I started this piece months ago and then shelved it. “Oh, Lord . . . not another ‘poor me, I got dumped’ themed post,” I thought. Of late I’d written so many on the subject I feared I’d become a one-trick pony. Besides, sufficient time had elapsed since Sunday’s fade to black disappearing act had commenced, I was determined to let the bastard bygone lover be bye-bye gone. Life-wise I had turned a corner. I didn’t need to announce it. Writing-wise, I needed to move on.
Then I read an online post in one of the divorced, women-only, starting over groups I follow. The writer posed the question, “How do you get over a broken heart?” Trying to recover from a failed post-divorce relationship, she was W4 struggling (wallowing, weeping and wondering what went wrong—while wanting to do anything to recapture what was.) I knew exactly what she was feeling and how she was hurting. She was me—or rather, me 6 months ago. And in that moment, I knew I needed to write this after all . . . and I apologize upfront for its length.
Poets and songwriters like to claim it’s the price of loving—the pain of losing. But that seems oversimplified—if not stoically cavalier—and definitely abridged. Let us omit not the feelings of rejection and self-recrimination also engendered, addition layers of suffering to add to a sometimes nearly unendurable burden of pain and grief and sorrow. Can it be any wonder the spirit breaks and the heart shatters—and for a while, one might seemingly fall to pieces? I certainly did. The depression I fell into was deep and dark and overpowering, and I wasn’t sure I’d survive it. An embarrassing admission to make, to be sure. Broken hearts are supposed to be for the young and naïve and inexperienced just learning about love—not for a mature, experienced and jaded 62-year-old divorcee. Or so I thought. But like most everything, thoughts can change over time.
In his introductory lines to A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens may have arguably (or at least in my opinion) written the best intro of all time (no pun intended) to “time.” And life. And love won and lost.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.
Certainly, my relationship with the mechanic I dubbed “Sunday” hit every Dickensian milestone: Born in the spring, it died in the winter. Too, it was an involvement rife with “times.” Times when my heart soared, and I believed the near impossible . . . And times when I weltered in doubt and confusion and cried myself to sleep. Times when I foolishly believed his lies and manipulations—and even more foolishly, clung to the belief I could change him and be “the One”—the one to stay the rolling stone.
But that is the nature of a woman falling in love, especially a woman with an empath’s caring and giving heart. What is the point of loving if one doesn’t go all in? And so, I trusted. I trusted my instincts, my intuition and my emotions. And above all, I trusted his words—all the while turning a blind eye to the obvious flags and his actual actions. Which do, ladies, speak oh so much louder than words. (damn clichés!) But chalk that one up to the “Hard Lessons Learned” column. “I love you. I need you. I don’t want to lose you. I won’t hurt you.” Words. Just words. If a man doesn’t follow them up with actions, then we’re talking meaningless noise—ala Charlie Brown’s “wah-wah-wah.”
But it’s all in the past now. After a September trip to Italy, followed immediately by a now nearly 8-month physical disappearance (broken only by a New Year’s visit, a single February phone call and a handful of texts of which 90% were initiated by yours truly), the writing on the wall I hadn’t wanted to see is crystal fucking clear. And speaking volumes: I fell in love with a narcissist. A broken man I thought I could fix—who doesn’t think he’s broken. (textbook, btw) When confronted, he blamed me (also textbook) ala I “caught feelings.” After all, he’d even warned me, right? Told me not to love him. (textbook, too) Ergo I fell in love at my own peril, and his conscience is clear. Further wiped clean by his modus operandi of keeping past lovers as “friends.” (Read to mean: numbers in his phone he might call once or twice a year, aka women he might sometimes see and occasionally fuck.) BTW, in an irony of all ironies, I asked him in the beginning what the signs were I should beware—the signs I was being moved to the phone friend zone. He told me not to worry about. He told me that wasn’t me. But it was me. It is me. And make no mistake, I fought not to believe it. I told myself every lie we women tell ourselves: he’s busy, he’s afraid, he needs time . . . Ladies, let me repeat myself. Lies! The truth is this (memorize it, stencil it on your wall or tattoo it upon your heart—whatever it takes): If he wanted to see you, he would! And so, eventually and finally I called “Game over.” Only then did the process of getting over him commence.
