I wish I was writing to you with questions about how to handle a horrible FMIL or a dress dilemma. Unfortunately, after a 6 year relationship and then a year of being engaged, my fiancé called off our wedding.
Backstory: We had started dating when we were 17 years old during our senior year of high school. We made it through 4 years of long distance (we went to different colleges, states apart) during which one of those years I spent studying abroad in Europe. Throughout our relationship, we grew up together as we both grew into adults and I continued to fall in love with him, and I truly believe he continued to fall in love with me. Even after all is said and done, I don’t doubt what we had was real. I returned home after college and we could finally begin living our lives together. About two years later, he proposed.
We didn’t have major cracks in our relationship. We had broken up twice during college, but I sincerely chalk those up to being young and trying to juggle a serious relationship, all the while figuring out who you are. I knew what our issues were but I always believed our strengths outweighed our weaknesses. But of course, there is a reason we ended up where we are. Sadly, it turns out he was not the person I thought he was. When life got even remotely difficult, he chose to run away instead of deal with things. When I first started dating him in high school, his brother once came up to me and said “you know he lies, right?” Since I was a little thrown off by the bluntness, I laughed it off. It took me seven years to realize it was not a laughing matter.
So my question is—how do you pick up the pieces once it falls apart? How do you start to untangle where your relationship ends and you begin? After seven years I feel as if my identity is so intertwined with his. I figured your no nonsense attitude might help a bit.
I brought in an expert on this one. An anonymous reader/writer who has been through the same wringer.
Welcome to the tribe, dear heart. You will know us by the trail of super-depressing Tumblrs.
May I say first that I think you have done the most difficult work of all: the parsing of the good from the bad in your relationship, the keeping of the sacred. Three years out of my epic breakup and I'm still struggling with that. But bitterness is easy. You have a wild, open, generous heart. This is an immense gift.
As for advice, shucks. I don't know. One of the worst things people said to me was, "Well, at least you weren't married!" This made me want to punch faces. Loss is loss. Sure, we all know there's a hierarchy, but it doesn't help to be reminded of it. You had made the decision to be with him. That's enough.
On the other side of the coin, one of the best bits of advice was this: He is not as capable of being in the world as you are. (My therapist told me that. You should get one, if you haven't already.) Coping with life, all of life, all of its glorious messiness, is a serious skill. You have that. He doesn't. Your world will be richer because of it.
You will be told, and often, that you can now do all the amazing, single-life things you have always wanted to do—chop off all your hair! move to New York! get a tattoo! get a cat!—and you should do all these things (I did), or whatever else your disastrously bloody heart tells you to do, but the difficult thing to reconcile is that there is likely no part of you in your new life that could not have existed in the old. Some relationships are stifling and restrictive, yes, but it doesn't sound like yours was. The truth is that you were not set free; you were abandoned. No amount of dancing alone across the moonlit beaches of Thailand will make that any less true. What you can do is embrace the things that make you YOU and dig deeper into them—not because you couldn't before, but because you need to put something in that space. All the wine tasting classes in the world won't fill it completely. Likely nothing will. Accept that this is a permanent wound. You didn't get the wedding ring. You got an empty apartment and some white-hot pain. There is nothing you could have done or can do to change that. So you put one foot in front of the other. "No feeling is final," Rilke said. And all the weird, brave things you love or think you might love or hope to someday love, the yoga classes and knitting socials and, eventually, dating apps and shy flirting on subway platforms, are at the very least moving you away from an old feeling, and into a new.
Last, finally, always, the most important: Hold your friends close. Now closer still. Squeeze them until you think your body might melt into theirs. Aren't they the best? They really, truly are.
I'm so sorry.
(Enormous hugs to you both)
Karlina Caune by Victor Demarchelier for Antidote Magazine via wool&misc