Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
I am a human being.
I assume this confession comes of no surprise to you, given that you got into Swarthmore and therefore likely have basic inductive reasoning skills. What it means in this case is that I am far from perfect.
When the column first came out, one of my friends jokingly said to me (obviously not knowing that I write the column), “Serial Monogamist? Doesn’t that mean she’s bad at relationships?” Given your knowns that a) I am human and b) I have had relationships, I have of course made mistakes. Probably many of them. But, due to a wicked memory and a tendency to overanalyze everything to a neurotic degree, I have been very good at learning from my mistakes and moving on to new and gloriously different screw-ups. I will be the first to admit I am in one of those learning moments right now.
Getting over someone is a process that we will all have to go through, unless you are one of those annoyingly lucky people who stays with their kindergarten sweetheart forever. I’m doing it right now. The Barber’s Son is doing it right now – I’m sorry to hear how that situation turned out, by the way. It seems to be quite trendy, actually. Usually, moving on is ultimately a good thing because, for one reason or another, the person who used to make you feel twitterpated has proven themselves to no longer be worthy of being your bedfellow, dinner table companion, or human contact altogether.
This is never something that I have had a hard time with before. My patented method of demonization of the former significant other causing a sustained, moderate level of anger until I forget about it (usually a few days to a few weeks) and realize my life isn’t that bad has served me quite well in the past. I know that this strategy is completely immature, but everyone has their own recuperation method. And pretty much every good friend I’ve ever had has gently told me that I don’t have the best taste in romantic partners; frankly most of these boys have deserved the anger.
And that is probably precisely the issue in this case. The guy, who I am calling Fortran because I want to, has been an entirely different kettle of fish. He is one of the best people I have ever met. He’s nice and adorable and just weird enough that it’s additionally adorable rather than sociopathic. Obviously, given my recent selfiversary, we didn’t date, but we were involved and heading in that direction. And then life intervened.
This was admittedly a while ago, but the feelings are lingering and it’s becoming uncomfortable. To my credit, they have greatly diminished over time, but every now and then they surface. It’s like that mouse you can never catch, who mostly leaves you alone but will randomly poop in your bed, just to remind you that he can. And after truly ludicrous amounts of self-reflection, I’ve figured out what I’m doing wrong and have compiled most of it into a handy list to ensure that y’all do not make the same mistakes. Because in the words of Samantha Jones, “This love stuff is a mothafucka.”
Creating space between yourself and your formerly chosen person is an absolute necessity. Repeating the same action and expecting a different result is still the definition of insanity, and if you continue to see him/her/ze/it on a regular basis in similar situations, you will continue to have the same feelings about them.
On the other hand, if one of you has committed an egregious offense against the other, which can happen when feelings are involved, you should probably be kept apart for personal safety or emotional health reasons anyway. They can’t beat you up if you’re in different places, and sustained high blood pressure is bad for everyone. I know why I’ve had a terrible time with this one: we live together. That’s another point. Don’t get involved with people you live with, unless you are living with them because you are involved with them, in which case mazel tov. Lucky for me, the year ends soon, and in the mean time, I’m avoiding my room.
Wallowing is a strategy that many of the woebegone swear by. It’s never been my cup of chai, but I can understand why it would be helpful up to a point. Immersing yourself in the pure pain and emotional tumult is a proven strategy for increasing creativity and can feel like a psychological purge, allowing you to leave those yucky feelings behind and emerge renewed, like a phoenix.
For this you clearly need to stop wallowing at some point, preferably within a week or so. I lack the willpower to wallow properly, and to be fair, my current wallowing has been primarily inadvertent. I’ve been so swamped with work and column and commitments lately that I’ve had a lot of time when I’m busy, but not active, leading to mind-wandering and grumpiness. That’s not healthy, and clearly indicates a need for study breaks and budgeting time for myself.
