The Best Advice I Received During the Worst Break Up I've Ever Been Through
Updated: Apr 5, 2018
I’ll spare you the messy details, except to say this: I loved someone deeply, and they left suddenly and swiftly after many years together. It hurt, a lot. But one of the things that comes out of painful experiences are these glorious little pieces of wisdom — from yourself and from the people who love you. They may not stick right away, but by the time you have healed from the initial blow, they start to settle in and make themselves deeply felt.
I’m lucky to have people around me who have reflected truth in my direction when all I could do was keep my head above water. Because of them, recovering is possible. I hope their potent wisdom can support you and yours in healing as well.
The Best Advice I Received During the Worst Break Up I've Ever Been Through
1. This is not about you.
It’s not about you. It’s not about you. It’s not about you.
Logically speaking, this is a hard bit to make sense of. Because…you are the common denominator, right? They decided that a life without YOU would be better than a life with you. So, how could this not be about you? HOW!?
You are not going to be everyone’s favorite flavor, no matter how hard you try. You will eventually sort through the things you did wrong and want to do better next time, and yes, you made mistakes, because you are human. The learning you do will be important for the person you are meant to be with. But right now, all you have to know is that if staying true to yourself means they can’t stick around, it has everything to do with how they relate to you and nothing to do with who you are.
We project our reality all around us and all over the people we are close to. The closer we get to someone, the more we project, and if things feel bad on the inside, the projection will be bad, too. Relationships that last involve people who can acknowledge their capacity to project, recognize its impermanence, and be intentional about staying present with the reasons we want to be in the relationship. It takes work. It’s not easy, but it’s ultimately worth it.
You have to forgive yourself for not being what everyone wants. It is not because you aren’t worth the time and energy. It is not because you are broken inside or defective or ugly. It’s because for whatever combination of reasons, personality traits, life circumstances, and other factors, the relationship was not working for them. So they left. And maybe it fixed everything. And probably, it didn’t. But that’s not your journey. This is. Right here. You’re in it. So be here.
2. It will get better. But for now, this.
Before I could really hear it, I was asking everyone I loved to tell me it would get better. Because I knew it would, but the blow was so big, at the time it felt like was no way it would ever heal or be a real person again. It was terrifying. So I had those words on repeat, through the loving voices of the people who carried me when I needed it most.
No amount of “It will get better” is going to stop the pain. You can do about a million things to try and make it go away or delay it, but it will still be there.
So for now, this. This pain. This messiness. This uncertainty. This chaos. This crisis. This is what’s here right now, so why don’t we just take a deep breath and let it be? What would it look like to admit that, “Yes, I am in big freaking pain right now”? What if this is the exact kind of practice we all need to find the peace and self-love we so desperately desire?
3. You are not your grief.
When the first wave hit, at least for me, grief submerged me. I was drowning in it. The tears would not stop. I could barely do dishes or laundry or form words. Everything reminded me of the person who left. In that kind of crisis, it’s hard to believe grief is not somehow sewn into your skin and psyche, immovable. It’s big, and it’s painful, and it’s surrounding you, but IT IS NOT YOU. You are a million other things, and grief is paying you a long visit, teaching what it needs to teach. It will go. But you have remember that it is not attached to you. You are a real human person in its vicinity.
4. There was nothing you could have done to stop this from happening.
We all make mistakes. And as someone who strives to grow and be the best person I can be, I absolutely hate making mistakes. It’s easy to blame and criticize yourself when someone leaves. It’s not easy to understand that it was out of your control.
No amount of appeasing, bending yourself and your needs, apologizing, changing, begging, or pleading would have changed this outcome. Because it never had anything to do with you. They were going to leave, for whatever reason they were going to leave, and it was what needed to happen.
If you have to sacrifice who you are to delay that outcome, you’re already in the wrong relationship. Healthy relationships are built on effort and intention. You’re desire to continue putting in effort and intention will not hold the relationship up. It will end. Now, or later. And it’s sad. And it sucks. And you don’t deserve it. But it’s not your choice this time.
5. It’s all just a story.
When a heart breaks, especially suddenly and without closure, there are myriad meanings to make of it. Sometimes, we are so sure of our theories that we get lost in them. Some of stories I told made me hate myself for not being good enough. Some of them painted my ex as a villain. In others, I was too much, she got too close, she saw the true me, and she was disgusted by it.
