My grandmother died four years ago. Growing up, she was my best friend. Usually when I tell people that, their automatic response is to say, “Um I wouldn’t tell people that.
“It’s kind of lame.”
But my grandmother wasn’t like most grandmothers. I would go to her house to get away from the chaos in my house.
My mother was everyone in town’s go-to babysitter, so there was always a ton of kids at our house.
It was loud and kind of like living in a circus. I would choose to go ride my bike around town, go to my friends, or go to my grandmother’s.
Sometimes I’d just ride my bike to my grandmothers, not an easy feat I assure you.
I liked going over to her house because she didn’t talk to me like I was a little kid. She taught me how to use a computer.
She played Wolfenstein 3D with me, despite my mother telling her not to because it was “too violent,” and my grandmother was entirely too competitive.
We would spend hours trying to beat each other’s scores.
I loved it.
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We did crossword puzzles together in the mornings that I stayed over. We spent our days watching old westerns together or riding her adult-sized tricycle around the country roads near her house late into the evening.
She’d drive and I’d ride in the basket between the rear wheels and her dogs, Buckshot and Beretta would chase behind us.
(We’re from Texas. She had a donkey named Jack Daniels and a cat named Winchester. My life was not boring.)
When I wasn’t there, she would call me at home as a “lifeline” for her crosswords.” (Thanks, Regis) And I would do the same with her. I’d never get tired of her asking me things like,
“What was Snoopy’s sidekick’s name, you know… the little bird that couldn’t talk.” These lifeline calls continued long into my college years. Even then, I enjoyed them.
She was incredible and she had my back when my mom and I didn’t see eye to eye. She always supported my goals and my decisions, even when they were… a bit out there.
She was my person that I was used to seeing almost every day.
When she passed, I was lost.
I felt like my entire world was a lie and that everything was falling to pieces at my feet. My heart was missing from my chest a gaping cavity left in its place.
How could the sun still rise, and people just go about their lives like nothing had changed? My world was completely rocked now that this incredible person, my best friend, was missing from existence?
She was never going to call me again, never going to spend mornings doing crosswords with me. I’d lost my lifeline! I spent weeks dealing with the aftermath in my head. Eventually I got back to some semblance of normalcy.
I’m not even sure how long it took.
All I know is that one morning I woke up and went to work, came home and did my homework, went to class, went out with friends and actually had a good day. I didn’t sit and stare at the ceiling when I went to sleep that night. I just drifted off.
The emptiness wasn’t sitting in my chest anymore.
Just like that I was fine.
I was ok to move about my life without her, because I realized that people went through this all the time. I couldn’t let my life just stop simply because my biggest cheerleader had died. I realized it was doable.
But just as easily after a month or so, it UNHAPPENED.
It was like one of those quick reverse scenes in “How I Met Your Mother,” when Ted says, “well that’s what WOULD have happened…”
**cue rewind noise**
I’m not sure what triggered it, possibly a crossword moment when I needed help answering one of those questions that only she seemed to know the answers to.
Regardless, I found myself in a situation that I would usually call her in. I had my phone in my hand, number dialed. I had even hit send. It wasn’t until her voicemail picked up that I remembered that she was gone and I found myself reliving the loss all over again.
So here I am four years later, and I still have moments where it “unhappens” sporadically, I find that there are less tears and more good memories. And instead of dwelling on the pain of not having her around to call or hang out with, I find myself being thankful she was in my life at all.
Now I bet you are thinking,
“Ashley, that is so depressing! Why in the world would you tell me that?!”
Well, it’s because, the way I see it, a break up is very much like losing someone you are close to, a best friend or even a close relative. They may not have died, but the hurt is the same. (In one instance I even convinced myself that an ex died simply to get by seeing him when I went to my college classes, but that’s a little extreme.)
You know what I mean.
That invisible gaping hole in your chest, that you would NEVER admit to your guys, is there. It’s just an overwhelming sense of emptiness and aloneness.
