This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack.
Hey there, BU!
Heartache has a way of reducing the whole world down to two people. There’s you and the person who should be here but isn’t. It’s a lonely, grueling injustice. Or at least it feels that way.
I know. I’ve gone to dinners with beloved friends in the midst of heartache. I’ve taken yoga classes and poured myself into work. I’ve done anything and everything possible to distract, to stave off the pain that came in waves — pain that ranged from wincing to intolerable. It was like nothing else existed or mattered. I just wanted this person back. I didn’t want to accept any other outcome.
It’s a peculiar and sadistic suite of emotions. For me, the worst part is the petulance. There’s a cloying, discomforting unfairness. It reminds me of being a child and throwing a tantrum, of trying to punish others by punishing myself. You might know how that goes. “Fine!” says the kid. “I’ll never come out of my room again!”
Heartache pares us down to such base and juvenile instincts as these. Don’t worry. That much is normal.
But of course, at some point, the kid does come out of their room. Begrudgingly at first — arms still crossed, lower lip still fixed in a pout. But then life goes on, and the conspiracy begins anew. Joy, pain, love, and loss. The inner child isn’t entirely wrong, BU. There really is something unfair about the whole thing.
But! There comes a point when we, as adults, have to stop indulging the impulse to mope. I am personally a huge fan of moping, but I have to recognize when it stops doing me any good.
No one can tell you how to be wounded. No one can tell you there’s a right or wrong way to grieve. I certainly won’t. But there is a point when we have to accept things as they are. Acceptance doesn’t mean defeat. Nor does it mean that what happened was fair. It only means we have decided to accept the facts. We’ve decided to move on.
It sounds to me, BU, that you haven’t accepted the end of this relationship. You’re still thinking about this person coming back, still hoping for the good ending to play out with them. The truth is, even if they did come back, you wouldn’t have the same relationship. You’re clinging to something that’s gone and probably incapable of reproducing. Dynamics change. People change. The time you spent together is in the past. It’s no longer here.
But you are. And so are all the good things, the happy memories, and the harsh lessons from that relationship. You say you’ll never find the same thing again. That’s true. No relationship is the same. But you can find something different. You can find something new. Maybe you’ll even find something better.
And if you still feel that familiar ache from time to time when you think of your ex — an ache that, I assure you, as the months and years go by, will lose some of its sharpness — maybe that’s alright too. You’re allowed to hurt. You’re allowed to wish things had turned out differently. You’re allowed to be sensitive and regretful and human.
You just have to keep going.
I do think it’s not a good time to try being friends with your ex. A no-contact rule would be ideal until you’re certain you can be platonic. If such a time never arrives, that’s fine, but you can’t realistically have them in your life right now. You can’t hold on to someone while letting them go.
As an aside, “forever” is an interesting idea. It’s one that’s never quite rung true to me. I’ve always been afraid of it, but I’ve never seen its face, probably because I’m small and brief and “forever” is incomprehensibly huge. When you say letting go will mean the relationship is “gone forever,” I have to wonder — given what I know about the heart and its many chambers, closets, and shelves — if that’s true, if anything ever really goes away entirely.
Most things, I believe, leave something behind after their stay.
Meanwhile, try joining a hiking club! I think I will just continue to give the advice of joining a hiking club to absolutely everyone who writes in despite never trying one myself. It feels so correct. Go on a little hike, and fall in love. Why not? Sounds good.
Con mucho amor,
Originally published on October 26, 2022.
This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack. Purchase his book, Hola Papi: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons, here.