Let me repeat that as well . . . the process. ‘Cause getting over the guy who got over you is a process. A progression of stages and steps and phases that take time. There is no love potion #9 formula in reverse. Albeit, women replying to that aforementioned question posted online did so with scads of advice (ala cry if you must, but keep putting one foot forward; believe God has a better plan; grow and learn; love yourself ) and suggestions (ala read self-help books; spend time with friends; join a gym; take a class; start a hobby; go to church; volunteer; indulge a wish list or bucket list item; travel, journal, yoga or meditate; find a new guy). Know, however, these are merely means to beneficially fill the aforesaid fix: TIME. Especially in the beginning you need to divert focus on something—anything!—else. Just think of it as an external scabbing over of an internal open wound interval. It’s a needed interim and occurrence that will allow the healing within to eventually begin. (I owe mine to George R.R. Martin. Finally reading and realizing the truly justified hype, I got hooked on Game of Thrones. Over the course of my 3-month scab over period (the deeper the wound, the thicker the scab), I read all 5 books and binge watched all 7 seasons. At 4278 pages and 67 1-hour episodes, we’re talking huge focus diversion and major lonely hours filling!)
The real relationship recovery steps—btw, all necessary, mandatory, required, ain’t no way around ‘em phases—were first coined by Dr. Kubler-Ross during her work with terminally ill patients. She called them the “5 stages of grief.” These are they:
Like Kubler-Ross’ stages, the five steps to mending a broken heart do not happen on a linear timeline. It’s a roller coaster cycle of forward progress and backward relapses. So when you backside—and you will!—DO NOT beat yourself up over it. The recipe for relationship recovery is full of repetition that takes . . . yep, you guessed it! TIME. As much as you want to, you can’t DSL the process and expect satisfactory results. In a recipe metaphor reference, you can’t crank up the oven. You’ll ruin whatever you’re baking. (FYI, rush into a new relationship to band aid the wound of the old and you may do more damage and end up with a worse scar.) So, trust me on this. And know you will backslide and relapse and cycle (and recycle) through the stages again and again and again. You will lament and resent, isolate and insulate. You may over eat, over drink and over sleep. You will likely let yourself go—hair stays unwashed, work-out routines cease, things that mattered, don’t. If you don’t actually say it, you will think it (at least subconsciously): “He didn’t want me at my best so fuck it, I’ll be my worst.” It makes no sense—except somewhere in the pain, it does. Self-loathing is a real component of relationship recovery for women. We blame ourselves . . . we weren’t enough . . . we were too much . . . we shouldn’t have done X, Y or Z. (FYI, Men, on the other hand, typically blame the woman, acknowledging little to no personal fault or blame for a relationship’s demise.)
Granted, I’m no expert or trained professional. What I may be saying may be the worst advice ever. But I know whereof I feel—and felt. And I’m here to tell you, what you are doing and feeling is not not normal! Before I move on to the subsequent steps, let me make two final comments about all the advice and suggestions previously mentioned. As activities and goals, they are absolutely worthwhile undertakings! But they are, in essence, diversions to make time pass more enjoyably and productively—not faster!! Time only seems to pass swifter if you are physically or mentally occupied. Too, be careful. Too much is just avoiding. Eventually ya gotta deal. In GoT terms, you can’t defeat a white walker (or any monster) by hiding from it—ultimately, you’ll have to confront it, go toe to toe with the foe, take your licks and suffer the blows, bleed and cry. It’s part of moving on. And speaking of, let’s focus now upon those 5 steps . . .
Make no mistake, at first (and for a looooooong while) I absolutely lived in the Land of Denial and Excuses, willing—no, make that wanting—to believe it wasn’t over. (See the “lies” reference above.) It didn’t seem possible that after all we had been through together, he just woke up one morning and decided he was done with me. But he did. And he was. Whether he had felt it—or faked it—I probably will never know. Nor will I ever know why. Ladies, this is bar none the most difficult—the not knowing why. But in the end when it ends, it doesn’t matter “why.” Moving on past the past involves abandoning the past. Sure, I missed him. I wanted him back. (I did!) But slowly I came to realize (or acknowledge) I missed him as I thought he was or as I wanted him to be. I missed what I thought we had. I missed the dream, the fun, the way I felt with him. But not him. Too, with the benefit of distance and time I acquired the perspective necessary to see the narcissist he is and the one-sidedness of the relationship that was. Which prompted the next step: anger.
