Following a breakup everyone receives the same advice — no contact, remove them and all reminders of them from your life, focus on your interests, and work on yourself.
It’s such common advice because it works.
Time heals all wounds.
Except when it doesn’t.
For some people, years can pass by while the pain remains.
That initial feeling of loss can’t be underestimated. Being genuinely “in” a relationship is like speaking a second language, a language that only two people in the entire world speak. It’s the language you use to communicate everything that’s important to you — your insecurities, your hopes, your dreams and desires.
Then one day, for whatever reason, the language no longer makes sense. You have nobody to speak it with. The only other speaker on the planet might even hate you. Maybe you’ll even hate them.
That homesick feeling following the breakdown of a relationship is no mistake. Your home, your sense of comfort and safety have literally vanished. You’re in foreign territory now. The assumptions that you held have been proved wrong. The support you took for granted no longer exists. Your expectations were misaligned with reality and in a very real sense, the world is a different place now than it was yesterday.
The first thing we do is to seek familiarity by connecting with family, old friends or old flames. Maybe you’ll go back to where you grew up in an attempt to find “home". Maybe you’ll try to resurrect your childhood by getting wine drunk and watching old cartoons like scooby doo.
The way we try to find familiarity and grounding will be different for everyone. But our family and friends will only be able to offer us so much support. The distractions will not distract us forever.
It’s in this unfamiliar territory that the standard advice that’s given works so well.
Eventually, we will have to face the fact that we are now navigating the world alone and becoming comfortable with ourselves is the best way to master this new landscape.
Work on yourself, focus on your interests, get out and meet new people and eventually both the world and your place in it will start to make sense once again.
For most people, this will be enough.
But not everyone.
For some people, those wounds don’t fully heal.
Even in new relationships, some of the old pain remains. If you listen closely to the people around you you’ll see these scars occasionally, they sometimes emerge on your friends after a few drinks. You might even unknowingly carry a few yourself.
What is it about these people that makes them unable to fully move on? Are some people destined to carry their baggage forever? Have some people been wounded so grievously that their scars will remain even into new relationships?
I thought I was going to be one of these people, until I realised what it was that I was actually missing.
That aching absence in my life, that phantom limb, it wasn’t the person that I missed — it was the potential.
When we’re in a relationship, we’re not just speaking our shared language, we’re using it to tell a story. A collaborative story that you’re writing with another person. A Story Of You And Me.
A Story Of Us.
The person can leave, but the unfinished story, the unrealised potential of what could have been will remain with us.
In time we will make peace with the things that leave our lives, but the insidious pain of a book half-written is a deeper and less visible wound than a book half-read.
We can find better partners. We can build stronger relationships. We can develop new languages and we can fall in love again and again.
But if we don’t close the book on our half-written stories they will follow us.
From the edge of our perception, in the reflections of windows and silhouettes on the street, they will whisper to us an abandoned idealised future that is poison for our present.
The antidote is simply knowing where the pain is.
If we know where and what is causing us pain, we can face it without fear and we can eventually discard it without worry.
We learn to not agonise over the jobs we didn’t get, the instruments we didn’t learn or the bitcoin we didn’t buy.
We learn to make peace with our missed potential, through errors in judgement, or just unfortunate mistimed circumstance.
Sometimes we end a film after 15 minutes without caring about the plot.
Sometimes we lose things, and sometimes people just leave.
In real life, we know that things just happen.
Sometimes real life is like scooby doo, and the ghost that’s been haunting us is really just a familiar face in a white bedsheet, but if we know where to look, it has nowhere to hide.