Lev Novak
November 27, 2013 2:00 pm

Breakups are hard; in life or in fiction, they can turn you inside out.

I have seen the coolest women of my generation driven mad by Logan. I have seen the happiest dudes I’ve known left listless by girls whose friends they friended on Facebook. I have seen, in dire cases, both of them write poetry. And, without fail, I’ve seen them turn their love to hate.

It makes sense. Breakups hurts and, quite honestly, it’s more fun to be angry than sad. Angry is living in all capitals, forcing yourself OUT THERE with your FRIENDS to DANCE, and the whirlwind that follows brings hoots, hollers, and hugs. Besides, there’s nothing quite like partying out of spite; it’s like an improv game of topping yourself, going so far into celebration that everyone is going to see it, even- not that you care- some people who “aren’t really into titles.” That’s all part of the process, and if that includes making out with someone in a neon-green Bulls hat, well, so be it.

The problem is that after that process is over – after the spite, the sadness and ignoring the back-to-back texts from Bulls Hat – your hurt is co-mingled with hate. It lingers on, mixed together like a fluffernutter sandwich of emotions. Only instead of being both delicious and filling, you feel both mad and sad, and neither fully at home being either.

The support from your friends is fantastic, but it can only push the duality further. It can be positive (you’re the best!) or it can be a little more negative (he was the worst, and we hated him, and what’s up with his shirts? Does he only have two shirts? Is he some character in an animated TV show based on people who are terrible?)

It’s probably going to skew negative. Going negative is a lot more fun, and trashing your ex is a time-honored tradition. It’s a spring cleaning of the soul, and a purge of all the grievances you’ve collected from God-knows-when. Nothing is too petty to mention, and I should know; during one such breakup, an ex blurted out that I was really bad at crossing the street.

But amidst all that frustration and anger, we overlook the actual good times we had. By remembering and burdening ourselves with every problem, by relishing in the pain of the breakup, we block out important gains we’ve made.

When you fixate on the bad, not just the good times go missing, but the personal strides you made go as well. Being in a relationship can be an immense time for self-growth and improvement. Did you lean to open up emotionally? Did you find out you actually love horror movies? If all you remember is the breakup, you leave behind everything that made that relationship worthwhile.

It might be bittersweet to remember the good things about your exes, but you know what else is bittersweet? Dark chocolate, overly precious lemonade, and life itself- three of my favorite things, other than the lemonade.  Bittersweet might not be perfect, but it’s a whole lot better than bitter alone.

Turning your exes into monsters makes sense as an instinct, but it blunts you to your own happiness, your own growth, and everything else that happened. If all you remember is your break-up, in a way, you’re telling yourself that’s all that happened, both in the relationship and in the time that passed. You’re bigger than that, and you’re better. Zoom out with perspective and see yourself in that time span. See the good and the bad, with and without them.

You don’t have to sigh deeply over a collage of memories, but shutting out everything good you had isn’t moving on; it’s moving over to the other side of the emotional pendulum. Being mad at an ex is natural, and it’s fair and fine, but it still ties you to them. If you can let anything they do affect you; over text, Facebook, or in person, then you aren’t really done. The hate and resentment you built up didn’t free you after all; it just changed the mood from sad to angry. And while that’s a start, it’s not enough.

So, I come to you with a suggestion. If you resent your exes, consider the opposite. Open yourself- slowly- to positive memories. Allow some nuance back into the experience you had and change your narrative from “this person was the worst” to “this person was a person.” Remember all the strides you made as a person, or, failing that, the really good hamburger you two had at that place three towns over. Just because a relationship didn’t work out doesn’t mean your burger-memories should suffer.

As for me, I like my exes. I’m grateful for everything they taught me, for the good times we had, and for the experiences we shared. I talk to them sometimes, and sometimes not, and either way is fine. But I’ve found a way to own the time I spent with them; to understand it, to learn from it, and, most of all, to accept it. Life is life, and it’s worth accepting as it was. Plus, maybe you can learn something too.

Now, I cross streets better.

Morals Of the Story

1. Nothing frees you from an ex quite like forgiving them. That’s why they say “forgive and forget”; forgiving comes first. Then, they can fade away.

2. If you stay mad about exes- even if deserved- than you’re just a little madder than you would be, all the time. If you forgive them, you’ll be calmer and happier.

3. Jaywalking is a crime.

4. A relationship isn’t just about them; it’s about you too. Don’t forget the stuff you did like, not just about them, but about yourself, too. Did he break your heart? Did you find a good brunch place? Leave the heart-break. Keep the brunch-place. It’s a better thing to take with you.

5. Nothing makes you look cooler, smarter, and more mature than forgiving an ex. Besides, he’ll hate that.

Photo via ShutterStock

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