I’m a 23 yr old man who recently got his heart broken after being in a committed relationship with a woman. We broke up after three months of being apart (when I went to visit her). Another month and a half had passed, and now she’s back and reaching out to me. To be honest, I’m feeling kind of scared – my instincts are telling me to avoid her, even though I know we need to talk and gain closure. Even tough the breakup was really hard on me, she was abroad having a great time, so maybe it’s not real for me. This is all uncharted territory to me. What do I do?
Dear Closing Up,
To me, the post-relationship window is a lot like many other life crises. It is like leaving home, or graduating college, comparable to culture shock when moving back from a foreign nation, or perhaps it is more like going abroad alone. What all of these stages have in common is a loss of comfort zone and a stepping out into new personally uncharted territory.
Life can sincerely suck while we learn lessons, for example, how to re-open our hearts after someone stomped on them. I was so relieved to hear you admit how scared you are. That takes real guts and self-awareness. It is scary. Last night I heard a woman do a spoken word performance about leaving the comfort of her job as a second grade teacher. She described jumping out into the unknown, and how thrilling and terrifying and very important the whole process was to her.
In some ways being in a relationship is like building a ship. You and your partner learn to navigate life together and then when the ship sinks, you have to re-learn how to swim. Couple that with the life questions, career choices, etc that come with age 23. In your case it also sounds like this woman suddenly feels like a stranger, because of the loss of trust. That can flip your world view completely, when you deeply trust something or someone and suddenly you no longer can.
My advice? Worry about number one.
It is up to you to sew your heart back together, closure or no closure. You get to choose if now is the time to talk to her, or if you need to wait. You get to choose if you need space or if you need a hug. As hard as it is to stomach, post-relationship you don’t need to be worrying about what is best for her, just you. The only key, though, is being respectful of yourself and this woman as you decide what that is.
Leaving a loved one is all of the aforementioned, leaving home, a sinking ship, going to a foreign place. Be easy on yourself as you navigate this new space of pain and loss. A woman on a plane today told me, “If you only get your heart broken once in a lifetime, well, that’s some kind of achievement.” When we got to talking we agreed that a million broken hearts could also be a blessing, because with each we learn how better to love ourselves and in the end, how to better love another.
On an airport shuttle I asked the psychotherapist sitting next to me what he would do for a man with a broken heart. He suggested you seek the counsel and leadership of one Sparrow Hart, facilitator of Circles of Air, Circles of Stone.
Whatever you do, know that when put towards the next hearts that enter our lives, the lessons we glean from heartache yield a bigger, more swollen version of love.
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