That feeling of being lost.
The world just isn’t right anymore. It’s even more difficult if you lose them and they’re still right there, just not in the same capacity. It sucks having someone in your life but not “in” your life all at the same time.
Now, depending on how long your ex-girlfriend was your girlfriend, getting over her should only be relatively less difficult if you don’t have to see her. The moments of aches and pains should get further apart the longer you spend apart from her.
However, if you’re reading this, I’m assuming that you see her pretty regularly, possibly even daily. I get how awful that situation can be. In fact, I’ve been there more times than I can count.
I need you to prepare yourself and strap in.
This isn’t going to be easy so prepare yourself for the uphill climb.
In fact, let’s make that Step One.
Accept That It Won’t Be Easy
This is kind of a given. If it were easy, then you wouldn’t be here, right?
But, in all seriousness, if you have the option to change the situation, meaning you could walk away from whatever is causing you to see them every day, do it!
Sometimes though it is not possible. Maybe you have mutual friends and still hang out around the same people. Maybe you work with that person every single day.
If it’s an easily replaced job, get a new one and allow the distance to assist in your quest to move on.
If it’s a class you can get transferred out of, by all means transfer into the other class.
Unless you’re into some serious masochism, then by all means… enjoy the pain.
If you have absolutely no choice, you HAVE to see her constantly, then keep reading. I’m going to help you turn that pain into something useful.
It’s kind of like the pain from an old injury.
If you’ve read anything I’ve written before, you probably know I’m into cycling, which some would say is strange for someone suffering from some intense knee issues.
Usually, before I even begin the ride, I bust out the KT Tape. This stuff is a miracle. It takes the stress off on my anterior knee and allows me to ride a good distance before my knee starts to bother me. Doing this for the past several months has allowed the muscles surround the tendon to strengthen and provided adequate support for longer rides.
Now that I’ve been riding for a while, I don’t have to tape up as often.
So consider preparing yourself for the difficulty of getting over the relationship to be kind of like the prep before a ride.
Yeah, I know all of the regular things to do, like check tire pressure and plan a route. But preparing for the added difficulty of seeing her a lot can give you the added strength to get through this tough situation.
It will help strengthen your resolve to move past it.
If necessary, rely on your friends to talk about the aspects of the breakup. While I don’t suggest you dwell on it. There is a study that came to the conclusion that reflecting on a recent breakup can help you move past it.
Seriously, we just covered this.
No I’m not messing with you, nor am I talking about a physical type of distance.
During the relationship you and your ex built a type of familiarity. Being around them after a break up provides a possibility to hold onto that familiarity, whether it’s because you work together, share the same friend-base, or are raising a kid together.
In order to do this, you’ll have to break the bond you forged by weakening its core. Firstly, this bond is called “pair-bonding” it is one of the most studied subjects in relational science.
This type of bond is formed to create stability and a sense of safety. Humans naturally form this type of bond because as infants we are unable to provide for ourselves. Children associate this attachment with physical contact. They will bond with whoever physically spends the most time coddling them.
As adults we replicate this link with those that we have the most intimate contact with. Once this attachment is formed, it provides a feeling of safety and stability. Therefore, any deep feelings of loss, or heartbreak after a relationship comes to an end is created by the severing of that bond. They aren’t there to snuggle with us on the couch and that makes us sad. That connection is broken when a relationship ends and the pain can be overwhelming.
This is why I cannot stress this enough. DO NOT have any physical contact with your ex. I don’t care if you are trying to keep up the appearance that you are still good friends. Don’t do it.
Don’t hug them.
Don’t kiss them on the cheek.
Don’t reach out and touch their arm if they make a funny joke.
That seemingly insignificant touch can bring back that sense of familiarity for you, while for her, it doesn’t mean anything. By avoiding all contact, you are waving yourself from the headache of daydreaming and what-if questions.
