There’s this dumb thing I do, once in a while.
I blame social media, because it didn’t used to be possible. When you broke up with someone, they talked to their friends about it when you weren’t around; you could avoid the places that they might appear; you didn’t have access to their journals and innermost thoughts.
Then along comes the augmented life of the web. Suddenly you get to see changes in status, you get to read offhand remarks, you get to see the fun interactions they are having with others. Even in the best of all possible breakups, that kind of stuff still stings. You still get that evil two-headed monster of “How could they do this to you?” and “How could you have done that to them?”
And that’s the dumb thing I do: every once in a while, seeming of its own volition, the mouse clicks up to a little blank box and thanks to Google Chrome’s browser history (often so useful, but in this case the bane) I click just to see how this ex or that ex is doing.
It’s an interesting litmus test for the soul.
All the World’s a Stage (of Grieving)
For some of my ex’s (and yes, I have a few – as someone recently told me, I give great relationship advice, it doesn’t necessarily translate to great relationship skills) it’s not an unpleasant experience. In fact, upon my return to Madison, I went to a local cigar bar and ran into two of my ex-partners and had a wonderful time catching up with them. One of them is recently engaged, which is delightful. I was genuinely happy and enjoying hearing about her home she’s building with her son and fiancé.
We broke up a couple of years ago, so there is a lot of water under the bridge. Another ex-partner who I have regular contact with through business is a little trickier to handle. Most of the time I very much enjoy our interactions, our conversations. In fact, today while chatting about workstuff with her I suddenly had an unexpected picture of the two of us appear in the random desktop picture rotation.
There was a time when those two things in confluence would cause me to feel a huge amount of sadness for that which was lost, for all the goals we had that we won’t ever see recognized. Now I look at all the joy we had, all the happiness we shared, at the ways we grew, at the lessons I learned (and there were a lot of them) that enable me now to function as a better partner. It’s a good place to be.
Most of the time. Then again, there are times that I still get morose about the whole situation. But those times are fewer and further between, and I can tell that the ex-factor is slowly diminishing.
That Dumb Thing
Daniel Pink, in his TED talk on happiness, talks about how plastic our emotions are. Within three months of any bad event, he says, our emotional health will be back to where it was. Any traumatic event, from car accident to death in the family to breakups, you get over it.
If you let yourself.
On the other hand, in an age when people get involved and stay connected so much via virtuality (and let me tell you, I’m developing some strong opinions about that, which will be addressed in later posts) then it’s far too easy to re-open the old wounds, to give yourself a dose of those endorphins and pangs just by surfing an event feed on a social networking site. Tweet, Facebook, Tumblr, you name it; you can run into that same roller-coaster of emotions. Suddenly the ex-factor climbs again, and while you may not start the clock all over again for that three-month getting over it, you certainly aren’t speeding up the healing process by picking at the scab over and over.
Plus you run the risk of running into what I call “Carly Simon” syndrome. You know, when you’re so vain that you probably think this tweet is about you. In reality, it may be, it may not be; they are going through their own stages of healing, which may or may not be similar to yours.
I once had a “friend” un-friend me on LiveJournal (remember that?) because she felt I was taking too long to heal from my divorce. She was tired of hearing me moan and groan in public about my pain.
She had a point. My grief didn’t need to be public. Then again, no one was forcing her to read what I wrote. And the fact is, even with Daniel Pink’s scientifically based three-months or the traditional year of mourning, the heart takes as long as it takes. The journey is individual.
But you have to take it. You have to stop looking back at what wasn’t and look at what is, because what is has more potential for joy than what might have been, simply by virtue of being real. Perhaps someday I’ll click on that link and be happy at what I read. Maybe even better I’ll stop clicking on that link and just be happy when I hear news of what is going on as our lives diverge. Either way, I have to let it happen.
More to the point – or, Moore to the point, as it were:
“The dark night of the soul is a profoundly good thing. It is an ongoing spiritual process in which we are liberated from attachments and compulsions and empowered to live and love more freely. Sometimes this letting go of old ways is painful, occasionally even devastating. But this is not why the night is called ‘dark.’ The darkness of the night implies nothing sinister, only that the liberation takes place in hidden ways, beneath our knowledge and understanding. It happens mysteriously, in secret, and beyond our conscious control. For that reason it can be disturbing or even scary, but in the end it always works to our benefit.”
– Thomas Moore