If you think about it, it’s kind of extraordinary that we put ourselves through relationships.
At the beginning of every new relationship, we know we will get hurt. The hurt is inevitable, even if we end up marrying this person. We know this because we have gotten hurt in every single other relationship we have ever had.
It doesn’t matter if we find ourselves in unhealthy relationships or healthy relationships—we will get hurt throughout the process of dating, courting, developing emotionally intimacy, sharing years together, dying.
And our relationships are one of those few places where we really discover our capacity to be human. Our relationships are where we express ourselves with more totality than how we express ourselves at our jobs, in public spaces, with new people, with old people who still seem strange and new, and in our communities.
The people we find ourselves in relationships with—regardless of how serious said relationships are (whatever that means)—come to know a part of us that we really only share with ourselves. They discover our private moments and they discover how we treat ourselves.
This process of being seen is closely tied with something I think is very beautiful and very human: the want for our offering to be taken care of.
If I am sharing with someone my secrets, my entire emotional landscape, my fears, my insecurities, my anxieties, my hopes, and my ambitions, I want to feel taken care of during that time. I want to feel that my sharing is received delicately and handled lovingly, for when that happens, I feel as if I can share anything and I can become God at any time.
But we all know relationships have two people (sometimes more). This means that occasionally we will get hurt. It’s only natural. This means that when I show up after a long day and I have weights on me from someplace and I’ve been mulling over some bullshit thing someone said to me earlier and I want to share this with my partner, sometimes he is not in a place to receive it. This makes sense because he’s a person too, and some nights he has weights on him from someplace and has been mulling over some bullshit thing someone said to him earlier.
And so here we are: open, ready to share, but not necessarily ready to receive.
If we are paying enough attention, we will understand that there is nothing wrong with this; this isn’t some indication that our relationship is failing, we are just experiencing an opportunity to grow both individually and as a partnership.
But on the nights that we aren’t paying enough attention, perhaps we will take this personally and feel like we haven’t been listened to or that we are locked out of sharing because the other person clearly can’t be here for this right now. Perhaps we will spend three hours like this—being vaguely mean to each other—and during these three hours we will both find ourselves feeling a little shitty.
It’s just going to happen.
We will find ourselves hurt over and over again as we learn to share ourselves with each other.
But that’s just the kind of hurt that we find during the relationship itself—that’s the hurt we find during the part of the relationship where we both still like each other.
Because, oh buddy: breakups.
The kind of hurt we find during the breakup—when one or both people decide to throw in the towel—is probably some of the biggest hurt we’ll ever feel.
If we aren’t in love with our partners, breaking up will feel shitty but it will also feel okay. It will feel okay because we have already put distance in-between us and our partner—we no longer see ourselves in them—and so the goodbye has been said long ago, even if we are just breaking up today.
If we are in love with someone…well…we all know how that goes.
The litany of thoughts that cycle through, some of them more than others:
I’ll never find this again.
We can still make this work.
I’ll do anything.
Life is over.
There is actually a point during the breakup when we feel like the world is over. We become so consumed by this feeling that the logic of the universe ceases to exist. We no longer are able to consider how inconsequential all of this is in the story of the universe—the fact that one day, the entire planet earth will be stripped bare of everything: people, plants, water, animals, atmosphere, life itself; and when that day comes, it still won’t be over—there is still movement happening throughout the fabric of space and time, and maybe the universe doesn’t even notice that little old earth is now just a cold spinning sphere. The universe will still be doing its thing.
We forget that our little heartache is actually that: little.
We believe that we will never get along without this person, but we forget that we have thought this before with two other people, and it seemed so real before, and what happened? Eventually, we did go along without those people. We’ve gone along without anybody. We will continue to go along without anybody. We are still contained inside this body, and we take this body with us when we breakup, so we are still here—completely intact (unless limbs were claimed during the process of goodbye)—ready to stroll.
Breakups will put us in places where we have thoughts that make absolutely no sense—and we know they make no sense, come on, guys, we know it!—yet we still believe them for a period of time, and if we can, we’ll take two days off from work and get into a pair of sweatpants that will be worn for a staggering 56 consecutive hours before we realize that we need to start shifting something. We don’t need to shift out of heartache; we just need to shift into different sweatpants. (We just chip away. Go us!)
And so, when we start a relationship, this must go through our heads. It must go through our heads that we could be doing the breakup thing two years from now with this person. Or maybe we stay together forever and we just go through all the intermittent relationship snafus, and we do that for the next sixty years (I don’t blame us for being freaked out by the prospect of this).
It must go through our heads that hurting is inevitable.
And yet we still do it.
We still do it because at the end of the day, of course we want to be happy. Of course we do.
But we also know that happiness is just an emotion which is just movement. Sadness is just an emotion which is just movement. They are both movement.
We would rather have movement than have nothing. We would rather be hurting as we learn to open ourselves up and break our walls down and conquer small territories, than to turn down this opportunity and feel none of it.
We would rather feel something than feel nothing. Because when we are feeling something, we are learning about ourselves.
And this is what our relationships are for: our growth. All of them, especially the ones that we hated, are only here for us to grow from and eventually look back on and thank immensely.
Thank you, breakups. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Because every time we breakup with someone, the entire direction of our life shifts. These are the times we find new hobbies, new jobs, new friends, new neighborhoods, new communities. These are the times that remind us that we are alive and we better start acting like it. These are the times that cloud us with questioning: who am I? And then we go out and try to answer that question.
We want to go through all of this. We want this badly.
We put ourselves through relationships because it is so freaking good for us to go through relationships.
It is so good for us learn how we like to treat people, how we don’t like to treat people, how to communicate with one another, how to share, to receive. It is so good for us to have 8 breakups and 8 people scattered over the planet who once knew us in that way—not as we are now, but a very special version of us, the version of ourselves as a mirror of that person.
Our relationships are only working to better us, even if we aren’t looking at it that way. We can call a relationship toxic, and maybe it is—maybe this particular relationship is full of physical and emotional abuse—but it is still working towards our betterment if we choose to accept meditation and reflection.
We go through our relationships willingly, mostly without second thought, because we are motivated by the feelings that make us feel alive.
We want to feel connection and acceptance and peace. Sometimes we don’t know how to do that, but that’s okay: life is a learning curve.
Sometimes we think that our relationships are only here to fuck with us: they pull us apart and drive us crazy and give us new markers to which future relationships will be measured against. And this is true of all relationships, not just romantic ones: family, friends, coworkers, or anyone we decide is afforded our emotional intimacy.
But everyday we still manage to wake up, look at ourselves in the mirror and walk out the front door.
Look at us brave-hearts go.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Catherine Monkman