Behind extraordinary ideas, there are extraordinary people.
How I learned to love my break-up
Growth comes in the most heart-breaking places.
Growth comes in the most heart-breaking places.
On the first day of the new year, while everyone nurses hangovers and sees the world anew, mine comes crashing down around me at four in the afternoon. I have cling wrap around my head, incubating hair dye. I wish I’d looked more dignified on the occasion of my break-up. My partner arrives home from work with a dark cloud over him. We fall into yet another argument over nothing, but suddenly it picks up momentum. For over an hour, he spews vitriol at me as I sob. A gulf widens between us. “I have to go,” I say. He nods but he doesn’t understand.
The next day when he leaves for work, I pack a suitcase and leave behind my relationship of seven years, my beloved pets, the house we renovated and the future I had mapped out for us. I can barely see through the tears, yet I feel strangely invigorated. This is the hardest thing I have ever done, but I am doing it. Arriving on a friend’s doorstep, I try to say “hello” but instead fall to pieces. For the first time since I was 18 years old, I am single, living in the adult world with a job that drains me and a family that lives on the other side of the country. In the weeks that follow, my sadness spills over into my dreams, into a job interview, into my stirfry. My friends tell me I’m brave. I feel like I’m spiralling. The person I want to talk to the most has shut me out.
For two months we are silent. Eventually I find some kind of equilibrium. I move into a sharehouse of young vegetarians. My bedroom becomes my private sanctuary from the world. I write in my journal until my hand is stained with ink and my fingers are numb. I watch more films in a week than I’d watched in a year. I take myself on a date to the art gallery. I surprise myself with my resilience. But I still cry a lot. I wrestle with the dilemma of wanting to be single but feeling lonely. I join Tinder. I delete Tinder. I go on a date. It feels too strange.
One day, he breaks the silence and throws me into a tailspin. In every lunch break and every commute for a week I find myself questioning the break-up, my supposed happiness, what I want. How much of it was him? How much of it was me? Maybe we just needed space? I put it all into a letter, written furiously fast over two hours. I try to explain what went wrong. I blame us both. I apologise, often. Above all else, I make it clear that the break-up needed to happen.
When we finally stand face to face in Carlton Gardens, my heart beats out of my chest. We cry, then we laugh, then we cry again. We echo each other. “I can’t believe you’re here.” “You seem so different.” He agrees that the break-up was necessary. We have endured our worst-case scenario and we’re both still standing. We have reconnected with friends, leaned on family and spent some quality time with ourselves. But we’ve both experienced the kind of prolonged, pain-in-the-chest sadness that forces you to look at things with more scrutiny, and we do miss each other. We have reexamined our values, our needs, our ideas for the future. Over dinner and during a walk, we reconnect, and we can’t ignore the feeling that this is right.
In returning to the relationship, we make ourselves extremely vulnerable. Love truly is an act of bravery. Neither of us wants to fall into old habits or sacrifice our independence. So we approach things with an open mind and have a lot of difficult conversations. We use our time apart to our advantage, regrouping to put everything on the table and renegotiate the relationship. We decide that we will live apart–at least until my lease ends–and that we will work on ourselves. A little curbed jealousy here, a little practice at communicating there. We work toward changing the mindset of “you are mine and I am yours” to our new mantra: “I am mine, and you are yours”. In his 1969 Gestalt Prayer, psychotherapist Fritz Perls says:
I do my thing and you do your thing.
I am not in this world to live up to your expectations,
And you are not in this world to live up to mine.
You are you, and I am I,
And if by chance we find each other, it’s beautiful.
If not, it can’t be helped.
This speaks to me so much more than the Hollywood notion that we are destined by fate to be together or that a relationship connotes ownership. I think so often we become spectators in our own relationships because we believe that celestial forces are at play. And if they fail, well they “just weren’t meant to be”. We succumb to laziness and disrespect, and when life gets hard or when our mental health is not its best, we lash out, shut off or emotionally manipulate. We expect our partner to be perfect while denying our own flaws. In my “relationship 2.0”, we each have our own very full lives. We can be spontaneous or solitary. We choose when we are together, and we make the most of it.
At 26, my news feed is a mix of wedding photos, passive-aggressive break-up statuses and selfies of single friends traveling the world. I know 19-year-olds who are earning six figures, and I know 50-year-olds who are starting all over again. I’m learning that there is no one way to “do” life or love. None of it is a competition, and nobody else has authority over it. Instead of getting hung up on what I think my life should look like, I’m choosing to live–and love–openly and fully, one day at a time. Through my crisis, I found catharsis, and I wouldn’t change a thing.