Dealing with a breakup

Have you ever held a sprout in your hand? Besides a butterfly’s wings, it must be one of the easiest things to break with just two fingers. Yet, these sprouts push their way with all their might through ground that you would struggle to even dent with a sledge hammer.

When you deal with the anguish of a sudden breakup, remember the humble sprout and its inner strength.

To many, a breakup can seem sudden. For example, you had plans to see a movie and then have dinner with your partner on Friday night, but you received a phone call from your partner on the Wednesday evening saying, “Sorry, but I just don’t want to see you anymore”. You try to call your partner back to find out why after all this time this decision was made so suddenly, but he never answers. You drive to his home, thinking that perhaps if you confronted him face to face you’d be able to sort things through. But he’s not there. Before you know it, a week of phone calls and visits to your partner’s house has gone by, and you still haven’t managed to connect. You finally realize – perhaps you will never connect… again.

For others a breakup may be gradual. For example, one evening you decide to tell your partner about something you did when you were younger. For some reason your partner finds this terrible and seems to reject you for the rest of the evening. ‘This is strange,’ you wonder, ‘he’s loved me for five years already, surely my past cannot take away what we’ve created in those five years’. Yet over the next couple of days you find yourself getting one word answers from your partner. Eventually, you have a major disagreement and your partner says, “That’s it. I’m outta here.” And with that he is gone. Once again, your partner refuses to answer your calls or see you. Any attempts you make to put things right are rejected.

Then there’s the more common scenario, where your partner simply doesn’t find you attractive anymore and has found someone else. You discover this after he has been seeing the other ‘friend’ for a couple of weeks already. ‘He must be working overtime,’ you wondered when he never came home from work on time.

Regardless of how your relationship has ended, it hurts. You may feel there were no warning signs, but there always are. All you need to do is take a step back and think about your partner’s warmth toward you weeks before he ended the relationship. Can you remember? Think hard now. Ahhh! It’s coming to you. That night he chose to eat all the ice-cream without offering you any, or was it that morning he chose to go to work without giving you a kiss on the lips?

There are always signs, but they are seldom too obvious. Being wrapped up in a dream that you alone created can easily keep you from seeing the alternative reality, and this is probably what happened to you.

It’s easy to look at the dark side of things after a breakup. Depression, though something that you never thought you would suffer from, is just waiting for you in the corner. If you think that it’s weird for you to feel like that, don’t. It’s a perfectly natural reaction after a breakup. After all, you and your significant other have cut ties. You will no longer be seeing each other after doing so regularly for the past few months or even years. You will have to deal with telling friends that you’re no longer together. You may even have to deal with the painful process of moving out or seeing them move out of your apartment. To put it simply, it’s a very painful process and depression is the natural way for a human being to cope with it. However, even if a breakup can turn your whole world upside down, it’s an experience that you can learn a lot from. In fact, it’s something that can teach you to be a stronger and wiser person.

When you think about why breakups hurt so much, it’s sort of weird. This is especially strange since most, if not all, breakups happen after the relationship has already turned sour. This means that the relationship was already on the rocks, and that both parties may have already considered the possibility of a breakup.

So, why exactly does it still hurt even if both parties already know what’s coming? For starters, breakups are sort of like businesses that go bankrupt after struggling for many months or years. Sure, the owners already knew what was already coming, but the whole bankruptcy thing still hurts – a lot.

To put it simply, it represents a huge loss, not just of a relationship, but also of dreams, commitments, promises, and so on and so forth. With that loss comes the disruption of everything that was part of that romantic relationship. I’m talking about your daily routine: You waking up next to him. You waking up to his texts or calls. You going out with your friends with him. You going out with him. As well as many more things that both of you shared and did. After a breakup, you’ll end up wondering what life will be like without your partner. You’ll ask yourself whether or not you will be able to find someone else, and even if you’ll end up alone.

The breakup and end of a relationship may feel a bit like losing a limb – the neural connections are there, but the motor nerves have gone. Or it is like playing a musical instrument that has a part missing, like a violin with three strings.

