Long term relationships come with their own unique set of challenges. Each one is different and grows and shapes itself in a different way. Interestingly, and perhaps pessimistically, something similar about them is that most of them end at some point. A Harris Interactive online survey conducted in 2006-07 of over 10,000 people showed that only about 14 per cent of people surveyed ended up marrying someone they had begun dating in high school or university. Of course, marriage isn’t a sure sign that you’ll ‘end up together.’ According to the latest information from Statistics Canada, as there were over 70,000 divorces in Canada in 2005 alone. For the lucky few that go the distance (or have yet to find their end point), I applaud you. You’re doing what a lot of us can’t. You’re doing what my former partner and I could not.
A couple of years ago, the woman I had been dating consistently since grade 10 broke up with me in — what seemed at the time — a very sudden and swift action that cut us off completely from each other. We had been together for 11 years. That’s a long time for anyone and many relationships won’t last that long. But ours did. And then it didn’t.
The breakup of a long term relationship is difficult and can be overwhelming, but I’m here to say you can and will get through it. This article is not about what went wrong. I could write a book about that and still not come up with a definitive answer. Instead, here are some things you might encounter on the journey to figuring out who you are now that ‘You’ are no longer a ‘We.’
The ‘Doritos’ period
When I first got dumped, I didn’t really know what to do. After being with someone for so long you find that your lives have become so intertwined that you don’t know where one ends and the other begins. She was my best friend and the first person I would call or text in any situation. I was lost. I spent a lot of time on my futon eating Doritos, drinking warm cans of Coke and watching romantic comedies. I threw things at the TV and screamed about happy endings being a lie. This probably looked as gross as it sounds but I don’t know because I lived alone and I no longer had my support system. Mourning a lost love is normal though, and different people have different ways of coping. I yelled and ate things. Some people go to the gym. As long as what you’re doing isn’t harming yourself or others, do what you need to do to get through the first few weeks.
Division of friends
After dragging myself off the futon and into a shower I realized I didn’t have to sit at home. I made myself go out with friends. I invited myself along on a Doctor Who 50th anniversary trivia night with my former roommate and a group of friends from college. It was great. We won. I still have a bath robe that looks like the tardis. The thing I realized on this outing though, was that my ex no longer spoke to any of these people. As soon as we broke up, the division of the friends began. My former roomie fell into my camp. Some people I had become friends with through my ex-girlfriend fell onto her side. It just seems to happen that way. I didn’t ask anyone to choose a side; that is mean and unpleasant. But people seemed to choose anyway.
Loss of family
More personal was the loss of family. We had been together for over a decade and we had our family traditions. I always spent Christmas day with her family. We broke up in early November and Christmas was coming quickly. Her mother didn’t seem to know what to do. I obviously couldn’t go to the family Christmas dinner. Losing that entire side of my family was a hard pill to swallow, but it would have been unfair to ask any of them to stick with me over their own daughter or sister.
Places you can’t go
After the initial shock comes the period of avoidance. She worked at a shop that was just down the road from my house. Before the breakup I went there all the time to get just about everything. Post breakup, that particular shop was no longer an option. We also went to the same school and would turn down random halls to avoid running into each other. I remember one day, getting off the bus and running almost directly into her. She seemed offended that I had broken the unspoken agreement that we stay out of each other’s’ spaces.
It took me a long time to realize that I couldn’t avoid going places because of the fear that I could maybe run into my ex. It was bound to happen sometime, and I really did need groceries. Thankfully, the awkward grocery store scene in which you run into your ex with a super attractive, wealthy, successful new partner didn’t happen between us. If it happens to you, be polite but also don’t feel obligated to talk. You’re not together anymore and that means you don’t have an obligation to hear their stories.
Moments of weakness
With every breakup comes the moments of weakness. With a long-term relationship, they just seem to happen for a much longer period of time. I would find something funny online and want to send it to her, and realize I couldn’t. A holiday would approach I would feel the loss all over again of a partner with whom I could spend New Year’s Eve or Valentine’s Day. My birthday would come along and I would get so angry that I was getting older and I no longer had any idea of when I might get married (I no longer want to) or have kids (I still want to), and feel like she had stolen that from me. I admit it; I called her. Resist the urge. Unless you have something very specific to discuss and you think you can actually solve it through a phone call, don’t call. Crying on the phone with your ex will not make you feel better. Trust me, I know.
Getting over it
The thing that you don’t see when a breakup happens is that you can and will get over it. Regardless of how intertwined your lives have become, you and your ex are separate individuals. You were before you met and you will be again. It took me a long time to find myself and I had to go through a lot of soul searching. I did a lot of things alone. I went to movies, I ate at new restaurants, I hung out in coffee shops. I did things that I didn’t do because she didn’t like them. I went to a museum by myself. It’s important to try new things and get to know who you are. The phrase, “the best way to get over someone is to get under someone else,” does not apply when you feel like you’re missing a limb. Take some time to be single. Go on dates with yourself. Hang out with yourself. Enjoy sleeping in the middle of the bed and always having hot water for your shower and no one stealing your fries. The best way to get over a breakup is to get back together with yourself.