It’s an absolute pleasure to host Cara Strickland again at Circling the Story as she writes to weary single ladies. Check out her first letter here. — AH
Dear Weary Unmarried Woman,
This letter is about breakups, the kind that shatter you, leaving you weak and grieving, and the kind that free you, reminding you of everything that you appreciate about life (though most of my breakups have been a combination of these two).
There are no standard sympathy cards for breakups. Usually, no one coordinates with your friends to make sure you have meals (though I have had friends take me to lunch and text me to make sure I’m eating). No one is dead and there are no visible wounds. I find that I’m still in need of support after the flurry of texts and calls and emails have stopped and everyone has gone back to their own lives. In that place, it’s hard to reach out and ask for what I need (especially when I’m not always sure).
It’s okay to be fractured, for as long as you are. Entering into a relationship with the full consciousness that it might end is one of the bravest things you can do. You extend yourself, your time, your mental space, your physical presence. In a relationship, you make yourself available to love, as well as heartbreak. There is no other way.
In Nora Ephron’s last collection of essays, I Remember Nothing, written before she died of an illness that gave her some warning, she wrote two lists, one about things she would miss and one about things she would not. I’ve found that if I spend a little time with the relationship I’ve left, I see things in those two lists. I don’t always have the emotional energy to do this right away, maybe not until I’m at the end of another relationship, or feel distant from the pangs of pain.
As I write them out, the things I miss and the things I don’t, I realize that even the most precise surgeon could not separate the two. What worked and what didn’t are close friends, and they hold hands tightly. I don’t get to keep one list without the other, remembering only what I want to keep close. This process feels a little like a long, challenging yoga class after you’ve been inactive for a while. There are moments of euphoria and freedom and that “this feels so good” stretch, as well as times when you think you are going to fall over, or that your muscles will snap.
Sometimes, I’m alone in my car on my way somewhere and I’ll hear a song from those days of happiness or angst. Right now, Meghan Trainor’s song “Like I’m Gonna Lose You,” is one of those songs for me. One of my exes introduced me to it very early in our relationship and listening to the words: “I’m gonna love you like I’m gonna lose you. I’m gonna hold you like we’re saying goodbye” sounds hauntingly true in context. Every time I hear it, I think: we lost each other.
I always find it hard when people tell me that I’m going to find someone else. Sometimes that’s because I’m not ready, and sometimes it’s because I know that there are no promises.
I know that breakups are hard, no matter how long you’ve been together or how serious it was. I know that there are still moments when you reach for your phone to text that person you used to share your everyday with, that you wonder who to contact when your plane touches down at the airport, that you miss warm fingers tangled up with yours. I know that all this is true even if it was a good thing that you broke up, even if it was your idea, even if you never want to see that person again.
I always say that I’m looking for a witness. Someone who will see me as I struggle and succeed, someone who will have a rough idea that I’m eating or whether I’m doing all right, someone who will notice. I don’t think there’s any accident in phrasing that we talk about “seeing someone” in relationships. When we break up, we “stop seeing someone.” This always tops my list of what I miss. I miss seeing someone, and being seen.
In the moments, days, weeks, months, and years after a breakup you can start to wonder if you’re doing something wrong, if the problem is you because you are the only one who has been in all of these failed relationships, if you’re simply not worth being chosen. It’s not true, my dear. We all have things to work on (and therapists can be wonderful companions for the journey), but regardless of your relationship status, you are worthy of love and belonging. I can’t tell you that you will go on to have exactly what you think you want, but I can tell you this, which I believe with everything I have, along with Julian of Norwich: “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.
I welcome your comments, emails and following along by subscribing (you’ll get my free book on telling your story, too!). Posts in the “Letters to Weary Women” series are linked to the first post in the Write 31 Days Challenge.