I don’t even know where to start. I loved this girl who completely broke my heart. Our relationship has been nothing but a confused mess! You would think that I would be happy that we are over but I’m completely lost. She was my first love but sadly we let so many little things get between us, like, what others thought. Everyone keeps saying, “How can you love someone who has treated you so badly?” How do I even answer that anymore? I used to be able to say that they didn’t know her like I did. But now I don’t even know who she is anymore. We went from talking every day to not even being able look at each other and now sadly I am forced to see her every day! Which would be okay if I could stop wondering how she can just move on. Doesn’t she see how much she is hurting me? Why doesn’t anyone understand if it was easy to just forget about her then I already would have? I suppose the real question that I would like answered is: how do I move on if I have to see her every day?
Any advice would truly be appreciated! I just need someone to understand what I’m going through.
Dear A Confused Train Wreck,
Good news. I don’t know where to start either. I also wouldn’t think you’d be happy that your confusing, messy relationship is over. My God, I feel like those are the hardest to let go of. We keep fighting for them, you know? We feel like they haven’t had the chance to even really begin, that if we could just clean up the mess, if we could just get some answers, then there’d be love there. Huge, fantastic, unwavering, incontestable love. I don’t know about that. I think sometimes we have to be forced out of love or maybe the fantasy we have of it.
Both can be good for us though. Losing someone against our own will can be good for us. Falling deep into the fantasy rather than the reality of a relationship can be good for us. We need these experiences at least once in our life. We need to feel what it’s like to be robbed of something and someone. We need to know what it is to never really touch something either, to never have someone in the way we believe they can be. We need to let people get away. We need to be the one who’s left behind and sometimes we have to be the one who slips off first as well.
If you want to know love, you’ve got to weather its various storms.
You have to take on the weight of your feelings, you have to learn how far down you are willing to be dragged, you have to recognize what love is not, you have to discover what love means for you.
Fortunate for you, you are in the midst of one of those storms and I’m of the opinion that that isn’t a curse.
You being forced to see your ex every day is actually a blessing. (Though, you probably haven’t heard that before.) Listen, my perspective isn’t a popular one. I know that. Search the Internet and you will come across very different advice. But I believe it’s a good response, a more powerful response, to do what isn’t easily being done. Because the advice that’s followed most freely is often the easiest advice to take; and easy won’t make you stronger, darling.
Easy won’t prepare you for the darker dramas and your more daring dreams. And I want you to be prepared. I want you to risk yourself again. I want you to see your ex every damn day. I don’t want you to move on. Not just with a snap of the fingers. I want you to move into it. Move into the resistance, into the sadness, into the confusion. I want you to move into your mess.
If you’re going to move on from anything right away, move on from what others think. Move on from what everyone keeps insinuating to you. If your friends can’t help you, get good now at helping yourself. In the future, you will need to. Your friends shouldn’t be asking you how you can love someone who has treated you so badly. That’s them, whether they know it or not, mocking you. The friends that belong in your circle don’t need to be asking you how, they need to be asking you why. Why do you love someone who has treated you so badly?
I’ve loved someone who treated me badly when I was treating myself badly. Loving them was just a continuation of that, I suppose. But then I’ve also loved men who treated me badly because I didn’t believe that that badness was an accurate portrayal of their entire character nor did I imagine that it represented the scope of their love for me. Sometimes we even love those who treat us badly because we don’t know where else to go, and this hellhole is better than nowhere. Or so, we think. Then again, sometimes it’s not that we love the person who treats us badly, it’s that we tolerate them. There are plenty reasons why but the only one that matters is yours.
To move on as you wish to, this question has to be answered. Not by your friends, your family, not by me, but by you. You might not know the answer now. I don’t even expect you to because I know answers crystalize through perspective. And I’m confident that seeing your ex, if only from afar, day in and day out, will result in more perspective, in a better perspective.
The reality is you can’t gain the perspective you need through avoidance, though that is what people will tell you to do.
