ARGUABLY, the worst kind of breakup is the one that pulls the carpet out from underneath you. You think things are going fine and suddenly they’re really, really not. One day you’re looking at buying a house together, the next you’re just hoping you can find a studio apartment that’ll cost less than your right arm. It almost always feels like the worst thing when it’s happening, but sometimes it’s actually the best thing.
If I am proof of anything, it’s that breakups can lead to good.
When I think about the carpet-pulling breakups, I like to picture a bunch of female goddesses getting together for a drink in the clouds and looking down on our relationships, making wine-induced but wise decisions for us:
“Amanda totally needs to break up with John.”
“Yea, that’s not a good fit.”
“But guys, she seems really happy!”
“Sure, she seems happy, but in six months he’s going to be doing the same old sh*t and she’s going to come along for the ride and lose herself again in the process.”
I imagine the dialogue going this way because this is how it usually played out for me. I appeared happy and I convinced myself I was, too. Then I held on scary-tight to my significant other, then came the breakup. From fourteen until twenty-three I bounced from one relationship to the next, never really figuring out what I liked, wanted, or needed. My expectations of the opposite gender were pretty (sometimes disgustingly) low and I went with the flow of whatever my boyfriend was into — from music choices and clothing styles to much greater things like how I felt about my parents. It hurts to admit, but I think there are others who can relate.
Whether I can thank the goddesses in the clouds or my own actions, the breakups came. Some were harder than others, but I never took too well to the end of any relationship because it was also the end of how I had been identifying myself. The most difficult breakup for me was a short-term relationship with a guy I never expected to date. Despite the advice and warning stories from friends, I jumped in headfirst. There were weekend trips to New York City, speeding tickets in his BMW, and some of the best sex I’ve ever had. He made me feel alive, energized, and loved.
Forget the carpet being pulled out from underneath me. This time, the whole floor gave way.
He left and he never once looked back. I could barely put one foot in front of the other for a month and, one entire year later, I was still reeling. Was it because he was the dude for me? No. It was because I had liked him better than anyone else I had previously dated. I liked the world he opened me up to. The possibilities, the experiences, the lifestyle. I lost him and, once again, I lost me.
A year after the breakup, I saw him standing on the street near where I lived with his new girlfriend and a group of people who used to speak to me, but no longer did in the messy aftermath. It felt like a nail went through my chest. I walked back to my apartment, called up my boyfriend (who, as it turned out, wanted to break up with me) and told him I was moving to DC in a month.
And that’s exactly what I did. I packed up my apartment and boarded a plane to DC without a job, apartment, or friends. I was supremely unhappy in my own mind, body, and soul and something needed to give way. My problems bought a plane ticket, too, but I no longer had to run into my ex-boyfriend or any of the other people I had humiliated myself in front of during what I now affectionately call my “disaster year.”
It got better, just like everyone said it would. For the first year and a half that I lived in DC, I didn’t go on a single date. I focused on sorting myself out instead. It was hard, lonely, and very painful at first, but I started to see changes in myself. I learned to cook more than just scrambled eggs and was elated to realize I hate cooking. I finally hated something of my own volition. I went to bars, restaurants, museums, and movies alone. I built my IKEA bed using my hefty collection of books to lift up the fake wood materials instead of relying on a boyfriend to help me. I turned men down. And, as cheesy as it may sound, I fell in love with myself.
Three years after the breakup that felt like it shattered my world, I finally felt started seeing someone. His home in Virginia became solace from the busy city and I loved having someone to laugh and enjoy meals with. For the first month it was fine and then I started seeing things I didn’t like about his personality and our relationship. He was (and is) a good guy, but I knew almost immediately that he was not a person I could see myself with long-term. Sticking to the routine I knew best, though, I tried to make it work by convincing myself I was happier and more committed than I actually was. Thank the goddesses that all of my learning and growing kicked in around the two-month mark. I could tell he wanted to get serious and I knew I was not going to be able to take any of those next steps forward with him. I broke it off. I still wanted to see, do, and learn more on my own.
Three years prior, before I left my hometown, before I was hurt so badly that I knew no other way to cope than to start over, I never would have left.
I spent another year “alone” and, this time, I took dating and getting to know myself to a new level. Where I had made commitments to vacations and leases with boyfriends in the past, I now made travel arrangements and adventures for myself. I spent Christmas and New Years by myself in the Azores and I spent the following summer traveling solo around Europe. Not only did I know who I was, I loved who I was, and I didn’t need anyone to be happy — let alone define me.
The breakup that I thought I would never recover from actually catapulted me into a life that I love. One year ago, I started talking to the man I now live with. He sits across from me as I write this and he has his own carpet-pulling breakup story to tell. Neither of us would be here — encouragingly squeezing each others hands as we work, tucking into bed next to each other every night, planning future trips together and apart — if we didn’t experience them. I remind myself of this often.
If the carpet has recently been pulled out from underneath you, look around and see if it hasn’t face-planted you into a better direction. Have the courage, and the belief, that you’re being pointed towards better things.
“No Big Dill” Card available via Etsy shop: The Funny Bee Paper Co.