Four things I learnt from my 4 year break up

It will be four years ago this month that I ended a relationship of four years.

Here are the four most important things I learnt:

  1. Rip off the Band-Aid – if you’re thinking of breaking up with someone it’s the right thing to do, so do it, and quickly.

I don’t like to think that I regret being in the relationship I was in, but I do know that I thought about breaking up with him after two years and very seriously after three years. So why did it take four? Because I loved him and I wanted it to miraculously work out. I wanted to not want to break up with him. But in the end I was so anxious and annoyed every day that I had to do something. I psyched myself up (literally) by speaking to a clairvoyant tarot card reader. She told me I was standing alongside a gushing river, unsure whether to jump in or stand on the bank and watch it flow by me. So I jumped in. Well, first I dipped my toe in and moved out for a couple of weeks….then I escaped with my family on holiday to think about it some more…then I came back and told him what my decision was and we debriefed our four year relationship over a bottle of whiskey. I wish I hadn’t protracted things for so long. I wish I’d ripped off the band-aid sooner and suffered the pain. The sooner you make the decision, the quicker you’ll know whether it was the right one or not. If it was the wrong decision you’ll end up together again. If it was right, you can both start your quest to alternate happiness.

  1. Find a friend with a sofa bed – while you might be starting your quest to future happiness, you will probably be doing it from a mate’s living room floor.

When I left my ex, I was homeless and displaced. I moved from friend to friend for about 10 weeks, before finding a new home of my own. Splitting a relationship in two brings practical challenges, like cutting financial ties and deciding ownership of shared things. If you’re the one who moved out, this can is a good excuse to revisit the place you lived together. Nobody understands what you are going through quite like the person whose heart you’ve just broke, so it feels good to seek solace in each other. Don’t! Gather your belongings and get out of there. Every trip I made back to our shared home left me an emotional wreck and my friends soon forbade it. I needed this stern advice and living with them after living with a man was also fun. We stayed up talking girl talk and planning our futures, we dressed up, we went out, I practiced flirting. It’s hard to be sad when you’re around people you love so I surrounded myself with them all the time by squatting with a new friend every week for 6 weeks. They fed me and dried my tears. I also cried less than I would’ve liked because, let’s face it, nobody wants to deal with a blubbering mess and  didn’t want to burden them with my emotional needs.  Surrounding myself with normal life was the quickest way back to my own normal.

  1. Fall in love with yourself again – when your relationship ends you will be left with only yourself so you better get to know who that is and what they like.

Once I had found a new home of my own and was starting to reconstruct my existence, I found it hard to know what I wanted to do with my time. Suddenly, I was the only decision maker and I didn’t know what I wanted – what I wanted to eat, whether I wanted to go to the beach for the day or to a movie, whether I wanted to quit my job and travel round the world, whether I wanted to be alone or start date. I was unsure of everything and it was disconcerting because the independent self-assured vision I had of myself didn’t seem to hold true anymore. So I fought against indecision. Every time I found myself deliberating over what to do with my Saturday, I forced myself to just do something and start to gauge how much I enjoyed it. I started dating myself. My favourite date with myself was, and still is, to the cinema. I found the Prince Charles in London and would go there on a Monday, because I could. Then I’d take myself to dim sum at Beijing Dumpling across the road. I also took myself to Highgate Cemetery because I like cemeteries and to the British Library because I like libraries. When I’d conquered such simple outings, I started taking myself cycling in the countryside and then off on holiday to Montenegro. I had the best time. The great thing about being alone is you are never really alone – you always meet new friends along the way but you can arrive and depart whenever you please.

Communing with the dead at Highgate Cemetary

Communing with the dead at Highgate Cemetery

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Private beach at Villa Milocer, Sveti Stefan, Montenegro

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Islet of Sveti Stefan, where Sofia Loren used to holiday.

  1. Allow enough time for a full recovery – the reconstruction process can be slower than you think and you need to protect your heart until its properly healed.

My path to reconstruction was probably more self-destructive than I realized. I thought I was doing all the right things – putting myself ‘back out there’, getting ‘back on the wagon’ and all the other post breakup clichés that are supposed to make you feel better about yourself and excited about the world. But I was in a fragile emotional state and should’ve been more selective about who I let in. The trouble with casual dating is that I’m just not that good at it. If you like someone enough to show them who you are then you will probably be sad when they go away, even if it is ‘casual’ and you are told you shouldn’t expect more. I was hurt by men I didn’t care about for a long time before I realized I needed to auto-protect. I remember leaving a Bikram yoga class one day, and getting soaked in the rain on the way home. Bikram always leaves me feeling exhausted and sometimes emotional if other things are going on and suddenly the raindrops had turned to floods of tears. I felt like nobody loved me and nobody cared about me and never would. The casual relationships I’d attempted had taken my confidence away instead of adding to it. The guys I’d dated didn’t mean any harm but I just didn’t have enough me-reserves at that time to risk losing them to anyone. So I started to guard them more closely. Instead of giving away little pieces of me – personal information, time, energy – I started to hold on to them, until I felt someone had really earned it. I think the full healing process took me two years. This isn’t to say that I was a broken human being for that entire period, but in retrospect I exhibited behaviour that showed I was still in recovery.

I also learnt lots of other things, about myself, the kind of person I want to be and the kind of person I want to be with, but I’m saving that for another list.

What did you learn when you went through a big break up?

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Same Time in Two Weeks Time Then?

So I’m still in therapy. It’s not like work, where you get your progress formally evaluated on a regular basis, so naturally after a few months of schlepping there once a week I was wondering how I was doing and if I was about to be promoted to the next level any time soon.