That’s the advice I’m talking about, and it’s the popular opinion on Google. Avoid your ex. Facebook has even come out with a feature to honor the avoidance I’m warning against. It’s a feature that allows you to “hide your exes from you after a breakup.” The way I read it is, it’s a feature that allows you to hide from your exes after a breakup. But hiding doesn’t mean an ex or the feelings you have are actually gone. It only draws your burden out. Eventually what we avoid always comes and knocks us to our knees.
Your best bet is to address your heartbreak. Become undone by it and then you can build yourself back up. Cry until you can cry no more. It works. And it will strengthen you.
Listen, I know it’s painful to see someone you love going on with their life without you. In fact, nothing breaks my heart more than having the person who once was my world turn into a stranger. That shift is so startling and can feel like the ultimate betrayal. But pretending that it isn’t there, that this change isn’t happening, doesn’t help heal you from the reality that it is, from the reality that you and your ex won’t look at each other when the truth is you can. You can be the one who doesn’t look away. You can challenge yourself to be the braver heart in the room.
My advice is don’t avoid what’s in front of you, soften around it. Become that brave heart by standing near the person you have loved. Even if you are shaking, you are human, shake. This is a precious time. You are eager and hurting and wanting of love and you will see it clearly years from now. Eventually, your heartache will ease up and your nerves will settle down and you will slowly dare yourself to love again and when that happens you will be so thankful to have had what you had and know what you know.
The people I know who rush pass these opportunities, who have never “gone there” after breaking up with an ex, who have always managed to immediately move on, are also the people who will see their ex years later and walk right past them. This might look like indifference, this might look like someone who has moved on, but it’s actually how a person reacts when they are controlled by the weight of another person’s presence. They avoid them. They hide. They become small, timid versions of themselves. They aren’t proud of this either but they can’t brave it any other way. And so they live on like this, with a heart unresolved, wishing it were free.
One of my favorite quotes comes from the film The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: “If you walk away from things, you start a whole history of you-walk-aways.” It’s a chilling line that begs the question: What kind of history do you want to have?
You said you’d be okay seeing your ex every day if you could stop wondering how she moved on from you. My advice is don’t mistake an ex who’s avoiding you for an ex who has moved on from you. They may look the same but they are not the same. Their differentiating factor is the person who has moved on from you can approach you without calamity in their heart; they can care for you without fearing that they will fall back where they no longer belong. Tell me, who do you want to be?
I know who I want to be.
I want to be the one who can show up.
I want to be the one who cares.
As you sit and see your ex every day, remind yourself of your choices and the outcomes—the histories—that come with either avoiding your reality or confronting it. I can tell you first hand that braving your heart will require raw emotion. You will feel wounded at times. You will feel left behind. You will feel enraged with yourself, with the incompleteness that’s become you. But don’t be a fool to your feelings.
When you see your ex, when you feel incomplete, don’t think for a second that it’s because you are lacking something, that you are undeserving of something. Remember, just as there are benefits to not doing what everyone does, there are even more benefits to not thinking like everyone thinks. Remember, the easier way is not the stronger way. And you are writing me because you want to become strong. Because you know you can be, too.
Whatever you feel in the wake of your breakup, you’re feeling it because life is stretching you. It hurts because you’re doing it right. You are growing through pain. That’s what that incompleteness is. It’s the room you’ve created for yourself for new life to rush in, new love, new questions, new answers, new messes; it’s the room you’ve created because you want more from yourself.
How do you move on? You remind yourself of this, of the moreness that you want.
You remind yourself that more does not come from what you have already done or what you have already had.
How do you move on? You take on challenges that insist upon more of you.
- You move on by surprising yourself, by living in ways you didn’t think you could live.
- You move on by saying hi to your ex when you walk by her in the hall.
- You move on by not looking away from all you have cared for in your life.
- You move on by not being afraid of caring more, of being the one who cares the most.
- You move on by not pretending to have moved on.
- You move on by taking your own sweet time.
Be brave. Be tender. You’ve got this, my friend.