“You’re dealing with it really well. I’m so proud of you,” are remarks I’ve been hearing too often lately.
Recovering from an on-again/off-again long-term relationship is definitely a process, but based on experience, it’s something that can surely be done. Timelines cannot necessarily be predicted, but less than five months after my former significant other of seven years moved out of my house, I can say I’m in a position to share how I was able to move on and establish a stable and positive environment for myself.
1. Don’t panic
Losing someone important can be debilitating, and it usually leaves people disoriented. In the pain, people are left to mourn. Most of the time, people mourn too often and too much, resulting in unnecessary stress and wasted time.
I prefer to liken the sudden departure of a person to a robbery. And when violence, force, intimidation, and/or stealth are used for someone to lose something significant, it’s best to focus on recognizing what’s left.
Yes, something was taken. But what’s left? Organize your thoughts and regroup. A person indeed left, but what are your goals? Surely most of them have remained the same. Is it to graduate? Get better pay? Earn that promotion? Earn enough to live independently? Buy a car? Take that vacation? Certainly there are so many goals left, and those goals will not materialize if you pour all your time into mourning something that is no longer there.
2. Collect and select
Collect and select the right recovery posse. In on-again/off-again relationships, people around the couple are usually as exhausted, if not even more so, than the dysfunctional duo, because they have to pick up the pieces left after the numerous breakups. Most people will offer sympathy, but there will be a select few who will help you steer yourself into safety.
There will be days when you are weak, when you’d want to drop a line and say hi to your ex coz you saw a cute puppy/cat video, or their favorite restaurant just opened somewhere nearer, but with the right group, you will be eased into reminding yourself that cutting off someone means not communicating with them at all. Sometimes, you’d even be lucky enough to have friends who will hold your friendship hostage. “If you go back to that person, you will lose all of us. You won’t have friends anymore.” Of course they don’t really mean it, and those are expressions of tough love. Tough love is love, nonetheless. And sometimes, it’s the kind of love we need.
3. Wring it out
Mourn ’til you’re absolutely done mourning. Cry, complain, pray, listen to the appropriate Spotify breakup playlists if you must, but the only way to start over again is to rid yourself of all the emotions left in your tank. And that tank must be a real big tank, given that you had it in you to click on this article.
Perhaps in the beginning you cry every day, then every other, every two, three, then you’d notice that you don’t even remember the last time you cried. Allow yourself a random cry once in a while, maybe when you’re driving home and Mandy Moore and New Radicals’ “Someday We’ll Know” plays on the radio. That’s totally fine.
But what’s most important is to recognize when you’re absolutely done poring over your emotions. The danger is mourning can become a habit, a part of one’s way of life, so know when you’re all cried out.
And after that, stop.
4. Seek help
“I’ve accepted it. But I worry coz sometimes I still get sad,” I told my doctor in one of my therapy sessions.
“I’d be more worried if you weren’t (sad),” she replied.
Intense changes in a person’s life can trigger chemical imbalances and can be truly traumatic experiences. And sometimes, hashing it out over coffee for a couple of hours with friends wouldn’t be enough. When dealing with such a big loss, it’s best to see a therapist to find out if there are issues and reactions that need to be addressed. Think about it as an investment in yourself. A debriefing session, perhaps. After all, it did feel like you went to war, didn’t it?
5. Avoid the rebound
“Don’t be afraid to hook up/date around.”
I never subscribed to this idea. They say the only way to forget someone is to be with someone else, but I disagree. The positive part about being single is discovering what you can and cannot do by yourself. Yay for what you can do, and for what you can’t, then you have all the time to learn now that you’re on your own.
Treat yourself as a gift to the next person to whom you’re going to commit. Would you want to give a special person an incomplete gift? Rather than combing Tinder or pushing your friends for “referrals,” use the time to heal your heart so that the next time you offer yourself to somebody, you’re offering something whole. The next person in your life deserves that at the very least.
6. Don’t fabricate emotions
“You have to be angry.”
“Are you angry? It’s good if you’re angry.”
I understand that anger is the first step of the Five Stages of Grief, but what if you’re not naturally angry at all? What if you’re all sorts of exhausted, resigned, accepting, respectful, and yielding, and that’s why you’re not angry? That’s totally fine, too.
They say that you have to be angry, because it is anger that will make you storm out that door and never look back. But endings need not have that explosive ingredient all the time. Instead of bursting out in rage, you could quietly seek the exit and walk out with the utmost grace.
You don’t need to fabricate what people think are necessary feelings for your to walk away. Recall who you are, the good person you are all along, and be the classiest person you can be. The other party may never notice it, your friends may not prefer it, but there’s premium in leaving things with complete dignity.
7. Tire yourself out
Let’s face it, when we’re in a relationship, there are things that take a backseat. Most of the time, a lot of things take a backseat. Recovering means collecting all those you’ve left in the backseat and make them ride shotgun in your life. You have the space and the time for them now, after all.
Tire yourself out for the right reasons. Exhaust yourself for the right things. Improve yourself in every other thing that you do so your mind is occupied by things other than your feelings of loss and sadness. What’s important is that the time you spend must be channeled toward things that will help you become a better human being, may it be physically, intellectually, emotionally, and even spiritually.
8. Use the residuals
And if all else fails, there’s always that big red button under the table.
You love them? Still? We know the answer to that question. And that’s totally fine. As we stated earlier, we’re not in the business of manufacturing feelings, and in the same vein, we shouldn’t be pretending that certain emotions don’t exist just because they currently don’t make sense or fit in our lives.
You love them? Prove it. Use it. Use that love you have left to remind yourself of why you are in this position in the first place. One thing’s for sure—they made a choice. They made a choice not to be with you, because if they chose otherwise, you wouldn’t have to be reading this right now.
Use the love you have left to give them what they want. At this very moment, most likely it isn’t you. Maybe it’s someone else, maybe it’s a career opportunity, maybe it’s their family, maybe it’s themselves. But if you love them, you allow then to make that choice and to keep that choice.
To ask them to return on account of your pain and suffering is not love. To ask them to return is selfishness. Love is selflessness. Love is giving it everything you’ve got. Love is not asking for anything in return. Love is also understanding. Love is letting them forge their own path, with or without you. And unfortunately, sometimes, love is letting go.