Pretend they have some extremely contagious disease and keep your hands to yourself.
Better yet, imagine you are on a both on the roller coaster called life and you have to keep your arms and legs inside your own car at all times! ALL TIMES!
What you’re going to do is distance yourself from them emotionally by analyzing who they actually are as opposed to who they led you to believe that they were while you were in a relationship.
Take it from me, as a woman, we hide a lot of who we are at the beginning of a relationship. We will straight up wake up early, wash our face, brush our teeth and put on mascara before you ever begin to wake up. We will pretend to know how to cook, be far more outgoing in the bedroom, and keep that appendix scar covered up until we’ve been with you for years.
You won’t find out till years down the road how much effort we put into our appearance, our relationship, or even how clean our house is.
Seriously, if I know someone is coming over, I become a reverse Tasmanian Devil when I know someone is on their way over, especially my guy. I leave a trail of cleanliness in my wake.
We’re sneaky like that.
Does it mean we like you any less?
If anything it’s because we wanted you to like us and were still kind of insecure around you. Toward the end of a relationship however, she may have begun to put in less effort, which could have been a loss of interest, or simply that she got comfortable with you. That’s not something anyone can tell you, possibly not even her.
Either way, it is highly likely that, even if you were together for a long time, she kept parts of herself hidden.
No one is perfect.
If you take the time that you are forced to spend with her now after you two have split and allow yourself to see the hidden side she kept, it will lessen the pain and difficulty of the breakup.
I mean, imperfections have a way of doing that.
Name The Monster
A lot of times a break-up will end and the dumpee doesn’t really get clarity on why. They’re left walking around like a zombie, clueless as to how they wound up wandering looking for clarity.
Trust me. I’ve been there.
There is really only one way to deal with this, call her up and ask her why the hell she dumped you or what in the heck caused your breakup. Right?!
DON’T DO THAT!
Confronting her only starts up the dialogue again. It keeps the perpetual merry-go-round that is your relationship in motion.
There are several ways you can get some solid footing on the matter.
Way #1: Tell yourself a story, whether it’s true or not.
I know that I harp on the phenomena that is our ability to convince ourselves of anything a lot, but in this instance, we can use it to your favor.
You are going to take an educated guess at what it is that caused your break-up, whether it was on your end or on hers.
Then you are going to come to terms with it.
That is what I mean by naming the monster.
If you know what it is you’re fighting it is easier to come to terms with it.
There is nothing you can do to change the past. Focus on creating a better future for yourself… without her in it.
The goal is to create a clear barrier between the past and the future and DO NOT cross it.
What you are trying to do is find a feasible reason why your relationship failed and accept it, regardless of whether it’s the real reason or not.
Need an example?
My friend, we’ll call her Stephanie, grew up in a household where her dad was constantly cheating on her mother and talking down to her. She grew up seeing men as the enemy.
Any breakup she had, consequently could easily stem back to the fact that she had certain expectations of men. She ended most of her relationships before they could get close enough to hurt her the way her dad did her mother.
Any guy she dated and broke up with could easily rely on this explanation to gain closure on the situation even if she didn’t directly tell him that she felt this way. I mean who would air all that dirty laundry to anyone anyways especially if they don’t plan on letting them get close.
Just grab hold to what you can and make sense of it and move forward.
Way #2: Get It Out
Another way to deal with it is to write how you are feeling down.
No, I don’t mean write them a letter that you’re actually going to deliver. I mean write down everything you wish you could say, and then burn it, frame it, flush it, whatever. Just get it out of your head. Some would even suggest a journal for those moments when you wake up and roll over expecting to see her there and find yourself in a world of hurt all over again.
No, journals do not negate your manliness. In fact, keeping one could be there very reason you don’t burst in to tears while you’re down at the bar having a beer with your buds watching the game.
Way #3: Realize That You Alone Are Responsible for Your Feelings
It is imperative that you take control of what you have control over.
