My boyfriend (which, as a term, is stupid for a man of my age and a man of his age and men of our ages) and I broke up over a month ago. We were together over six years, and enjoyed a mutual-admiration society for each other’s online works and personalities for probably just as long.
To say “breaking up is hard to do” borders on sadism. Do not ever say that out loud to someone who is in the midst of a break-up.
In the case of us – or the former us – there was no cheating, no fighting, no animosity at all. And that was the problem. By the end, there was no nothing, only he was the one brave enough to call a stop to the madness and allow us both to move on.
I still feel miserable all the time. I pretend not to, of course, because who wants to be around that person? Certainly not my ex. (I’ve started using that term, “My ex,” instead of using his name. If I use his name, it feels a bit like we’re still together, and then people who don’t know that we’re not will ask me how he is, and I have no answer for that anymore.) I’m pretty sure it’s the reason for the break-up, but I can’t be sure, because he came over to my place (in the course of our relationship, we never moved in together, for which I made up lots of excuses and lame reasons but in the end, it was because he didn’t want to live with me and I didn’t want to live with me, either) and announced that he thought we should break up and then there were a number of awkward, silent minutes when we didn’t look at each other and he proclaimed, “I don’t know what to do now,” and I agreed with that sentiment and then he left and I have not seen or heard from him since.
Now that, my friends and enemies, is a break-up.
It’s not entirely true. I did hear from him one time.
After he left, it became immensely evident to me that he didn’t want to (for reasons I invented in my head that mostly put the blame on me) or couldn’t (see: put the blame on me) have any further contact with me. None at all. How did I know that?
Here’s the thing about online social networks and friending and following that never occurs to you until it’s too painfully obvious; when someone no longer wants you in their life, you can actually observe the threads of the fabric of your relationship being pulled apart. You can see them un-follow and un-friend you. You can watch them destroy all the ties that bind you virtually. And you know, in that unspoken fashion, that what they want most from you now is never to hear from you again.
I wrote him an email after we broke up and I explained why I didn’t blame him, and how I understood, and I meant every word of it. I half-expected him to delete the email without reading it. Maybe he felt very badly about things. Maybe he wanted to push the pain of our failed relationship and the end of love away from him, hoping the hurt would go away too.
He didn’t delete it, and around a week later he responded saying that he couldn’t respond, that the words failed him, and the sadness was still too close. He wanted to assure me that it wasn’t all my fault, that my stated litany of shortcomings was too grandiose, and that I shouldn’t feel so responsible for failing at everything. Or words to that effect.
And that was that. That was the true death, the end of it all for realsies.
I knew what he meant. I could almost see him sitting across from me not meeting my eyes as he said those words. As I explained, I understood it all. I even agreed with him, that we should be over, and we should go our separate ways, and we shouldn’t be we anymore.
It’s funny (meaning it’s sad) how you never realize what you’re doing when you’re doing it. So I thought I would pass along some free advice to you, if you’re feeling safe and comfortable in your own relationship before someone comes over and downs two fingers of Bourbon in your kitchen and then walks out of your life forever.
- Communication is essential. See, me? I’m an internalist. I’m afraid of doing things wrong, or saying things wrong, in case the people in my life will discover how much they should be hating me. I don’t share things, like this, and I don’t show emotions, except when I am alone and frequently, for some reason, standing naked in the shower crying against the tile. But if things are going poorly for you, and you have someone else in your life who loves you in that unconditional share-my-life-including-the-bad-shit way, if you shelter them from it you will never know if they care, or how they care, and what they are willing and capable of doing to help you. I needed a lot of help, but I never asked for it because I was afraid of appearing weak, vulnerable and unworthy. And look what happened, anyway.
- Have fights. Fights are important. They don’t need to be (nor should they be) loud and violent and obnoxious. But occasionally you will have differences of opinion, or you will not agree about something important, or you will want something they do not. It’s okay to have differences of opinion and it’s even okay to fight. I never fought. I never even discussed my unhappiness or dissatisfaction. And then I became sullen. And then I became scared. And then I became closed off. And when you don’t have fights, and put a lid on your unhappiness and anger, it’s a pressure cooker that will eventually go off in ways you never intended or could foresee. So be annoyed now, instead of insane later.
- Love them. Love them a lot. Love them all the time. Show them how much you love them. Show it physically and in words and deeds. Show it demonstrably all the time everywhere. Love isn’t something to keep in a pretty box and open on special occasions. Love isn’t something to meekly hold on to. Love should be shared and shared openly and all the time. Make them sick of how much you love them. Doing the opposite means you don’t. You don’t love them. And then love dies.
- Say everything. Don’t hold back. Kind of the same thing as Point One, but in this case it also means to be foolish and say dumb things. What sort of a relationship is it where you’re scared that your opinions are pointless, or your words are pointless, or you – you – are pointless? Maybe this is just a “me” thing, but as I reflect on the years that he and I spent together, I realize that I just wanted him to be happy, and a lot of the time I thought that his happiness was more important than mine. I wouldn’t suggest things unless he suggested them. I would agree with his desires and leave mine unvoiced, because I knew they didn’t matter. Even when you don’t have the words – or don’t think you do – try to speak them. Try to explain.
- Check in a lot more than you think you need to, and also listen to what you’re told in those moments. When he broke up with me, he confessed to feeling “sad and lonely” and that he had felt that way “for a long time.” Did you get that? We were in a relationship, and he was lonely. Sad, I kind of get. Everyone gets sad about things. You can be sad that your work sucks, or you’re having money problems, or life isn’t turning about to be the carousel of unremitting joy you thought it was going to be (my sadness). But to be lonely inside a relationship? My god, that’s just cruel. You’re supposed to have at least one reliable person there for you and with you to not be lonely. You could not be lonely together. I don’t know when I last checked in with him, because the statement that he had been sad and lonely for a long time stuck an arrow into me and twisted it deep. Not because he meant to do that, but because I hadn’t realized it in the first place.
- Being supportive isn’t enough. You need to be a cheerleader. I think we failed each other on this count. He failed me because I lost passion in the past few years, and he realized that, but had no idea what he could do to help me find it again. Neither did I. But we both stopped trying. I failed him because I didn’t think he needed it. In my eyes, and compared with what was happening in my life (that I didn’t share with him) his life seemed teeming with success and happiness. But it wasn’t – not at all – and I never even saw it.
I’m still sad more than I am not sad. I miss him terribly, and at the same time I think that if I saw him again I would explode. The hardest part of this whole thing is that I understand completely why we broke up. If I could go back and change things – and this would need a hell of a time machine because I’d need to go back years and erase all the neglect and ignorance and my stupidity and awkwardness about relationships in general, maybe even before we ever met – I certainly would, because I fucked this one up.
But there are no time machines, and you can never go back.
My friends have been very supportive and helpful. I had a bit of a breakdown after he left, and climbing back up from that valley has been and continues to be a struggle. I pretend to myself and to others that I’m okay. I still tweet stupid crap on my stupid crap Twitter account. I still sit down at my computer to get some work done.
And I’m still crying in the shower. Maybe I should switch to baths.
June 29, 2012