navigating 'you' after a break up | intimacy
After breaking up with my boyfriend of two years, in January 2019, I found myself facing a world I had once known but now knew nothing about. Two years seems minuscule, but perhaps not when you go from a child to an adult within that time frame. Boys now seem to behave differently, like their testosterone has gone from baby dosage to big boy dosage. I was naive and only now have I come to realise how cruel and exhausting this world can be.
The truth is, I felt this dull, consistent ache in my chest that didn’t make me bed bound nor made me cry at couples holding hands on the tube. It just made everything seem slightly average. My ex was my best friend and I would whip my phone out to text him after seeing anything of slight interest, like a baby in a onesie sneezing or that I had a spot on my forehead that day. I felt like I needed to post an ad on Gumtree, for a male best friend who I can text, call and cuddle- 24/7. This gap in my life felt vast and profound.
However, I wasn’t debilitated and I didn’t feel the need to specifically text him about every last thing I saw from the moment I woke up, to the moment my head hit the pillow. This surprised me but I have now been single for 10 months and each month has presented itself with a new lesson.
In a nutshell, here is what you might expect:
January - February
You know that scene in Bambi where she sees snow for the first time and tries to walk on ice? Well, that is one way I can describe being newly single.
You don’t quite know how to walk out into the world and present yourself. Do you look at other boys in the eyes or wait a respectable 6-12 months? Do you tell every one of your uni friends the news the moment you first see them or wait for them to ask? Do you totally erase the idea of even being in the same room as the opposite sex ever again?
You will shed some tears but your friends will wipe them away.
Expect to tell the break up story every other hour.
Someone may slide into your dms, but don’t be disheartened if it isn’t the love of your life.
March - April
You feel good, almost like the idea of “post break up blues” are just a myth, or you were a phenomenon that managed to dodge them.
You start to drink herbal tea and eat greek yoghurt with honey.
You go for runs and tone your hair pink.
To your surprise, a boy talks to you! “This soon?” you think, “surely not!”.
You have sex for the first time and it feels like THE first time again. You’re slightly baffled and think “I still know how to have sex?!”
You start to feel hopeful and giddy about this new lease of life.
May - June
This is when it hits. Realisation.
The realisation you’ve actually had a bad case of denial the past 6 months. Not in the sense that you regret the break up, but that you haven’t let go of the idea of it being just youand not youplus someone else.
You realise that you’ve actually been looking at a rebound as something more and they have been looking at you as something less.
You feel this very delayed sense of loneliness creep up on you, but the denial has not quite worn off yet and you still decide to carry on having meaningless sex in the hope they might fall madly in love with you.
July - August
Shock! They don’t fall in love with you.
They call things off.
You feel rejected and start to make endless mental lists of why you weren’t good enough:
“I wasn’t good enough in bed”
“My boobs aren’t big enough, I know he likes big boobs”
“I’m not funny enough”
“He probably thinks I look weird naked”
“Maybe I freaked him out when I asked him “so, what is this?”
“Maybe he likes someone else”
You cry how you thought you would cry after your break up. Deeply and hysterically.
Your Mum strokes your head after you come home from a house party in a drunken state and mumbles “what a bastard” under her breath. Love you, Mum.
You try to move on by finding someone else. This doesn’t work (you realise why later though.)
You cry more.
You feel drained, exhausted and lost.
The thought of feeling loved and appreciated occupies and consumes your whole days.
You fantasise about them turning around and realising they had messed up. They don’t.
You stop doing the things that make you happy and make you feel fulfilled.
Every time your phone pings your heart flutters a bit because you hope it’s them. It never is.
September - October
You’ve had enough. You’ve cried all your tears and you want to feel normal again.
Stage two of realisation commences.
Finally, you realise:
The idea of “single life” is actually just life. It’s what you lived years before you found someone to share a couple years of it with, so you can carry on. You’re an expert at living life. You do it everyday, with or without companions.
Love is everywhere. Love is in cosy movie nights with your best friends, it’s in a small exchange between you and the corner shop man when you go buy a pint of milk and he knocks off a few pennies, it’s in a cup of coffee made for you by the friendly barista in Costa, it’s in the mirror when you look at yourself, it’s in a hug with a stranger and a hug with your brother, and most importantly, its ever growing.
You’re grateful you have the capacity to feel so deeply and intensely and that you know one day, when all is right and makes sense, you’ll be able to share these feelings with someone who appreciates and understands them.
You have time! You have time and space to explore you. As everyone always says, you give up a bit of yourself in any relationship, in my case very willingly and lovingly, but you regain these segments of you after a break up. You can mould and accessorise these segments into whatever you want and however you want. Always wanted to always try pottery? Yoga? Mountain climbing? Still life drawing? Do it. Do it for you.
The dating world is cruel but thank god you didn’t settle for someone who only wanted to see your lovely face at 3am and only 3am.
You actually subconsciously have a list of boundaries and qualities ingrained into your psyche. They have always been there but you’ve never truly taken the time to outline them properly. For example, you want someone who will make you laugh? Stop at nothing until you have found someone who has made you drop to the kitchen floor in fits of giggles.
You realise someone else’s actions are not a reflection of who you are. Although this may seem blatantly obvious, this may be one of the trickiest lessons to get your head around, but it is true.
And last but no means least, it will be ok. This is just a mere pothole in the road of life and road workers will be there to smooth over any damage sooner than you think.
Reading back through this makes me feel like a slight hypocrite. I still struggle with the aftershocks of my break up even though it was the right thing to do. I am coping and but definitely still learning. There is no right or wrong way to conduct yourself after a break up. They can be messy and prolonged or they can be clean and well received. No break up is universal, however, if you take anything from this post, all I ask is for you to be kind to yourself. Know the decisions you make after a break up, or any life changing decision, aren’t always ‘mistakes’, they are just pointers towards what you really want and who you really are.
I will leave you with this short piece of dialogue, which resonates with me greatly, from one of my favourite movies, “Call Me By Your Name”, where broken hearted Elio seeks advice from his Father, Mr. Perlman:
“We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of 30 and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything—what a waste!”