If you’re at a wedding, and you are anyone except the bride and groom, I think it’s only natural that your mind wanders to a self-involved place and makes you reflect on the relationships in your own life. No matter how much you love the couple or how invested you are in their journey to this special moment in time, the selfish part of our human nature forces us to ask, “How am I doing in comparison to all this?” So, if you’re sitting in a folding chair listening to two people swap undying declarations of love, and you’ve recently gone through a breakup, I can understand why you’d be compelled to clench your teeth throughout the ceremony and make a beeline for the open bar the moment it’s over.
Never one to let a friend drink alone, these are the circumstances under which a heartbroken companion and I gulped vodka tonics in the freezing cold parking lot outside a mutual friend’s wedding reception and caught up on the details of her recent breakup with her boyfriend of nearly three years.
“I know this is terrible to say, but I feel like I’ve been cheated out of all this,” she confided, gesturing toward the reception inside the building behind us. “This was the guy I thought I was going to marry, the only guy I ever imagined I could, and now it’s just over.” I nodded sympathetically and sipped my drink. “You know what the worst part is?” she continued. “He seems so much happier without me. We promised to be civil to each other, which means staying friends on Facebook and everything, so see pictures of him all of the time and he looks so light and carefree now, much more so than when he was with me. He’s going out with friends more, he’s in photos with all of these people I’ve never met – he’s moving on, and I’m just here. At a wedding. Thinking about him, and thinking about how he’s not thinking of me at all.”
I interrupted my friend at this point to give her a hug, because I felt that any words I could have said would feel emptier than the glasses that formerly held our cocktails, even if I intended to be warm and reassuring. Eventually, we made the conscious decision to stop dwelling in sadness and we remembered we were supposed to be celebrating the love-filled future of our dear friend (what is it about sadness that makes it hard to remember you were ever happy, but it doesn’t work the other way around?), and we headed back inside to dance and drink.
Back in my hotel room that night, I couldn’t help but keep thinking about my friend (the sad one, not the married one). Breakups are tough, but the words that kept playing over and over in my head were, “I’m thinking about how he’s not thinking of me at all.” What a devastating sentiment to be burdened with, but also how untrue! The truth is: your ex is thinking about you all the time…
Your ex is thinking about you in the chip aisle at the grocery store, as he shops for snacks for the housewarming party he’s about to throw with his new roommates. He’ll see the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and remember the time you wouldn’t kiss on the mouth him because he’d just eaten an entire bag of them and his breath reeked. He’ll remember the playful wrestling match that ensued in the living room as he fought to kiss you anyway, and how ardently you pretended to be disgusted when he finally managed to plant a big smooch on your lips, but how you couldn’t stop laughing and smiling. Standing there in the grocery store, he won’t be able to resist cracking a smile himself as he reaches to throw a bag of them into his cart. You’ll see pictures of the housewarming party online and assume he’s so much happier in his new apartment than he ever was in yours, but your smiling face was in his thoughts only hours earlier.
Your ex is thinking about you after his third round of whiskey sodas at the new bar down the street from his office. He’s playing pool with a few coworkers, and he’ll remember the time he tried to teach you to play, in a place just like this. He’ll remember the way your body felt pressed against his as showed you how to hold the pool stick, and how he didn’t even care that you weren’t putting in any effort whatsoever to learn. He’ll just remember how good it felt to hold you and smell your hair. He’ll go to the bar to get another drink, and then another, but that feeling will follow him when he goes home to bed alone that night. You’re not the only one who gets sentimental when you’ve had too much whiskey.
Your ex is thinking about you as he’s sitting front row at his sister’s wedding. He started casually dating someone new a few weeks ago, but he’s there by himself; they’re not at the “meet the family/ attend weddings together” stage yet and won’t be for awhile. So as he sits there listening to the vows, he finds himself thinking about you instead. He remembers how you’d both agreed that big weddings were silly and a waste of money, and how you wanted to get married at the courthouse and then have a big bonfire at the beach with your friends and family later that night in celebration. He’ll imagine you two dancing to your first song, backlit by the giant flames, and then he’ll remember that’s a future that’s not worth imagining anymore because you aren’t together. Unless… but maybe… what if… No. He’ll have to talk himself into letting go of what might have been, just like you have had to do so many times yourself.
I understand that when you’re newly single and feeling more alone than ever, it’s easy to trick yourself into believing you’re the only one suffering from stabs of nostalgia (at best) and depression (at worst), and that your ex has not given you a second thought since you cried in front of each other for the last time. But that’s the shitty, ironic, wonderful thing about ending a relationship: no matter how heartbroken and alone you feel, there’s always one other person out there who knows exactly what you had, and what you lost. Though it may feel like a solitary activity, healing and moving on is the last thing you and your ex will do together. Your relationship is over, but it’s not forgotten. And neither are you.