Unsolicited Advice, Part I

11 Oct

Welcome to a new feature I am starting called Unsolicited Advice. It’s pretty self-explanatory, but briefly: this is where I give you advice you neither asked for or may even want. Today’s is about what to do with yourself at the end of a relationship. Enjoy!

One of my favorite writers/website publishers/internet personas Ariel Meadow Stallings, of the Offbeat Empire, recently shared this piece she wrote for The Guardian about her divorce. You should really read the article, but I’m going to reproduce the list of 7 things she wished she knew before her divorce –

1. Trip out on grief – it’s a hallucinogen

2. Choose Healing

3. Shift attention away from your former partner

4. Grab reinvention by the balls

5. Try all the things

6. Talk to all the people

7. Know that it gets better (even if you absolutely don’t believe it)

It was spot-on for me in many ways, but I especially related to the “Choose Healing” bullet point.

2. Choose Healing.

In the first weeks of the separation, I desperately tried to hold the space for two parallel realities: on the one hand, I wanted to hold out hope for the salvage of my marriage. On the other, I recognized that I was traumatized and broken – and that I needed to heal. A month in, I had a panic attack that made it clear to me that it was beyond my capacity to hold both “healing” and “hope”. So abandon hope all ye who enter here. Choose healing, instead.

I chose healing, as well. It’s always kind of been my m.o. that I am loyal to a fault, devoted to a fault, I’m with you all the way – until I’m not. There seems to be a line in the sand – I’ll endure a lot, I’ll try hard, but once I cross that line I don’t look back. I’ve felt that certain very few times in my life. When I finally ended it for good with my notoriously bad college boyfriend, I felt that certainty – I was so done. I wrestled with the decision to quit my first “real” job out of college but it was emotionally and financially draining  – it remains the only job I have ever quit that wasn’t because of a move. It was the right decision.

And when Trevor and I decided to get divorced I was stuck in this weird limbo for about three weeks – that space Ariel talks about where you’re trying, impossibly, to hold both healing and hope – and then a flip just switched and I was done. And I think just how done I was surprised both of us, after nearly 5 years of marriage and 6+ years together.

It felt abrupt when in reality it had been slow building for at least a year. We had become more and more disconnected – we didn’t enjoy each other the way we once had anymore – I was spending increasing amounts of time out of the house, with other friends and family members while he doubled down and hunkered in, spending all of his free time at his computer, on one of the gaming consoles, or painting. When we looked for comfort we no longer looked to one another, we needed comfort about one another, about our relationship.

By the time we finally said the “D” word, all of this had been playing out for around 2 years. I briefly panicked at the finality of it all and even asked him to reconsider, maybe we could try counseling? But in the end he had the presence of mind to know me better than I know myself and to stick to his guns, he said no. And I’m so grateful he did. A week later, I was, finally, done.

And that is when I made the conscious choice to choose healing – I chose joy and optimism. I chose new beginnings. I chose falling in love again. And I encourage everyone exiting a relationship, especially if it is a difficult exit, to:

a.) Allow yourself to be. Be a puddle or be a whirlwind of activity. Distract yourself or wallow in it. Be sad or be overjoyed. Feel pain or feel relief – feel both at once! Do whatever feels right at that moment and don’t let anyone tell you to how to feel or respond – own your reactions and responses. Be.

b.) Talk to others. Definitely talk to your single friends and talk to your married friends – but mostly talk to your divorced friends and your recently-broke-up friends. If you don’t have divorced friends, make some. They will make you feel less alone, less crazy, less unlovable. They will make you feel normal again.

c.) Be alone. This sounds rich coming from me, the lady who started dating her current partner 2 months after separating from her ex. I love my partner, I hope we get married, I want to have a family with this man, and I wouldn’t change a thing about how we came together. But I wish I could somehow also have had alone time because without it I did all my processing and grieving and working through issues with my old relationship while I was starting my new relationship. It was hard on me, it was hard on him – it might have spelled doom if we hadn’t just been head-over-heels for one another. Love will save you, but as Joy Division so aptly said, “love will tear you apart”, too. I could’ve used some more put-the-pieces-back-together time on my own before embarking on a new relationship. We have been lucky (and my partner has been infinitely patient and kind), but I wouldn’t recommend it – some things are best done alone, and I’d count getting over your ex and all the baggage that comes with that as one of them.



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