I have a confession: I am a horrible breaker-upper.
I absolutely hate breaking up with people. It’s not so much the difficult, excruciating conversation that must take place, usually as one person’s eyes become large and possibly teary and they hold their head in their hands, but rather that I could never really decide if I was in fact ready to break up and let this person and all our memories haunt me for the next six months.
My first break up was with a boy named Tony.
I was a wild annoy-fest of emotion when it came to Tony, because I was 16 and he was my First Love and the first time we made out I thought about it for days afterwards and wondered how I had gone so long without this magical experience. Even when Tony took me to a Skillet concert in Missoula and kissed me full on the mouth with sweat dripping down his face and onto his lips, I still found him irresistible. On Valentine’s Day he gifted me with an entire chocolate cheesecake he had ordered from Carnegie Deli in New York and a small, silver necklace with one dainty cross.
“We’ll have ‘matching’ necklaces, now,” he said, showing me his own he had purchased for himself; a dark metal cross on a leather string.
I was a goner.
That is until several months later when Tony sat me down in my basement and told me he had kissed his best friend’s little sister. To this day, nine years later, I can still remember looking at his face on that couch as I sucked in my breath, now staring at a stranger that had moments before simply been Tony.
Tony flat-out cheated on me, and even then I still couldn’t break up with him. All I could think about was how much I already loved him, and how I still loved him (love? What was it, exactly?). The idea of how awful it would be after breaking up kept me from breaking up. I was angry and mad and disgusted, but I didn’t want to also miss him and not know him anymore and, worst of all, watch him move on.
I finally ended it five months later in the worst, most drawn-out possible way. We even went to prom together beforehand. I had bacne. It was god-awful.
The next boyfriend was Ryan, a huge mistake from the get-go. Once I realized that I was mostly uncomfortable, embarrassed, and annoyed around Ryan, it took me approximately six months to end it. I actually tried more than once – one night even staying on the phone with him for almost three hours as he hiccuped into the phone and I lay in bed wondering what accommodations would be provided for me in hell.
Then came College Boyfriend, the mother of all horrible, will-this-never-end break ups.
I first broke up with College Boyfriend out of what I believed was truly the voice of God (looking back, it was actually the voice of God through a megaphone with a 12-piece marching band in the background and fireworks spelling out, DEAR LORD, WOMAN!!!). And while the relationship had been wrong from the start, so agonized was I to suffer a break up that I immediately wanted him back.
I hated wondering if I had made a mistake. I hated walking around and waiting for my stomach to drop as he came into view. I hated thinking about some other girl liking him. I hated the sticky, molasses feeling of being stuck to him, as though I was walking away but the sugar strands were keeping me mucked up, attached.
So instead of suffering, the answer was to just not be broken up anymore.
It took me almost a year to fully cut ties. If pressed, my mother will probably tell you it was one of the most tiresome years of her life.
How does one know when to break up with someone?
For me, it was when I tried to imagine myself with this person, just as they were now, ten or 20 years down the road and knowing that if we were still together I would be miserable. Or more likely, I would have tried to run them down with my car over our disappointing life together.
I have dated men who looked amazing on paper, men who were leaders, well-liked, of strong integrity, motivated. And this, I believe, is dating’s ultimate middle finger to us: you can be with someone who checks every single box, and they’re still not the right person for you.
If that happens, what then? If they check all the boxes, why aren’t they right for me? How do I know, for sure, if they’re not right for me? Because what if breaking up is a terrible mistake?
Sometimes, like in the case of Ryan and College Boyfriend, it’s obvious when something’s off. But what about when you’re with Guy Who Checks All the Boxes (and in my case, what if you are with Guy Who Checks All the Boxes more than once in your life?).
I knew I needed to break up with the Guys Who checked All the Boxes because, well, I just knew. In fact, I have known prior to every single break up I have ever had.
It’s that horrible pit in your stomach, the one you keep coming back to, the one that you forget at times during the day but will once again remember and anxiety will rob you of the rest of your day. It’s one of the worst feelings I’ve experienced, knowing a break up was inevitable. Knowing I actually wanted it, but still wasn’t sure if it was necessary or if I could handle it.
Sometimes it’s small things that will set off the “knowing” already lurking inside of you.
Before my second to last break up, I knew when, around two months before he ended it, Second Guy Who Checked All the Boxes tried to draw a picture of me. Sitting on his couch, he had taken out a sketch book and was studying my face, trying to recreate my features on the page. After about 15 minutes, he gave up. “I’m not sure I’m feeling inspired right now,” he said. The sick feeling in my stomach grew.
That summer, a year after our relationship began, he told me he didn’t have “romantic feelings for me.” I was relieved and promptly moved on.
On the insights page of my blog, where I can view the stats for any given day, there’s a section that allows me to see what search terms have been used to find my blog. And you know what the number one search is? Something along the lines of, “How do I trust God after a break up?”
People, I hear you.
This is how you trust God after a break up:
You get mad. You pray/journal/take long, weepy drives in the car a lot. You embrace your broken heart because if you don’t now, those icky, damaged parts are going to harden and solidify and come at you later at what will probably be an inconvenient time.
You write this down, exactly as it is, because it’s going to make an incredible story someday. It’s going to allow you to relate to other people who have been rejected, confused, hurt, or really uncertain about love. It’s going to give you a chance to ask yourself some really hard questions about who you are and take ownership of the person you want to be once the anger and over-eating has subsided.
You are going to do things that seem crazy, like smashing a piñata in your backyard and screaming such profanities that your drunken neighbor leans over the fence to make sure you’re okay. You are okay, sort of. You just need to get some of that rage out.
You’re going to picture yourself a year from now and realize that in a year, you will certainly not be feeling this way anymore, if you so choose. So much happens in a year. I was dumped one August and by the next was running around Times Square with the man who would soon become my fiancé.
You’re going to tell God and yourself exactly what you hope for the next relationship, and then you’re going to hold those hopes loosely because you actually only sort of know what you want/need, but He fully knows.
And at the end of the day you are going to know that you are still you, only now you have become a deeper, even more interesting, resilient, gracious version of you because of all this, and just look how you’re surviving already, punk.