It was Valentine’s Day and Naomi was elated. She was bidding farewell to her boyfriend Eric after the most romantic evening she ever had. He was smiling to her—one of those genuine smiles only he could muster, a smile that said “we are made for each other,” and she was grinning, and agreeing, happy that she had finally found the man of her dreams and the relationship that would take her the distance.
The very next day, Eric went on a business trip to Los Angeles and had a small accident there, causing him to be hospitalized for a week. After coming out of the hospital, he began to work from the LA office of his company. Naomi, in New York, kept in touch, but she felt him become more and more distant. Within a month, Eric had been reassigned to the LA office. Naomi had no choice but to break up their relationship when Eric finally came back to New York for a weekend but couldn’t find time to see her.
Naomi couldn’t believe how a relationship that had been solidifying over six months could disintegrate in the blink of an eye. She should have been devastated.
But she wasn’t, because Naomi is antifragile. And you can be too, by following these ten steps:
1. Expect things to go wrong:
Current research tells you optimistic people are happier and accomplish more. But you can be optimistic without being blind. And you can be rational without being negative. Knowing that the road ahead is bound to have potholes and ravines helps you navigate better. Life is structured in a way that all good things invariably come to an end at some point and give way to other good things: Many of your great friendships in high school have faded away, but you have made new friends in college. At some point, your parents will leave and your children will remain for you. Such is the cycle of life, and relationships are no different: Even long-term couples who seem to be made for each other eventually break up, because one of them has to die before the other. But don’t get me wrong: You should do everything you can to nurture and safeguard your relationship, even if you expect it to end at some point.
2. Don’t overstay your welcome:
A relationship that ended is not a failed relationship: It’s just a relationship that, for a variety of reasons, ended, as all relationships at some point do. A failed relationship, by contrast, is one that has not ended and in which both parties are suffering or out of sync. If your relationship is limping, you should do everything in your power to save it. If you have done everything you can do and things are not improving, and assuming you can leave, there is no reason to stay in the relationship.
3. Enjoy it while it lasts:
As Heraclitus said, “You cannot step in the same river twice.” This applies to everything you do, not just to relationships. Knowing that everything we experience, including relationships, is ephemeral, should make us savor every moment that much more. There is no reason for life not to be an abundant source of joy to be gleaned from every second you are in a happy relationship. Open your eyes to this source and enjoy it.
4. Never regret:
Losers are not people who have experienced losses; losers are people who let their losses destroy them. A relationship that ended is still a relationship that gave you joy, hope and love. It doesn’t become dark just because it ended and the other person doesn’t become a monster. Every beautiful moment doesn’t become an illusion, and, more importantly, you don’t become unsuitable for future relationships just because that relationship ended. So accept that it’s over, but cherish the memories and look forward to other beautiful memories in the future.
5. Have a plan:
So the relationship ended. Sitting at home and moping is not a viable option: You should have a plan for what you will be doing now with all your free time—something that keeps you busy and positive and makes you feel normal. It could be going on dates with interesting people, renewing old friendships, spending more quality time with the family, or anything that expands your horizons and helps you grow.
6. Expect the rebound:
As the saying goes, “It is always darkest before the dawn.” Just as much as an end is inevitable, a rebound is equally inevitable. So you should expect things in your life to get better and look forward to your future.
7. Believe in providence:
Providence is a secret guardian angel looking after your well being and helping you navigate through the pathways of life. If you pay attention, you can see traces of providence’s work in your life: the bizarre coincidence that made you land your first job, the innocuous meeting that inspired you to choose your college major, the set of circumstances that led you to meet your first partner. Think hard and you will find many such events that could be explained away by coincidence or luck but could be acts of providence. Then think of all the bad things that happened to you and how many of them turned out to be positive because they paved the way to something better. Providence works both ways and it does help to believe in it.
8. Use your emotions:
We are humans and big events in our lives give us strong emotions. You will feel angry, upset, frustrated and will be tempted to either suppress your emotions or do something destructive. Don’t. Emotions are the key to enhanced energy and creativity: Without strong emotions, conflict and frustration there would be no works of art to speak of. So channel these emotions into whatever project you had been putting off, or use them to do something remarkable at work or whatever else can be of benefit to you and society. But don’t waste them.
9. Enjoy the freedom:
Even heaven probably has some constraints on your freedom. You are now relationship-free and feel lonely, but there are some advantages: Now you don’t have to account to anyone for what you do, what time you go out, when you return, who you see, etc. This is freedom. You may not have wanted it, but now you have it. Enjoy it!
10. Don’t look back:
It’s a law of nature that if you take the same ingredients and process them the same way, you will always obtain the same result. Your relationship is no different. If it didn’t work out this time, something major has to change before it can work again, at least with the same partner. And major change takes time, if it happens at all. So yes, you may at some point end up back together, but it’s unlikely, at least in the immediate future. So don’t remain glued to your rearview mirror; there’s a lot going on in front of you.