I was standing on the Marcy Avenue subway platform when I received a text message from my boyfriend. He said he was having a hard time telling me how he felt in person and wrote it all down. He asked if he could email it to me. So I opened the email and felt the floor drop out from under me. My 31 year old boyfriend had broken up with me in an email. Why is an obvious question, so we can start there.
Doubt. I’ve read the email a hundred times now. I’ve read it out loud to myself, out loud to my friends, and I read it silently as I sobbed on the subway and it doesn’t offer any explanations. It’s a very long and unclear “it’s not you it’s me.” And after we had a chance to talk face to face, like we both deserve, the only explanation I can offer is doubt. There were no fights, no disagreements, and no inciting incident that told us we weren’t right for each other, and that’s what is making this parting so unbearably difficult. He was anxious because he did not know what a future with me looked like.
I’m analytical. I spent some time with a therapist after my brother passed and learned that while some emotions and grief are senses that only evolve with time, the psychology behind them offers a warm blanket I can wrap myself in. It helps me make sense of it all when closure isn’t an option. So as I read and after I couldn’t discern any plausible reasons as to why he wanted to end the wonderful thing we’d created together, I turned to my best friend who just gets me, Google.
I know, don’t laugh. I typed “why doubt is good…” and Google finished my thought with “for your engagement.” Now I am not engaged. We weren’t even close to an engagement, but the doubts about an engagement seemed similar to those of a breakup so I clicked on the third link, an article titled, “Oprah Says, ‘Doubt Means Don’t…Or Does She,’” by Sheryl Paul, MA and author of “Conscious Transitions: the 7 Most Common (and Traumatic) Life Changes,” and I thought PERFECT! A credible source and an article about Oprah! Ha! Just try to break up with me after I smack you with reason! In my mind I thought he was just panicking. I thought maybe he’s just scared that things are so easy and we make such a great team. So I started reading and clung to each word like a life vest while feverishly writing them down so I wouldn’t forget in the heat of the moment.
Doubt doesn’t mean don’t. Doubt is another word for fear and fear’s job is to prevent you from possibly getting hurt. “The modern-day anxious mind perseverates on ‘what if’ thoughts, which are based in an imagined negative future and , thus, are unanswerable.” Doubt is inevitable. But it’s not a terrible thing! Doubt is the sole reason I act impulsively because I know otherwise I will succumb to it. But doubt isn’t a terrible omen, all it means is that you need to take a step back and evaluate from every angle possible. Try to find the root of why you are feeling hesitant. When you let doubt and fear of risk stop you from leaping off a cliff you are making a choice to live in a “carefully controlled box. You’re alive, but you’re not really living.” Love is a leap of faith, and your only option is to love someone for who they are as well as for who they aren’t.
In the article, there’s a series of questions Sheryl Paul says to ask yourself if you are feeling doubts about your relationship. The answer to every single one of them, for me, was a simple yes. (Except for are there any glaring red-flag issues. That was a firm no.)
“Do we basically work as a couple?”
“Are we good friends?”
“When our hearts are open, do we connect?”
“Do we support each other’s dreams and passions?”
“Are there any glaring red-flag issues (addictions, gross misalignment of core values, unresolved control issues)?”
“Do (you) like my essence — that place beyond personality quarks and human imperfections?”
He read them and didn’t tell me what his answers were. Just that he didn’t want to hurt me and didn’t want to continue on in a relationship where he is unsure of our future together. And so I have to respect that.
One of my favorite Ted Talks is by an anthropologist named Helen Fisher called “The Brain in Love” and she explains how she and her team of researchers study how love affects the brain by putting people who are in love and those experiencing heartbreak into an MRI machine. “The brain studies show us that romantic rejection hurts just like physical pain, and it is like cocaine addiction. We have to treat it like an addiction and think of it like a broken bone.” And everyone who’s experienced the pain of losing someone you love knows this pain, for a long time, especially right as it happens, everything is huge.
But as terrible as the headache and heartache I woke up with feel, looking back I wouldn’t do anything differently. I loved with my whole heart leaping heart first into the unknown. I learned things about myself I never would have discovered without him. I got to spend time and share myself with an incredible man. I laughed harder than I have ever laughed in my life. And while I’m sad that this happened, I’m happy to have had what we had. I have zero regrets. And that is hard, you want to be able to say this happened for these reasons. But I don’t have that at all.
Before he left he told me what you always tell the person you are breaking up with, “You don’t realize how incredible you are.” To which I said exactly what you aren’t supposed to say, “No I do.” I refuse to sit here dwelling over would a-coulda-shoulda. It wasn’t my call and I had no say in ending it. And that is the way this cookie is crumbling. Sometimes it’s just out of your control.
It’s a waste of time and energy stressing about what the future holds. Whatever will happen already has. The price you pay for love is loss.
So now, I run. I cry. I laugh at the absurdity that is being broken up with via email. And I read and I write. See theater. I look to Beyonce. I experienced my first subway ride from hell yesterday, so overcome and panicked I went uptown to Central Park instead of south to my home in Brooklyn, all the while sobbing heartbroken to myself sitting across from a woman dressed as a clown because that is New York. New York is absurd. But I’m ok. Everything is ok. And like I wrote last week, “The Odds Of Finding Love At The NYC Marathon = 61%” I started running because I got my heart broken and luckily, I have a marathon to help me through this one and wonderful and supportive friends, family members, as well as all of you.
A while back I wrote a piece about love. I asked my boyfriend why and how he thinks that someone falls in love. I’ve learned that love is not simple. It’s full of dichotomies and grey areas, it ebbs, changes, transforms, and flows unpredictably and that’s what makes it special.
His answer was “I think people fall in love when they fail to realize a time when the other person wasn’t there. Like you can’t fathom how you lived before that person.” And I think that is a beautiful statement and I am grateful for his love.