The period after the break up can be the perfect opportunity to look at yourself. To figure out what's yours to keep and what belongs in the past.
It's always a shock to discover that when you spend a lot of time in a relationship, you start forgetting who you were before meeting that person. Your attachment to the idea you have of yourself is one of the reasons why a break up is so painful. When you break up with someone, especially if it comes out of nowhere, your self-definition shatters. Weeks or months after, you realize that you spent all that time growing under their influence. Ask yourself: Did you really like that movie you watched with them? Or did you just think you liked it because they loved it?
A relationship can bring you closer or further from yourself. Have you ever known someone who absorbs all of their partner's tastes and behaviors? Are you one of them? There's nothing wrong with changing when someone shows you things you didn't know before. It happens naturally: you start using some of their favorite words or phrases, then listen to their music, and even begin to adjust habits to theirs. The mourning period after a break up can be the perfect opportunity to look at yourself. To figure out what's yours to keep and what belongs in the past.
When you get your heart broken, it's normal to think that you miss that person. But sometimes what you miss is the parts of yourself that they reflect back to you. Think of your partner as a mirror. Do you miss their laughter? Or do you miss making them laugh? I know it's hard to hear such a cold statement, especially when you're thinking about how their particular face is your favorite face, and how you'll never be able to enjoy looking at another face again. But the mistakes you make eventually turn into the wisdom that improves your next relationship, and most importantly, yourself in general.
Here are a few examples of situations where you have to redefine yourself after a break up. These moments are opportunities to decide or at least think about who you're going to be from now on.
1. The relationship ends. At a family reunion, your aunt asks you about That Person. You realize that your aunt has an outdated version of your life which you now need to update it on the spot. How do you do it? What do you respond to your family member? Your neighbor? Your coworker?
2. The relationship ends. You go online and find yourself facing the uncomfortable task of editing your profile page and your photo albums. Do you keep the pictures of you as a couple because they're part of your history? Or do you delete them because that person isn't in your life anymore?
3. The relationship ends. You want to stop seeing That Person. But the weekend comes, and with it, the sudden realization that your social life is a mess. While you were in the relationship you became friends with their friends, and vice-versa. How do you deal with it? Do you keep in touch with everyone? Do you go back to the previous configuration of "your" friends and "their" friends? Or do you evaluate the quality of these friendships and make an active decision?
This difficult period is important because you're now able to evaluate the relationship with the benefit of hindsight, some clarity, and a certain distance. Regret is a big part of it. What would you have done differently? What do you know now that you didn't know when the relationship began? What would you say to your past self? If you regret being a cold partner, now you know that you want to give love freely. That you’re not actually cold, and you're ready to give the warmth you kept to yourself before. If you regret being possessive, now you know that you want to give love without taking away their freedom. That you want to set healthy boundaries that allow both of you to be yourselves, not a limited reflection of the other person. Now, write that down and send a letter to your future self.
Images by Elliott Dunning.