Whether we fall in or out of love, the love and loss become a part of our identity as we move forward.
For many of us, serious emotional reckoning only happens after a serious breakup, and there’s something transformative about that energy—one that breaks inertia and forces us to confront all that’s uncomfortable, all the shattered pieces, all the brokenness, and through it all, somehow find peace and life to keep going. We are braver than we know.
Breakups are nothing to romance over, but “take your broken heart and make it into art” is correct. Five years ago, such an event happened to artist Lbito Rose, who then turned it into a screenplay. The movie is titled, “Swim Good, my thanks to Mr Ocean.”
A year later, at a time when my own relationship was “questionable but steady,” I found myself as the female lead in the film—an artist whose life becomes shattered after a dual-layered assault, coupling betrayal with breakup. This was her story—her way of giving herself closure because, sometimes, we just don’t get it.
Whether life imitates art, or art imitates life, I never quite figured it out. But, since I had the script in hand, my relationship started to change with it. Rather, the truth started to come out with the lines of the script. Deepak Chopra calls this “synchrodestiny.” I don’t believe it was mere coincidence either.
Sometimes, we are in denial of the truth that hurts us; it’s biology, our self-protective mechanism—hurt is not a good feeling. It’s never fun to bring up the topic of cheating, but that’s what I was artistically given to work with, and as misfortune would have it, it was what I had to confront in real life the year that immediately followed.
I remember clearly the rehearsal when my scene partner called out the truth in my relationship, and how I denied it and defended him (and us) right away. I remember how delusional I was, and how much worse that hurt once the truth unraveled. I became one with my character through almost uniform stories. The script became my reality.
Filming “Swim Good“ took a number of months; there were rewrites, reshoots, and the process itself was deeply cathartic. During the making of the film, my own relationship had crashed and burned, multiple times. I lost control at a concert and had to be hospitalized. I cried for 20 hours straight one day, and cried more until I couldn’t anymore.
I was at such a low, but still had to work, so I went on set and told people that my boyfriend had died. It felt that way, and I couldn’t explain the gravity otherwise. It ripped through me like a torrent. We filmed through the night, through the moonrise, and then sunrise. Through the heat of garbage fires and the shivers of being naked seaside, “Swim Good“ became a gift to me. I wasn’t just playing a part. The on-screen romance was played, but everything else was real. The pain, the hurt, the depth of darkness…all that was real.
But we were making a movie, and all the post-production loose ends took another two years to tie up. Last March, it was first screened in public, and it has continued to circuit through festivals, with my ugly, crying face getting its screen time before Q&A’s, where I had a chance to redeem myself, looking a bit more made up and polished. It’s always hard to look at my own work (the vulnerability, the judgments), especially given the nature of the subject, but there’s something to be said about speaking out on the hard stuff.
Because of the circulation of my film, “Swim Good,” I’ve been speaking publicly about breakups to many new faces, and, to my surprise, I frankly enjoy it—not in a perverse way, but because once you address a demon in public, it becomes a little bit smaller, a little bit less threatening.
I was surprised and humbled by the number of people who came up to me afterward and said how much my work resonated with them. Increasingly, I’m starting to feel that my character, Melia, and I weren’t that unique—we have within us the same elements as anyone who has ever loved and lost ourselves.
While the details of each breakup will differ, there is something universal about it that affects us in very similar ways. The root of it is pain, and we have this desperate need for closure—if this is our common ground, perhaps we can share our experiences in moving forward, and more quickly reach recovery. When a breakup happens, a more interesting question to ask isn’t, “What happened?” but instead, “What did we learn?” and, “How do we move forward from here?”
How do we move forward from here? You know who’s good at this kind of thinking? The #FailForward clan. In recent years, these guys have become rockstars in the entrepreneurial and business scenes by challenging and changing the culture around “failing.”
There have been Fail Forward conferences, and all sorts of derivatives that have come out of the movement. All of a sudden, it’s okay to talk about our failures—the things we almost got, but didn’t. As a whole, it encourages us to shift our perspectives and learn from the mistakes so we can move forward smarter, faster, better, and stronger. It’s the millennial twist on the age-old phrase: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Ultimately, a breakup releases us from something that is no longer working, and makes us available for the next best thing—an inevitable part of the journey toward something worthwhile.
So what does it look like in the realm of romantic love? Because in theory, failing forward is possibly the best way to come out of a breakup. So here are a few ideas adapted from business to love—because they just might work:
- Our breakups are not our failures, even though it’s not uncommon to feel that way. Don’t “own” the breakup. Sure, breakups are failures, but a relationship failure is not always a personal failure. I know, this is an unconventional way to think about it—after all, breakups are a personal thing, so it’s counter-intuitive to even remove it from our personal list of failures. But just try to throw it away and see how it feels. A breakup is an outcome of an emotional event, and like most emotional matters, it cannot be simply qualified as “failure” through logic, rationality, or arithmetic. The failure of a union is often extremely complex and messy; it’s grey matter. But the good part about hitting rock bottom is that there’s no further down you can go. It’s like death by mine-sweeper. You’ve sacrificed this life, but you’re smarter moving forward, and you’ll be planting those warning flags next time whenever warranted, guaranteed.
- Give up the need for external closure. Accept that the breakup is the closure, because what else do we really need to know? If we are looking externally for closure to be granted to us, we are putting our worth and power further in the hands of someone who clearly wants nothing to do with us anymore. It doesn’t make sense to want more from someone who refuses to give more. We have this incessant need to trace every detail to the “why,” but chasing something that isn’t going to happen is futile. We can grant ourselves closure by letting go, and detaching ourselves from what is no longer working. By doing so, we save the last bits of our dignity.
- See the bigger picture; things that happen to us, also happen for us. Breakups happen when things are broken. Every relationship changes us, but we don’t ever want to be broken from it, so when we are, it’s actually a good thing for us—to have a bad thing arrested. We are conditioned by the people and things we place into our lives, so if things are going badly, breaking out of that situation is detox—a first and necessary step toward healing. Embrace it as a way to grow, and to continue to become the best versions of ourselves.
- Call it a “Breakout.” Names and labels are important, because we live in a literal world, and like so many self-help gurus have reminded us, we really are what we think about most of the time. By “correcting” our terminology, we are literally shifting our mindset, and when that shifts—everything changes. A “breakup” is a dead end; it is the death of something. But a “breakout?” When a breakup happens, call it a breakout; just try it. The whole landscape changes, and the path ahead is no longer depressing, but exciting. Because really, life carries on, and sulking through it is not a good look.
- Put yourself first. Crack down on that self-love thing, because now there’s no more distractions. A breakup is a good starting point because we’ve learned where the line is and where our boundaries are—the things we won’t tolerate, and the people we can no longer live with. Take the time to reset and take inventory of where we are—our feelings, our sense of place in this world. A breakup is like an earthquake—the unshakable things remain standing, and those are the things to hold onto.
I wish there were a way to “hack” breakups the way there are “hacks” to almost everything these days, but by definition, this is a hard thing to to overcome. It doesn’t get easier with time, and it strikes in the most vulnerable moments in life—there really is no good feeling that could come out of it. But failures are not fatal, and there is a way forward. Failing Forward is a paradigm-shift concept that has worked for and benefited those who refuse to be struck down by their mistakes. If breakups are to happen, then the stronger option is to choose to breakout of it.
As far as romance is concerned, at the very least, this kind of thinking is worth a try, because every ending is the prelude to something new.
Author: Xiren Wang
Editor: Travis May