After the break-up, I expected the grief. At this point, I’m well acquainted with the stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I know they’re not some linear timeline, but instead a twisting cycle that can seemingly have no end, until suddenly, it doesn’t hurt so much anymore. I expected this, and prepared for it.
But what I didn’t expect was the loneliness.
I’ve felt strange talking about or openly grieving this break up. Sometimes I feel like it’s a petty thing. I imagine people thinking: “It was a just a relationship!” It’s not like it was marriage. It didn’t end with infidelity or any vicious words hurled. It was just a slow descent into an uncoupling that I was powerless to stop. Sometimes I feel like that makes it “less than” and I therefore have no real right to talk about it or feel so devastated by it. That I’ll seem like I’m complaining or too negative. That I should just “get over it.”
But there’s another part of me that recognizes and affirms the deep grief I’m right to feel at the end of this part of my life. This relationship was no small thing. It was 5 years of my life (6 if you count from our first date) and started during a very volatile season of my life so that I made life and career choices based on its projected perpetuity. I changed jobs, moved across the state, put off international travel….the list goes on. They were absolutely my decisions so there’s no blame implied, but I have felt very much like I had the rug pulled out from underneath me rather unexpectedly. “All the best laid plans” and “all my eggs in one basket,” you know?
So the grieving process has been long and agonizing at times. And worse, I’ve been apprehensive to share it. Recently though, I feel like I reached another phase of acceptance which is a relief. However, it’s also allowed the choking, grey blanket of loneliness to seep in like an oppressive fog.
I’m quite accustomed to loneliness. It’s been a consistent companion since I was 11 and my best friend and I grew apart after starting middle school when she met and became friends with another girl who seemed, to my immature and jealous brain, like the cooler, quirkier version of me. But somehow, I’m always surprised by the loneliness, especially after a break-up.
I suppose, I burrow so deeply into the comforting folds of a relationship, that I trick myself out of my loneliness. My boyfriend becomes my defacto best friend. Sure, I have other friends, several who I consider very close and call my “best” friends, but nothing rivals the emotional intimacy of a romantic relationship where you can feel fully seen and transparent. I’ve always functioned this way in relationships, feeling only truly comfortable with whoever I’m dating at the time, and wholly investing myself in the relationship. (I recognize how this ultimately devolves into codependency for me. It’s something I’m actively working on).
But when the relationship disintegrates, what are you left with? That person who was your one safe space, to fully be yourself, is now gone. And you are alone.
Despite this happening to me three significant times, all after a break-up, I still find myself surprised when the tsunami of loneliness rushes in, drowning me in its wake, and making me scramble and bargain for any scrap of the comfort I had before.
It makes me want to text him or see him. It makes me despair that I will never have that kind of emotional intimacy again, that I will forever be misunderstood or misinterpreted. It makes me question the validity of all my other friendships because if *HE* didn’t want me, then are all my other friends just tolerating me?
These are not healthy things to think, and it takes time and honest conversations with friends to help me see through the fog and understand what’s real and what’s actually the loneliness/depression talking. And sometimes I worry that it will NEVER go away. That being in any kind of relationship is just a way to mask it, but the root problem is finding a way to fully be myself. To not feel the need to perform for everyone except a significant other. That’s the ultimate goal, I suppose. But as with grief, it’s still just one step at a time.