When it comes to relationships, I’ve often pictured myself as a giantess stomping through a city, smashing buildings down like Godzilla or King Kong. Each building that I topple is the heart of an unsuspecting partner who didn’t know what they were getting into with me.
I’ve only ever had one mutual break-up and one break up that was not instigated by me, which I wrote about here. My most recent boyfriend, who I thought was the love of my life a few months ago, blindsided me by breaking up with me and getting a new girlfriend in what seemed like five minutes. I felt like I lost a limb when he left, and my inability to cope with the breakup highlighted something that has made all of my breakups more difficult than they needed to be.
Befriending Exes Too Soon
Despite the cavalier way I’ve handled relationships before this ex, breakups have historically been difficult for me. I am always the one to try to be friends in an attempt to ease this discomfort–even if it’s too soon or impossible to do so without feelings. If we use my giantess analogy, it’s like I tiptoe back into the city through the wreckage I’ve just caused, and ask the pile of rocks where the building used to be, “Want to be friends? I promise not to knock you down again.”
You can’t be friends with an ex when the rubble of the relationship is still fresh on the ground.
But I have tried to do this over and over and over.
In fact, I tried to be friends with the aforementioned former love of my life. The result was messy. He ended up blocking me on everything. And I mean everything. He even removed me from Pokemon Go before they introduced the ability to socialize on the app. I anticipated this happening, but I couldn’t stop myself from trying to re-enter his life when I knew I wasn’t ready. I’m not even ready to be his friend now. So why is it something I still want so badly?
It’s the finality, the thought of losing someone, especially him, forever that strikes me as unbearable. While I’ve been processing the breakup, I’ve often lamented to myself that it feels like he died. Because he’s blocked me on every possible avenue, I will never be able to contact him again. This person who I was ready to spend the rest of my life with is gone forever.
David D. Burns, the author of Feeling Good, would identify this kind of thinking as an “all-or-nothing” Cognitive Distortion. If you ever find yourself thinking the words, “never” and “forever,” you are likely performing all-or-nothing thinking. There are no shades of grey in this black and white view. Either he’s in my life, or he’s as good as dead. Feeling like someone has died because they’re not talking to you is pretty fucked up–and it’s made the breakup doubly devastating. No wonder I’ve been struggling to cope.
The Solution to All-Or-Nothing Thinking
My therapist has given me a fairly simple trick to combat this kind of distorted thinking. He suggested eliminating those nevers and forevers and adding in a “for now.” I have lost my ex for now. My ex won’t speak to me for now. My ex is out of my life for now.
Thinking of a breakup in the terms of “for now” will prevent you from having to grieve the end of the relationship on top of what feels like their death. Because they’re not gone forever as if they had died. They might just be gone for now. And that makes the loss feel infinitely more manageable.
Evidence that it works
I have actually managed to become good friends with one of the exes that I dated during my careless “smash all the relationships” phase (ie my whole dating life up until this most recent relationship), and when I reflect back on it, we were able to become friends after the relationship ended because we gave each other the space we needed to move forward. It was months before we spoke to each other again, but it wasn’t forever. I knew that he wouldn’t be out of my life forever during this period of space; I inherently knew that it was just for now. When we did eventually reconnect, we were able to rebuild our own relationship as friends in a healthy way because enough time had passed.
Of course, I didn’t think that my now-friend was the love of my life, so giving him space after the relationship wasn’t nearly as hard. But it was still a challenge, and “for now” allowed me to cope with giving him the time he needed to rebuild himself. If I hadn’t done that, I would have one less good friend in my life. This has proved to me that “for now” really does work.
I believe that I started thinking in all-or-nothing terms because I assigned my recent ex the label of the “love of my life” which raised the stakes incredibly high–so high that I lost touch with life’s infinite possibilities that could one day bring him back into my life. I couldn’t let him go when I should have, and I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to repair the damage that’s caused our relationship. But I don’t know for sure that I won’t ever get the chance to try again either.
In the meantime, I will continue to try my best to learn and cope without feeling like he’s dead. I will try to stop thinking in terms of “forever” and “never.” I think that that’s all I can ask of myself, you know, for now.