Will Ferrell movies usually don’t move me to tears, and on the rare occasion they do, they are usually tears of joy.
But two years ago, I found myself unable to stomach my dinner or the movie The Campaign as I was flying the eleven hours from San Francisco to Frankfurt. At some point, I ran from my seat to the bathroom, where I wept uncontrollably.
The culprit? Well, the week earlier I had flown from New York to San Francisco to see a boy. It had been an on-again, off-again kind of thing since college, and we had picked up again at a point when it finally seemed like it could materialize into something more. We were older, possibly wiser, but most importantly at a point in our lives where we could dictate where we wanted to live and work.
We spent a great first three days together – it felt like we were rediscovering our college selves again. But on the fourth day, I wanted to get his thoughts on our future together before I left, and it was that night when I discovered that all our history and transatlantic text messaging whilst I was working abroad, all of that, was smoke and mirrors.
He didn’t want commitment, he wasn’t ready, he didn’t know. No matter how I tried to explain myself or sell the idea, the same words kept slapping me in the face – “I just don’t know.” And on that ungraceful note, he dropped me off at the airport the next morning where I proceeded to my boarding gate, settled into my seat, and mourned the loss of everything all the way from San Francisco to Frankfurt to Abuja.
Until that point, I had prided myself on being good at breakups. It never took me more than a week to get over any relationship, even those which spanned years. It wasn’t that I didn’t care about the people I had dated, but rationally there never seemed like a point to wasting energy over a lost cause, so I would always will myself to move on. I never expected this, a short casual long-distance quasi-relationship, to be the one that got to me.
But it took me months. My unhappiness was written plainly all over my face, there was no use denying it to friends. Nothing seemed pleasurable anymore. Out of habit, I kept thinking that through sheer force of will I could inject some lightness into my existence, but the next day I would wake up feeling exactly the same, or worse.
About eight months into this grieving process, on the day I was flying out for a four-week project in Sierra Leone and Malawi – my longest work trip yet – my best friend called me to say she was accepted to grad school and was moving out of the apartment we had shared for four years.
I felt numb. I didn’t know how to process everything that was swirling around me.
I arrived in Freetown that night feeling absolutely defeated mentally, physically, and emotionally. After a harrowing boat ride from the airport to the city, it was all I could do to crawl into bed and pray I didn’t get devoured by mosquitos.
The next morning I walked into breakfast and saw the most gorgeous sunrise I’ve ever seen in my life. Freetown is a hilly city, and from the hotel vantage point I could see the full horizon on the Atlantic Ocean, radiant and glittering orange.
When a bad breakup happens, sometimes we can’t simply will ourselves to feel differently, no matter how much we need it or how much we try. Looking out at the horizon that morning, I realized it was time to simply live with all my complicated feelings about this breakup, this guy, and everything else happening around me. I couldn’t change any of it. There was no guarantee that tomorrow was going to be a better day, or a brighter day, or any of those things quotes on Pinterest say. All that was certain was that tomorrow was a day, and I wanted to meet it.
And somehow it was that acceptance of my own powerlessness, rather than powerfulness, that helped me find myself again.