What I learned from my breakup

I was slightly stunned last week when I realised that it’s been nearly three years since the end of my most serious relationship.  That breakup ripped me up in the worst possible way.  I’ve never felt quite so adrift as I did in the weeks and months following that event.  But as horrible life events often are, my breakup was a real learning experience.  At the risk of sounding utterly trite, I learned so much about myself and about love from the aftermath of that breakup.  And now that I’ve had time to reflect upon it, I’d like to share some of those hard-earned insights with you.

 

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There is no such thing as “The One”

For years I hung onto the idea that there was a single person out there for everyone.  I think it comes from being raised in a family with two happily-married parents, with happily married grandparents and aunts and uncles who have long and happy marriages. In addition to my home environment, pop culture was also a guiding force in my firm belief in “The One”.  And for a very long time I believed that my then-boyfriend was The One.  And when that relationship ended I felt utterly shattered because that’s not what’s supposed to happen.  I worried whether I was wrong about him being my Person.  Or if he was my Person and that meant that I didn’t get another One.

 

After a lot of reflection and dating, I’ve come to the conclusion that The One is a myth.  There will always be people who are so compatible that you believe that the two of you were made for one another.  And for some people, that feeling comes only once in a lifetime.  Some people find it multiple times.  And some people don’t find it, or perhaps aren’t interested in romance.  I truly believe that my ex-boyfriend was The One for me from the ages 17 through 27.  But after that we were no longer compatible.  And I believe that I’ll get to have that feeling again.

Sometimes the best thing you can do is tear everything down and start fresh

After our final fight, I left and found a flat for me and my two cats.  I had almost no furniture because I’d sold most of my shitty second-hand stuff when I’d moved in with my boyfriend.  So I spent many, many nights in a very empty flat feeling alone, bereft and very sorry for myself.

After a long period of wallowing, I started working on filling my flat and my life.  I took a full-time job, which ultimately led to my current job which I really enjoy.  With the money I earned I bought furniture and household items that I actually liked.  I spent time with my friends and made new mates.  I started exploring new interests.  I did some online dating and had a series of incredible experiences there.

But the point is, I would never have done those things if my relationship had remained on track.  I would never have needed to buy new things or meet new people.  Although it sucked at the time, stripping that floundering relationship from my life made room and space for things that have made me feel happier and more “me” than ever before.

Fear of failure is worse than actual failure

I’m a very anxious person.  For years one of my biggest fears was that my relationship with my partner would end.  Even when our relationship was good, I would sometimes lie awake at nights freaking out about how awful it would be if we broke up.  And when we did, it was like a nightmare had come true.  Only it wasn’t as awful as I’d imagined it would be.

 

Now, don’t get me wrong, it was pretty fucking brutal.  But it wasn’t as all-consuming and insurmountable than the scenario my very active imagination had created.  I managed to deal with it, survive and thrive.

 

This realisation has helped dramatically with my anxiety.  When I’m about to take a risk or I feel scared about something, I reassure myself with the knowledge that the fear is worse than the actual scenario of failing.  And that’s not just a cliche that I placate myself with. I know that to be true.

 

Letting a partner be your plan for the future is a mistake

I did a very dumb thing during the course of my relationship.  There were many moments when I should have been planning for my future, and I’d brush away those scary thoughts about superannuation and mortgages and let Future Vanessa deal with them.  You see, I thought that my relationship would last forever, and I thought that meant I’d be set for life.  My partner worked hard and had a well-paying job.  He knew what he wanted from his career and I was happy to just go along with that, getting away with working part-time because he earned enough to take care of the bigger, scarier expenses.

 

But then we broke up.  And I realised I was screwed, financially.  I’ve always been good with my money, but I’d never earned much.  I’d saved some cash, but I never thought to put anything into my superannuation, or worry about my financial future.  My plan for the future was to let my boyfriend take care of it.  I’m ashamed to admit that, but it was the truth.  And I paid dearly for that error.  But after some panicking and nervous crying I got my butt into gear.  I took on a full-time job to better support myself.  I opened a dedicated savings account.  I put money into superannuation.  I started researching investments and cutting my discretionary spending.  And now I’m in a much more comfortable financial position.

