Some lessons come easy and some take a fully broken, cracked open heart to learn.
It seems my stubborn heart likes to learn the hard way.
During my life, relocating has been par for the course. Growing up, we’d move every few years for my parent’s work. Then I relocated to go to college, and I relocated again later for work myself. After a divorce, I moved once again.
I’m the type of person who needs deep roots.
I haven’t always transitioned well because I’m an introvert who sometimes passes for an extrovert. Additionally, I’m the type of person who finds holding on to be intuitive, so uprooting every few years was traumatic for me.
It seemed like I was constantly grieving lost relationships. Then as an adult, I was faced with the losing my marriage and now losses in this merry-go-round we call the dating game.
It took me a long time to realize that maybe it’s not the people we lose that we’re always missing.
Not that we don’t miss them. Not that we don’t still love them.
Rather, there are times when we’re missing certain people, and it has absolutely nothing to do with them really.
Instead, we miss the reflection of ourselves in them.
We miss how we felt when they were with us. We miss ourselves as we were then.
I had a relationship that didn’t work out.
When he was done, he walked away without a backward glance (or a goodbye), leaving me to pick up the pieces of a broken heart. There were days when the ache of his absence was so brutal that it was hard to breathe. There were nights when I curled up as small as I could against the edge of the bed and tried not to feel the echo of his warmth and weight taking up the empty space.
Even my divorce had not left me this wrecked. In the wake of that heartache, I picked myself up and put myself back together. I have children to raise after all. I didn’t have time to wallow in regret or self-pity or grief. But I still felt the loss keenly.
Months later, I still feel that loss sometimes. It’s there when I least expect it and can be triggered by a song or a stray word. Something as simple as tying my shoelaces can bring back a memory so sharply filled with his presence that I have to sit back for a minute and breathe my way through it.
Still. It took me a while to realize that what I miss most of all is not him.
I’m not missing him.
What would I truly be missing? His inconsistency? The insecurity created in the wake of his emotional withdrawal? The way he kept our relationship perpetually undefined? I definitely dodged a bullet when he walked out the door.
Yet I loved him.
I thought he was perfect for me.
What I’m feeling is not a longing for him. It’s a longing for the way I felt in those moments before he started to pull away. The intensity of our connection was not something I’d ever experienced before. It was intoxicating.
I miss myself in that perfect connection. I miss the unbridled joy being the person who was, for a moment, the object of his affection. I miss feeling powerful inside of his attention. I miss the person who I was when he reflected his admiration and briefly intense devotion.
Looking back over the years, sometimes my grief was for all the versions of myself I’d lost along the way.
When we realize that what we miss isn’t someone else, there’s no point in reaching out to tell them we miss them.
We can finally trace the roots of our pain back to our own loss.
It’s not about them. It’s about us. It’s about giving ourselves what we need. It’s about coming to an understanding of what that relationship served and instead providing it for ourselves with the consistency that someone else couldn’t (or wouldn’t).
I realized that he provided me with a temporary powerful boost of confidence. In the aftermath of picking up the pieces of my heart, I reached inside and found that confidence for myself.
While we cannot give ourselves the intensity of being a part of a perfect pairing, we can make sure that we are complete in ourselves. We can also make sure that we bring that type of attention, devotion and intensity into all of our relationships—familial, platonic and romantic.
We cannot replace someone in our lives, but we can practice giving ourselves what we need rather than waiting for someone else to fill our empty spaces.
We each possess great reserves of personal power.
When we take the time to really investigate our own feelings, we can often find ways of sorting out our inner conflict without relying on something external to come along to make us feel better.
It took getting my heart completely broken before I realized that a lifetime of missing someone else was really about grieving for the loss of self at various points in my life.
It’s not about being self-absorbed. It’s about missing pieces of our lives. And sometimes it’s really about missing the people that populated those moments. I’ve always had the odd thought that if I lost touch with people who witnessed pieces of my life it would feel like those events had never truly happened.
I no longer have to sleep curled on the edge of my bed, and there are some days when his name doesn’t cross my mind. I’m learning to sort out when I miss him and when I just miss the person I was, who sat happily encircled in his arms, breathing in his life story and working it into the fabric of my own life, without knowing that our interaction would be ever so brief.
When I miss who I was with him, I remember that she’s still inside me.
I didn’t lose myself in the loss of him.
We don’t lose ourselves like that.
When we own that we miss who we were when we were with someone we’ve lost, we can transition from missing them to taking care of giving ourselves whatever it is we need in that moment.
Author: Crystal Jackson
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock