Tag Archives: break ups

Coping With Exes In Adulthood

Breaking up is hard to do. So said Neil Sedaka in that 1962 Billboard classic.

It was as true then as it is now, whether you’re in your teens or in your forties. So how do you actually move on after a broken heart?

Sometimes, time really does heal all wounds, and you’re capable – over time – of becoming friends with a former lover. I’m still close with one of my exes. So is my husband with one of his. These are people we exchange holiday cards with, make a point of visiting when we’re back in the States and even count their spouses as friends. In both cases, these exes form part of a larger social circle that helped to reinforce the transition to “friend.”

In another case, an old boyfriend contacted me out of the blue last year to give him some marital advice. Miraculously, it worked. He now credits me with playing a key role in keeping his marriage together. Somehow the act of helping him out in an impartial way enabled us – many years after the fact – to reunite as friends.

Of course, it’s not always that easy to make the jump to being friends. One friend of mine has solved this problem by continuing to sleep with his ex-girlfriend of 20 years ago well into his forties. In keeping with that old college adage that “It doesn’t count if it’s an ex” (Oh, to be 21 again!), he simply hasn’t moved on. For what it’s worth, this is also the strategy employed by business partners/sometime lovers Mikhael Blomkvist and Erika Berger of Dragon Tattoo fame. In the Stieg Larsson trilogy, Berger’s husband knows all about it and doesn’t mind either. (It is Sweden, after all.)

Alternatively, you can go the route of writing a letter to your ex. By expressing – longhand – all the things you still feel towards him or her, you can sometimes expunge any last traces of desire or remorse still swirling around inside your belly. This was the tactic adopted by my Politics Daily colleague Andrew Cohen, in a much-trafficked love letter to his ex earlier this week entitled “On Her Wedding Day: Saying Things Left Unsaid.” Whether you should go public with such a letter – or, as my colleague Suzi Parker suggests, “put it in a box and set it afire in the bathtub” – is ultimately your call. (If you want a quick primer on why you might want to think twice before publishing said missive, click here, here and here in that order, and then run for cover.)

You can also cyber-stalk your ex by “friending” them on Facebook to keep tabs on them from a safe distance.  My colleague Sarah Wildman has a terrific piece on why that’s quite possibly not the best idea either, despite the appeal on some emotional level. It’s not just because casual On-line relationships can easily lead to the real thing. Rather, it’s because, as Sarah concludes, “some doors, however easily unlocked, are meant to remain closed.”

So where does that leave us?

I’ve often found that music works well if you want to “go there” without really “going there,” if you get my drift. At different points in my life, I’ve listened to Simple Minds’ Don’t You Forget About Me, The Grateful Dead’s Looks Like Rain and Silvio Rodriguez’ Mi Unicornio Azul when I wanted to cry into my beer.

At the end of the day, as I’ve written before, acknowledging the road not taken is just one of those bitter truths of adulthood. Sometimes you end up loving the wrong person. Or maybe – to quote that curl-up-in-a-fetal-position Dire Straits classic, Romeo and Juliet –  “it was just that the time was wrong.”

Either way, life goes on.

How have you coped with a love that wasn’t meant to be?

Image: Love Letter by Wolfsoul via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways To Help A Friend In Crisis

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Several of my friends are undergoing personal crises right now. Some are seeing long-term relationships come to an end. One friend has bedbugs and needs to vacate her apartment ASAP (and toss out all her furniture). Another friend just discovered that his former partner has cancer. Here’s a story in the New York times by a guy I don’t even know (but could) who hit rock bottom when he was unemployed.

It’s hard to know how to counsel friends when they are in the midst of a severe crisis. But here are a few things that I’ve learned along the way:

1. Reach Out. Sometimes we’re afraid to reach out to friends in acute crises because we think that they’ll be embarrassed or ashamed. And sometimes we just don’t want to deal, either because their problems hit too close to the bone or because we’re so submerged in our own issues and can’t come up for air. But just as it’s important not to ignore physical pain in ourselves, it’s equally important not to ignore emotional pain in those close to us. If a friend is contemplating suicide, for example, it’s important for him to know that you don’t want to live in a world that he’s not part of. Many crises occur because people feel isolated and in despair. Let them know that you’re there and that they matter to you.

2. Listen, Don’t Give Advice. But as important as it is to reach out, it’s equally important to understand what your role is. It’s very tempting when confronted with someone else’s pain to try and fix it. That’s always my first instinct. But chances are whoever you are talking to is already getting lots of advice anyway (some from paid professionals). So the best thing you can do is to listen and let them know that you hear their pain. This is especially important in the wake of a break-up or divorce where there are often dual (and dueling) narratives as to what actually happened. (Note: this is also really good advice for raising children; most of the time you should listen to their problems and acknowledge their hurt  – no matter how absurd it may sound – rather than telling them what to do.)

3. Emphasize the Positive. This sounds obvious but it can be difficult if your friend is relentlessly negative about his or her situation. Try to find something – anything – that might give them hope. One of my friends was sending out increasingly bleak emails to a close circle of friends. While acknowledging his pain (see point #2), I also told him that his ability to describe his predicament with such clarity and conviction was itself a positive, because it meant that he understood himself incredibly well – and was finding a creative outlet to express this.

4. Send Them Something. One way to let a close friend know that you’re thinking about them is to send them something thoughtful. Right after my father died last March, one of my friends sent me a care package for Easter filled with frost-them-yourself cupcakes and some of those tiny yellow marshmallow chicks they sell in America at Easter time. She knew that my father used to send me weird stuff in the mail all the time and this was her way of saying “I’m thinking about you.” But it doesn’t have to be a present. I often send friends who are sad e-cards to brighten up their day. Or poems. Or song lyrics. Or articles I come across that speak to what they’re going through. It’s a non-invasive way of letting them know that they’re on your mind.

5. Recognize Your Limitations. But perhaps the most important thing you can do is to recognize that you aren’t God (or your all-powerful being of choice.) I recently came across this post by a friend on Facebook and it spoke volumes to me: I find it enormously heartbreaking to watch someone I love suffer under the weight of severe depression. I feel so useless. It’s really hard to accept that – at the end of the day – there’s only so much you can do. But you can save yourself a lot of unnecessary grief if you acknowledge that you aren’t in control. You can’t fix this person’s life. You can only show them love.

Image: peep by thelouche via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend

This Friday I point you to some recommended reading around the blogosphere:

1. Here’s a moving story from the New York Times’ Modern Love column about how one woman chose to move on after a break up.

2. For the wordsmiths out there, here’s a great post on the expression “It turns out” from the jsomers.net blog (via Ben Casnocha.)

3. And if you’re really feeling literary-minded, have a look at this quick, six-minute quiz at Sporcle to see how many books you can name from their covers (Hat Tip: Katy Keim’s Book Snob.)

4. In the Department of Visual Effects, check out Britain’s best-loved streets in The Guardian, as well as 19 insanely colored houses at Burbia.

5. Here’s a thoughtful meditation on grief as a collective experience at Salon. Do not miss the embedded video, which features a teen-age girl’s song tribute to her mother who died of cancer.

6. Finally, for those feeling nostalgic for the 70s, my favorite film critic – New York Magazine’s David Edelstein – weighs in on how he’d cast the sequel to Gilligan’s Island on his blog The Projectionist.

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