So now, if I wind up on my own for good, I’ll be set up to take care of myself.  And if I do end up getting married down the track, I’m coming into that union with a solid foundation and the knowledge that I’ve got my own back.

A “successful” relationship doesn’t always mean “One that doesn’t end”

For a long time I nursed a deep wound caused by the feeling that I’d failed.  I felt that because we’d broken up, my relationship with my boyfriend was all terrible and all wrong.  I tortured myself thinking about all our happy memories, and tainting them with the idea that they were somehow flawed because we had broken up.

 

I had an epiphany while watching How I Met Your Mother.  In the final episode, where Barney and Robin reveal that they are getting divorced after a few years of marriage, Robin mentions that their marriage hadn’t failed, but rather that it was a successful marriage that only lasted three years.  That hit me so hard, because it’s really true.  Not all wonderful, successful and important relationships last forever.  And not all long-term relationships are successful.  For so much of our time together, my relationship with my ex was awesomely fun, romantic and nurturing.  I felt supported and truly happy.  And that isn’t tainted by the fact that our relationship didn’t last.  It was what was right for us for a portion of our lives, but after that we were no longer compatible.  It happens, and it doesn’t make me or my ex a failure.

 

Have you learned any hard lessons from a breakup?  If so I’d love to hear about it in the comments section.

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How to get over a break-up

Over the past few months, I’ve had a few people write to me and ask for my advice about how to get over a break-up.  I should point out that I am by no means an expert on the subject.  Yes, I’ve got through a painful break-up this year.  No, I don’t think that I’m totally over it (or even close) yet.  But I’m definitely on the right track.  I’ve tried quite a few methods to help me to get over my break up.  Several of them (crying into a glass of wine, planning the intimate details of my ex’s demise) were not helpful.  However I have found a few things that have made me feel better and have helped me back on the road to awesomeness.  Such as:

Tell people what you’re going through

In the beginning, I was very hesitant to tell people that I’d been dumped.  I felt humiliated and incredibly vulnerable, and I wanted to share that with as few people as possible.  But I soon realized that wasn’t going to be do-able.  Once I began telling people that we’d broken up, things did start to get a bit easier.  For starters, by telling your friends and family you’re making the break-up “official” and you can begin healing.  Also, once people know what is going on they’ll begin to offer their help and support. And trust me, you’re going to need it.

Say “Yes” to opportunities and invitations

When you’ve just been dumped,  socializing is going to be the last thing on your mind.  But when people hear about your predicament, they’re going to start inviting you places and offering to come around and hang out with you.  The nerve of them!

Although you might not feel like it, I’d recommend saying “yes” to as many invitations as possible.  You don’t have to knock yourself out trying to fill your calendar, but try to accept as many invitations as you can.  Socializing will get you out of the house and take your mind off things for a little while.  It will also help you to realize that you aren’t on your own, and that your life is filled with incredible people.  You don’t need your ex-partner to have a good time.

Often, when you’re in a relationship, your friends and family will be somewhat neglected. So now that you’re single again, this is a great opportunity to nurture those relationships once again.

Explore things that interest you

When I moved out on my own, I noticed that I had an awful lot of time to fill in.  Before, my evenings were spent going out on dates, hanging with my boyfriend on the couch or talking to him on the phone.  I was at a loose end.

I realized that this was the perfect opportunity to explore some of my interests.  So I sat down and made a list of absolutely all of the things that interest me, from writing and crocheting to Tudor history and costume making.  Then I tried to think of as many activities as possible that would allow me to explore these interests.  And then I started actually doing the things on the list.  It helped me to fill in my time, improved my mood, allowed me to meet new people and gave me a sense of accomplishment.

Remove triggers and relationship collateral.

When you’re in a relationship, you wind up with a whole lot of ‘stuff’ that has gathered from your union.  That ‘stuff’ includes birthday presents, love letters and kitchen appliances you bought with your lover.  When you break up, these things just serve to remind you of the love you’ve lost, and can act as a trigger to send you spiraling into a deep depression.

