The day after Halloween, I found myself on Facebook, bored, tired, contemplating a nap, when on my news feed, I see my ex’s name appear. New photos have been added. Suddenly, I’m wide awake. I know better than to click. Don’t click, don’t click.
I click. My heart stops. He has his arm around some blonde. She’s nameless, untagged, mysterious. I evaluate the comfort with which his arm is wrapped around hers. Tears sting my eyes.
I lost him. I finally lost him.
There’s a video. A three second clip.
I hold my breath and press play. He’s alongside my favorite couple, Jason and Danielle, a pair we used to go on double dates with. The three of them are all cheering, jumping, singing. And then the clip stops. Black. A momentary glimpse into his life. And then silence.
Cold rushes through my veins.
What is wrong with me? We broke up a year and four months ago. I’m who ended it. I could have been the one dancing in that video if I wanted it.
So why am I the one crying – and he’s the one dancing?
I was talking to a girl over the weekend. She told me that she broke up with her boyfriend two and a half years ago. She moved across the state but still hasn’t moved on. Even though she is who initiated the break-up. She said she saw the back of him at Von’s this weekend while she was in town and it was enough to have her digging her fingernails into the arm of her best friend as she whispered, “Don’t turn around, let’s just leave.” Her best friend, who broke up with someone a year ago as well, thought she was being warned that her own ex was there so she instantly broke down into tears.
Why does it take so long to move on?
If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that there’s a great deal of backtracking in healing, it’s not a forward process. Every day the pendulum swings. You act like you’re over the person, you tell everyone that you are, and you hope one day your feelings will catch up to your words. That your ex will stop sitting in the back of your mind, popping up every time you have an unfulfilling night out. You distract yourself, find religion in your routine, you stay busy, go for runs, go out on dates, meet friends for dinner, you smile and laugh and keep going. And sometimes for good stretches, you are fine. You’ve grieved and gotten on with things. But every once in awhile the aching clutches inside your chest and your strength crumbles just enough. You miss the comfort, the sparks, the good times. “Why did we break up?” You can remember the reasons, the facts, but you don’t feel them, anymore. He calls and you eagerly agree to see him. It’s like old times, and for a little while you can even pretend you’re still in love. It's like a relationship without the hard work. But something feels wrong. Off. Something he says, something he does. You remember now, oh so vividly, why you broke up. How could you have forgotten? This is bad. You’re planning your escape, suddenly saying things that cannot be unsaid, ending a relationship that’s already ended.
You tell each other goodbye and this time you mean it, you really, really do. You can only remember the bad parts, now. You hate him because it’s easier to, because you need to. You throw yourself back into the singles scene with even more force. More need. You search for someone to give you hope, to take his place, to rescue you from this addiction.
Time passes. But you just can’t fill the void. You start to wonder if you’ll ever find that connection again. What if you shouldn’t have let him get away? And so you text him drunk, lonely. You know you shouldn’t but you just need to know he’s still there. You write that you miss him. He doesn’t respond. You imagine where he is, who he’s with, whether he's over you. The pain twists and turns inside as you crawl back into bed and bawl your eyes out. He’s become so integral to your life, so woven into the fabric of everything you do, you can’t imagine never talking again. It’s finally really done. But then he writes back. He admits he misses you, too. Your heart leaps. You want to see him. What could it hurt, right? And there it begins again.
It’s heart-wrenching; it’s tear-felt and you’ll be back again next week.
Once the riptide pulls you in, it's difficult to get out of. It circles around and around until someone finally builds enough strength to make a break for it – or more likely, finds someone else to latch onto.
Not every break ends this way, of course, and you may pride yourself that you never got dragged into something like this, so destructive, so dependent, so weak. And good on you if you haven’t – because until this relationship, I was just like that – I used to walk away from something and that was it. But this time was different.
My ex and I found ourselves in this emotionally stunting cycle for so long, band-aiding each other's loneliness, offering a soft place to fall whenever we needed it. We knew it wasn’t good for us but we couldn’t stop. It’s like eating dessert without dinner. You enjoy it in the moment but it doesn’t nourish you and ultimately only leaves you regretful. Friends tried to help me, told me to snap out of it, to just move on already. But I guess you’re only done when you’re done.
And now, a year and four months after I stood in the apartment we shared and told him it was over, I haven’t healed because I haven’t done the hard work. To heal, you have to go through the pain, you have to let go completely. No one can help you through it, there’s no trick to fast forward. If you hide in another’s bed or at work, you’re only prolonging what you’ll have to face one day. And I can tell you, after seeing the photos of his new girl, it stings like hell when you do, but the pain is good. It means you’re moving on.
A broken heart has many lives, again and again it rises from the dead, out of hope, out of habit, out of desperation and aloneness, and each one you must beat back down into the ashes, before you can put a lost love to rest. The trick, if I may impart some, is this:
Don’t drag it out. If it’s dead, bury it. Don’t sleep with it.
Hindsight doesn’t help me any but maybe it can shine a light for you. And that, my friends, is my thirty sense.