If you’re anything like me, making a decision and sticking to it can be hard. Like going to Coldstone and belaboring over the wall of flavors before choosing strawberry cheesecake…only to immediately realize you actually want Cake Batter after the seriously annoyed counter girl has already handed you the cup.
But what about those big life-altering decisions, like who to date, what job to take, where to live? Or whether to invest in the double-padded Victoria’s Secret swimsuits this summer, or if that really is just cheating?
About a year after I graduated and fumbled through building a career in marketing, I fully realized something terrible and awful and nauseating that I really wished I could unrealized: I could never see myself walking down the aisle with my sweet, wonderful boyfriend of five years. I had unfinished business. And he just wasn’t a part of it.
The worst part, of course, came afterwards. The doing-something-about-it part.
Sometimes these things don’t have a clear answer, but there’s some deep gut feeling guiding you to them. Listen to that guy. (S)He knows way more about you than you do.
If you’ve recently made the dive and are still experiencing the pangs of the aftermath, even months later, first know: it is ok. Even if you’re simultaneously having an existential crisis or a no-job crisis or whatever.
How do you know? Well…
1. You instantly feel more like yourself.
It’s a funny, insidious thing about relationships. The bad parts of them can sneak up you. Maybe you look back and think, ah crikey, that was my fault. But here’s the thing. You can love someone, want the best things for them, be imperfect, fuck up, and guess what. You still need to be you. If that wasn’t happening inside that relationship, then it just wasn’t going to work in the end. Congratulations: you’ve saved yourself a lot of heartache and pain down the road.
2. You’re suddenly open to lots of new things.
And not the self-damaging stuff. Not the, go get obliterated on the reg. and then cry into my toilet several nights a week kind of “new thing”. Like, maybe you want to learn guitar, or take an art class, or travel, or go spelunking, or move to Chile, or whatever. That’s good stuff. That means you’re growing.
3. You feel miserable most of the time, but you still don’t want to call them.
When I broke up with my college boyfriend of almost five years, I was physically sick for months. I would go round and round in my mind about how I was destroying my own happiness and health, how at some point in the future I would look back and realize this was all a big delusion and I had royally F’ed what could have been a very happy life. But despite the misery, some part of me knew that there was still a reason, and I had to stick by it. Stick by yours—reasons, by the very nature, exist for…a reason.
4. Except sometimes you DO want to call them, but the gut voice is screaming at you NOT TO. DING. Don’t.
Don’t pick up that phone. Don’t dig your antsy little fingernail into that wound. It’s scabby and gross now, but if you can hold out, it’ll soon look like brand new skin again. So call somebody else. Make a match profile. Go to a bar with a friend with instructions on a 2 (or 3?) drink limit. Maybe all of your friends are couples. So join a meet-up group. Don’t call him/her. You know better. You just don’t want to know better yet.
5. People who love you and you trust are telling you its the right thing.
The key phrase here is “people who love you”. Not necessarily people you hang out with a lot, or people you know from work. Preachy though it sounds…we’re talking people who love and want the best for you. It took me a while to figure out that—surprise—does not mean everyone you know or have half-assed lunch break conversations with. It’s embarrassing to admit this. But try to learn from my childish self-absorption. Because the thing is, if they love you, they probably look at your life mainly in terms of your happiness. And they may be able to see something that you don’t about how your relationship is affecting you. Listen to that. It’s come from a good place—the love place.
One last thing—be willing to ride that wave for a while. Relationships are all different, and the way you respond to pain will be different too. Try going on a few other dates, or forget dates and spend time with people who are funny and who make you feel good. The best kind of love tends to come along when you’re just laughing with your friends. Not when you’re leering creepily at the bar through a half-drunk, pitiful haze. Just sayin.
Time heals all things, friends. But it also waits for no one. So don’t wait either.
The best way to move on is to move on.
To a new job, new place, new relationship, new hobby. New chapter.
Go find life, and you just might be surprised what it has in store for you. (Thank you, fortune cookie from the mediocre Chinese food counter at the student center.)