My therapist let slip some unexpected insight when we were going over the paperwork required by my health insurance. They had wanted to know if I had a ‘pre-existing’ condition. My therapist said very casually that she had explained to them that it was just a case of some anxiety and depression linked to living in a new place. WHAT!? No way lady! Now my roommate, she’s anxious. She rants and raves and goes red in the face and takes Xanax. I’m just a bit highly strung. And depressed people don’t get out of bed. I’m like uber active and positive. I frown on lazy depressed people.

The irony washed over me – even though I had voluntarily sought out her services, my natural internal reaction was to disagree with her ‘diagnosis’. I prefer to see my visits to her as an indulgence rather than linked to any real need.

Luckily for my denial, I didn’t have to stay demoralized for too long. The positive progress report I’d been looking for came a few weeks later when she suggested we cut down our sessions to once every second week. On the downside I was given extra homework. Apparently, we weren’t going very ‘deep’ anymore. She wants me to take notes about my emotions as they occur so that we can analyze them in more depth. The same goes for my dreams. REALLY?! Ap-par-ently, when you sleep your body relaxes and all the things that are really on your mind bubble to the surface. Luckily, I dream a lot (I must have a lot of things pressing on my sub conscious) so material isn’t that hard to come by.

At the next session I picked a dream that I thought she could really sink her teeth into. In my dream I was skydiving, tandem of course, but when the time came to jump I realized that the instructor was strapped to my back and not to my front as I’d expected (apparently this is how its done in real life too). In other words, the onus was on me to lurch us out the plane (eek). Moments before jump time I also learnt that the so-called instructor had only jumped like ten times (double eek). So what do we learn from this dream? Maybe I’ve placed my trust in someone and been disappointed. Maybe I’m afraid of something. Maybe some part of me wants to take a big risk and another part of me wants to play it safe. There are so many good interpretations available. It’s a bit like seeing a fortune teller – all the things they say are a little bit true a lot of them time. My therapist is leaning towards the fear interpretation though. She’s big on fear and thinks it’s at the bottom of a lot of ‘behaviours’. Take procrastination for example. You don’t start something because you’re scared you might fail. Humans don’t like failure. So it’s easier not to start because then you can’t fail.

Double EEK!!

Double EEK!!

I couldn’t bring myself to tell her about my other dream. In this dream I’m changing an overflowing nappy – a concept I’m familiar with from my au-pairing days but still not a particularly lovely one. In the dream there is so much poo I just can’t get rid of it quickly enough. It’s a really yucky dream and not one I’d like to break down with my therapist. I really don’t want to use the word poo or any other poo simile in front of her.  I also wasn’t convinced that a meaningful interpretation of this one exists. I probably just needed the toilet, right? Not so according to Google’s dream interpretation threads. One dream guru says that this dream symbolizes letting go of issues: ‘Too often…we feel surrounded by ‘shit’ and ‘crap’ that clogs up the natural flow of life.’ Another, Freudian interpretation, is linked to money – anxiety over it or that it is coming your way. Now that sounds more promising. Maybe all dreams do have meanings, we just have to find the ones we like!

Luckily I have two whole weeks left in which to record some deep emotions and dream some moving dreams before I have to report in again. I’m hoping if I make them really good ones I can be discharged sometime soon.

Ode to My Own Stupidity

Somewhat inspired by the recent resurgence of the Cranberries in my life, this title feels fitting.  Not exactly an Ode to my Family but a lyrical and enthusiastic reflection on some senseless behaviour that I fear may have damaged a relationship at the core of my young New York family.

I can’t even remember the last time I had a ‘fight’ with a friend. The last real soul shattering encounter probably took place a few years ago with my flesh and blood sister. It left us both feeling physically sick to our stomachs. But when you’ve known someone your whole life and you love each other to death there’s no doubt you will figure it out and make it better.

In present encounter, my friend is new. She doesn’t know me like my sister does. I’ve behaved inconsistently, stupidly, selfishly, childishly even. How can she possibly know that this isn’t really who I am? Or even if she takes a leap of faith, will she secretly be waiting for me to f*ck up again?

So why did I f*ck up in the first place? This is what I’ve spent the last few days trying to figure out. You have to understand mistakes to avoid repeating them.  Upon reflection, I’ve identified a few recurring themes:

  • I don’t like conflict and so don’t always put myself first when I should
  • When something is on my mind I feel compelled to tell the people concerned
  • I look for validation from men and as a result can’t always trust my behaviour around them

Seeing this written down, the fatality of the combo practically jumps off the page at me. I’m surprised it hasn’t resulted in more recent disasters.

Self diagnosis complete, how to remedy this undesirable behavior? It seems evident:

  • Practice shamelessly going after what I want
  • Keep my thoughts to myself at all costs
  • Break all communication with men, rely on them for nothing

The third objective will be easier if I get my friend back of course. So I’m going to give her some time to be angry and disappointed then hope that she starts missing me, the same way that I’ve missed her this week. Specifically:

At the gym; when I walk past Pizza numero. 28; when summer-time drinking at the Frying Pan is mentioned, at the Cranberries concert; EVERY time I see the stupid man-catalyst for this fiasco.

The accepted thing to do in relationships when something goes wrong is to send flowers.  My instinctive reaction in this scenario was thus naturally to skip to the girl equivalent and try to get a fashion accessory delivered to my friend’s hotel in time for the wedding she’ll be attending with fabulously dressed French people.

I was ready to click checkout on this hot number:

…when sadly, I realised Asos doesn’t deliver to European islands and that she might mistake it for a funeral fascinator and think I am trying to bury our friendship.

Once again, my intentions were good. Fail upon execution. But I’ll get there or at least I’ll try. Let this stand as a stake in the ground on the road leading far far away from stupidity and on to the promised land of self-awareness.