September 10, 2009
Issue: 10.08
Between Relationships

When I’m not seeing someone, I like to think of myself as “between relationships.” That way, I don’t feel like there’s never going to be anyone else again, ever, in my entire lifetime (it’s okay; you can admit that you’ve felt that way too). Moreover, this “in between” feeling prevents me from even thinking about going back to any of my former boyfriends, let alone doing so. We’ve played out our relationship, and neither of us has changed, so what makes me think that it would work if we tried it again?

But who am I trying to kid? When the loneliness sets in, all I seem to be able to remember about my old boyfriends is the good times. And even when I’m somehow able to recall the reasons for the break-up, they rarely seem as important as the reasons I stayed in the relationship. Yes, I know that Arnie treated me with very little respect, but he was interesting, funny, and a great cook. Yes, I know that Jonathan acted as if I were taking away time from every other thing in his life, but he was intelligent, artistic, and also a great cook. (Perhaps I should just marry a chef.) I think to myself, “Wouldn’t it have been better to just put up with the bad to get the good and, more importantly, not to be so lonely?”

The answer is no (but you knew that). When you stay in a relationship that is not right for you, it chips away at you, little by little, until you no longer recognize yourself. You’re so busy warding off the pain, rationalizing the bad, and trying to focus on the good that you don’t have much energy left to be yourself. On this topic, my friend Barbara passed on to me the wisdom of her grandmother. “You can always get another him, but you can’t get another you.”

It’s been about nine months since I broke up with my boyfriend. In the process of coping with the loneliness, I’m finding that the emotional stages I’m experiencing resemble Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief—(1) denial and isolation, (2) anger, (3) bargaining, (4) depression, and (5) acceptance—only in a somewhat different order.

The first stage, denial and isolation, occurred while I was still in the relationship. I expended a great deal of energy denying how unhappy I was and isolating myself from the people who loved me, knowing that they would want me to get out. Deep down, I was afraid that the loneliness would be more painful than what I was going through.

The second stage, anger, also occurred while I was in the relationship. When I could no longer deny my feelings, my anger burst through, enabling me to get out (and, hopefully, to stay out). This is the healthiest form of anger because it is a statement of self-worth. I deserve better!

The third stage was depression (not bargaining). This is the stage in which I was the most vulnerable to going back to my ex-boyfriend. I felt like I would do anything to stop the loneliness. Fortunately, I have my journal, which I write in each day, to remind me of why I was so unhappy. And out of this depression came reflection, soul searching, and growth, which moved me forward into the fourth stage (for me), acceptance.

By acceptance, I mean the realization that I might have to be alone for a while, perhaps even a long while. I was no longer willing to let myself be chipped away at or, as my friend Laurie says, throw myself under the bus, just so I wouldn’t be lonely. But I also realized that there is no loneliness greater than that which I felt when I was in a bad relationship.

And now, I’m into bargaining, which, for me, is the fifth stage. My bargaining sounds something like this: “Dear G-d, I’ve learned my lessons. I promise never to enter into an inappropriate relationship just to ease my loneliness. So, in return, can you please send me someone who is right for me?”

This shouldn’t be too much to ask. After all, I am simply “between relationships.”


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