Almost all the literature on healthy relationships is about how to stay together.
Which, if you’re looking at it from a Relationship Escalator perspective—that is, the default “date, move in together, get married, have kids” thing—it makes sense.
We want to ascend that escalator with someone, since this is one of the ways that we know we are successful at being “Grown Up.”
At least, that’s what we are led to believe.
But what about those of us who aren’t interested in escalator-type relationships? What about those of us who are Singleish and do not desire to couple-up? The Solo adventurers and Relationship Anarchists among us, those who aren’t attached to any particular mold or outcome?
When we choose a love-style that does not bind us to vows of “till death do us part,” how then do we know when it is best to part?
Are solo-style relationships (more) ‘disposable’ than other kinds? Where is the literature, the self-help books, and the support forums about how to conclude such relationships? All relationships end, but people who are singleish (that is, non-monogamous and without a primary partner) will probably experience more breakups than their monogamous friends.
In the last two and a half years, since I separated from my ex husband, I’ve been through at least twelve breakups—some smooth, some painful and turbulent.
While looking for guidance about how to navigate these rough waters, I discovered that there is almost nothing written about how to end relationships with integrity and positive intentions. With all the advice about how to have beautiful relationships, very little exists about how to have graceful breakups.
A while ago, I learned that integrity was one of my core values, and the ability to both conduct and conclude my relationships with integrity is something that has become important to me.
I stayed in my marriage way beyond the point when I was emotionally invested in it. It took me two years to realize that I was trying to beat a dead horse with a stick in attempting to continue a blind pursuit of a picket-fence-perfect family with him when my heart, my dreams, my desires were already beckoning me elsewhere.
When I reached the point in my marriage where I knew with certainty that I couldn’t stay married anymore, I felt awful for not having acted on the impulse sooner. I had strung him along because I didn’t want to disappoint him, I didn’t want to break his heart—even though I had cheated on him.
I gave a lot of thought to how I could leave the relationship in a healthy way, regain some respect for myself, and honor the man I had called my partner for eight years.
There is tremendous power in walking away from a relationship that no longer feeds or nourishes you, in not binding one’s life path to another. Yet, leaving people to their journey and stepping back into your own hurts.
Ultimately, my ex-husband and I had been growing in different directions. We had both been compromising for the sake of our marriage, and neither of us was happy with that. It wasn’t easy to say those words to him, “I want to divorce.” But, once I said it, a huge weight began to lift from both our shoulders. It has taken time, and there have been many challenging conversations along the way, but we are, at last, legally unshackled from one another. And our lives have each flourished in amazing and previously un-imagined ways.
Processing the end of my marriage—I was already over it by the time I chose to end it. Recently, however, I have gone through a break up with someone who was a close friend before he became an intimate lover, and this ending has been hard, complicated and unfamiliar.
In past breakups, I’ve been able to retreat away from the person, and they’ve been able to retreat away from me. In this instance, because we had an intimate relationship layered on top of a friendship, it’s different. There is no avoidance. I dance with my emotions and the discom-poly-ation of things and must learn to embrace and flow forward, despite the parts of me that yell and scream and tug. There’s no other way—the all-encompassing nature of the spiritual kinship and emotional connection we’ve shared more of in the past year means that our lives have multiple overlapping friendships, social connections, activities, and work opportunities. In this case, the only way out is through.
Breakups feel like waking up from the intoxication of a dream—there’s a kind of hangover as the presence of the relationship in our lives begins to wear off.
Now that I’m a few weeks out of my last relationship, I feel like it marks the next chapter of exploring what Singleish means for me. I’m learning completely new things about how I relate to my relationships, renewing the relationship with my Primary—myself—and diving in to new, exciting, connections with others.
The transformations that I’ve experienced in the last few weeks seem to reflect that the intimate relationship with this friend was over long before it was over. I feel disappointed that we both were stringing things along, trying to dance between friendship and ‘friendtimacy’ when the healthier thing (as has now become evident) was to walk away entirely if we ever hoped to hit reset on the friendship.
Rather than get caught up in the petty game of resentments—a path of bitterness that I do not choose to buy in to—I ask myself, what could I do differently, in the future?
How can I build healthy relationships that have empowering conclusions, and do not emotionally drain any participant in the process of the relationship ending?
A few theories:
1. We must acknowledge that all relationships have endings—and do this with the other person in the relationship. Remove the veil of fear that exists in talking about endings!
One sweetie, who I have been dating since last fall, has been great at conversations like this. We both know that our intimate relationship has a very limited time frame. We don’t know when it will end, we just know that it will. That fact has been on the table right from Date Zero. And so we’ve talked about how we want to talk about that when the time comes.
2. Talk about how we like to experience endings.
We have been ingrained with this terror of ending relationships, a fear that it means we will be a ‘failure.’
When time comes to end it we either ignore the signals, or we act from that place of fear, that place of fight-or-flight. We might try to keep things going ‘as friends.’ We may lash out. We can say irrational things. We start talking at one another rather than talking with one another.
The best way to get over any fear is to deal with it before it comes up. Ask yourself—and your partners—how long do you want to explore this relationship? What are your indicators for when a relationship has run out of steam? How do you want to communicate these things to each other when they come up? How do you like to relate to former lovers when the relationship has ended? These are important conversations to have with ourselves, as well as with anyone we form a relationship with. It’s like having an informal relationship pre-nup chat.
3. Recognise that there are no problems—only opportunities.
The end of one relationship births the way for new ones. The conclusion of a chapter opens the path for exploration of novelty. Learn how to embrace the changes it brings. For me, I’ve been reconnecting with activities that I love, and spending more time with people I haven’t see in a long time. I’ve shared beautiful walks in the forest with wise and intelligent friends. I reorganized my bedroom. I’ve been taking myself out on Me dates. I’ve been actively rediscovering the world around me, and finding that I love it so much more than I thought I would, and so much more than I have been in the last several months.
4. When things end, find a way, if you can, to communicate what you have loved and cherished about the relationship, and what the relationship has meant to you.
Allow yourself to feel gratitude for whatever was in it to be grateful for. It could be big things, or it could be the little things. This is possibly the hardest part, as it can take years to figure out.
Last time I saw my ex-husband, we talked a bit about this. I shared with him that I was grateful to him for introducing me to the world of psychedelics, and for being the reason I came to Canada. I can’t imagine where my life would have gone otherwise.
He, on the other hand, wasn’t sure what difference I had made in his life, but said he would think about it. It was one of the most nourishing and positive conversations we have had in years. Being able to say to a former partner, “The external presence of you in my life has nourished the internal experience of my Self,” is something I now aim for.
Endings signal evolution.
Breakups breed growth, and growth isn’t in the easy flow. The easy flow is what you get to once you’ve grown.
The growth is in embracing the challenge, in diving in to intimacy with your fears and judgments. It’s in being able to look someone in the eye who you have loved, who has triggered you, turned your heart inside out with thrashing anguish, brought about emotional reactions that have completely and utterly terrified you, and the absence of whom has made you feel you are nothing and insignificant—and being able to feel like you can still love their soul, love their cosmic essence, and dance with them in the uncertainties between you.
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Editor: Jenna Penielle Lyons
Photos: elephant archives