I don’t think I can do this anymore. I don’t like the way things have been going. I don’t love you anymore. All of these gut-wrenching phrases bring to mind the many break-ups that we all face throughout our lives.
But does that old adage, “It is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all” really suffice when we’ve finally severed ties with someone who used to bring about butterflies in our stomachs and who we couldn’t wait to see again the moment we parted?
Arguments could be made that while a break-up is one of the most painful of human experiences, it can also be viewed through another kind of lense, albeit rose-colored and pragmatic.
Take, for instance, my own tragic break-up:
I met a man through a Craigslist ad two years ago. His post was witty and crass. He was good-looking (according to the pictures he sent) and was a lead singer in a metal band. It seemed completely contrived and like the stereotypical catfishing story, right?
Well, we bantered back and forth for a few emails before it became apparent that we had much in common. The emails turned into hour-long phone calls. Our discussions were deep and meaningful. We made plans to meet up, despite him living across the country in Boston, Massachuttes. I completely fell for this stranger whom I had never met. Then, as it tends to, the other shoe fell — he was not coming to the West Coast after a work fiasco forced him to cancel his travel plans.
Naturally, I was crushed. Devastated. Heart-broken. I told myself, I will never have a connection like that again. Consequently, I had opened up and put two months of myself into someone who I would now never see. Like a swift slice of a surgeon’s blade, a wound was cut open and it bled profusely. I felt the hemorrhaging would never end.
But it did.
Fast forward a year. Another man. Another love saga that now spanned six months. This one was more in-depth and actually included face-to-face meetings, music playlists with hidden innuendos, emails professing love and romantic gestures that I felt I would never experience again.
But it too ended.
That old wound, which I had told myself I would never let open again, had in fact become another painful reminder that if we want to love, we have to also feel heartache.
I began to realize, after much introspection about what went wrong and who was to blame and how I wished I could go back in time and change this or that, that all these break-ups were really valuable parts of the relationships I had. Why?
Because every single man that I have ever had an intimate relationship with has taught me something about myself. Each lover, in turn, made me a better lover.
It was as if each relationship built a lifeline and once disconnected, a line of debris was left in its wake. But this debris held important insights that otherwise would have remained hidden and elusive.
Instead of dwelling in the what-ifs that spiral into a self-loathing and moral dilemma, I have begun to write down all the things I gained after having these experiences, however brief.
The perks of a break-up: introduction to new music. Exploring a dominant/submissive relationship. New books. New ideas about politics. Philosophical perspectives about marriage and polyamory. The list goes on.
I recognize that some people will argue that toxic relationships may leave no possibility of a silver lining; there is nothing good that can come from it and no happy memories. But if nothing else, what did you learn going forward that will prevent you from retracing those steps and falling into the same pattern of toxicity again?
Rethinking the break-up in terms of if you never love, then you’ll never have heartache is easier said than done. It involves being present with your pain, feeling it even when it feels like you don’t want to anymore and then walking away for a while. After some time has passed, it will feel good to revisit those memories and take them for what they were. What did you learn? And what do you know now?
In time, it may feel less like It is better to have loved and lost… and more like the famous quote by the philosopher, Dr. Seuss, Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.