Friday, January 15, 2010

The Tough-Love Guide To Splitsville: What Do YOU Want?

This is pretty frank. If you're someone who gets upset easily, you may not want to read it. If you really don't want to know how women go through the after-shocks of "it's over", don't read this. If you wear perpetually rose-tinted glasses, and think true love prevails, this ain't for you.

But if you are going through a break-up, or feel lost, alone, scared, or like you need something to shake you out of it and at the same time make you feel less alone and unloved, read on, sister, or I guess to not be gender-biased-- friend. Hi. I'm not going to say "Let's hold each other while we sob," because that is so not my scene or how I do this, but I may be inclined to say, "If you need the occasional hug, I'm down for that, and in the meantime, let's curl up with a good book and chat and smoke."

So. You're now an Uno that used to be part of a Duo. Join the club. Take a seat. I'm gonna need your full attention. So stop thinking about it for a moment. I'm not going to sugar-coat any of this. I think it's about time we didn't take a "one size fits all" approach to what happens after it's over. If you really want to know how women get through this without going through boxes of Kleenex and repeatedly watching "The Notebook", this is where you want to be. I mean, that's all well and good if it's what gets you through, but not all of us operate like that. Some of us need to know what to expect if we want to get on with our lives, straight-up, no chaser.

Yes, You are Going to Lose Weight: You know how there's that very media-contrived popular image of that woman who's just had her heart broken drowning her sorrows in pint after pint of Ben & Jerry's Chubby Hubby? Well. I have never, ever met a woman who actually went on an eating binge and gained weight after a split. Instead, the norm I have found is that women actually lose weight. This is accomplished in one of two ways: "Do-Something" women usually throw themselves into their gym membership with renewed vigor and burn those pounds away to a leaner, more competitive self. "What-The-Fuck-Just-Happened?!" women usually get thrown right off their appetites and start to whittle away.

Let's break it down. Much to my chagrin, I recently found that when you feel comfortable with yourself and someone else, you eat. Why not, right? You know the term "comfort food"? Yeah. You're happy. You're not worried. You're probably feeling pretty secure. So you want to keep feeding that feeling, either physically or emotionally.

Well, after a split, shock sets in. It's going to happen, no matter how amicably it happens. At first, you may just forget to eat. Hey, it happens. Your mind is preoccupied elsewhere. If you're a smoker, like I am, you can easily mistake hunger for the need to smoke. Which further suppresses your appetite. Then, when you do get back around to that food thing, odd feelings may get dredged up that set you right off of eating. For me, it was disgust. Every time I sat down to eat, my mind would start wandering through what should have been closed and padlocked doors, and I would find myself so physically disgusted that I felt like I might vomit even before putting food in my mouth. I lost 6 pounds in 3 days. Not good. I don't really have 6 pounds to lose. Now, you can locate my hipbones for the first time since I hit puberty, and I'm honestly concerned that a pickpocket in Italy could just pick me up and carry me away instead of dealing with pockets.

Because I can't do this for myself, I'm going to do it for you: DO NOT THINK ABOUT IT. I don't mean the whole mess of affairs (ha), I just mean the things that happened that you couldn't have helped, one way or another. Really. Some things shouldn't be dwelt on. Don't give in to those thoughts that will never, or should never, be answered. You will never, and SHOULD never, know what it was like. You really, really don't want to know the details. So making them up isn't doing anyone any favors, least of all you, lady. And you are who matters right now.

I will say, however, that there is one up-side to losing post-disaster weight: compared to your emaciated African-child frame, your mammeries are going to look more massive than ever. It's the little wins.

Vices, Or "Why Is That Pack Empty Already?": You feel a little used and abused, so now you want to use and abuse something else, right? Alcohol. Cigarettes. Controlled substances. Give me the Stoli, and nobody gets hurt, right? Yeah. We've all been there. I'm not going to preach anything, because I am probably going to be sainted as the Patron Saint of Avoidance Through Substances. But just like the whole eating thing, one day, you're going to start to realize you're not drinking/smoking/toking/using as much as you were previously. That's when you know it is safe to start putting down the bottle/cigarette/bowl/rolled-up bill and step a little further away. And a little further away the next day. And sometime shortly, you will be able to enter civilized company again.

