Why it's totally OK to miss your ex (even long after your breakup)
“There’s always a place in your heart to hold the good memories but you can’t let it stop you from moving forward.”
This was what my mother said to me earlier this year when I found myself four months post break-up suddenly emotional over what seemed to be a totally innocuous reminder of my ex-boyfriend.
I had been on a date with a really great guy. A fourth date. The date when you’re really starting to feel like you’re connecting with a new person and even just walking down the street together feels kind of exciting. When, all of a sudden, I realized we were strolling hand in hand right towards a particular block in New York City that had been especially meaningful for me and my ex-boyfriend. 43rd and Madison. There’s no restaurant over there. No notable landmark unless you count a bunch of ugly scaffolding. What is over there? The location of a phone conversation my ex and I once had. A sweet and silly conversation that had me laughing out loud as I waited to cross the street. And from that day forward I always giggled when I passed that particular block. Even though he lived on the other side of the country, we both referred to it as “our corner.” On his next visit to New York, I surprised him by bringing him there and saying “Ta-da! This is 43rd and Madison!” His face lit up and I don’t know that I’ll ever forget the way he looked at me while he exclaimed, “It’s our place!” Then HE kissed me for so long that a passerby yelled, “Get a room!”
But at that moment approaching this block, I reflexively clutched my new guy’s hand into an uncomfortable grip. My chest immediately tightened, I felt panicky and sweaty, my throat closed up and it felt like someone was stabbing me in the pancreas.
I mean it was just a city block! Just a street corner. Millions of people walk by it every day. But it had all of a sudden reduced me to an overly emotional mess. And this was months after the break-up. Months after repeatedly listening to Leona Lewis’s “Bleeding Love,” Celine Dion’s “To Love You More” and Mariah Carey’s “Love Takes Time.” I had long since moved on from the sad power ballad to the empowering, upbeat, taking-my-life-back anthems of Katy Perry’s “Fighter” and Kelly Clarkson’s entire musical catalog.
And yet just passing two ordinary intersecting streets had reduced me to what felt like a full-fledged anxiety attack. A gateway to the wounded place I thought I had left far behind.
The next day I confessed to my mother how this unassuming street corner had brought forth all these bewildering feelings that I thought had been resolved. She hugged me and said, “It’s OK to miss him. There’s nothing wrong with missing someone you loved.”
And she was right. He hadn’t been a bad person. Not a cheater or a liar or someone who played games with my emotions. In the end our lives were just not compatible for the long term. As my bestie always says, “You have to think about the person you’re with as to how you’ll walk along together. Do you feel like you’re walking next to each other? Or are you two steps ahead or behind? You can’t spend your life always chasing to catch up or constantly hauling someone along.”
After close to a year of walking along with him, there came a point when I no longer felt like we were in sync. But that doesn’t mean that breaking up with him came any easier to me. It crushed me. I spent far too many nights crying about it and all my days eating so much Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, I could be a stockholder in the company if it was based on product consumption. (Plus refer back to my aforementioned post break-up song playlist).
I think I believed that because I took control of the situation I wouldn’t miss him. Because I had the fortitude to put aside the love, I really examine whether he was the right guy for me and decide that no he was not. Missing him now seemed weak. Or wrong. I had initiated the break-up so it was almost like I needed to punish myself. How could I be allowed to miss someone who in reality I had clearly stated didn’t belong in my life? Shouldn’t that negate the whole “missing him” process? Shouldn’t this hurt less than if he had cheated or broken my trust in some way? Where had all my strength gone that led me to prompt the break-up in the first place?
But it’s like my mom said: No matter what, it’s not weak to miss someone. It’s one of the most human emotions we can feel. Don’t we miss friends who move away? I know we all miss family or friends who pass away. That’s not weak. It’s a testament to the love we feel. The hurt we experience when something meaningful comes to an end sometimes masks the truth.
I wholeheartedly believe this because just recently I passed that same street corner that had emotionally debilitated me one short year ago. I passed it and two more blocks before it even registered. But once I realized? I waited for the gut punch. The shortening of breath. The sick I-think-I-might-throw-up feeling to kick in somewhere around my mid-section and slowly envelop my whole body in that weird numbing way.
It never came. Just a vague wistful twinge that appeared and vanished so quickly I couldn’t even be sure it had been there.
Remember the episode of Sex and the City where Carrie pontificates about the end of a relationship and muses to her girlfriends, “If you love someone and you break up, where does the love go?” I believe that once we get past the hurt, it’s possible to find the love again, just in a different way. But it’s important to allow ourselves the time to heal so we can re-discover it in the memory of what was good. Once healed from the pain of implementing a life change that I know I needed to make, that street corner can really only represent something good. A moment when two people really and truly loved each other.
And I think the next time I find myself over there on 43rd and Madison, it might even make me smile. If I even notice.