Because of this, you may even wish that you were part of an unhappy relationship, because at least, you wouldn’t be alone. Sure, breakups are hard, but there is a reason why it happened. It may be because you cheated, or your partner cheated, or maybe it just wasn’t working anymore. It doesn’t matter what lead to it; what’s important is what you do afterwards. What you have to do is keep on reminding yourself over and over again that you can and will move on from this. Remember, the healing process takes a whole lot of time. Be patient. Don’t rush things.

You need to recognize that the slew of emotions you’re feeling right now is perfectly normal. It’s okay to be sad and happy at the same time. It’s okay to be irritable too. It’s okay to feel depressed, confused, exhausted and so on and so forth. Sure, it may be the first time that you’ve felt this way, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not normal. While these emotions may come as a shock to you, you’ll eventually feel these less and less over time. If you don’t, then always take this as a sign that you’re just a person that once deeply cared for another person. While depression may last for years at a time, you should never let yourself be affected by it for such a long period of time. It may be easier said than done, but trust me, it’s all going to be worth it.

Romantic weekend? Stick to the traditional tried and tested

If your significant other were to propose a weekend away, what would come first to your mind? The traditional romantic getaway would be to sunny places and beaches, to lie on the sand, experience the call of the waves, wind in your hair, rays of the sun under a shade of a palm tree. According to the website blue-mist.co.uk, the town of St Ives would be your ideal location, with its harboured coasts and beaches. There are many things to do away from the coast, such as arts and crafts.

But what if you were looking for something different, but still wanted the option of the coast? Another location you might want to consist is Brighton in East Sussex, where you can see the British coastline, shaped by natural forces for over centuries. The website spooky origins of Brighton. Go on a ghost walk, and hold your hands tightly!

One thing you may wish to avoid is your traditional pursuits on a special weekend, no matter how enticing they may be. Yes, I’m talking about shopping. If you’re going to have a short break away, why waste two or three hours in the shops? Furthermore, it is a recipe for breakup, above all else.

My personal experience has shown that men are incapable of sustaining the shopping momentum for prolonged periods above an hour and a half. Now when you go shopping you need time to take in all the options available and make a decision. There is not much point looking on the internet beforehand because the true surprises aren’t listed there, especially for small shops who are more focussed on sales than maintaining their website. So you have to walk around to take in what’s available, hold it in your mind and then make a decision.

Unfortunately this concept cannot be grasped by the average man, a one-track minded individual incapable of multi tasking. The next time you go shopping with your other, watch what happens after the hour and a half mark. His concentration starts to wane, he becomes a completely different creature, borders on irritation, and then you are rushed into making a decision to placate him. The problem, as we know, is that rushed decisions are bad decisions, so we end up buying something else that in hindsight isn’t a good decision. And the other hand blows up when he realises it is back to the shops again to exchange for something else.

I’ve lost count of the many times when I’ve wanted to say “If you just gave me a few more minutes to decide, I would have bought the correct thing and we needn’t have gone back”. And spending time to consider all options isn’t something only women do. Ever followed a man to a computer shop to buy a laptop? The next time he complains about your shopping, tell him.

So, yes, shopping on a short weekend away is probably not a good idea, unless you were looking for a reason to break up with someone. It is better to stick with something traditional and safer!

Choosing a partner for life

How do we choose the people we fall in love with? The Romantic answer is that our instincts naturally guide us to individuals who are kind and good for us. Love is a sort of ecstasy that descends when we feel ourselves in the presence of a benign and nourishing soul, who will answer our emotional needs, understand our sadness and strengthen us for the hard tasks of our lives. In order to locate our lover, we must let our instincts carry us along, taking care never to impede them through pedantic psychological analysis and introspection or else considerations of status, wealth or lineage. Our feelings will tell us clearly enough when we have reached our destiny. To ask someone with any degree of rigour why exactly they have chosen a particular partner is – in the Romantic worldview – simply an unnecessary and offensive misunderstanding of love: true love is an instinct that accurately settles on those with a capacity to make us content.

