The arduous process of finding a therapist was something I wasn’t prepared for. Sitting in Rockefeller Plaza on my lunch break I would leave voicemails for therapists hoping one of them would be what I needed. Can you help me? Can you help me?
By the time I finally walked into a therapist’s office for the first time I was already starting to feel better. As though admitting I needed help was enough to start the process of healing for me. It still took some time to get to a point where my relationship was no longer something I thought about on a daily basis. Eventually, I moved on.
Though, in my 20s I certainly didn’t get better at breaking up and handling the emotions that followed. Saying goodbye still meant mourning. It meant sadness and sorrow and sitting with those feelings, in them. As pleasant as sitting in a tepid kiddie pool that’s warm for exactly the wrong reason.
Mourning from breaking up
Movies had led me to believe getting over relationships would be a string of drunken nights with friends and random hookups with strangers bearing the same emotional dents. It was not the case for me. My mourning involved a lot of solo activities.
Sneaking into a double feature at a Times Square movie theater in the middle of a weekday to separate myself from the world. Reading books on the floor of the Barnes and Noble in my neighborhood. Eating dinner at the same restaurant twice during a single weekend. Feeling semi-embarrassed when the same server helped me but didn’t seem to recognize my presence.
It meant forgetting how to have a conversation with a pretty girl. Being verbally paralyzed when people asked me how I was doing. Not wanting to lie but not wanting to throw a pity party I would stumble through an explanation of my current state, appearing more confused than anything else.
Transitioning out of love, lust, or even companionship has always made me rethink at least parts of my life. I realize now how important those breakups were, both in helping me understand who I was and informed how I would behave in future relationships.
It is a strange thing to emerge from a long relationship feeling less put together than when you went in. I remember the months after my last breakup. They were cautious and strange. Wanting to feel better but also hesitant to fully admit I was clear of the emotional fallout if even trace amounts remained.
In one of those cautious and strange moments, while having dinner with a close friend, our talk turned to the countries she wanted to visit. Germany came up. I mentioned my desire to attend Oktoberfest. We discussed logistics in our excitement. Two weeks later we booked our tickets. Three months later we left.
I had been deliberate and patient with myself. I had processed my relationship and the breakup. I had sat with it for long enough, and I was finally ready to let go of the experience. I wanted a return of the spirit I had since lost.
The two weeks we spent away felt energizing and refreshing. It was an escape and ceremony and a restarting of my life. I returned home feeling energized. Like myself again. It wasn’t the trip itself that changed things as much as the timing of it and everything that came before.
Breaking up shapes who you are
When a relationship ends, my want is to feel better immediately, as I imagine it is for most people. To erase any trace of the person so as to avoid any unwelcome reminder. To arrive at a place of equanimity. In those moments I have no desire to appreciate the wonderful memories of someone I loved but am no longer with.
I certainly wasn’t able to view those tumultuous times as important or formative. I did not appreciate how they shaped me into who I was, how I would be less emotionally competent or mature without them. I shudder to think how romantically toxic I would be without such heartache.
I am still learning from those experiences today. I do not think back on those relationships and long for them. They are incredible teachers that have given me more than I expected. While I will never seek out heartache, I am so very grateful for my experience with it.
It has made me a better person, and hopefully, a better partner.
Written by Jed Diamond Ph.D
Originally appeared in The Goodmen Project