Hell, yes! I was angry. (And still am.) Furious, in fact. I called him every name in the book and swore to friends and family I was over his shit and done mourning his ass. But the truth was, I missed him terribly. (The distinction that what I might really have been missing was the sex, excitement and connection was one lost to me at the time.) And so came the bargaining. I bartered with myself like a huckster at a flea market—trying to convince myself the crumbs he might still toss to me were better than nothing. (This accounts for his January appearance at my foolish [desperate] invitation). After all, the pickings in today’s dating world for a 62-year-old woman are beyond slim. Making matters worse, sexually he was exceptional. It had been instantaneous fireworks from the beginning with him. I couldn’t bear the thought that celibacy would be my future. But eventually pride and reasoning won out over the sheer fear that my sex life would become a nightstand drawer reality. (Not that it doesn’t remain a stinging irony that the man who taught me intimacy and delivered amazing sex has now robbed me of my desire for either.)
And then in November I round-abouted back to anger and made a sharp turn into depression. Crippling, devastating deep depression. As real as tears and fueled by hate . . . But I didn’t hate him. I hated me. First, for not being enough: young, attractive, thin. And for being too much: intelligent, independent, strong—all the characteristic that had seemingly turned men off my entire life. Self-recrimination merged with self-loathing. How could I have been so blind? So stupid? It would be months on anti-depressants before I was able to transfer my hatred of self to him. Eventually though, I did. When my hair started to fall out from the Wellbutrin, my sense of self-preservation reared and self-value returned. I stopped the Wellbutrin and started hating him. (Or at least professed to.) At first for what he had done—and then (there is a distinction) for being a person capable of doing what he did to someone whose only wrongdoing had been to love him. We had never fought, never clashed or argued. Even living together for 6 weeks and being together 24/7 while traveling had been effortless. Didn’t he miss what we had?
Eventually I stopping reminiscing about the good times and focused instead upon the bad, the times he had treated me like an option. Friends and family had been telling me for months I deserved better. Only now was I beginning to believe it . . . ‘cause I was finally able to see it. This “rose-colored glasses finally off” phase was when I could finally see the fault is his. He is the one lacking. With two failed marriages and a string of women in his past he’d done the same thing to, he is the one damaged beyond repair. There will never be “the One” to heal him because he doesn’t want to be. He sees nothing wrong with the way he is.
Sometime in March—the month of still frigid weather and blustery wind and teasing occasional days of cold sunshine that promised warmer days ahead, I realized I wouldn’t take him back even if he did show back up. He had done this to me twice now—in the same pattern of appearance, disappearance, reappearance. (Yeah, I know. Love cannot only make you blind, it can make you unbelievably fucking STUPID!) There would not be a third time! Reaching this phase indicates huge progress in the process—but it has destructive ramifications. At least for me it has. I struggle not to be bitter and jaded—and even more guarded than I was before I met him. I have vowed never to let another man do to me what he did—use me, hurt me.
I realize such logic is akin to refusing to ride a bike again because you fell off and got hurt. Too, building walls to protect yourself from being hurt again has consequence. Walls don’t just insulate—they isolate. Keep out the pain and you’ll keep out the joy—or the possibility thereof. Just saying. But it is how I feel. For now. Which begs the question: Am I sadly (and self-fulfillingly) setting myself up to be alone for the rest of my life? Or am I smartly preparing myself for a very real reality in today’s dating world? I hardly ever see an age appropriate man I even find attractive. On the rare occasion I do, he’s wearing a ring. On the rarer off chance he isn’t, my thoughts go like this: “He wouldn’t be interested in me anyway.” It’s a thought daily reinforced and proven by the sight of men over 50 with women decades younger. Two years ago when I wrote I Still Want Fireworks (my humor book about online dating), I spoke at length about not settling. I still can’t. And won’t. Now more than ever, because now I want more than ever: fireworks, intimacy, respect, affection and love.
