It feels good to think of exes as caricatures, rather than as people. They hurt us in some way, and we’re angry, and now our brain has to find some way to acknowledge that pain, make sense of it, and control it. So we develop The Asshole – the person who ruined our life, broke us, betrayed our trust, and destroyed our capability to ever believe in love again.
For a while it’s like a lighthearted joke; our friends throw jabs at them to make us laugh and cheer us up, we talk about all the horrible downsides to dating them. But then little by little, everything in our life starts to be traced back to The Asshole. They’re the reason why we gained twenty pounds, they’re the reason why we got a negative performance review at our job, they’re the reason why our social life has collapsed, they’re the reason why we can’t get out of bed on a Sunday afternoon. They did something to us – broke up with us, lied to us, cheated on us, left us for someone else, sometimes all of the above. And so, deservingly, we mourned the relationship. We rested our tender soul. We attempted to nurse our broken heart back to health. Our friends and family told us to take our time, that it was totally normal to be sad and crushed, that we should be allowed to go easy on ourselves.
But somewhere along the line, that heartbreak turned into an excuse. The person who hurt us stopped becoming a person and instead became The Asshole – a one-dimensional character on a teen drama whose sole purpose for existence revolved around ruining our life and being the cause of anything bad that happened to us. We hated The Asshole, and yet, somewhere deep in our subconscious, we were thankful for him or her, because they became the point around which our whole life revolved. They’re what we blamed our hardships on, they were the first thing we wanted to talk about when someone asked What’s new?, they were the jumping off point from which we developed our identity (I’m broken, I’m alone, I have trust issues.)
At some point The Asshole became inseparable from who we are. They’re the reason why we have a cold exterior, they are the cause for our loneliness, they’re to blame for our lack of direction. Eventually it is no longer about a three-dimensional person who made a mistake and did something to hurt us. It is instead about an age-old archetype who has become our life compass and the point around which everything else in our life orbits. We don’t want to let go of them, we don’t want to stop thinking about them, we don’t want to get over them – because they are no longer someone who screwed up, someone who hurt us, someone who did something that temporarily ruined us. Instead, they are our identity, our new normal. They are our story.
It feels good to think of our love lives like stories – everything has a purpose, every action has meaning, every piece of dialogue is useful. We live in a world full of stories – stories we read in books, stories we see in movies, stories we watch for hours in a row on Netflix. Stories can be fun, light, empowering, encouraging. But stories can also be dangerous, like when we allow ourselves to become a character that things happen to, instead of a living, breathing person who makes their own choices.
This is when The Asshole becomes a danger to us, as oppose to a coping mechanism. In the beginning of our heartbreak, it’s fun to hate on them, to call them names, to badmouth them with our friends. But at some point, it goes too far, and we become a character in The Asshole’s story, instead of the writer of our own. Usually, the reason why we cannot get over The Asshole is because we’re not yet ready to break them down. We’re not ready to forgive them and forget them, to come to terms with the fact that they are a human being, to acknowledge that they hurt us (very deeply) but that they cannot control our life. We’re not ready to let go of The Asshole because we’ve let the breakup become who we are, instead of allowing it to be one experience (of many) that’s helped to shape us.
The Asshole is just a person. Just an experience. Just a tough memory. But they are not who we are. They are not our scapegoat. They are not our story.