Going through a breakup alone can be incredibly tough. It can be easy to give into that feeling of helplessness. Especially if you are still pretty broken up about it. A best friend can sometimes help to let you talk it out and understand the situation. Any good friend would tell you their honest opinions and set you straight to help you get on the path to acceptance and moving on.
However, if you step back and realize that you alone can change your perspective on the situation, you’ll realize that you don’t have to let all of those feelings overwhelm you. Just ride them out, then go about your life.
When you feel yourself starting to dwell on the feeling of loneliness, or wallowing in self-pity. Stop and remind yourself of all of the improvements you’ve made in your life. Whether it is working on yourself emotionally, going to the gym, eating well, or enjoying time with friends.
Do all of the things you’ve been putting off.
What’s that? You haven’t made improvements?
That’s your next priority.
Way #4: Focus on Building a Life That You Can Enjoy Without Her
Start working toward a promotion at work. Take that class you’ve been meaning to take. Clean out the garage so you can finally actually use it.
Have you ever tried to work in a messy office? I know I have. It’s impossible. I can’t focus on anything, let alone get anything done. My focus is divided. My mind keeps wandering. I cannot do ANYTHING until that room is visible clean.
Now, maybe you don’t experience it to the extreme, but by removing your ex from the picture, you are dealing with an imbalance. Something doesn’t quite feel right.
You need to build your life into something you can live comfortably in. If you feel comfortable in it, you are less like to let your mind wander. You are less likely to drift to those thoughts about your ex. You’ll miss her less because you won’t need to keep thinking about her all the time.
And guess what!
If you can get to this place where you aren’t pining over here every chance you get, there’s possibility that you might actually get to enjoy life again! That you will see it is worth living!
That you can be normal again!
Something I tell my friends when they go through breakups, and sometimes even myself.
“You were fine before they came into your life, you’ll be fine now that they’re gone.”
How sure am I that this works?
Try it! I’m telling you, you won’t be disappointed.
Scaling the Rocky Interface
Now that you have a bit of footing on the situation. It’s time to learn to handle interactions with her gracefully.
The Argumentative Ex
If your ex has a tendency to maneuver you into argumentative situations, you need to address the fact that you have the option not to argue.
Your emotions are inflamed when it comes to your relationship with them and they just seem to keep stoking the coals to reignite the flames.
To do this you need to learn to recognize when she is trying to bait you and keep from going on the defensive.
Let’s say she inserts a quick jab at you by saying, “You aren’t a good father.” Or she infers, in front of friends that you slept your way into that promotion you just landed.
I don’t know about you, but these would leave me infuriated!
I’d be tempted to pop off at them.
However, I don’t suggest it.
Instead, I implore you to diffuse the situation with a neutral statement, such as,
“Well, you are entitled to your opinion.”
Or you can choose simply to not respond.
Either way, change the subject or leave the situation entirely.
I have a friend that finds himself in this situation with his ex regularly. When I explained to him how to diffuse a situation, it was like I was speaking Greek. It was like his manliness wouldn’t allow him not to argue back with his ex.
Now to be fair to him, she was REALLY good at backing him into a corner and they worked together, so he couldn’t just avoid her. Most times when she did this to him she would get him so riled up that he’d still be fuming about it days later.
Eventually, he gave in and gave my tactic to diffuse the situation. She baited him in front of one of his biggest clients. Now, in investment banking, it is important for his clients to trust him. If he got into an argument over something so petty in front of a client, he would lose their respect at least, if not their business.
Instead, he conceded that she was entitled to whatever opinion she wanted to believe and escorted his client to his office, away from the confrontation.
He called me as soon as the client left to tell me of his success. That’s how shocked he was that he got away from the conflict without arguing with her.
So, give this method a try, even if you are the most argumentative person on the planet. You just might surprise yourself.
Definitely avoid phrases like,
“I don’t want to argue with you, but…”
And stick to statements rather than questions. Instead of
“Do you think you could pick the kids up from school today?”