Step Away From The Sad Music
The gremlins that run the shuffle function on my iPod have a sick sense of humor, because they love making me listen to “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted” and “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” I’m not going to lie, they’re fabulous songs, but this kind of break-up music should really only be applied a week, 2 tops after rejection. Yes, it’s just music, but I’ve found that this kind of morose tunes lead to the kind of existential sad-sackery that is infuriating in others, yet wildly intoxicating when self-applied. When combined with wallowing and stress-grumpiness, it’s lucky I haven’t Oscar the Grouch’d everyone into oblivion. Happily enough, this is easy to solve: it’s called unchecking the little boxes next to the offending songs in the iTunes window and updating my iPod.
Hide the Reminders
What this means depends a lot on the nature and length of your lapsed relationship. For me, this means that I also can’t listen to “Good Vibrations” for a while, which should not be much of a sacrifice. But when I got out of longer relationships, I had a lot more trouble with this. After a critical mass of relationship time, everything will remind you of your partner. Living in the midst of all that stuff, all of those memories, will drive you insane or into paralyzing depression.
The first time I went home after breaking up with my major high school boyfriend, my room felt oppressive and full of reminders. I tend to box away the stuff that I can’t see and give it to someone I trust, so that I can sort through it when I am fully rehabbed, but others throw it out. Unless the breakup was truly terrible, I advise keeping it. I have some love letters that I’ll probably keep forever, even though the relationships that fostered them are long gone.
Letting Go of the “Why”
As the excessive self-reflection may have indicated, I am intently focused on knowing how everything works. In life this can be a blessing and a curse, but in the context of defunct beaus, it’s terrible. I have to know what went wrong. I have to know how I can be better, what can be changed. Fortran has made this incredibly difficult for me by refusing to discuss any of it. The situation around our courtship and ultimate not dating is murky at best, and I’ll probably never know what really happened without a detailed map, a miner’s cap, and a guide.
I’ve tried to bring it up once or twice, but no matter what I ask, he always says that it’s an unfair question, which makes me really uncomfortable. Maybe he’s right. Maybe I’m not entitled to know what went wrong. It doesn’t really matter, because either way, he’s not going to give me any insight and I just have to accept that I will never know and move on with my life.
Focusing on the “What If”
Here is the problem with the “what if”: we don’t live in the world of the “what if”. If there is another lovely universe in which the two of you are together forever, it’s still not the one we live in. Much of the events that make up the swamp that is my current situation were not the fault of either of the two main parties, so the idea of the “what if” has been an incredibly tempting prospect. But the fact of the matter is that it’s not a real prospect. It’s a fantasy. Whatever it is that you or I wish were different still isn’t different in this lifetime.
Does anyone remember that stupid saying, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way”? It’s true. If there is a part of you that doesn’t want to move on, you’re not going to. I am stubborn to the point of absurdity. If you tell me how to cut an onion, I will cut it differently not because I think that my way is better, but because I refuse to cut it the way that you want me to, and that’s just cooking (Example based on a real situation. Sorry Dad.). In relationship situations, this has terrible consequences. Most of me totally wants to move on from this, but there seems to be a tiny part somewhere that has picked up on this and stubbornly declared “not on MY watch.”
That part of me is a jerk. I’m refusing to speak to it until it comes around to majority opinion. Two can play at this game.
Stop Feeling Safe and Comfortable
This seems to be more of a problem in situations when no dating was actually involved, but crushes, especially those without a shot in hell, can feel very safe. It’s familiar and its status is never changing. But sustaining a crush after its expiration date is like using crutches after your cast has come off because you’re afraid of walking again. It feels comforting, but it’s damaging you. I have been definitively guilty of this. I’ve been hiding behind this stupid crush in order not to get back into the dating pool, because frankly it’s been a while since I’ve done any of it and I’m a bit terrified. And it is significantly easier to sit at home pining than it is to deal with that.
I’m working on it – for y’all and for myself. I have met a few new male people who seem to be vaguely interested in me as a human being, and we’ll see where it goes.