I found it best to get all that relationship collateral out of sight.  Some of it got thrown out, but most of it simply got put away.  I replaced all the photos of the two of us together with pictures of my friends and family.  I tossed away crummy novelty gifts and itchy ill-fitting lingerie that he’d bought for me.  I packed up all of the letters he’d sent me and put them at the back of the closet.  Purging all of those things out of my space was so cathartic.

You don’t have to throw all of the stuff away, just get it out of your sight.  Pack up the collateral and give it to a friend or family member to store until a later date.  Put it in the shed.  Whatever works for you.

Feel all the feels.

Break ups are highly emotional.  They bring up all kinds of feelings, and most of them are not very nice.  Now, if you’re anything like me you don’t like feeling down and low, so it can be tempting to deny your feelings and pretend to be “just fine”.

You might also find that you don’t react to the breakup in the way that you imagined you would.  You might discover a whole lot of anger and resentment that you never knew was there.  You might start harboring jealous tendencies.  And those feelings might scare you a bit.

It’s so important to honor your feelings and let them run their course.  Don’t try to pretend that you’re fine if you aren’t. Don’t feel ashamed if you aren’t able to breeze through this crisis in a cloud of serenity and forgiveness.  Take it easy and let them out.  Talk to a friend or relative if you need to.  Cry for hours, write in a journal or throw on some Alanis Morissette and scream into your hairbrush.  Just let yourself feel however you feel, and then move on.

Don’t see your ex.  Like, ever.

My boyfriend had been a major part of my life for nine years.  He was the person I talked to about absolutely everything.  He was there for every major event in my adult life.  So when he left, I felt like there was a huge hole in my life.  It was so tempting to pick up the phone and call him, just to hear his voice.  I started creating scenarios for that would give me an excuse to get in touch with him, or go to places where I thought I might run into him.

Let me tell you a hard truth: no matter how much you want to do those things, try your best to resist.  Every time you see your ex, it makes it harder to get over them.  Now, it might not be practical to completely cut them out of your life, particularly if you lived together and you have joint property that has to be divided up.  But I’d definitely recommend cutting out all non-essential contact with the person who broke your heart.

Re-introduce romance

You don’t need a partner to romance you.  You can do that for yourself!  Take the time to nurture yourself and celebrate the awesome person that you are.  For more information about romancing yourself, read this post.

 

Have you ever gone through a nasty break up?  How did you get through it?

Four months on…

It’s been four months since my breakup, and today I felt like writing a bit of a reflection on how I’m feeling at this point.

DSCF8776To say that these past few months have been hard would be putting it mildly.  I feel like I’ve had my heart put through the ringer and I don’t even recognise what came out the other side.  I’ve had times were I’ve been in so much emotional pain that I was sure I would die, because I didn’t think it was possible for someone to exist when they were hurting so much.  I kept waiting for my head to explode from all the thoughts and feelings that were swirling around in there.

In a lot of ways I feel better than I did when I first wrote about my break-up.  I no longer burst into tears four or five times a day and I’ve stopped hoping that we’ll get back together.  I’ve accepted that it’s over, even though that’s very difficult to admit.

I never thought that it was possible for me to miss anyone as much as I’ve missed Ross these past few months.  It’s almost been like a chunk of myself was missing.  For nearly a decade I hadn’t gone a day without talking to him.  He was always there to celebrate with me when good things happened and comfort me when I was feeling low.  It’s been so strange to adjust to life without him.  There were many times when I’ve picked up the phone to call him to tell him about something that’s happened, only to have to put it back down again and remind myself that he’s not my boyfriend any more.  There are days when I still long for him.  But the truth is that he’s changed a lot, and I don’t actually think that the person I’m missing exists any more.  It’s almost like mourning a death, the death of the man I loved.  On the few occasions that we’ve seen each other, I’ve walked away shaking my head and wondering why this stranger looks exactly like the man I spent a third of my life with.