“I need you to pick the kids up today.”
Now, if they are truly an argumentative person, they will find a reason to argue about anything. Just remember that it is your choice how you respond to them.
People who argue constantly do so because they seek control over people. When you respond in a way that they don’t expect, you take that power away from them.
Don’t give in!
The Complacent Ex
Even worse than the argumentative ex is the ex that acts like you never dated in the first place. I mean this is the equivalent of childhood moments of the silent treatment.
It’s human nature to want attention and even if you don’t want her to run around bawling over the situation, a little acknowledgement of the time you spent together would be nice.
In this situation, you have to step back and view the whole snapshot of reality. Her life has notably been rocked just as much as yours. Even if she is the one who cancelled the subscription to the relationship, she is dealing with not having someone around to open the pickle jar, so to speak. Let’s face it, you have some redeemable qualities, otherwise she wouldn’t have been with you in the first place.
Even if she is completely okay with having separated from you, she will still have waves of wishing you were around. That’s just how life works. You get used to having someone around and then they aren’t there anymore. I don’t care how mentally prepared you are for that, it still sucks.
Whether it’s for your benefit, or hers, she is putting forth that strong face to maintain that distance that you are trying to create as well.
Now, you know as well as I do, even if you have nothing to say to someone who is ignoring you, you will suddenly want nothing more than for them to acknowledge you. As a kid we would stop short of nothing to make that happen. Now if you are still looking at that snapshot of reality, you can remind yourself that she is, in all likeliness dealing with the breakup in her own way and to keep widening that distance between you.
Fight the urge to pop into her office and make random comments.
Only talk to her when necessary. And by all means don’t fall into the trap of feeling like you need to make her want you again just to make yourself feel better. You don’t want to reconcile. Just move forward with your life and focus on making things better in that arena.
At this point, you are probably feeling like Frodo on the quest to take the One Ring to Mordor, except you still have Part Three ahead of you. Except it won’t be titled “Return of the King” it’ll be titled,
“Return of the Ex”
(Yeah I know, I’m cheesy.)
You still need to get over it for good. After that, there are no sequels to the relationship.
None. Zilch. Nada.
Once you decide to move on, stick with it.
You don’t want to flake out on yourself. That’s the one person that you don’t want to let down (Except for maybe a kid; don’t let them down either. They look up to you.)
I currently have functional relationships with every single one of my exes. Most of us run in the same circles and I am forced to see them regularly.
I say forced.
Some of our interactions are quite pleasant.
“How do you do it, Ashley?”
Well, friends, I hold fast to the rules I’ve laid out for you here, and I also cling to the mantra of “Rinse, Lather, and Repeat.” The situations I’ve described here don’t just happen once and then disappear. You face them over and over again after a relationship. So, it is important that you remind yourself of these ways of dealing with them.
Always remember to tell yourself a story, get it out, realize that you alone are responsible for your feelings, and start focusing yourself towards a better life without her!
You can do it!
I believe in you!
Be convincing in that story!
Write your feelings down on paper then watch it burn!
Accept that your feelings are ok; but that they need to progress into memories and not sadness.
Start making yourself into the person you always wanted to be!
Go skydiving because you have always wanted to, learn to meal prep to avoid that pesky fast food, and actually enjoy going out with your friends without having to check in!
Now if you have to continuing seeing her and she is the argumentative ex make sure to not let her bait you.
Respond appropriately and move on. I know you want to snap right back; but reign in the inner Hulk and walk away! Be the bigger person and just learn that some people will argue. That is just part of life.
If she’s complacent remember she is likely going through withdrawal from having a partner in life, the same as you; the waves of emotion that come without a moment’s notice.
She is trying to distance herself from you and create the space that is needed to get over the loss of the bond and relationship. Do the same and move forward!
Remember there are no sequels to this relationship! You’ve decided to move on. The only person that can hold you to that is you.