So…I recently put myself into a situation most (sane) people wouldn’t dare: back in the presence of an ex I’d been trying desperately to get over, who I knew I probably wouldn’t have a chance with ever again. Despite all of the illegitimate excuses I gave to those who questioned me, including said ex, I had one primary motive: I wanted to see if I could detect any hope of us ever getting back together in the future (come on…don’t act like you’ve never done that).
Well, things didn’t quite go as I’d hoped. The play-by-play went something like this: I walked in the door, after knocking for the literal first time ever. His mom answered the door and hugged me and, feeling obligated, I awkwardly hugged him, too. We then engaged in what was really quite a pathetic attempt at catching up, but I wanted to fill in all of the gaps. I wanted to hear about all of the life that had been lived since “us.” I especially wanted to see if I could expose any sign of regret; any sign of missing me.
In reality, though, it was nowhere near that deep. We talked about the everyday. School. Work. Friends. And yes, a lot of it was uncomfortable. It was exactly what you might expect when you show up at an ex’s parent’s house after not seeing each other for 2 months, and then proceed to act like everything is normal.
We didn’t show it, but everything was obviously far from normal. It felt like I didn’t even know him anymore.
We even sat on separate couches. There were these unfamiliar, implicit boundaries everywhere that we’d never experienced in all the time we’d known each other. Boundaries that we weren’t sure how to navigate, but at the same time, were careful not to cross.
I could sense the sad truth in the air that we were strangers now; I had no right to know his life anymore, nor he mine. As we talked, I made a conscious effort not to hold eye contact for too long. It was too painful. We were pretending this was all fine and dandy, but we both knew the truth. We were not those people anymore.
Then, when the night was over, after mostly keeping our distance…we hugged again. But it was different this time. And it was in this moment that I realized just how much can be felt in a single embrace. It’s amazing, isn’t it, that we have the capacity to experience so many emotions all at once?
This second hug was especially unique because, unlike the tearful goodbyes of our breakup two months prior, the emotions came as a surprise. They were unexpected and unpredictable. It got sadder and tighter the longer it lasted, neither of us willing to let go just yet. Both surprised to find ourselves holding on to what we used to be, for just a little bit longer. Memorizing how it feels to hold each other again, for what may well have been the very last time.
But even as the pain of this moment, and what it meant for the future, surged through me, I felt a strange sense of relief. Because I knew, from here on out, that things would never be the same for us. And as sad as that sounds, I think I knew I never wanted them to be; they couldn’t be.
We had a good run, but we’d reached the end, and were headed in different directions. I knew we still had love for each other – I could feel it – but sometimes, that doesn’t cut it. Just because you love someone does not mean you should be with them, and that is one of the most painful realizations there are.
Even so, it is also one of the most important. It’s a not-so-gentle reminder that nothing in this life is permanent. That we must love ourselves first, and do it fiercely, because apart from change, we are the only guarantee we’ll ever have.
When you experience a loss, especially of a relationship, don’t just lose that person. You essentially lose a part of yourself, and who you were when you were with them. You lose something you’ve invested days, months, maybe years of time and love and effort into. And if the ways we choose to spend our time and love and effort are not also our identity, then what is?
When you lose something special, you’re forced to redefine who you are, what’s important to you, and how you spend your time. Forced to answer the question of how you will fill this new chasm that has, without warning, opened up beneath your very feet and hurtled your world into unwelcome chaos.
And sometimes, that’s exactly what you need: a wake up call to get back in touch with yourself. To reflect on what happened, and how far you’ve come, and to know in your heart that you will be okay. You have been before, and you will be this time. Growth cannot happen without also experiencing what is painful or uncomfortable or sad. That is what makes it so beautiful.
Eventually, in your own time, you will find a sense of relief. It will sneak up on you, no matter how impossible it initially seems. What is first a deep, paralyzing ache in your heart, tears that refuse to cease, and a debilitating sadness that makes even getting out of bed seem impossible, becomes but a dull ache, an afterthought, in the days, months, years to come.
And before you know it, you begin to reassemble the pieces of your life that seemed so unbelievably broken, until the memories bring only a fleeting sadness, or even nostalgia, for that chapter in your life. Until you can treasure it for what it was, instead of tarnishing it with all the things it couldn’t be. Until you can imagine a time when, maybe, just maybe, you could hug him goodbye for real this time, and instead of only pain and sadness, feel a bittersweet mix of sorrow and love and contentment and most of all, appreciation that you were ever a part of each other’s lives at all.8
Also published on Medium.