I'm a little bit late with this entry. A lot has been happening over the last couple of weeks.
As you know, if you're Facebook friends with me and/or glaucon
, CM and I have decided to break up after 8 years together. I'm not going to get into our reasons or any of the stuff that we included in our announcement. Instead, I want to focus on how things have unfolded since we made the decision (which was about a week before we made the announcement).
It's relevant that I went through a divorce in 1999-2000. My ex-husband and I met when we were at Michigan State--he was 21, I had just turned 22. We were together for about 10 years altogether, of which we were married for the last ~4.5 years. This is relevant because what I'm experiencing now echoes that experience. The echo makes sense, because this is the longest relationship I've had, post-divorce. In fact, the only longer relationship I've had in my life was with my ex-husband. But this also feels distinctly different.
The similarities are pretty straightforward. The impending loss brings with it a sense of curiosity about the new door that's opening: what lies ahead, what new challenges will come, what I'll discover about the world and myself, how it'll go, etc. At the same time, I keep feeling this deep nausea, like a punch in the stomach combined with vertigo. It comes as I realize the implications of that new door opening, i.e. the loss
that's coming. Even though CM and I bear each other no hard feelings, and fully intend to continue being close friends, pretty soon we will no longer be part of each others' daily lives. The thought of this makes me feel bone sad and frightened. Sick. We're both quite certain that we're doing the right thing. But it's one thing to plan the series of changes that we have to make; it's a whole other thing to actually carry out those changes. The days unfold, we do the individual tasks, and the changes accumulate. It feels too fast.
That stomach feeling hits me at odd times--and by "odd" I mean unexpected, not strange (though it's that, too). A friend went with me to Ikea so I could shop for a bed frame to go with the new mattress I had purchased a few days earlier. In the middle of the showroom, I felt sick. I just wanted to sit down, as if by sitting still I could stop time for a little while, buy some time to adjust to what was happening. Or right now: I'm sitting here in the living room of the place I still share with C, and our stuff is all still in place--his here, mine there. Our individual stamps on the space that added up to "us" and "ours." And I'm suddenly aware of the ongoing, moment-by-moment mental work of separating. It's not one action and motion, it's a series of micro-actions and micro-motions. It's not done yet, but suddenly one day it will be. The day when it hits me. That will probably be on moving day, but it's hard to predict. With my ex-husband it happened about a month after I moved out of the house we had shared. I was driving home, followed by my brother in his car, from Detroit, MI to Burlington, VT. I got off the highway at the wrong exit, the one that led to the house where I no longer lived. I had no choice but to go past the turn, and suddenly there grief was, bearing down on me like a fully loaded freight train. (I know that's a pretty tired cliché, but with good reason. It's apt.)
CM and I were originally planning to move out of our current place at the end of February, but I went house-hunting with a friend on Thursday evening and Friday morning and as luck would have it: we found a place. We weren't even sure that we really wanted to move in together (I may decide to explain my reservations in a separate post--but for now, here's another cliché: it's about me, not her), but the place was pretty much perfect
so we jumped on it. We put down a deposit and signed a lease that afternoon. Two days ago. It doesn't seem real yet. The only down side is that we had to agree to take possession on 2/1, thus pay rent for the full month of February. I'm sure it's obvious why that isn't ideal, financially. Logistically it's a wash. I'll have a full month to move, which is nice, but I don't actually need
that much time. It'll be pretty simple and straightforward to pack up my stuff. (I'm thinking of hiring movers; I'll definitely rent a truck, and will probably be able to get it all moved in one trip.)
It's the personal, emotional dimension that really sucks, though. I already feel like it's happening too fast, too precipitously. As I've gotten older, I've learned the wisdom of making big changes mindfully, thoughtfully, gently, whenever possible. I'm a lot less sanguine about taking the "rip off the Band-Aid" approach. It has its place, but it makes it hard to be kind to myself and to anyone else who's affected by the changes I'm making.
And that hints at the ways in which this breakup differs markedly from my divorce. I know about loss and grief now, in ways that I didn't, back then. Since my divorce, I've experienced a few other losses. I moved across the country (literally!), left behind all of my Vermont friends and made it much harder ($$$) to travel for visits with family and friends in Michigan. Both of my parents have died, along with a very close friend I'd known since the 6th grade. I've lost a few different friendships that I valued quite a lot--not through death (my god!), but chosen loss is still hard to adjust to. Each of these losses brought different sizes and shapes of grief.
. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't want to change that even if I could. I've always held that grief is the flip side of love and respect, the heart's way of honoring the loss of someone dear. You might say that love and grief exert complementary shaping forces on our emotional geology: volcanic heat making new ground vs. wind and water eroding it away. You have to accept the possibility/inevitability of grief in order to fully experience love and connection with others. And you have to fully experience grief in order to heal from the loss of a loved one, whatever form that loss takes (i.e. death or choice).
But grief leaves scars. It just does. It is not a toy to be played with frivolously. Of course, nobody gets through life without scars (at least not if you actually do
anything). One hopes that scars carry and represent strength and wisdom. Hence the saying, "What doesn't kill me makes me stronger." But each new experience of grief is its own thing. The outcome is neither assured nor pre-determined. It might make you stronger, but it might not. Of course you have some measure of agency, some degree of choice. You can choose to feel it, or not; to approach the pain as an opportunity for self-reflection, or not. It's a choice between pain and numbness, though. There's not really a "good" option, if by "good" you mean pleasurable, happy. In my experience, numbing the pain also closes off pleasure and happiness, though, so the smart money is on pain.
But even that doesn't come with a guarantee. There's no way to predict how long the grief process will last, or what shape you'll be in when you come out the other side. I guess that's one way that this time feels different to me. I'm different. I know things I didn't used to know. I know that there are choices I can make to help me get through this as healthily as possible. But I also know that "as healthy as possible" doesn't necessarily mean "healthy." However, barring unforeseeable lethal events, I will
come out the other side of it. I know that now, too, like I didn't before.
Clichés abound. The only way out is through.
P.S. I'm taking a bit of a risk and making these 2014 entries public. I hope I don't regret that choice for personal, introspective posts like this. If you have any advice about that, please leave it in the comments.