1. You see his face on random strangers in the street.
You’re just walking to work in the same crowd of pedestrians, the ones you willfully ignore to the point that their faces all seem to blur together, like one of those long-exposure photos of traffic. And then, out of nowhere, you see a face that you would recognize anywhere — especially considering how often you think of it — and it’s like your whole body freezes in this weird kind of fear and excitement. You turn around immediately to see if it was really him, and you realize that it’s just another guy with the same hair, the same soft features, the same deep eyes. And you almost get angry at this person, this stranger, because it seems a crime against nature to have another person share so many of his incredible features and yet not be him when you stop to check. It’s the kind of moment that ruins your entire day before it’s even begun.
2. You can’t bring yourself to erase the evidence of your relationship.
You know that the essential first step to really moving on from something is to stop opening your own wounds with the little trinkets of your time together, but you can’t force yourself to do the right thing and throw it away. Even though it only ends up making you worse off when all is said and done, you have become dependent on the little thrill you get from opening those old chats, from looking at the pictures, and even from smelling the old hoodie or pillowcase that still smells like him — just a tiny bit. No matter how much of your otherwise-rational brain is telling you that this is only making things worse, you can’t give it up cold turkey.
3. Part of you doesn’t ever want to move on.
The thing that you really don’t want to admit, when you’re arguing with yourself over whether or not you are doing long-term damage by not getting rid of the things that you used to share with him, is that you are almost happy in a perpetual state of romantic limbo. If you never fully let go, it’s almost like it’s never really over. Right?
4. Touching other people makes you feel a bit nauseous.
There was a period, just after the breakup, where you were often going out and trying to find yourself — and the kind of happiness you used to have — with anyone else who gave you a little attention. You needed to feel wanted, and fresh, and as though you had a future somewhere, with someone. But every time you laid down next to someone in a bed you didn’t recognize and tried to go through all the motions of expressing interest and desire, you found that there was a crucial element missing, which was having real, profound feelings for this person. And without the connection that you’d become so used to (and to some degree took for granted) nothing could feel right or good. Everything made you uncomfortable, and remorseful, and embarrassed. You just wanted to go home, where it was safe and quiet.
5. Your friends know not to bring him up.
The questions, and the advice, all used to flow fast and free. You used to have to slowly shift the conversation towards something less painful, because everyone suddenly felt like a psychologist when they came around you. But now they know better, and understand that it’s not going to work out the way they think it should, and that their idea of “helping” only makes it all sting that much more.
6. You torture yourself with thoughts of all the things you did wrong.
Sometimes you find yourself drinking more wine than you should, and even though you know that it’s not going to do anything to raise your overall mood, you at least know you’ll be able to get a good night’s sleep without the awful, two-hour tossing and turning phase in which you go over everything you could have done differently to keep him. You’ve played this scenario out in your head a thousand times, and each time there is something new to kick yourself over. the only voice you can’t run from — even when you silence your friends — is the one in your own head, hating you for all the things you weren’t enough of.
7. The news that he is with someone new absolutely crushes you.
It doesn’t matter how long it’s been. It doesn’t matter how healed you think you are. The day you find out will be an awful day, and there is no getting around that. If you spend the majority of it alternating between sobs and frantic internet stalking, don’t feel weird. You’re just a human being.
8. Moving on feels like pulling off a Band Aid very, very slowly.
There’s this weird sort of pleasure that you get from letting the pain endure, and build, and plateau off. It’s nice to have something constant in your life after so much change: You wake up, and there’s the heartache, and you can almost play with it and let it come over you in waves. You never fully detach yourself from it, and acknowledge the fact that you are never going to be with him again. You simply let yourself extend the pain by making it softer and more manageable, instead of taking it in all at once like you know you should. And even though you are stung with every new bit of disappointment and aloneness, there’s something about it that still feels real, when you know that your real fear is feeling nothing at all. Even when he is in your life as a source of pain, at least he is in your life.