They sit across from me—couples desperate for answers on how to stay together, singles panicked that their last love was in fact their “last love”, and partners at odds which each other who see breaking up as the only path to freedom or at least relief.
I would say that my life path has had a unique yet common trajectory. A friend pointed out to me that I exposed myself to every weird emotion possible and was meant to be a relationship counselor. She made this comment after I told her that my teen years were spent lusting after this nineteen year old air force guy who used to sneak me on base, into his dorm room, and there we would lay side by side. While he slept I would just stare at him and then go home, listen to Garth Brooks, lament and write really bad poetry.
In some ways, my life has been poetic. It has replicated the soliloquies, prose, and sonnets I poured onto paper as a youth.
In my life, love has mostly been tragic.
Of course I couldn’t accept that tragedy was the hallmark of love, so I set out to research it. I spend ten effen years in school, in and out of bad relationships, in love, falling out of love, single and happy, single and lonely, and just plain single. I traced the trail of love a thousand times over until I could look at it from a bird’s eye view and scrutinize it with the eyes of a lynx.
What can I say? Relationships are hard. It’s not just a well worn saying. It is so factual it could be a law.
In my life, in the lives of my clients, and in the lives of dear friends I’ve witnessed the elations that come with being in a couple and the sickening defenses that are employed when feeling misunderstood. Much of the time and energy that gets expended in relationship has to do with each party explaining themselves and making sure that the internal picture he or she holds for himself or herself is validated by his or her partner.
Validating someone else’s existence while maintaining your own is hard work. This is especially true when the person who is seeking validation has no fucking clue who they are. And who we are is a moving target.
It gets even trickier when both people are discovering who they are through the vehicle that is the relationship.
But wait, there’s more!
When in the relationship people often discover who they are by uncovering what they don’t want. And then there is even more. Once what is not wanted is discovered, plans begin being made for what to do about it and expectations get projected onto the other party about how they should act so that at least one person in the relationship can get what they want.
Game. Set. Match.
We haven’t even begun to complicate things. First there is a desire to get what you want. That desire gets projected onto a lover. Then that lover fakes like he or she hasn’t an insecurity and can be the thing you need or you just assume they will be. Next, you realize, “Holy shit! They are not living up to my ideal.” This process can happen in five minutes or five years. When it happens sooner than later it just looks like rejection but when it happens later than sooner it looks like a string of justifications.
It sounds like, “He was just so good in bed I couldn’t leave.” “She was pretty good company most of the time.” I haven’t forgotten about sex. No one ever forgets about sex.
Sex is the great multiplier (pun intended).
Even one night stands create history between two people who would otherwise remain as close as strangers who sit next to each other on the same flight. There are those rare and beautiful moments where this orchestra of ego, desire, lust, fantasy, mommy issues and daddy issues coalesce into a cohesive relationship. Hollywood has built an industry off of these moments.
And relationship counselors have built an industry on all the other moments—the crises and the awakenings.
So how can you tell if your breakup is a crises or an awakening? The simple answer is that it is a crisis if you jump into another relationship or use some form of distraction to numb out rather than take the time needed to be introspective. If you skip learning from what you’ve experienced—live the unexamined life—it’s a crisis.
And in crisis blame, codependence, and addiction often get confused for true love. There is no force more powerful than true love.
Having a long-term, lasting and sustainable relationship is a humbling experience. It takes time to arrive at a place where you can be genuinely curious about how your partner views the world. They are more than just a sounding board, a validation machine, or an approval meter. They are so fucking beautiful in their uniqueness that you can’t help but want to drink in all parts of them thereby being transformed.
Waking up requires listening. Listening, like wisdom, doesn’t happen overnight. It happens over the course of many nights, days, events, emotions, and celebrations.
If your breakup teaches you these things it is an awakening:
1. Be humble and listen.
2. You do not have the answers for someone else’s life.
3. You are your own person and must remain your own person.
4. Communication is king.
5. You are ten times more clear on what fits in your life and what doesn’t.
6. Timing matters. Right person. Wrong time. Wrong person.
7. Sex isn’t the point.
8. You are a better version of yourself for having loved, continuing to love, and for getting the fuck out when you did.
9. He’s not wrong. She’s not wrong. It just didn’t fit.
10. Love never dies. It just expands through the cracks of a broken heart.
It will take time to feel the pangs of crisis melt away and the insight of awakening dominate your awareness. It will take more time than you want it to. And in the mean time, you may numb out, hook up, get down, force the issue, play with fire, try again, isolate, burn time on social media, and so on.
Sometimes before we come more of who we are we are less of who we are. We people please. We flirt with delusions of grandeur. We sell out, put out, and numb out. On the way to awakening we pass through the gateway of fear and the terror of crisis.
You can’t really get it wrong.
Just keep going. Just keep growing.