I often imagine that breakups pain me more than most people, because I feel a lot. I love like I’ll never love again, and consequently my heart breaks like it’ll never mend (until it does). Such is the beauty of life and love.
To that end, I’ve experienced a decent sized handful of heart wrenching splits, and have consequently watched myself repeat many of the same responsive behaviours. Any form of rejection used to send me instantly to the melodramatic pits of a depressive spell. I wouldn’t want to get out of bed, could not be bothered to eat real food, and generally lost sight of my purpose in the world. A more recent evolution, which I’ve experienced a couple of times now, is instead an immediate and flooding sense of relief. I think it’s because I have more awareness of my mental illness and the emotional tidal waves that it spawns. Because of that, my body recognizes that a breakup also means that I get to rest after having spent several months expending a lot of intense energy.
When I exited my last relationship, which I think was at the end of February (COVID time makes it hard to pinpoint), I felt like I was emerging lucid out of a two month long dream. I’ll come back to this point to explain what I mean by lucid, but first I’d like to offer context—
I hadn’t seen my partner more than twice since January 1st because he lived with his family and was trying to be extra cautious when the COVID cases went up in the new year. As such, the emotional validation that I naturally take from spending time with my loved ones had ceased to flow from this particular interaction, and he wasn’t one for writing letters or long FaceTime conversations like I am. I tried tirelessly to make the efforts to plan video dates, and sent him things in the mail when I wanted to express something more romantic but it often felt unreciprocated. For all I know he wasn’t invested in the relationship enough to take on the more tedious aspects of dating [essentially] long distance. For me, any pull back in a relationship is scary. I begin to question whether my partner still likes me, and my self worth plummets when I assume they don’t. As a result I spent the first two months of 2021 feeling persistently insecure.
When we actually broke up, I still hadn’t been expecting it. We had met up in person briefly, and had a normal conversation that happened to trigger something for me. I got quiet, and started crying, then progressed towards a panic attack. I think he was struggling to find patience in that moment because he didn’t understand what was happening, or how to help me. So because there was nothing else to be done, I biked home— approximately 45 minutes of sobbing, gulping air, and trying not to fall off my bike. Later that night, we got on the phone and a breakup conversation ensued. I’ll tell anyone that I date that I’m hard to breakup with. I oscillate between fight and flight responses, first attempting to convince them to stay with me, then becoming disparaged when I realize it’s not working and so on, until eventually there is nothing left to say. Often these conversations last upwards of an hour.
My intent in explaining these details, was that after this exhausting evening featuring a hysterical bike ride and an upsetting hour long phone conversation, I had nothing left in me. I stopped crying the second I got off the phone. Which is not to say that I was fine— I still assumed that I felt the world was ending, but almost out of habit more than true belief. So I panic texted one of my best girlfriends, and collapsed onto my roommate’s lap on the living room couch while we waited for her to come over. But then, I did start to feel okay. I felt (lucid), clear, present; calm.
This is where the rituals start to come into play.
The reason that I had been in my now ex-boyfriend’s side of the city, whereupon we met up briefly, was because I had sourced a vintage dress on Facebook Marketplace: an absolutely incredible, sheer lace black dress, with a layered tulle bottom. Here I am wearing it that very night:
When the girl support team was assembled, we all dressed up and walked to the 7/11 for snacks (I had yet to eat that day on part of feeling very anxious). Ritual #1: Cry in a dress. Part of my affection for the clothes in my wardrobe is the sentiments that I attach to them. I like clothes that mark an occasion, in this case a turning point towards singledom. When we got to the 7/11, I was elated to discover that they sell individual roses, so I bought myself one and also a lottery ticket. Material items play an interesting role in rituals: objects to which we can attach feelings. To me the rose represented something beautiful that I was giving myself, no longer having or needing a partner to give me that validation. And the lottery card— well, wouldn’t it have been awesome if I won the lottery on the night that my boyfriend broke up with me?
Anyway, when I got home I started performing some of the more basic, urgent rituals that follow a break up for me—ones that stem from pain. I had been harbouring a gift meant for Christmas, since we had seen each other only a few times since and hadn’t had the opportunity to exchange presents. My gift to my ex-partner had been an “I owe you” coupon book of an intimate nature, so I tore it up, and took a photo to commemorate. (Ritual #2: Destroy and forget).
I think this act is similar to the sentiment of deleting photos of an ex, which I have conflicting feelings about. I’ve heard from a number of people that they don’t like to delete photos of their ex-partners because that would invalidate the experience. I happen to agree because I deeply value human exchanges of intimacy, regardless of outcome and general “good” or “bad”. I would not wish to erase the memory of a person from my life by deleting every photo of them in existence. However I personally take a lot of photos, and find the surplus of reminders decently painful. In response to this breakup, I felt an urgent need to remove these reminders from immediate view and did delete the majority of the photos of him/ us on my phone. But those photos exist elsewhere too (on my laptop/ in my photo album), so I left it for a later version of myself to sort through. Only as of writing this do I feel ready to go through the ones on my laptop specifically. (Ritual #3: Revisiting the past). And I think that’s because I recently performed the last ritual in this breakup experience: Ritual #4— the conclusive one.
In the final efforts of moving forward with life, I biked to my ex-partner’s house one more time and dropped off the last belonging of his that I had in possession. We were meant to meet up sometime in the future to cordially pass off this item, but I felt that having that interaction loom over me was holding me back. So I discreetly left it for him on his porch and notified him via text. When I biked away, I turned back to look at his street one more time (if possible I plan to never bike down it again) and said out loud: “Fuck you [insert street name].” It felt good. During this excursion, I also sourced another vintage dress. Fittingly, a white one.
This time, the dress represented a different turning point: an emergence from mourning the loss of the relationship. I think it’s a happy dress; it bounces when I move in it.
When I got home from this bike trip, less one object of emotional remembrance, and plus one dress, I felt lighter; proud of myself. It reminded me of some of the conclusive rituals that I’ve performed in response to previous breakups, near the end of what I’d consider healing stages.
Nearly two years ago, I got out of the longest relationship I’d ever been in, with a partner who I had discovered was cheating on me the whole time. I was so hurt and angry that I got a tattoo just to have something on my body that he hadn’t touched. Then my grandparents took me out to cheer me up, and bought me a pair of red heeled boots from a nearby thrift store which we promptly dubbed the “Fuck my ex boots”. Later into the healing aspects of moving on from that experience, I decided to get rid of the giant teddy bear that he’d given me for Valentines Day. Originally I had wanted to gut it aggressively with scissors (call back to Ritual #2: Destroy and forget) but my roommate at the time convinced me to donate it so that someone else could enjoy it. So I stuffed it into my back pack, which it barely fit in, and biked to the Salvation Army to chuck it momentously into the donation shute. The whole bike ride there and home, I chanted to myself “Fuck my cheating ex-boyfriend”. I’ve found mantras to also be an essential component of healing from a breakup.
I performed the final, conclusive ritual for that breakup much later. I chose a spot in the city which I’d decided was appropriate: a portion of a Go train line that was accessible by a fence— a place that was only mine. I sat beside that fence and reflected in my journal, then chucked something over onto the rail tracks: a rose quartz stone which he had given me in necklace form. I felt that I was ridding myself of him with this final act, forevermore. Later on that year I chucked another object over the same fence in response to another breakup, and it too held a similar sentiment to my most recent bike excursion.
All of these rituals, as they were, represented steps in moving on with my life. They were finales, but more importantly points of pivotal healing, in which I found the ability to keep growing past the relationships that I had given so much of myself to.