In the final hours with my boyfriend, I made egregious requests. Like, can you please write me a letter before you leave? To which he responded, and I’ll never forget, Can I just do it my way?
Supposedly, he was already going to write me a letter once he flew back home. You know, once it hit him. Once we were really gone from each other. I already knew that would never happen though. Intuitively, I knew the letter I wanted would never get written and the reflection that I was so desperately chasing would never be shared with me.
Yesterday, I told my sister about this request of mine and she balked at the drama wrapped up in my plea for a final letter.
Now, in fairness, we were lying in bed when I asked him for this letter and the lights were off. (Are you cringing even more?)
I’d like to say it was a quiet moment. But, in retrospect, the mood was heavy. I was hysterically crying. My one leg bouncing over the side of the bed, my body begging me to take a breath, for oxygen please and now, and there he was leaning in and trying to comfort me in his silence.
If you want to know why I would dare to ask for a letter, it’s because I felt so alone.
And because he wasn’t able to say much of anything, I thought maybe he could write me something, like he used to. Our relationship began through words, by the way. By him reaching out to me for help and me reaching back out to him with a desire to. The short of it is, I met my now ex-boyfriend because he wrote into my advice column.
I know, I know. When this happened almost a year and a half ago, the whole thing felt like magic and so, I went with it. I had no control over myself. But I digress.
My point was, the reason I wanted that letter is because I felt so alone. You know, I tend to believe that’s the reason we cry uncontrollably when we do, too. Because we feel alone in the presence of another, and that can be as startling as it is excruciating.
Because here’s the thing, even though I was initiating this breakup, it didn’t mean I had wanted it to go this way and it definitely didn’t mean that I didn’t still feel at a loss. In a figurative sense (at a loss for what had become of him and us and the way he was processing it) and, of course, in a literal sense too. I was choosing to let us loose each other. Which is to say, I was choosing to let us choose other people to love in the future. And that is never easy.
As I laid with him in bed in our final hours, the thought of ever being romantic with someone else felt sickening, like a total betrayal. Sure, we were breaking up but I didn’t want to replace him. I didn’t, and still don’t, want someone else to touch me and it to be comparable—let alone better.
Though, maybe, and perhaps hopefully, (and yes, I’m sure, inevitably), my mind will soften around the idea. But, here’s the thing about me, even the men I walk away from, I never want to lose them. If I’m a romantic, this is the romantic in me. I never want to forget anyone and I never wish to replace anyone either.
So, maybe the question becomes, if you aren’t interested in replacing him, how the hell are you moving on?
Well, for starters, I hate that concept. Again, moving on is not my objective. Getting over anyone is not my objective. My aim, my goal, my intention is to move up, is to take all that I have experienced and use it to be the foundation that builds me higher, that launches me into greater loves and a greater life and, above all, into being a greater, more understanding and realistic human being.
Right now, my objective is to become strong enough to handle the realities of what I have let go, to become strong enough to embrace the feelings that come in that wake, to stand up in the moments that I feel letdown, and to brave my ex’s choices in the midst of heartbreak.
You know, I had forgotten what a big part of the breakup process this is. That part of prevailing in the face of loss is withstanding your ex-partner’s process for healing. It’s allowing them to be entitled to their own journey, even if the choices they make are choices that run absolutely counter to your integrity and, let’s be real, to who you knew them to be in the relationship itself. The challenge becomes enduring what you would never ask someone else to endure.
This is the moment to Breakupward, my friends.
What I did immediately after my boyfriend for, lack of a better word, shut down my request for a letter changed the course of my grief and our final hours together. And it happened in two steps:
I realized that my request came across as controlling him and his experience of us. It also was asking him to not be in the moment with me. That was unfair. And I felt that instantly. So, I apologized. And I apologized, specifically, for trying to control his experience.
When he left the room, I immediately reached for my phone and I texted two friends. Now these weren’t friends that were just waiting in the bleachers, ready to pounce to my rescue. No, I had to ask for what I needed. You read that right, this wasn’t a “shit on the enemy” text, this was a “this is where I’m at, this is what I need” text.
Here is how my “help me” messages went:
Text to friend I see on a regular basis: “Can I see you when you’re back in town and free? [Insert boyfriend’s name] is leaving in the morning and we’re breaking up and I’m a total wreck.”
Response: “Absolutely! I can totally stop by Thursday around 8!”
This gave me instant relief.
Facebook Messenger text to friend who recently moved back to New York that I have yet to see: “Can I see you tomorrow? [Insert boyfriend’s name] is leaving in the morning and we’re breaking up and I feel totally destroyed.”
Response: “Of course. I’m so sorry. Tomorrow I’m all yours. Let’s meet up at the Ludlow House and we can relax and chat and if you wanna do some work, we can do that.”
Me: “I’m so sad. I can’t stop crying.”
Response: “But I felt like this was something you wanted last we spoke.”
Me: “I know and I have been talking about it. But it’s different with him here and just the reality that him and his two kids will be gone from my life. I feel so alone even here with him now.”
Response: “Try to make your time with him meaningful and kind. He’ll be gone tomorrow so this is fleeting time. It’s in your power to bring some warmth to it. I’m sure it’s a difficult moment but if anyone can diffuse it with love, it’s you.”
That’s all I needed.
She reminded me of who I was, what I had the power to do, and what I would be missing out on if I didn’t do what I could to pull myself together and live in the moment as best, and as loving, as I could.
And I did. I did do better. He was adamant about clearing stuff out of my loft and moving some heavy equipment around—something that I have been begging him to help me with forever. I literally bow to him for prioritizing that and making that happen for me.
Then, he took me out to a beautiful dinner. We sat side by side at the bar and, though my appetite was small, he didn’t hold back. And, as always, he made sure to leave me with a fridge full of food so I could take care of myself, especially, in the moments when it’s difficult to. Following dinner, he stopped and bought me a dozen of the most stunning roses. Light pink, my favorite! And then and then and then…
This, of course, is only the tip of the iceberg. But, I think it’s the perfect place to begin in the healing journey. In the midst of grief, the choices I made as soon as possible have been a game changer.
Here is my advice to you or anyone you know that is in the midst of heartbreak:
1. Initiate an invitation.
2. Be receptive to instruction.
As my prior text messages reveal, I reached out to two people—again people that weren’t just waiting around for me to call upon them (I emphasize this because I don’t want you to limit yourself to only the people who you think will show up for you. You have to ask people to show up for you.)—and I invited them to make a plan to see each other.
With one friend, she came over and then we headed out into the world and talked over drinks. And with the other friend, I met up with her in her world and we talked over laptops and pizza.
Along with inviting people to do something together aka to help me not retreat into my bed and to go out and live in the world and to have emotions in front of people, I was also receptive to my friend’s instruction.
She told me that this time with him was fleeting and to basically get up and not let my tears keep me from showing up. She also told me I had the power to care and to love him—to love us—regardless of the pain I was in. And guess what, I believed her. And that made a beautiful difference on my night.