If you're finding this is not the case, and in fact, it's getting worse, do what any responsible user would do: have one "safe" person who knows about your problem and who you would feel comfortable having them snap you out of it, and GO TO THEM. Killing yourself is no way to get on with a better life. And plus, though you may feel hurt, there are so many other people who care about you. I bet you anything, that even if you are unlucky in love, you are incredibly blessed with amazing friends who would do nearly anything for you. I know I am. And most of the time, that unconditional love is even better than regular sex.
...Ok, so that may be a total lie, but, you know what I mean. It's more important.
......Or...ok, I just can't win this one.

Crazy-Bitch Behavior, And Why You Shouldn't Be Doing It: You may want to make a grand gesture. Usually, a pretty crazy grand gesture. But here's the problem: if you want to maintain any sense of decorum or civility with your ex S.O, you can't. No showing up on doorsteps. No beating other women up. No really pissed-off tirades or messages or letters or blog posts. Be a Big Girl. It's such a Catch-22, I know-- you really want to do something to let you blow off all that steam inside, but you'd be best off getting it out sometime when you're really not into the guy or outcome or friendship, anyway. This is what your friends are for. Swear them to secrecy, bug the fuck out, and be done with it. (Also, make them swear up, down, and sideways over your dead body or the closest bottle of their favorite beer not to send any angry letters of their own. Because having scary friends is no way to Win Friends And Influence People. Or ever have your friend and the person who recieved said Angry Letter in the same 20 foot radius ever again. Even though your friend's heart may be in exactly the right place. Make your judgement call.)

Re-Assess Your Situation-- Who Are You, and What Do You Want: Speaking of, by this point in your life, you shouldn't be with anyone who you feel like you're settling for or are apathetic about. You should be with someone who you can be totally, one-hundred-percent yourself around. You should be able to talk to them about whatever you want, and even crack horrendous jokes during foreplay without a second thought. You should not be compromising one iota for anyone else. You should not be afraid to say "this is what I like" and "this is what I don't like." You should know yourself pretty well by now, and if you don't, you should be figuring that out.

I know this sounds much easier said than done, but when you find it, you'll just know it, I promise you-- no games, no worries.

Personally, I am taking my semester abroad in Florence as a self-discovery field-trip. I can already tell you it's going to make me more independent, more confident, and more adept at expressing myself. Whatever else I learn while over there is going to be the surprise. But mostly, it's about getting away to find out who, exactly, I am. Not just who I am in the mirror, what music I listen to, what I like to eat, what I'm not a fan of doing, but what makes me come alive. What makes me scared, and how I can get over it. What I refuse to let go of. What I need to learn to admit to. And where I want to be, physically and theoretically.

What You SHOULD Be Doing: Full Disclosure: I am writing this to you in a massive Princeton hoodie, leggings, and slippers. I haven't showered yet. I haven't eaten yet. In fact, I woke up at 11 AM. Coping comes in all different guises. But what I can tell you is that right now, I am starting to get hungry for some toast. I'm planning on getting dressed to go into town and mail out some paperwork this afternoon. And I'm looking forward to a midnight Jacuzzi tonight.

It's little steps. Get out of bed. Get dressed. Go places. Keep yourself occupied. Take the time to be selfish and do what you like. Do what you want. Make no excuses. This time is about YOU. It's not about being nice or even charitable to whoever makes you feel less than stellar at the moment. The first step to surviving is to recognize what you need. Do so. Follow through. Don't rest until you get there.

A Note to Fellow Writers: I actually found this nugget in the most unlikely of places-- in one of my freshmen year textbooks from "Introduction to Professional Writing." Ariel Gore, author of "How To Become A Famous Writer Before You're Dead: Your Words in Print and Your Name in Lights," devotes a section of the first chapter to heartbreak. And no, I'm not shitting you, I found this is a required course book. This is what she says:

"When bad things happen to writers, there's always the silver glimmer of a good story. Damn, we think when we're facedown on the rain-wet pavement, nose broken and bleeding, coughing betrayal. This is gonna make a great story...Every time you expose yourself to annihilation, you come that much closer to grasping all that is indestructible in a soulful human being" (Gore, 31-32).

I bolded that last segment because I think that's the part you should focus on. Yeah, you may get a great story out of it, which, I have to admit, is the crutch that most writers and poets fall back on with biting black humor, or, like I do, get some cathartic writing out of it, but more than anything, the fact is that through the writing process after a big spill, you learn more about yourself, and what you really need. Seriously. Sit down with a notebook and some paper and start some stream-of-consciousness writing about what happened. You'll be amazed at what comes out of you: things you never said, things you did say, things you barely consciously remember, things you're writing down because you never want to forget, things you didn't know you had to say. And maybe, somewhere in that lovely chaotic mess (because I am a big fan of chaos), you may find exactly what it was you were looking for all along. Maybe it's an answer. Maybe it's a cold, hard fact. Maybe it's a new revelation about yourself. Maybe, it's where your soul really lies.

