It’s always easier to observe the process of a break-up when it’s not happening to you.
My friend, let’s call him Grad Student, was talking to me today about his ex. He’d been talking to me for quite some time about her. In fact, I mentioned him here in an earlier post. He was pretty hung-up about her, since they’d reconciled over Christmas, and things were back on again. But not really. It was one of those things. He was struggling with trying to figure out how to get over her.
Today, we happened to ride the train back home together, and he started telling me that she’d called him out of the blue and that they’d had a conversation. He started talking about what she said, and characterized her conversation as being an entirely selfish one: she spoke about herself, and herself only. He said, “She’s always been like this. She always just talks about herself. I just listened, and she didn’t even ask me a word about me.” He’d recently had a cold, and when he told her that, he said, “She didn’t even say, ‘oh, I’m sorry to hear that, how are you feeling now?'”
I felt uncomfortable about him telling me so much information about her (he told me that she has an eating disorder and some other personal information that I didn’t really need to know), and I stopped him from getting more into the specifics. I said, “I just don’t really want to hear about her; I mean, I feel weird — what if I happen to meet her some day? I’d know all this stuff about her and it would be really weird and awkward.” I mean, I know the chances of me actually meeting her are slim to none, but it still made me feel like too much of a voyeur. Besides, as I said to him, I wanted to know how he was doing and what he was feeling. It’s always easier to blame someone else and not look at one’s own actions or position.
And then it occurred to me, as I pointed out to him: what’s changed in this conversation is the critical distance I was seeing in his behaviour. He didn’t try to get into a fight with her, point out her selfishness, try to correct her behaviour, as he would have done in the past. In fact, he even spoke about her in an almost detached way. There was still heat there, but it was less intense. The fire was more of a simmering heat, instead of a pressurized steam.
So. Step 1 in a breakup: talking endlessly about one’s ex. Blaming them 100% for the ending of the relationship. Arguing endlessly about their faults. Being sensitive to friends asking what your position was in the relationship. Refusing to take responsibility. Secretly waiting and wishing that they’ll come back. Blaming them for not fulfilling one’s secret wishes.
Step 2: Still blaming the ex for the breakup, but starting to see their behaviour with some distance. Refusing to react. Taking the time to think through one’s possible reactions. Still talking about the ex on a daily basis, but perhaps even down to 4 times a day, instead of every 10 minutes.
I’ll update the rest of the steps as I see my friend the Grad Student go through them. And remember to thank him for his insights and for sharing his process with me. I don’t think he realises that sharing the process of going through a breakup is helpful for those who have just recently done it, too, if for no other reason than to remind the other person that all breakups — in general — tend to share similar bends and curves.