January 10, 2008
When it comes to getting over a relationship, patience and play-acting go a long way.
In my peri-collegiate years, I had a habit of mixing tapes to cope with the aftermath of thwarted relationships. You could gauge the depth of my heartbreak by the amount of Sade I put into the mix or the depth of my anger by the quantity of early Melissa Etheridge.
This technique worked well when I was 20 and dating with no real objectives. A “long-term” relationship could be counted in semesters. But as I’ve (gulp) aged and arrived to where I want to find someone with whom to build a home and family, the pathos of a relationship’s end has a different tone. It involves hopes dashed, expectations crushed; it beckons the inevitable, weary march back into the dating pool, wondering if the man I am supposed to marry got frustrated too and settled for “Plan B.” Around that time is when I announce that I am going to get a cat and become one of those spinsters who wills her life savings to her feline companions.
But if you actually start looking for Fluffy, it’s time to snap to attention.
• Keep hope alive
Even after a hard breakup, it’s essential that — beyond whatever feelings of despair you may have — you remain aware that somewhere, deep down, there is a kernel of hope. Particularly for older singles or anyone who has dated a lot, it is natural to feel hopeless when it doesn’t work out, especially if you thought it might. (And especially if you feel you’ve gone out with every available person in your gender/age target group and have been told that you’re “too picky” for ruling out hermaphrodites.)
• Resist the urge to wallow
After a recent breakup, two or three weeks slipped by without my noticing. I was upset, confused, and embarrassed at not being able to bounce back. So I hid.
“You’re doing what?” a good friend roared at me. Hiding, she bellowed, is the worst response.
She’s right. Wallowing is understandable but totally counterproductive. It does nothing except compound misery and often turns a minor setback into a devastation zone that affects other areas of your life.
If you need time to recoup, fine, by all means take it. But set limits. Ask your friends if you’ve been moping for too long. Set a deadline. Give yourself a week; after that, pledge to begin moving beyond your funk, or at least to try.
• Focus on the process
Hindsight is a beautiful thing, but it’s not readily available while you negotiate an emotional morass.
What is available, though, is hindsight from the past. How many times did you waste time moping only to run into the object of your thwarted affection and wonder, “What was I thinking?” Focus on the knowledge that, given time, you’ll be able to look back on your experience and take important lessons from it. This may not seem like a helpful thing to hear when you’re smarting, but you have to acknowledge intellectually that you will take something positive out of the current pain, even if you haven’t the foggiest notion of what it is.
• Act the part
You have to trust that, in time, everything will become clear. Until then, pretend. You’ll be amazed at how much acting like you feel a certain way helps you actually feel that way.
I remember a sinking feeling when I received an e-mail telling me that an ex-flame had gotten engaged. Sure, I was a little jealous of his fiancee and a little annoyed that he was getting married and I wasn’t. Staring at the screen, I decided that I would be happy for him. And if I wasn’t actually happy, I’d act the part.
It worked. The first two or three times someone asked me, in a concerned tone, if I’d heard the news, I sunnily replied that I thought it was great and I was sure they’d be very happy. After that, I was surprised to realize that I meant it.
• Learn what you can and move on
As things start to become more clear and you see what was wrong with the relationship, identify areas you can work on. Enlist the help of someone you trust (a rabbi or a really smart friend) to break down the problems. Identify those you can do something about and those over which you have no control. Work on the first set; discard the rest.
• Get up again
And, when you’re ready, get back on that horse.
After my recent disappointment, I knew I needed to date right away or I’d fixate on my former beau. But nothing in the way of romantic action appeared for weeks. When it did, I immediately started to worry that I’d be comparing New Guy to Old Guy, and, of course, New Guy would come up short.
To my surprise, I was wrong.
I compare New Guy to Old Guy and think, “Old Guy was never this considerate; Old Guy didn’t listen this well.” In other words, Old Guy saw before I did that our relationship, however great it seemed, wasn’t “The One.” Part of what hurts so much about being dumped is that it wasn’t your decision.
It’s essential to remember that God works in strange ways. Sometimes, He gives you the clarity that a relationship isn’t meant to be. Sometimes He gives it to the other person. If you trust that God loves you, you’ll want to go wherever He takes you and understand that He’s taking you there for a reason.
And if that doesn’t work, go get a Gloria Gaynor album and blast “I Will Survive.” Because you will.