...So I took all day to write all that, and then thought...

That's kinda bullshit.

I mean, what is the most important thing right now? What is really resonating with me? It's not the fact I haven't eaten a square meal in a week. I couldn't care less. It's not the fact that I'm feeling a little like a schlub. I'm home; the cats are the only ones who can judge me, and they do that silently. And yeah, I'd really like to help other people out in the same spot I am right now, but that's not why I'm writing. It's the fact that I was rocked pretty hard. And how?

I find, usually, that the best thing that I can do when I'm stumped is to find someone else's creative content, in a similar vein to that I am working through, and watch, read, or experience it, completely open to interpretation. Sometimes, something jumps out. Sometimes, I get hit with a blinding flash of the obvious. And sometimes, I have to go through it a few times before I really get it. (Hello, "Dazed and Confused". Both the movie, and what it rendered me.) I've been watching the movie "The Women" a lot recently. Adapted from the 1936 play by Clare Boothe Luce, it features an all-star women cast (Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Candice Bergin, Bette Midler,) directed by Diane English, and focuses around the relationships between friends, mothers, daughters, wives, mistresses, and how they all intermingle in life.

The first night I watched it, I was completely raw. It was not a great experience. It hit a little too close to home and basically reduced me to a lump of nerves and totally withdrawn thoughts on the couch. That was the first night I thought, "Am I allowed to be angry about this? Can I really put aside the idea that I am supposed to be A Big Person and Do The Rational And Accommodating Thing for a moment and just...feel this?" So I did. I opened myself right the fuck up and got righteously angry.

But anger doesn't get you very far. This is not to say that you shouldn't let yourself get angry. There are some things absolutely worth getting angry over. Let me be the first to say-- there is nothing quite like those first initial five minutes after you reach a realization or see something totally upsetting in which you fume and rage and stomp around and shriek like a banshee, but you get spent very, very easily. And sometime, when you're lying there, as low as the floorboards can get, you think, "Is this really worth it? Is it really worth this emotional strain? I mean, past is past. Done is done. Don't you think you should be...I don't know...doing something instead of just lying here and being vaguely pathetic?"

This is when you ask yourself the two things that reverberated with me in "The Women":

"I've spent my entire life trying to be everything to everyone, and somehow, someone is always disappointed."

"Don't give a shit about anybody. Be selfish. Because you have to ask yourself a question: What about ME? ...I mean, after all, who are you? What do you want?"

I can't answer that for myself right now. Maybe that's the problem. On one hand, I know I never want to go through a repeat of what happened, but on the other, it's giving me the questions that I'm grappling with every day to reach on consensus on: "How forgiving am I? How much does it really mean to me? Where will I bend? Where will I break? And what do I now feel? And if you can do that, I should be smart enough to let you walk away."

You have to know the answers to those questions before you throw your lot in with someone else.

You do not have to be Wonder Woman. I give you the permission to be as completely human, and therefore, as completely imperfect and flawed and selfish as you need to be in finding those answers for yourself. That's as imperfect and flawed and selfish as you need to be, not want to be.

I once heard a young woman described as "ferocious" by one of her ex-professors in regard to going after what she wanted. That's what I want to be: ferocious. I want to be someone to be reckoned with. I want to be someone that you would not even think about crossing. And I don't ever want to be in this situation of not knowing, ever again. That's what I want most: a firm stance on what I want.

[Fabulous photo credit goes to Edahn at Check that site out for some right-on advice.]


  1. I feel ya, girl. Break ups are hard. My boyfriend (of 3.5 years) and I broke up last January and I'm still feeling it. The hurt is still there.. But I'm still making it through. Still keeping my head up. Still opening my eyes in the morning. I've come a long way. I'd even say I'm happy now, because I truly am. Sure, I'll have my hard nights, but they aren't even too frequent anymore.

    Good luck, honey. You'l get through it.

  2. I think you will find Europe to be the best experience for you at this time. Nothing is holding you back, you are free to be you and I know it will become apparent before you leave. Miss you already!