Do you ever fantasize about running into an ex and showing him or her how much happier, sexier, smarter and altogether amazing you are now? I think a lot of us have revenge fantasies where we get to prove to someone from our past how much better our life is now that they’re not in it.
I often dream about running into Casanova (a guy who did a particularly brutal number on my already battered heart) at, say, a concert at Red Rocks Amphitheatre on a gorgeous July evening. In my fantasy I’m dressed up in a sassy outfit and having the best hair day of my life, laughing and flirting with my strong, hot husband with nary a care in the world. I’m tan, fit, healthy and ridiculously happy. I barely even notice Casanova, and then I do a double-take when I see him in his frenzied, out-of-shape condition. I get his name wrong at first. “Oh my goodness, Mark! Mike? That’s right. Mike. It’s good to see you! How are you? How’ve you been?” And then he loses his footing and stumbles down 380 concrete steps, cracks his head open on a bit of sacred sandstone and is fined $1,000 for desecrating the land. (Not that I’ve given it much thought).
More often than not, if we ever do run into an ex it’s when we’ve just finished a sweaty session on the elliptical machine after the first gym visit in 3 years and we’re wearing frayed shorts, a lycra tank top (lycra!) that hugs our love handles rather aggressively, and a neon headband (neon!) that accentuates our gray hair. And it really stinks when that happens, because we want to show him that we are better now, that we don’t need him and that our life is much better without him, thank you very much!
Break-ups can be brutal, especially when it’s instigated from the other person. It can often feel like the end of the world when someone calls it quits. We hear all the trite responses from well-meaning friends (“It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all!”) but it hurts, darn it, and no amount of trite phrases can ease the pain. It hurts because we think we have lost the thing we all want more than anything in the world – love.
What are we supposed to do without the love we got from our old flame? How will we live without it?
I recently ran into one of my exes. It wasn’t the Red Rocks fantasy version of a run-in – it was pretty much exactly the sweaty gym version. After all my revenge daydreams, the encounter was rather anticlimactic. As we said our good-byes and moved on with our lives, I understood a few things. First of all, he was not as tall as I remembered. Secondly, I realized that not all guys age gracefully. Most importantly, I learned that he had already given me the best things he had to offer and that I got to keep those things regardless of whether he was still in my life.
The relationship was over, but I got to keep the love.
The pain that we get after a break-up is often accompanied by a sense of panic mixed with loss. We feel ugly and unimportant. We fear that we no longer matter at all, because we no longer matter as much to the person that just broke our heart. We fear that we’ll never feel as safe or as exhilarated as we did when we were with our beau. We feel like they had magic powers to transform us into the shiniest, most sparkling, scintillating, interesting and successful versions of ourselves. We feel like they made us loveable.
But we’ve always been loveable.
We often feel like a certain other human can turn us into a new person with their love and attention. They can breathe life into us. We can feel alive in their presence, and we can sparkle like the shiny star we’ve always known we could be. But does anyone else really have that kind of power over us? I believe the truth is a little bit different. Other people can show us our light but it’s up to us to shine it. Another person can only bring something out in us if it’s already there to begin with. If we are interesting and fun when we are in their presence, it’s not because of them. It’s because of us. The other person just allowed a particular trait to surface or gave us permission to reveal something we were too scared to show.
Frankly, there’s a whole heck of a lot of stuff we don’t miss and don’t want to keep when we break up with someone. When I broke up with Eric #1 I certainly didn’t go out of my way to ever watch another WWF match. What I missed about Eric #1 was the comfort he gave me when I was anxious about my career. Our break-up scared me because I didn’t know where to put my career anxiety, my friendship woes or my vision of dying alone and miserable in a studio apartment. I thought he was the one that gave me confidence and mojo. Now I wonder if maybe he just helped me find that stuff inside of me.
Some relationships just have expiration dates. When we’ve learned what we need to learn from a relationship, the relationship might end. We get to take all the lessons with us, though. We also get to keep the love.
We sometimes think of love as a noun – something that someone gives to us like an object. Love isn’t a thing that can be possessed, though. It’s a verb – an action that we participate in. It doesn’t come from outside of us – it is created inside of us. Because it’s created within, it is always there within us and can only leave if we let it. No one can take it from us.
The first love you got from the basketball star in middle school? You get to keep it. The love you got from your college sweetheart? You may have had to give his fraternity lavaliere back, but you get to keep the love. The love you got from your ex-husband? It’s yours to keep – forever – no matter that you said your final good-bye to him. I may have even had an ex unfriend me on Facebook, but the lessons he taught me are still inside my heart. He can take me off his friends list but he can’t take away what I learned about perseverance, family, loyalty and courage. And he can’t take away the love.
Those that have loved you in your past may have planted a seed inside of you, but it grew because of you – not because of them. You accepted that nugget of love, you gave it time and attention, and you allowed it to take root. As it grew, it changed you forever, and there’s no changing back. That love became a part of you that is no easier to dispose of than your own kidney.
Love isn’t something that withers away because the person who planted the seed is no longer in your life. It’s a gift that stays with us forever.
The love that other people inspired in me has enhanced my life in innumerable ways. I’m a different person – a better person – because of every broken relationship in my past – not because I’m stronger and more resilient (though I am those things, too) but because I am filled with more love.
I don’t have to look back on my relationship with Casanova and mourn the could-have-been’s and I-wish-I-would-have’s. I don’t have to see only the things I lost and feel torn apart by failure and grief. I can remember the way he lit me up and know that that light is still inside of me ready to shine whenever I choose to turn it on. It doesn’t really matter if I actually ever see him again, or watch him tumble down the stairs at Red Rocks. What matters is what he put into my heart while he loved me.
Relationships may end. But we get to keep the love.