Breaking the Break-Up "Rules"

From the reading I've done so far about getting through break-ups, the cardinal rule is NO CONTACT WITH EX AT ALL. This makes complete sense. If an ex is like a drug, how could you expect to heal when you're constantly getting a hit and plummeting back to zero over and over again? I hear you, break-up books. I hear you.

But these break-up books also seem to expect the broken-hearted woman to act like a psycho, drink like a fish, never get out of bed, and basically fall apart as a person. Frankly, I find this insulting. And I have few, if any, psychotic tendencies despite the immense pain I'm feeling. Know why? Because for the most part, I can accept that pain is normal, natural, and to be expected. I'm not running around, trying to avoid the pain, bury it, or self-medicate it. No, I'm not. Each time I feel the pain rise up, I say to myself, "Pain is ok. Pain is not crisis. Go ahead and feel it."

This doesn't mean I want to induce pain or maintain it needlessly. Of course not. But I understand that it's just going to be part of the process. Resisting it will do nothing but add layer upon layer of complicated emotional baggage that eventually I'll have to deal with. I'd rather forgo the complications and dive right in.

Getting back to contact with the ex. Yesterday SCL informed me that he would need to sleep at our apartment that night and again Thursday. I told him I needed him to be out of the apartment while I held a rehearsal. At around 10:00 he came home. Shockingly, it was awkward (kidding). He was there, I was there, both of us in our 875 square foot apartment. Neither of us was sure quite what to do or say, if we were going to say anything. What was "right"?

My break-up books echoed in my head "Don't talk to him. Don't engage him. Just stay in your room." STAY IN MY ROOM? I'm not going to be trapped in my room like a prisoner just because he's there. And what kind of maturity does it show on my end to ignore his presence? I decided it was worse to ignore him, knowing he was there, than to say hello and try to be cordial.

We talked about our days. We laughed a little. We sat next to each other, our backs pressed against the wall. We both cried. I told him that when he has more clarity, I'd like to know what happened, not that understanding it will make it hurt any less, but that knowing it might be helpful for my own resolution, my learning, and my moving forward into the future, perhaps with another partner eventually (I hope). He said he would write me a letter. I told him I thought of him, he said he thought of me. I asked if he felt relieved. He said he did, and I strangely felt good that he said that. I knew it was a decision he had made carefully, honestly, and that it was best for him. And I confessed that deep down a little part of me was relieved, too. All of the things I'd given up, sacrificed, thought I had to lose to be in a relationship with him--I could have those back. I could be totally me again.

We hugged some. I said, "Friends hug!" I knew we were entering dangerous territory, but we kept it there. Nothing more. No kisses, no caresses, just hugs. Deep, meaningful, painful, supportive embraces. I'll miss those. I helped him put the extra bed together, put the sheets on, and so badly wanted to linger. I wanted him in bed with me. I wanted to sleep with him. I wanted to feel his body next to mine. He did, too. But we didn't. In a brief moment of weakness, I baited him, "How do you think your life is going to be better without me in it? Why was being with me so horrible?" And he answered wisely, "I don't think we should talk about this now." "You're right," I said.

I brushed my teeth, got in bed, read, and closed my eyes. When I woke up this morning, I didn't feel worse because we'd talked. I felt some relief knowing that he cared, that this was hurting him, and that we indeed had shared a beautiful (near) two years together. That is something to be celebrated, not romanticized or denigrated. Maybe I can't celebrate now, but someday I think I will.

What I want most is to move through the pain honestly and with grace. I told him, "When this doesn't hurt so much, I don't want to look back and think about how I was such a jerk to you during this time." It doesn't mean I can't be angry, depressed, or completely hysterical at times. But it does mean that I want to express those feelings in healthy ways rather than self-destructive ones or lashing out at him rather than dealing with my own mess. It isn't simply about being kind to him, though that's part of it. No, it's about me being the kind of person I want to be despite all the pain I'm feeling. I'm strong. I'm compassionate. I'm self-aware beyond belief. I have carried myself through worse things than this, and this is another opportunity for me to show that grace and strength.

I also have an appointment with a therapist on Monday.


  1. dear former grad student,
    your recent break-up has brought me to tears (yes, tears in my gray office cubicle). i am physically having pangs for you. because i've been there, first with my first love and then again with my current. bear and i have been close to ending before and i sometimes can't stop the memories from causing me to reel over. i think you're handling it beautifully though - that crazy psychotic person who drinks and can't get herself together? that's been me. and yes it's best to not have any contact but life is messy as you clearly know. all in all - you seem to be doing your best and that's all you can till time catches up. i'm glad you're writing as relief (sometimes it's best to talk to strangers or people you don't know all that well) and i just wanted you to know i'm out here reading. and sending you very big hugs.
    - livin wide

  2. Livin Wide, your comment just lifted me up so much. Thanks for your friendship, and I look forward to walking this difficult journey with you. You're right; blogging (mostly anonymously) is such a relief for me during this time. I find myself encountering so many emotions at once; it's overwhelming unless I can get them down online or on paper. Thanks for the hugs, too. I need all of 'em I can get.