I was sitting there across from him, staring at the hardwood floor I’d become accustomed to coming home to everyday. We sat across each other in the chairs he bought the second month we were dating. We used to sit next to each other, now we were on opposite sides of the room. I kept my eyes on everything but him. I could always concentrate my eyes on something different. Not so with my ears.
“…you’re incredible. I just have so much going on right now…”
He still hadn’t dusted the blinds or cleaned off the table. It was always messy. Somebody was doing something on the television. The sound was inaudible. Sort of like this conversation.
“ …you know? There’s so much I have to deal with. I need to grow up…”
Had he taken the clothes out of the dryer? He always did a second cycle to get the wrinkles out even though he had the steamer. I bet his room was a mess. The kitchen was abysmal. There was a list on the counter for the groceries still. He hadn’t gone yet.
“I should have said something sooner.”
Ah, there was the period.
For the first time in the eternity stretched ten minutes, I looked at him. I looked into him. I was looking for the person I loved. The one who would sing me “Tiny Dancer” comically, at the top of his lungs when I was having a bad day. The one who bore his soul to me. The one who took care of me when I was sick. The person I fell in love with under the stars. The person I laughed with daily. I stared hard into those eyes and found a haziness where there was once light. I had given him my words. My words. The most intimate form of affection I could offer, I had given to him and now I was left wanting, waiting for an explanation, for a why to the whirlwind that had been the last few weeks of dismissals and confusion. I closed my eyes. It wasn’t haziness I’d seen but a vacancy. He wasn’t coming back.
I looked up once more and saw the smirk on his face. I got up to leave.
“Hey, don’t be like that. Stay. We can talk some more.”
The air was thick outside. My back was to him. I paused. I could try and convince him. I could shake him until he came back to his senses. I could pinch him so he could wake up. But the only person who needed convincing, who needed to be shaken, to be pinched, was me.
“There’s nothing left to talk about…thanks for the explanation.”
Breaking up is more of an evaluation of yourself than they are of your former partner. You’re forced to wrestle with your issues with commitment, communication, abandonment, the ghost of your parents’ divorce, the burden of public perception, and everything in between. There’s this vacuum that appears that you can easily get sucked into. You’re feeling abandoned, alone, maybe unworthy, unloved, definitely angry, and ridiculously hurt. You question conversations and words. Everything that was once sacred and beautiful suddenly becomes a cruel reminder of a future obliterated. You have two options at this point, heal or hurt. You can suppress it and run away to another relationship, another bed, another bottle, another joint, whatever you can use to defer it but the feelings come back to collect, with interest. You have to wade through them eventually.
Many times, people don’t allow themselves to process the feelings hitting them. They run away because they’re afraid. They avoid them because we’re conditioned to believe that vulnerability and feelings are weaknesses when they’re our source of strength. They regress so far inside themselves that no one will ever be able to get to them from outside the fortress they’ve created. I’ve witnessed that multiple times in the people I love over the years. You can beat your head and you hands against those walls for hours, days even. You can scream and cry and kick. But all you’re met with is the echo of your own pain. The only way that person leaves is if they open the door. For some people that will never happen because they’re afraid of what they might find on the other side.
There’s something inside of us that is scared to death of confronting …ourselves. We’re afraid of our own shadow, of our reflection, we’re afraid of the truth of who we are. The allure of a relationship is that in the beginning, you can lie. You don’t have to look in the mirror, all of those flaws can be written off temporarily, hidden. Your demons don’t usually follow you to your third dinner date. But the true beauty of finding someone is that they illuminate all the things you were trying to hide. They bring a fuller awareness of who you are and let you know that it’s ok, that all of you is beautiful and worthy of love. This can be a season of growth.
It was for me. I learned a lot about myself in the process but mainly felt like I had gained access to an exclusive club. Nothing says you have your life together like a monogamous relationship in your twenties. At least that’s what I’d been told. I was excited about our partnership, about our emotional growth; I dived head first into love and chased it down a rabbit hole. I felt happy. I was coming into all of these new awarenesses about myself. I felt like I was blossoming and I was, under the light of my own love, not his. I hadn’t really noticed that he was a flowering weed.
Pretty soon, I spent all my time with him. I practically lived with him. He went from being my world to being my Sun. I convinced myself that he was the one. So what if he has severe family dysfunction? So what if we have completely opposed core beliefs? So what if he has kids? So what if he doesn’t have friends? So what if every other human relationship he has and has ever had functions on dysfunction? So what? I would rebuff every resonating doubt with that question. Who cares? Love can conquer anything. Love can win every battle. Love can overcome every obstacle. But what happens when only one person is operating with an understanding and experience of what love really is? What then?
You can’t give something that’s never been demonstrated to you. Sure, you can fake it for a while. Movies and music are a great source for all the right words to say and all the right gestures to give. You might even convince yourself that you give love. But love isn’t saying the right things. Love is offering compassion when you deserve none. Love is the liniment you put on after you’ve been emotionally burned and broken. Love is not an affection, it’s an effect. It’s a conscious choice. It’s a commitment. It’s a faith. It’s a light that guides you when all else has gone dark. Before you can offer that kind of healing to someone else, you have to offer it to yourself. Otherwise what you’re giving is the equivalent of counterfeit money. It can look like it, almost feel like it, but once you put it under the light you’ll see it’s worthless.
So I took my initial resistance to wanting to feel and I threw it out the window. I was patient with myself. I was kind. I demonstrated love to myself, so that I wouldn’t lose my ability to demonstrate it to someone else later. I felt my feelings. I didn’t put a container on it. I didn’t put a limit on it. I just felt the full truth of everything I was feeling. I got angry, I cried, I acted out of turn, I sought out “replacements”, I wailed, I sobbed, I accepted the rejection, the foolishness of not realizing what I was doing sooner, the loneliness, I went through the full range of everything that I felt. I was a zombie for a month. Then, slowly, I came out of it. I realized I dodged a colossal bullet, that breaking up was not an indication of my worth, love, or intelligence. I recognized that if anything, I learned a lot and maybe that was the point.
I could have remained bitter. I could have drowned in sorrow like I’d done before after breaking up with an ex. I could have blamed him for everything. But eventually I let it go. I allowed myself to be human and surprisingly I still am. Relationships have very little to do with the other person. We project our fears onto them and expect them to conquer each one. We quickly discover every flaw they have without realizing they’re actually ours. We demand all of them but only give a portion of ourselves. We tell them we love them so we can hear it back. We require a static state of perfection but constantly evolve, devolve, and fluctuate from who we originally were to them. We expect forgiveness, understanding, and patience without ever having to return the favor.
We’re so afraid to bare our souls to each other because we’ve never taken the time to look at it naked. Confront your reflection before you focus on someone else’s.
[This song helps too :)]