out more often, and I am constantly grateful for them.
- Being mindful of my surroundings At first, I listened to a lot of sad music — and binge-watched more than a few series on Netflix. But eventually, I noticed that all of that was contributing to my heaviness. I realized that I hadn’t actually laughed or pursued happiness for a while. So, I became more mindful regarding what I listened to, how I spent my time, and the stories I told myself. I invested in small projects around the house and went outside more. In short, I got out of my head.
- Believing in my worth I cannot control who stays in my life and who doesn’t. And the fact is, it’s complicated. People can love me and still leave me. That is not a reflection of my worth. I can peaceably detach without letting their decision define me in any way. When I start having negative self-talk and indulging in “mind-reading” to determine my ex’s feelings or intentions, I stop myself and sometimes (verbally) tell myself that I can move past this and be healthy and happy.
- Bridging my mental health I had this epiphany this summer. I was wallowing in what a failure I was at relationships, feeling sorry for myself and my children — that I couldn’t give them a whole family. Then it dawned on me that in all my efforts to give my daughter a dad, I had brought pain by mistake. My kids don’t need me to find them a family. They have one. What they need — and what I absolutely owe them — is my emotional health. That is what I focus on. How do I show up for them in positive, joyful ways? How do I tend to my pain without letting it consume me?
Healing from the loss of a relationship — and the loss of a best friend — is no easy task. There will be times that are very bad. Sometimes I feel like it’s a miracle that I make it through the day. But some days will be good too. You will have days when you feel proud of your resiliency, days when you are filled with the hope that comes with second chances, and days when you feel the love and support of friends in new ways. The absence of someone you love can feel overwhelming. What’s the saying? Grief is love with nowhere to go. Sometimes that feels unbearably true. But grief is also the evidence of love that was real and deeply felt — and though it brings sadness, it is worthy of celebration too.
This post was previously published on MEDIUM.COM.
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