The other day, I saw the spitting image of my ex on the platform of the F train. He had the same slightly crooked nose, mocha skin, 5’9″ body and Spartan-warrior haircut.
I immediately looked away, but it was already too late. Those three seconds struck me like lightning bolts. A small tear trickled down my cheek as I waited near the tracks. It had been almost two years since my breakup. And I was over it, so why was I suddenly tearing up? I became so mad at myself for being emotional over nothing. Once again, my mind was doing a horrible job at consoling my heart.
Afterwards, I couldn’t stop thinking about why I’d had such a strong reaction. Why was I still being affected?
I’ve already done my time. I’ve moved on, so WHY was there a stupid tear on my cheek as I tried to make my way home from work?
The more I thought about the answer to my question, the more I came to realize that bad relationships are like cancer: you can get over them — and survive — but the experience will stay with you forever.
You may feel wrong and guilty when you miss or even think about a toxic ex, but here is why it’s OK to still be slightly affected by a breakup even years after the fact.
Time doesn’t change what happened.
The Canadian poet Rupi Kaur once said, “people go but how they left always stays.”
Time supposedly heals all wounds, but sometimes wounds leave scars. When you look back on the past, you’re still going to hurt. Looking back forces you to relive what happened. It’s like rewatching the sad part of a movie: Even though you’ve already seen it and know what’s going to happen, it can still leave you choked up.
Heartbreak can be its own trauma.
Trauma doesn’t occur only from car accidents or war zones. Some people truly become traumatized from the toxic relationships they’ve had.
When you breathe in too many toxins from tragic events, your lungs are affected forever. Your brain is no exception to a toxic connection, even years after a breakup.
It’s normal to still care about someone who was once a big part of your life.
A breakup is, in a sense, the death of a bond with someone. And what is death in its simplest form? Death is a loss of communication, and that’s usually what happens when a relationship ends.
When someone dies, you don’t simply forget about that person. Life has a way of reminding you. The same thing happens after a breakup.
Life won’t show you a giant neon sign flashing someone’s name. Instead it will give you subtle hints of your ex, like the whiff of his cologne blowing in the wind as you cross the street.
You may initially feel dirty when an ex crosses your mind, but it’s okay to remember a former love because remembering means being at peace with your past.
Your ex was there for you for the big things and the little things, but the fact that that person can no longer be there for any of the things makes it normal to think about him or her from time to time.
Your memory changes with time.
Time has a funny way of rewriting the past in order to protect you. Your brain wants to block out whatever hurt you, so it will black out bad memories with a Sharpie. In other words, your mind suppresses memories. It’s almost like they never happened.
Your mind can also play tricks on you in other ways. Since you might have blocked out all of the bad, you start to only remember the good. That’s not healthy, either. You have to remind yourself that time is a tricky b*tch.
It can manipulate your memories, and make you see the past better than how things actually played out. Time can cast a prince where there was actually a beast.
But if you contact your ex you’ll quickly remember how you would more often than not get the teeth instead of the rose.
You can be over someone and still be affected by him or her. It’s normal. No one expects you to go through life unscathed.
When I took an art history class, I learned that warriors used to wear their battles on their armor. What hurt them in the past helped protect them in the present.
Whether we acknowledge it or not, what we go through strongly affects who we are and who we’re destined to become. Breakups are modern-day battles that we walk away from. But also like in real crusades, we have to heal ourselves.
So we move forward. But going forward means coming from somewhere, and that somewhere stays with us even if we have already physically left.