If you haven't already, please stop here and read part one of this article.
I gotta tell you, when I wrote the first half of this post, I thought it might resonate with some of you, but the outpouring of tweets, comments and emails has me thinking that the old "feeling bad" issue is far too common, especially among women.
So here goes. These are the three lessons I learned about "feeling bad":
I am not responsible for the actions of anyone else.
(Note: I'm sure some of you smart cookies could make an argument about how repeated mistreatment of a person can alter his or her judgment and eventually make him or her incapable of rational action, e.g. in the cases of years of physical or emotional abuse. For today's point-making, however, I'm talking about a not-too-dysfunctional relationship that has recently ended in a break-up.)
Anyway, onward. What I learned the hard way was that in my case, breaking up with this dude was my fault I suppose, in the sense that I chose to do it. How he reacted to the break-up, however, was not my fault. No really...I might have broken his heart, but the way he chose to react to our break-up was on him. In reality, he was fucked up long before our failed relationship, so when he would use tears or manipulation or even cruel words to try to get me to change my mind, well, I just had to learn...I did not do THAT.
Do you hear that, kids? Your break-up might have caused him or her pain, sure, but his or her reaction to that pain is a choice. That person can choose to cry and throw things in her own apartment, or she can choose to cry and throw things at you. He can choose to have a few beers with his buddies, or he can choose to call you in the middle of the night and say awful things (by the way, you also can choose not to answer...sometimes silence is the kindest answer of all. See below). I am not saying these are always easy choices to make when you're hurting, but at the end of the day, no one else is more responsible for your own reaction to things than you are.
Pain in a break-up does not necessarily equate depth of love.
This one is especially hard to learn, because I think emotions can be terribly complicated and nuanced. (Many, many shades of gray, if you will.) In my case with this dude, I thought I knew going into the break-up that I was over him...or at least over him enough to want to break things off. But then, there was all this pain. I cried and cried over this guy, and it was very easy to fool myself into thinking that my tears meant I had made a mistake. After all, I couldn't possibly be hurting so much if I didn't indeed love him.
And that's where the trouble came, because I didn't take the time to sit down and really, truly identify what I was feeling. If I had, I would have realized that I was no more in love with the guy than I was the week before. Instead, the pain I was feeling was due to breaking off a relationship (it always stings a little, even in the most casual of circumstances) and then having the jerk be really mean to me. That's what hurt.
I think this reason is why so many couples break-up and then get back together a few days later. They're trying to make the pain go away, when in reality, it's only a brief band-aid over something that was already broken in the first place.
You can have a broken heart and not be in love.
Guilt itself is not a reason to be kind.
This lesson was the most important one of all, because I had to learn the meaning of true kindness.
- It is not kind to allow someone who is pining over you to continue to have emotional access to/talk at length to/sleep with you.
- It is not kind to give vague answers about your future if you know there will be no future.
- It is not kind to "drop hints" that you might be seeing other people/might be over it. The other person will choose to ignore those hints, I promise you.
Guilt can make us do really stupid things. (Believe me, I grew up Baptist. I know.) For example, my guilt over this guy's pain made me think that I had to be super nice to him all the time, that I had to listen to his rantings and just "take" all the unkind things he said to me. After all, I'd hurt him, so I "owed" him a little patience, right?
Wrong. Sorry. True kindness is having a person's best interest at heart. Sometimes the best acts of kindness can seem like they're not kind at all, at first.
For example, it may be kinder to cut off all communication with your ex for awhile and allow the two of you to grieve it out a bit before you try speaking again. It may be kinder to sit a very persistent ex down and explain (nicely, of course) in plain English that you're seeing someone else. I'm not saying these are easy choices or easy conversations to have, but are they better than months and months of inner turmoil, guilt, and "feeling bad"?
Stop the Cycle of Bullshit
At the end of the day, relationships aren't supposed to make you "feel bad". Sure, in a break-up you can feel sad, angry, upset, or broken, but you can't allow those feelings to make bad, and ultimately unkind choices. Feeling bad only continues the cycle of damage a break-up causes both to yourself and to the person you once swapped spit with.
So cut it out already, k? You're better than that, I know it.