They were all stories. Grounded in no particular truth. Narratives I created to make sense of something that didn’t make sense (read: it’s not about you). I could spend hours in my stories, but knowing that they were just stories allowed me to name them when they popped in to my mind. It’s just a story, and this one isn’t helpful. It’s just a story, and underneath the story is pain. The only truth is that there’s pain. Just feel the pain, because it hurts and because you owe it to yourself. There doesn’t need to be a story around it.
6. Once you have proven to yourself that you can get through this, nothing will seem impossible.
I heard this from a mentor that I have the utmost respect for, only days after the break up. I was in a horrible state. My mentor had been left by a partner, too, suddenly and painfully, in her past. When she told me this, I knew it was true, even in the midst of my shock and disorientation. That this pain was here to prepare me for the rest of my life. That this pain was here to remind me what I am capable of surviving. It was here to dare me to live my best life, knowing that I’d already experienced one of the most excruciating things a heart can bear.
After this, there will be other painful experiences, but I will know pain so well that I will remember my ability to bear it. And I will bear it. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll come to understand that it is necessary and normal. It is there to remind me that the only limitations that exist, exist because I put them there. Because of fear and self-doubt. Because of my own fear of what is possible. So when the worst possible scenario plays out and you bear it, at some point you learn that you can and will survive.
7. This pain is bigger than them.
I wish I could say it was all about the break up. It wasn’t. The truth is, the break up created the perfect conditions for every inch of unresolved grief in my life to surface. So when I grieved the loss of this love, I grieved all loss. The childhood I didn’t have. The ways I was hurt in the past by people who were supposed to love me and keep me safe. The loss of my innocence. The death of old versions of me. The ways I made myself small to keep people around. The loss of the life I thought I was going to have. Every time someone betrayed me. Every time I was rendered unseen. It all came, and I had to deal with all of it. It was like the break up created a portal to these excruciating and unjust experiences that were resting in my unconscious mind somewhere.
It’s hard to separate when the most recent grief is so potent, but with time and therapy and intention, it was clear that my grief was deeper than this relationship. It was a lifetime of unmetabolized pain that was now ready to be felt, and it was time to feel it.
8. You do not have to wish them well.
We all know the ideal kind of loss: You forgive them for the ways they hurt you, you know it’s just a part of the journey, you wish them the best and thank them for the time you had together. It all happens with grace. The love doesn’t die, it becomes something bigger and more profound. So on, and so forth.
Unfortunately, when we’re hurt or betrayed by people who profess to love us, that’s a big weight to bear. Maybe in time you will wish them the best, but you don’t have to make that your goal. You don’t have to forgive them to make peace with this. You don’t have to be a saint. You can be mad about this. You can feel the injustice of it. You can know you deserved better. Even if (though) you still love them, your job is you right now. It’s not their well-being. It’s not what they think of you. It’s not their peace. It’s yours. Let it be what it is. It’s important. Give it time to settle. It might evolve into something different, but right now, you don’t have to try to force that. What’s more: You don’t have to berate yourself for not being there yet.
9. They are not responsible for anyone but themselves.
This was a doozy. Nobody is accountable to you except you. You are not accountable to anyone except yourself. The person who left did not owe you anything — not an explanation, not a peaceful exit, not more effort, not an apology. That doesn’t mean you don’t deserve better than what you got. It means you were never entitled to what you wanted. It hurts to know that we can be hurt by the behaviors of others. But even though it hurts, it was never part of the deal to avoid pain and get everything you wanted out of the situation.
10. You cannot change another person.
Are you sure??? Not even if I love them hard enough? Not even if you show them it’s not so bad to see yourself after all?
Nope. Nope. Nope.
I tried to make my partner what I wanted them to be for a long time. I thought I could create the perfect conditions for what I believed to be best for them. I was wrong. And I was neither entitled to nor responsible for making things happen that had nothing to do with me. That’s big burden to carry on both sides.
If you don’t love them exactly as they are, right now, it’s not right. No one is perfect, but we owe it to ourselves to walk away when we see that person for who they truly are and don’t align with it. It’s unstable ground to build a home on, and it won’t work. That home will come crashing down if you're grasping at potential.
What’s more…if someone doesn’t want to change, they aren’t going to do it. Period.
There you have it, folks. If you’ve been hurt by someone you love, there’s no way around the fact that it sucks. And frankly, it might suck bad for a long time. But you are not alone, and there is a lot to learn in the space between grieving your old life and embracing your new one. Stay with it. You are coming home.