First and foremost, realize that it’s over. Realize that, no matter how charming you might be towards authority figures and when meeting new people for the first time, you’re not going to talk your way out of this one. As you tend to do, you had briefly convinced yourself that you could push, and push, and the time would never come when the other would say “enough” and really mean it. But they do mean it, and no amount of sweet-talking or makeup sex or conversations that last until three in the morning and involve crying, laughing, and just a bit of shameless begging are going to help it. They are right — you two aren’t right for each other, and staying together isn’t going to help anyone. But it’s over, and it wasn’t your choice.
And maybe that’s the worst part, that you didn’t choose this (which is rather sickening to acknowledge). No matter how much was going wrong, how deeply you two were capable of hurting each other, at the end of the day, the decision to separate was forced upon you. You briefly don’t even want to get back together, only that you could re-do the night of the breakup with the knowledge that no matter what you were going to do, they weren’t going to give in. You would have been cool, and dignified, and would have ended things with a bit of dignity and maturity, instead of throwing a tantrum like a child in the face of inevitability.
In any case, it’s over now, and save for a bit of humiliation about the circumstances of the ending, there is nothing left to do but mourn. Suddenly, every time you get within a few feet of your phone, the urge to call them and hang up or send a cryptic text message becomes overwhelming. You keep waiting, hoping against hope, that whenever the little tinny buzz of a message goes off, it will be them. Of course, it’s never them, because they are capable of being mature and actually handling this separation with the space that is required. But you hope that they’re struggling not to talk to you, too. You watch them sign on and off of Gchat and for each stretch that they’re online, you hold your breath. You let your mouse hover over their name. You start a million messages before erasing them like a coward. You will them to talk to you, but they don’t.
Every song you listen to either makes your chest swell with nostalgia, or makes you burst into tears. You’ve had to pull over while driving several times because you could no longer see, and even in your state, you realize that driving while sobbing uncontrollably is a safety hazard. You resign to not listen to music, or only listen to happy music — but it comes at you from all directions. Even standing in a bar with friends who’ve taken you out, insistant that you “get over this” and “get back out there,” you’re not safe from the kind of beautiful, painful song that cuts through the ambiance like a laser and destroys your night. One moment, you are almost having a good time, making small talk and swaying to the music, well-lubricated by alcohol but not drunk enough to start making ugly calls, the next, you are dashing into the bathroom as tears well up hot in the corner of your eyes, hoping no one saw your minor breakdown over the song you two used to sing to each other.
Time passes, and passes, and the pain of not being with them becomes more of a dull ache, something that is uncomfortable but can be lived with, like a still-serious prognosis that is mercifully no longer terminal. You begin to feel capable again, like all of your successes and joys aren’t palpably dulled because they can’t be shared with the person you love. Even the sweet, if distant, concept of loving another person becomes a possibility — something you couldn’t do right now, but one day might be able to, and the idea is pleasant and comforting. Everything is turning up, and though things are difficult, the pain is no longer completely obscuring the beauties of your life. That is, of course, until you see it.
There are many ways to find out, and none are pleasant, but you see it. It is in seemingly innocuous exchanges on social media, your friends know about it but don’t discuss, it suddenly renders their silence completely understandable — they’ve found someone else. And now, above all else, you are filled with a blind rage. How dare they, you think. How could they. How are you so irredeemably in love that you can barely go out to a restaurant for fear of seeing their favorite food, and they are off, having the time of their life, kissing and laughing f-cking all over the city like some kind of god damn movie cliché. Do people have no dignity? What does this new person have that I don’t? What could they possibly be providing? Your entire worth is called into question, and you want to know everything about this new person, yet every new bit of information is brutal to discover. They are good-looking, well-rounded, intelligent — everything that you cannot yet admit to yourself that your old love most likely needs. And though they seem objectively wonderful, your fragile, bloated ego must convince itself that you are special, that you two had that something that this new person will never be able to recreate. It’ll be over in a week, you tell yourself.
And you allow yourself the occasional moment of spite, of venom, on the times when you talk to your old love. You make them feel guilty, feel stupid. You make snide comments about their new relationship, and inappropriate ones about your old one together. You have shed every ounce of self-awareness and long only to hurt, to hurt them the way you are hurting, no matter how fleeting the satisfaction is. You’ve become a child.
But it becomes clear, as time passes, that they are not going to break up in a week. No matter how much you loved them, this new person may have the one thing you two never did: compatibility. Love cannot replace irreconcilable differences, and no amount of passion can sustain endless fighting and mistrust. You acknowledge that you two might have burned very hot, but that it may have been too hot. Though the wound clearly still exists, seeing them together no longer pours salt in it. You can even go out with them and maintain composure — the concept of “being friends” that at one point seemed so insulting and pitiful, now seems like a real possibility, if only you are granted enough space and time to fully heal.
Life gets in the way, though. You both move, or change jobs, or change friends. That new relationship of theirs might have ended, and you might have started a new one yourself. You buy furniture, you paint walls, you try new recipes and go to happy hour — you live. And you live in a way that takes no account of how they might think of you, or what they’re doing at this very moment, or even who they’ve become. You think of them rarely, and only in a vague wish that they’re doing well. Reflecting on the relationship is no longer a part of your day, it’s no longer something you draw energy and purpose from. You can appreciate happy memories like all the others in your life — something that was wonderful, but that is gone. And before you know it, it’s been years.
One day you two might see each other, crossing paths in your old city or on a train platform or in a grocery store. You might not, though. You might go your whole lives and never cross paths again, but that is okay. You have your whole life to live anyway, and a heart to get broken again.