Producer’s note: Someone on Quora asked: What are the lessons people learn after a breakup? Here is one of the best answers that’s been pulled from the thread.
Among the minor wreckages of past relationships there was a single, definitive, soul crushing break-up that pulled my insides out and actually forced me to build a plan for dealing with it.
You know it’s going to be bad when you’re driven to constructing emotional infrastructure to handle the fallout. But that plan is what let me recover well enough to meet and marry the love of my life. Here are the three things I learned from that the process:
1. Plan your own funeral.
If you knew you were going to die next week, you’d get busy right away getting your affairs in order. Breaking up with someone significant, like a spouse for example, is no different. Before getting to all the emotional crap you have to deal with don’t neglect the future comforts of having planned ahead while you were still able to function like a normal adult.
If future you could come back and say one thing besides “What are you doing breaking up moron! Don’t you know how much this is going to hurt? It’s waaaay worse than wisdom teeth!” it would be “For the love of everything holy decide how you’re going to handle the mundane but absolutely demoralizing logistical issues beforehand.”
Does one of you have to move out? Do you have a bunch of her stuff? Are there financials that have to be accounted for and split? Is there a pet? How do you tell friends and family? In my case there was a wedding to cancel, deposits to get back, and about a hundred people that had to be awkwardly told that no, I wasn’t getting married, yes, I was OK, and no, there was nothing they could do. But man, so glad I took care of some of it before I became a Dead Man Walking.
2. Respect the pain.
Pain from a particularly messy breakup isn’t emotional, it’s everything – like a House of Pain that you can’t get out of. It’s a severe and prolonged chemical imbalance. It’s an all-encompassing cocoon of misery that starts in your head but eventually makes you ache everywhere. It’s a relentless storm of bad sensation that permeates your senses and inhibits you from functioning normally and experiencing things like taste and smell.
But as GI Joe said, knowing is half the battle. Take a hint from every breakup song you’ve ever heard (I used to think those singers were just being dramatic – they totally weren’t) and take steps to get a support network in place. Take some time off work if need be, travel to some places with lots of pretty things, listen to good music, meet some new people, make some bad choices – whatever happens to be your particular brand of Vodka. Plan to be doing a lot of that; certainly a lot more than you were when you with Them.
What you should not do is assume everything is going to be cool and you can go on with business as usual. If this other person meant a lot to you, you’re going to be demolished. Acknowledge it, respect it, plan for it, give it the time it needs, and then get past it.
3. What the f#$% went wrong?
Was it them? Was it you? How could that have possibly happened? That wasn’t part of the plan! The plan was for you two to make like all the knuckleheads in those romcoms you watched where they go through a rough patch but then makeup and ride off into the sunset together.
During your recovery period, this is what’s going to keep you up at night. First, it was me talking with her about it. But then it was me talking to my family, her family, my friends, our friends, and everybody I met over the last couple years who ever saw us together. It was a bizarre elevator pitch where I had to concisely explain why, over and over again, me and this other person went from planning our future together to wanting to kill each other. It’s always awkward, and during the course of repeating the same crap to everybody you talk to for months you get an opportunity to actually figure out what happened.
If done poorly, you just end up blaming the other person for everything having gone wrong in your perfect life. But if done well, you start to unwind what you were doing at the end when it sucked, back to those times where you had doubts but ignored them, and then even further back to when you went from having a lot of fun to having to do some work and everything started to fall apart in small ways.
It’s always that last part that kills you. If it feels like work that early, its always going to feel like work. When its good, even the work feels great, but you don’t learn that until later.
Once that last part is figured out you have something like a path for moving forward. Maybe you can meet someone, or a lot of someones, who let you get that good part back with your new, enlightened perspective. This is what happened for me. Once I figured out that all the stuff I thought was important – where I came from, what I liked, what my friends and family liked – wasn’t important, it let me reduce to the one thing that really mattered: finding someone who wanted the same future I did.
It’s been ten years, three kids, two crappy dogs, and more than a decade since my last visit to the House of Pain. I don’t plan on ever going back but if I did, at least I’d have a plan for getting out again.