Her words stayed with me until they set me free.
What brings you in today?
Well, I can’t get over my ex-boyfriend.
I hired my therapist eight months after my ex and I finally broke up. We had a painful four months of hanging on until the bitter end, ending our year and a half long relationship.
I couldn’t stop thinking about him. There wasn’t a single day he didn’t cross my mind. I did everything they recommended—deleted all my social media and traces of him and disconnected from shared friends for the time being—all to the best of my ability, but it wasn’t possible to erase him completely. I couldn’t stop myself from googling him or reading his blog.
I tried to find out information and often found out things I did not want to know. I replayed what-ifs, recalled old memories. “I bet if I tell him to get on a plane and book a hotel, he’d come in a heartbeat.” I played out that fantasy for a while. What it would be like to reunite, reconnect, set new boundaries, create a new relationship over again. I pictured introducing him to everyone new in my life, that he’d be so happy I took him back. Maybe then I’d finally be able to tell him what to do, control him, have leverage. Couldn’t everyone see I was his purpose for existing, that I was the only meaningful part of his life?
I was trapped. I could not stop. Hour-long subway rides were consumed by these thoughts and fantasies. I shared in recovery meetings. I would tell anyone who would listen.
Then I hired my therapist.
She just listened for the first couple of months. She asked me about other boyfriends and past relationships. She’d always leave me at the end of our sessions with “Take care of yourself.”
See, I didn’t want to give him up. She knew. She was a smart, skilled therapist. She wasn’t (and couldn’t) make me do something I didn’t want to. Holding onto him kept me safe. Idealizing the life we almost had together was safe. Two creative 27-year-olds starting a new life together in NYC. It seemed so glamorous… until it wasn’t.
Finally, it was 13 months after the breakup. I came in embarrassed to admit that I was still thinking of him. I had a feeling she had been waiting for this window of opportunity for a long time. It was finally appropriate for her to say:
“Molly, are you still holding onto him because you’re too afraid of something good to come in? To be vulnerable with someone new?”
Stab to the chest.
I didn’t like it. I was completely nailed. Nailed to the coffin of this far-past -expiration-date-breakup. Goddamn it, I thought. My ego brain kept grasping for footing, to regain control. I didn’t want the conversation to take this direction.
“No, that’s not it. I’ve slept with other people and have been vulnerable since him.” (Lies.)
“Okay, well, you know we’re meant to have multiple deep connections in our life, right?”
I was annoyed.
“Yes, I do hear the words you’re saying,” I stared out the window, avoiding her gaze, “and I know they make sense, but I just don’t really want to hear that right now.”
We sat in awkward silence. She said a few more things — she didn’t leave me there, but I was (probably quite visibly) still nailed.
“Okay, well, let me know when you’d like to come back in. Take care of yourself.”
Goddamn it. Why was it that simple? Of course, that’s what it was.
Our relationship ended in terrible flames.
I put up with 6+ months of poor treatment longer than I should have. I knew deep down it needed to end, but I couldn’t let it go, and I caused him a lot of pain in that process too. The thought of something loving, gentle, and wonderful again after so much torture and heartbreak felt totally foreign. I knew other people had figured it out, but I cataloged it as “not for me.” He was my soulmate, and I would now be eternally damned because we were disconnected, keeping each other away from one another.
It was a really lovely hole I was in.
I kept my therapist’s words with me, though. They ate away at me.
She had landed the perfect stroke. The stroke that gets you free.
Even now, after I’ve opened my heart to someone new, the love I felt for my ex has not disappeared. I guess I thought it would, but it’s actually shifted in a beautiful way. My heart opened again and I’ve appreciated him and our past relationship much more clearly. I went through a lot of muck first.
For me, letting go of the relationship was a slow process of learning to see him as the man he was without all our intimate baggage on top.
Almost every day, I realized something new. I appreciated him more, and it was hard to balance that without simultaneously wanting to try and jump back in again. He was a hurting person like I was, trying to fill a hole that no one person is meant to fill. In retrospect, I saw that many times I didn’t appreciate all of his vulnerable gestures. I didn’t acknowledge how much it really took of him to come out, put himself out there with me, and risk his heart getting hurt.
A lot of times, it was painful thinking of all the ways I ran him over. Dismissed him, dropped him, made his life hard. I had to turn and look at these behaviors and have compassion for myself. It required self-forgiveness.
Skipping over any of this would not have allowed me to be the kind partner I’ve shown up as now. Through letting him go, I learned how to really and truly see someone. How to appreciate someone’s inherent goodness, their younger selves, the ways they love. I’ve learned to love myself for my mistakes and learning, my becoming. It was a process of loving him more, loving myself more, and appreciating what was.