The Romantic attitude sounds warm and kind. Its originators certainly imagined that it would bring an end to the sort of unhappy relationships previously brokered by parents and society. The only difficulty is that our obedience to instinct has, very often, proved to be a disaster of its own. Respecting the special feelings we get around certain people in nightclubs and train stations, parties and websites appears not to have led us to be any happier in our unions than a medieval couple shackled into marriage by two royal courts keen to preserve the sovereignty of a slice of ancestral land. ‘Instinct’ has been little better than ‘calculation’ in underwriting the quality of our love stories.

Romanticism would not at this point, however, give up the argument quite so easily. It would simply ascribe the difficulties we often have in love to not having looked hard enough for that central fixture of Romantic reverie: the right person. This being is inevitably still out there (every soul must have its soulmate, Romanticism assures us), it is just that we haven’t managed to track them down – yet. So we must continue the search, with all the technology and tenacity necessary, and maybe, once the divorce has come through and the house has been sold, we’ll get it right.

But there’s another school of thought, this one influenced by psychoanalysis, which challenges the notion that instinct invariably draws us to those who will make us happy. The theory insists that we don’t fall in love first and foremost with those who care for us in ideal ways, we fall in love with those who care for us in familiar ways. Adult love emerges from a template of how we should be loved that was created in childhood and is likely to be entwined with a range of problematic compulsions that militate in key ways against our chances of growth.

We may believe we are seeking happiness in love, but what we are really after is familiarity. We are looking to recreate, within our adult relationships, the very feelings we knew so well in childhood – and which were rarely limited to just tenderness and care. The love most of us will have tasted early on was confused with other, more destructive dynamics: feelings of wanting to help an adult who was out of control, of being deprived of a parent’s warmth or scared of his or her anger, or of not feeling secure enough to communicate our trickier wishes. How logical, then, that we should as adults find ourselves rejecting certain candidates not because they are wrong but because they are a little too right – in the sense of seeming somehow excessively balanced, mature, understanding and reliable – given that, in our hearts, such rightness feels foreign and unearned. We chase after more exciting others, not in the belief that life with them will be more harmonious, but out of an unconscious sense that it will be reassuringly familiar in its patterns of frustration.

Psychoanalysis calls the process whereby we identify our partners ‘object choice’ – and recommends that we try to understand the factors semi-consciously governing our attractions in order to interrupt the unhealthier patterns that might be at play. Our instincts – our strong undercurrents of attraction and revulsion – stem from complicated experiences we had when we were far too young to understand them, and which linger in the antechambers of our minds.

Psychoanalysis doesn’t wish to suggest that everything about our attractions will be deformed. We may have quite legitimate aspirations to positive qualities: intelligence, charm, generosity … But we are also liable to be fatefully drawn towards trickier tendencies: someone who is often absent, or treats us with a little disdain, or needs to be surrounded all the time by friends, or cannot master their finances.

However paradoxical it can sound, without these tricky behaviours we may simply not be able to feel passionate or tender with someone.

Alternatively, we may have been so traumatised by a parental figure that we cannot approach any partner who shares qualities with them of any kind, even ones disconnected from their negative sides. We might, in love, be rigidly intolerant of anyone who is intelligent, or punctual or interested in science, simply because these were the traits of someone who caused us a great deal of difficulty early on. To choose our partners wisely, we need to tease out how our compulsions to suffering or our rigid flights from trauma may be playing themselves out in our feelings of attraction.

A useful starting place is to ask ourselves (perhaps in the company of a large sheet of paper, a pen and a free afternoon) what sort of people really put us off. Revulsion and disgust are useful first guides because we are likely to recognise that some of the traits that make us shiver are not objectively negative and yet feel to us distinctly off-putting. We might, for example, sense that someone who asks us too much about ourselves, or is very tender or dependable, will seem eerie and boring. And we might equally well, along the way, recognise that a degree of cruelty or distance belong to an odd list of the things we appear genuinely to need in order to love.