A while back, I talked about why I still Facebook stalk one of my exes. And while I think there are some important nuggets of wisdom in that post, I’ve come to an important conclusion: two full years after breaking up with my ex, I am completely exhausted from thinking about him. I’m drained. I’ve gleaned wisdom and self-awareness from reflecting on the relationship (and its failures), and now… I’d like to stop.
The only problem is that I can’t. I’m too angry.
I have a pretty common relationship to anger. For a very long time I refused to feel it – I’d turn it into sadness, self-loathing, or something inward-facing. For whatever reason, the idea of being angry at someone felt terrifying and forbidden. It was much easier to hate myself than to hate anybody else. Then I found myself single and alone and living in rural New Hampshire, all because of a boy who broke my heart even though he never really deserved it in the first place. And that made me angry.As I discovered, it’s actually pretty healthy to feel anger. Anger is an indication that you love yourself, because it requires you to acknowledge that you deserve better. After all, why be angry about how somebody treated you if you don’t believe you deserve to be treated well in the first place?
As a result of my anger, I was able to start thinking clearly about what kinds of people I wanted to surround myself with and what kinds of behavior I simply no longer had the patience for. In other words, anger taught me self-respect as well as self-defense. With the knowledge that I deserved someone with whom I was truly compatible, I started to set boundaries and criteria for partnership that a younger version of myself would never have been able to conceive of. I realized that it wasn’t enough to date people simply because they wanted me; I had to also want them.
But anger is also an all-consuming emotion. It’s a needy child. It’s a hungry cat. It wants your attention. There’s no way to be angry and also at peace. Even though anger is healthy and helpful, it runs your battery down. And after two years of being angry, my battery is pretty run down. It feels like there’s less space in my life for joy and fewer opportunities for trust and true intimacy. Which makes sense, because when your trust is broken so intensely, it’s easy to become detached, defensive, and cynical. Those are qualities that make it pretty hard to enjoy life and develop intimacy.
But how do I stop?It’s easy to forgive somebody who apologizes. It’s easy to forgive somebody who shows you that they care about you. It’s much harder to forgive somebody who did not–and will never–do anything to make up for the pain they’ve caused you. But I have to, if I want to move forward. If you’re in a similar position to me, maybe you’ll find that these tips help you start the process:
1. Give up on un-generous simplifications.
Almost a full year after my breakup, I found out that my ex had cheated on me multiple times–after I had asked for an open relationship and he had said no! It was at that point that I started singing the refrain of, “[My ex’s name] is a fucker,” whenever anybody brought him up. It was catchy; it was fun. It was an unbridled embracement of the self-loving anger that I talked about earlier.
But you can’t forgive fuckers. Fuckers are concepts. Nobody is that simple. By dismissing my ex as a total garbage human, I accidentally threw the metaphorical baby out with the metaphorical bathwater. There were so many things about him that I loved, which is why I stayed with him for nearly three years.
In fact, calling my ex a fucker all the time actually ate away at my own self-esteem, because it showed a remarkable lack of respect for my younger self, the person who stayed in the relationship for so long. My anger had come full circle; whereas at first it was evidence of self-love, it now was evidence of self-loathing. I was no longer saying, “I deserved better than him,” but rather, “I was so stupid to have ever dated him.”
2. Rediscover–and relish–positive memories from the failed relationship.
For my 22nd birthday, my ex gave me a piece of fabric painted in primary red, yellow, and blue. I’ve kept it with me ever since, along with the journals I kept during the relationship and the letters he wrote to me.
When I moved into my new apartment, I unearthed the Ex-Box (no, not the Xbox) and truly looked at the painted fabric for the first time in many years. I suddenly felt very lonely. But the longer I looked at the painting, the fonder I became of it. It’s beautiful, simple, and clean, and it’s imbued with the sort of love that can only come from a multi-year relationship.
So I hung it over my dresser.This was a risky act for me. I spend a lot of time in my room, and I care a lot about what my room looks like. Hanging one of my ex’s gifts meant letting his memory back into my daily life. But it also reminded me that I am a full person with a rich, painful, and beautiful history. And that feels a little bit like healing.
3. Stop hate-stalking.
I know, I’m a hypocrite.
Kidding! Actually, I just feel that my hate-stalking has reached its natural conclusion. Now, if I stalk my ex, it isn’t hate-stalking. It’s… something else. Don’t get me wrong–I still feel annoyed at how, well, annoying he can be. I still feel some pain at the loss of the relationship. But mostly, I am reminded of where I’ve been and who was there with me.
Because every event in my life is a bridge between who I was and who I am. If I burn one of those bridges–or refuse to ever cross it again–I lose my connection to all of my past selves. And I need those selves. They contain my innocence, my creativity, my hopefulness, my trust, my imagination, and much more. Maybe I could build those qualities up again as an adult, but why re-invent the wheel?
So that’s it. I’m leaving hate-stalking behind in favor of love-stalking, and possibly forgiveness. I’ll let you know how it goes.