I remember the breakup clearly, but for some reason I remember the next day even more.
I remember waking up and feeling dread. There’s no other way to describe it, really, other than maybe a giant “UGH”. I wandered around my apartment and thought about the explanations, and the emails, and the incessant pangs of conscience that were sure to follow for the rest of the day. I thought about the way in which I was going to have to fill everyone in. I thought about the phone calls, the errant text messages and the inevitable, unsolicited pep talks. I sighed as I ate my breakfast cereal.
I thought about those tasks like they were a tiresome set of chores. Like cleaning the apartment, or doing the dishes, or filing taxes. Like going through my iTunes library and painstakingly adding album art to every record without it. I thought about how the breakup process would be easier if it were more cut and dry– one quick severing of all liaisons. Not contentious, but professional. Like ending a business relationship with a firm handshake and well wishes. No unpleasantness. And I thought about how interesting it was that these tasks had nothing to do with her, but everything to do with everyone else.
I sat in front of the computer, mid-IM conversation, filling the first person in, trying to come up with the most elegant ways to describe it. Nothing came out right. Every line felt a couple of levels too overdramatic or nonchalant or bitter or bemused. I found no way to capture the complexity of the situation, because I wanted to accurately communicate the complicated reality of it.This was not a relationship to be mourned, this was a joyful time. I wanted to be honest about how nice it felt, how sweet and tender and reasonable and logical it was, how we spent an entire day together before and after the fact, how our paths simply drifted away from each other’s and how much of a pretty sendoff it was to a beautiful, fulfilling relationship. I wanted to make it clear that I was fine. That there was a built-in expiration date to this relationship that I was always aware of, and that I was always comfortable with.
But then, I also wanted to be honest with myself. I wanted to communicate the deflated disappointment, the creeping realization of being alone again, the misplaced feeling of abandonment and alienation, the overwhelming laze at the very prospect of working hard to get laid again. I wanted to talk about how much I was dreading the internal tune-up that happens every time I break up with someone: how the thoughts “oh, here’s something interesting to do this weekend” and “ah, I should bring her to this restaurant” need to be eradicated from my everyday routine, because they are a constant reminder that what was there is no longer.
I wanted to be honest about the anger I felt towards myself for letting something so good slip right past me. I wanted to talk about that “built-in expiration date” as proof of my depleted balloon of self-esteem; how fucked-up is it that, in the back of my head, I venture into every relationship knowing that, at some point, my partner will wise up to the fact that I am a braying, obnoxious manchild? I mean, fuck, what does that even say about me?
I wanted to lay it all out on front street, and be honest, and clear, and concise. And I just couldn’t. There was no way. So I condensed it all into a simple “I’ll be fine”, followed by those sideways-frown smileys (:-/) and repeated it dozens of times throughout the day, then a few times for the rest of that week, then once or twice for the rest of the month until the world stopped asking. It’s usually then that I can find some peace with it, at least for a little bit. I convince myself that it’s nothing to do with me or her, but this wave of “support” that strangles me.
But then, of course, it happens. “It”– the happening– that marks the complete severing of our relationship with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me it’s usually a couple of months after the breakup. I see her again in some social setting and it’ll all come rushing back. And it becomes clear that this unrest is nothing to do with anyone else other than the two of us. That’s where your brain finally takes that leap. And it hurts. It has to hurt, to fully realize this person is out of your life. Because it’s this creeping horror that just rushes up from underneath like a sickness and takes full hold of you and strangles and shakes you. And it squeezes every other feeling out of you so all you have left is this fright. And it leaves you shivering. And it eventually subsides but the high-water mark is still there. You’re changed, whether you want it or not. You’ve made it through.
It’s only after you emerge at the other end of this cruel onslaught of emotion that you can pick yourself up and let someone else in. It’s only after you’ve come to that full stop, and you’ve quit relegating the pain and anger to other outside factors. When you’re truly over it and you realize that it’s actually behind you. When you realize it’s okay to stop agonizing, because your paths were pulled apart. When you learn to live with the fact that you’re not a terrible person and neither is she– the two of you just had no distance left to run together.
It’s a good feeling. It’s liberating.