This time, my case study is myself.
My ex just called this morning to wish me a happy birthday. It was premature; my birthday isn’t until later this week. But we managed to have a conversation anyway, and he told me he’d started seeing someone and things were getting a little serious. Honestly, I wasn’t that surprised. His patterns are familiar to me, and I thought he’d rush into someone’s open arms after the last conversation we had, when he once again declared his undying love and said he’d like to give us another shot. At that time, I’d replied that the only way that was going to happen was if he embarked on some major work on himself. I wanted him to demonstrate to me that he would do what it takes to really show me how he could take the initiative on a regular basis. When we were together, I’d put all of the work into the relationship, from making all of the meals to arranging all of our outings, and despite my repeated complaints, then surly silence, then depression, he never lifted a finger. Instead, he’d started to ignore me, and then started to belittle me. Even while he actually admitted to me that he agreed with my assessment of the relationship. And so eventually I decided I’d had enough. Between struggling to focus on my work and plan the next steps in my career, I had very little time, energy or patience to devote to acting like this guy’s mom.
And so we come to stage 3 and 4 in the breakup. Stage 3 is where you still miss your ex, but you start to think a little more clearly about what happened. The good times are still there in your head; the bad times don’t seem so bad. You still want to get back together with them, and decide to call.
You’re reminded all over again of what the bad times were, and realise, “right… this is why we broke up.” It’s a good thing, but it makes you sad. Nevertheless, the thought of them dating someone else is really horrible, even as you do want them to be happy. You hope that you find someone else before them, and maybe even go on some dating sprees, like a crazed sniper, trying to make a connection with as many people as possible. A few more bouts of sadness and/or depression ensue when your targets don’t really pan out. You blame your ex and revert a little bit to stage 1 or 2.
Stage 4 is what happens when you don’t even notice. It’s when you realise that you genuinely want the other person to be happy. When it doesn’t matter whether you’re seeing someone else, or what’s happening in your life. When your ex calls, and you’re actually encouraging them, genuinely, to pursue their own happiness. When you remind them that looking into the past is just so much of an invitation to self-pity. When you tell them that horrible cliché that life is for the living. And actually mean it.
And that’s what happened this morning.
I think Stage 5 is when you actually see them again, and realise, after some rapid and pretty superficial back-and-forth between Stages 1, 2, 3 and 4, that you actually do mean stage 4. And that you might even want to enjoy their company again, from time to time.
As the friend they always were.