While I was still in university, the film P.S. I Love You (Hilary Swank, Kathy Bates, Gerard Butler) came out and I watched it in the cinema. I seem to remember crying a lot, but that’s beside the point. I cry at everything. However, in it, there is a scene where the protagonist, Holly (Swank) is arguing with her mother (Bates) over the fact that Holly’s loss of Gerry (Butler) was awful because he didn’t leave her, but instead, in dying, was ‘taken’ from her, against his will. Her no-nonsense mother eventually intimates that ‘being left by choice’ is in no way easier, and that Holly’s pain is no more justified than her own after her husband walked out on them.
I have to admit, I didn’t quite know what she meant back then. I thought the character was holding onto her pain of rejection a little too much, and surely losing someone who wanted to stay with you, but whom the gods had chosen to spirit away must be harder, surely? This was, I repeat, back in my university days, and it wasn’t to be for another five years before I found someone I truly loved anyway.
But then, of course, the lesson came when it happened to me. With the man I was set to marry and one day have children with. With a man I finally really wanted those things with, and where our entire relationship didn’t feel like a negotiation. I was happy, supported, fulfilled and grateful for us. Then, it came to an abrupt, unexpected, devastating end in the blink of an eye – not unlike deaths can occasionally take a loved-one from our grasp.
It seems at first blush an overly self-pitying thing to consider mourning a relationship as one would a person, but there are so many aspects of relationships that can make them feel as if they had a personality all of their own – from the crazy things that both of you get that no one else would, to the little routines you have together that fall flat because suddenly it’s simply you by yourself. The time of year – if you’re reading this while it’s still the Festive period – if anything, makes it even more difficult.
But there is an unspoken (predominantly British) tradition in which we are not allowed to display our emotions, and – especially if you were the dumped party – you are expected to get over it as soon as possible. Well-meaning friends lend us known phrases in the effort to aid you reach the stage of acceptance as soon as possible: ‘Plenty more fish in the sea.’ ‘You deserve so much better anyway.’ ‘Well, if they can’t see what they’ve given away…’ ‘I always thought they were too old / young / controlling / issue-ridden / broke / [insert undesirable trait or status here] for you anyway.’ ‘Just look at it this way – now you’re free to find someone better!’
Bless these people. They’re saying the words that at some point will make total sense to you. But within the first sweep, which are different in length for all of us, it’s not what we want or need to hear. You may be ready to hear that after only a few weeks. If so, great. For some of us, it will take us much, much longer. And for some of us, the mourning period will never be over. We will for years, or forever, miss the person we loved. Or we may think the worst of it is gone, to suddenly cry uncontrollably when a certain song comes on the radio, years and years following. Grief is unpredictable, as are emotions in general.
Here is what I want to tell you, that I don’t think enough people do – enjoy your mourning. Don’t hush it away, or make excuses, or bury yourself too much in work, or demand of yourself that you be instantly fixed from the smash that was your heartbreak. Maybe think twice before slagging your ex off on social media or turning up at their next partner’s house in the middle of the night, because that’s getting into scary territory, but! –
You are allowed to treat your relationship like a departed relative, complete with days of denial, anger, internal, inane bargaining and grief. It’s okay. There is no rulebook to dealing with it. We are all different, and people like to draw comparisons on what their mother did, their father did, their best friend did etc. But they are not you. Only You know what You need.
It’s all your process. Look after yourself while this horrible thing is happening. If you are lucky, other people will try to look after you for it, but never lose a grip on what is best for you. What you need.
This would be a good time to tell you about the journey of self-discovery you will probably undergo. But you either want to do that, or you don’t. If you know who you are and just need to rediscover yourself, do it in stages once you’ve gotten over most of the tears.
And here is how you know you’ll be okay – you get through this part. It’s not necessarily easy. At the best, it will be a sad thought carried with you for a good while. At the worst, you take one day at a time and go through the motions you were going through before. The important lesson here is that you will realise later, when you are still alive and learning to find your happiness and new-found / newly remembered identity, that your relationship is still over and your ex will have proved themselves in whatever capacity they can be in your life: If they want you back, do it for you, remembering you broke up for a reason. If you are only to ever be friends, great, but don’t be afraid to tell them you can’t –again, do it for you. And if they are nowhere to be seen, that should show you just how much you actually need them, and you really DO need people who care more in your life than that.
So be good to yourself when you have been left by choice. You don’t need to apologise to anyone, least of all yourself, for feeling the pain you do. It means you are still alive. Just breathe through it. It will take a life adjustment. Be brave – you can do it. And, as with the death of loved ones, the death of a relationship may never truly disappear, but that’s okay too. You will learn to eventually deal with it, and you should be proud of it whenever it comes.