This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack.
I broke up with my girlfriend six months ago and still get angry whenever her name comes up. I’ve done everything I can think of to move past it, and none of it has worked. I’m just as furious as ever. If not more!
She was my first girlfriend. We were together for a little less than a year, but it felt like way longer because it was suffocating. She expressed jealousy two weeks after we met. She demanded my time and had no respect for my space. She had opinions on my body hair, intruded on my relationship with my homophobic, abusive mother, and made me feel like I wasn’t capable of love because I didn’t show it the same way she did. Worst of all, she felt entitled to my body and often emotionally coerced me into having sex.
I could complain about her for hours, but that’s in my journal. Right now, I just want to let all this go and forget she exists. I like someone new, a lot. She’s basically all I think about and I’m excited to see where things go. There’s no doubt in my mind that I have no residual feelings for my ex. Feelings of wanting to push her off a cliff, maybe.
But how do I get rid of this anger? I just want to forget all about it and not give her any space in my brain because she doesn’t deserve it. What should I do?
Hey there, AL!
That sounds like a bad relationship. I’m glad you got out of it! You should be proud of yourself. But isn’t it frustrating how getting out of a relationship doesn’t always mean getting out of the way it made you feel?
Sometimes the mere thought of a person from 2011 will ruin my day, AL. It feels very unfair. It makes me think, “Shouldn’t you have been buried alongside the other relics of your time, like Glee and that one Taio Cruz song none of us could escape? Leave me alone.”
So I do have some experience in what you’re dealing with and I think I can help. That’s good, because I guess that’s why you’re here. No one ever comes here just to chat or ask about my day. Everyone has a crisis and I have to try to stamp it out with my big digital foot. Well we all have our parts to play I guess. Okay, here I go with the helping, hear me out on this.
Have you ever wanted something you can’t possibly have? I do all the time! Right now, I wish I was sitting in a coffee shop, or in my husband’s house. But everything is closed and I don’t have a husband or even a boyfriend who is a pastry chef (if you’re reading this, PLEASE reach out). I can’t conjure those realities either, because I’m not a warlock or whatever entity can do that kind of thing.
That’s fine, because I have accepted the fact that those action items are not plausible, nor are they within my purview. Acceptance has brought my desires and my realities into peaceful coalition. But, here’s where things have the potential to get tricky: What if I felt, for one reason or another, that I could and should be able to make those things happen?
When what we want falls into irreconcilable conflict with what we can reasonably attain, frustration and bitterness tend to flourish. This is because the gap between our two realities, the one we’d like to inhabit and the one we actually live in, can’t actually be bridged, no matter how much time and effort we pour into the gulf.
I offer you this, AL, with the hope that you can accept it: You can’t forget this person or erase her from your life. Indeed, the more you try to forget her, the more you will actually be thinking of her. Our experiences collapse into our identities, and whether big or small, the impact they make is here to stay.
However, acknowledging the pain someone left us is not the same as excusing it, nor should we confuse their influence on our lives for the person themselves. In other words, the hurt you’re grappling with, the ways she made you feel small or weak or taken advantage of, is not literally her living in your brain.
She’s not here. You left her behind, for the better. She doesn’t have the power to live in your head. It’s your own thoughts, feelings, and emotions in there, and while that can feel frustrating and painful, it does mean you have the agency and power to deal with them. You don’t need to forget she existed. You need to process your experiences in a way that will help you move on. We are not defined by the people who’ve hurt us. We are defined by our response to the hurt.
I wish I could tell you this is the last time you’ll be injured by someone, AL, but knowing life as I do, it probably won’t be. That’s why it’s important not to live your life hoping you’ll miraculously avoid the bumps and bruises of the “Other People” obstacle course. It’s more prudent, I think, to live with the expectation that difficult times will happen, and we ought to give ourselves the tools we need to overcome them so that we can enjoy the good things.
That was the point of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, I think. Well, there are worse things I could plagiarize. And I have.
Con mucho amor,
Originally published on July 8, 2020.
This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack. Purchase JP Brammer’s book Hola Papi: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons, here.