I also feel like I’m mourning the loss of the future I’d dreamed we would have together.  The wedding I imagined us having, the children that might have been, our house, travelling together after we retired.  All of those things are gone.  I also feel a keen sense of loss for our ‘story’.  In many ways, our relationship fulfilled fantasies and dreams that I’d held since I was little.  It unfolded and grew in such a beautiful way that I sometimes felt that I was in a modern fairy tale.  I felt so lucky that these amazing things were happening to me, and that I’d met someone I connected so well with.  Having him leave me wasn’t the “Happily ever after” ending I’d been hoping for, and it’s tremendously hard to let go of what might have been. I’ve had to re-think a lot of my beliefs about love and relationships and re-arrange my expectations.

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I can feel myself hardening towards the idea of love.  When I watch a romantic film I find myself rolling my eyes and thinking, “Yeah, he loves her now, but he’s just going to leave her for someone younger in a few years time”.  I hate feeling so cynical and cold, because it’s not who I am.  I don’t know how to defrost myself to a point where I can trust another man.

The thought of dating again is fraught with difficulties.  Sometimes I’m so lonely that I’d love a man to spend some time with me.  I miss physical affection and having cute nicknames and in-jokes.  But I can’t imagine myself falling for anyone just yet.  I’m just not ready.

I do worry though.  In the past four months, at least five of my friends have either gotten married or announced their engagement.  I get the distinct feeling that I’m being left behind, that I’ve failed at yet another very important life goal.  I worry about being the last sausage left on the shelf.

And then there’s the anger.  I’m not an angry person, but these past few months have been tinged with rage.  Mostly directed at my ex-boyfriend.  I’m angry that he left.  I’m angry at him for changing.  I’m angry at him for acting so cool and collected whenever I see him.  I hate feeling this way, because it’s not like me at all.  I’m a stranger to anger, and I don’t like how acquainted we’ve become.

DSCF7673But it’s not all bad.  I’ve gotten to a point where I’m beginning to see some up-sides to our breakup.  Like the fact that I no longer have to clean up after anyone else, or trip over piles of comic books and DVDs every time I move.  Like not having to worry about another person’s moods and just being able to concentrate on looking after myself.  Like being able to fill my days with things that are important to me rather than having to compromise all too often.

I’ve also had a chance to see how amazing my friends and family are.  I’ve had so much loving support from my nearest and dearest these past few months and that is truly humbling.

If anything, I’m feeling more like myself than I have in months.  I’m laughing a lot more, taking the time to do the things that make me happy and trying to heal.  I don’t think I’m all better yet, but I’m definitely on the right track.

Daily outfit 22/7/2013

I’ve run out of scheduled posts to tide me over my post-separation malaise.  Today I actually forced myself to get dressed, put on makeup and do something with my hair.  I thought it would be worth sharing this achievement with you.

DSCF8583I am wearing:

– Maroon Miss Shop jumper (thrifted)

– Blue jeans from Target

– Gold tone rock ring from ASOS

– Amber earrings (gift from my grandmother)

– Blue suede heels from Tony Bianco

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I wore this outfit to do some painful relationship things like cry and write fourteen pages in my journal. Then I also did some nice things like watch Misfits and walk in the park.  Obviously, I didn’t wear these shoes for that portion of the day.

DSCF8586I’m not going to lie to you.  I feel pretty shitty right now.  I thought that getting dressed in something somewhat stylish might help.  Ha!  How silly of me.  When your ex-partner is half a world away and all you want to do is cry and rewind time, it takes more than a well-cut pair of jeans to make you feel better.  Oh well, at least I gave it a shot.

DSCF8587It feels so weird to write the words “break up”.  I’m not even sure what to call it.  I think I’m more comfortable using the term “separated” because at least that gives me hope that perhaps the situation isn’t permanent.  I don’t even really know what I should be doing right now.  Should I be hoping and praying that we get back together?  Should I be ranting and raving and focussing on all of his shortcomings?  Should I be pretending to be fine?  Should I stay or should I go?  I feel like my life is in shambles right now.

DSCF8583So this is probably the ranty-est daily outfit post I’ve ever done.  But at least it was honest.  Right now I’m just trying to pick myself up and do what I can to move forward, whatever that might mean.  And I do believe that I managed a hint of a smile in that last photo.  Do you see it?  It’s just a little one, but it’s definitely there.  That’s something at least.