I would do a disservice to this topic if I didn’t address a lingering aftereffect of the pain of a breakup: resentment. It’s hard to look at couples in general (and my age in particular) and not feel it. Two of my closest single girlfriends have recently found guys seemingly perfect for them. Make no mistake, I am absolutely (!) thrilled for them. But it hurts to hear their joy, because I wonder “What is wrong with me?” Btw, “It’s not your time yet” (there’s that fucking word again!) is a statement I despise! (Nearly as much as “It will happen when you aren’t expecting it.” See Fools For Fairy Tales conclusion to read more on this subject.) Again, I’m only being honest in the hope my experience might help another woman through her own failed relationship recovery. I believe with all my heart in commonality there is comfort. Humor and entertainment aside, single@60sucks was always intended to be above all relatable. If what I write does not resonate, I have failed.
Nowadays I still hover between hate and the next (and final stage) of love’s loss: apathy. You see . . . the fine line that separates love and hate still denotes the existence of emotion. Ergo, is apathy (and the total absence of any longer giving a shit) the true goal. And believe me, it takes . . . yep! TIME. Time to reach and time to achieve. So, no. I’m not fully there yet. There are days when I still relapse and return to the earlier stages of depression and loneliness, anger, bargaining and denial. Memories are my enemy: smells, certain words or phrases, foods, a song or a subject that reminds me of him . . . and then the scab gets ripped off. I remember and I miss. But as the memories fade (thanks to time) it has become harder to conjure the details and images that once lived so vividly in my mind. The times between these relapses has gradually increased so that I know I am getting closer.
Just a few days ago, I crossed a new threshold when out of the blue I realized I can no longer picture myself with him again. (Although I’ll admit I still run dialog in my head wherein I get the opportunity to confront and tell him off. I write him letters as well I’ll never mail—but which may at some point appear here . . . or not. Remember, single@60sucks is my way of figuring shit out . . . ) To take him back would negate the growth I’ve achieved. What would that say about this new level of self-respect and worth I have struggled so hard to gain—to take back the man who had so disrespected me? What he took from me is immeasurable, and I don’t know yet if it’s recoverable. Which leads me to a final topic in this discussion. I may be close to being over him. But I am nowhere near being over the damage he did to me. My faith in love (for me) is gone. My trust of men is nonexistent. And my trust in my own instincts has been so destroyed it may be irreparable. I tried so hard for so long because I was so certain it would work. How can I ever trust myself again?
The final—and cruelest irony—is this: Going into my 9th month of my recovery, I’m stronger—and yet more damaged—than I have ever been. There’s a reason we speak of a heart being broken, of faith or self-esteem being shattered, of falling to pieces. But where will surviving and recovering and healing leave me, I wonder. Inspirational memes love to speak of beauty in scars. But seriously, really?! Like a vase put back together my heart is crisscrossed with cracks that have been filled in with a super glue sealant called life’s living and lessons’ learning. And while in appearance it stands intact, the question of function remains. Either stronger—or weaker—for the repairs, is it a vessel that will—or can—hold love again?
Writing this, sitting outside with the trees in bloom and the robins flitting from budding branch to budding branch, I know spring is here. I have survived the winter of my despair. The spring of hope is as alive as the open tulips in my front yard now swaying in a gentle breeze. Recent tragedies (my brother’s terminal diagnosis and a dear friend’s loss of her daughter) have reiterated valuable truths we often lose sight of in the face of a love’s loss: Life goes on. And even in its worst, life is a gift.
And so I sit here and count my blessing: my health and financial security, a job I truly like (and even sometimes love), my sons who have always been the reason for my living, and my grandchildren who are the truest joys of my life. There is a peace and calm—a serenity that descends in acceptance and in living in the moment and finding grace and happiness in the simple gift of waking each day to live another. I have plans for the future, too. Several trips to cross off items on my bucket list. While I don’t necessary believe in that trope that following the worst mistake in one’s love life, one will find the one for whom waiting was worthwhile, I do believe I am a better, wiser, stronger person for having learned what Sunday ultimately taught me: That to be a man’s option is no option.