Even if we cannot remember why we went into the kitchen, most of us can remember our first bad breakup. The details of our lost love are hard-wired into our brain and, if triggered, can be called up in living color.
Anytime I catch Elvis Presley’s “Are you Lonesome Tonight,” I am catapulted back to a time when my black leather jacket-wearing, motorcycle-riding boyfriend dumped me for a gal who had more freedoms than my Italian-American parents allowed.
I recall being curled up on my single bed crying like it was the end of the world. Being a drama queen back then ( maybe I still am) I was bemoaning the fact that I would be alone for the rest of my life.
Married and widowed twice ( not a great score card), life continued to pull me forward. Two years after Sweet Frank’s death, I met someone special. We were on the same page: Neither of us wanted marriage or to cohabit. That he lived an hour’s drive away was perfect. And it was—until it wasn’t.
Last November, after a six-year relationship, we unceremoniously parted ways. Shattered, I was back to where I was decades ago, curled up on my double bed sobbing like it was the end of the world—and it was, that world.
Relationships are difficult, at any age. When we were in our 20s we entered a relationship with an overnight bag of shaky life skills. By the time the 40s roll around, we have accumulated a large suitcase of life experiences. In our 60s and beyond we have accrued a truck full of forgettable and unforgettable baggage. We may need a trailer to pull that heavy load.
During the course of this year, I experienced a few epiphanies: I felt that widowhood was the worst loss one can experience. Let me rephrase that: It is “one” of the worst losses one can experience. I have a new appreciation for those folks who have endured a breakup or divorce. They too have suffered a death — the death of a dream.
I have come to learn that a breakup is a real loss, similar to the death of a spouse. However, what is missing are the condolences, funeral, flowers, and cards. The hugs and reassurance are replaced with unsolicited, well-intentioned advice:
– You’ll get over it.
– Go out and find someone new.
– It’s his loss.
– You had two husbands and a boyfriend, consider yourself lucky.
– You are outgoing, you should have no trouble.
Yup, folks, after hearing those well-intentioned remarks, I felt invalidated and embarrassed by the amount of pain I felt. I shut down and spent the next six months pretty much in isolation.
Along with the onset of spring and a vaccine under my belt, my long-forgotten resilience kicked in and the primal fear of being abandoned abetted. It was up to me to create a new life, again. Self-partnering is the way to go.
This mindset is not for the faint of heart. It’s laborious work. I made new friends, joined — and left — groups. I started to hike and discovered photography. Online courses helped me to formulate new friendships with like-minded people. I joined a gym and started playing racket ball. (Okay, it’s more like “rocket” ball) .
I realized a broken relationship is something we heal from, not gloss over. It takes time, time, and more time. There are many fits and starts on the road to acceptance and peace. Whether we are in our 20s or 60s and beyond it’s the same repair job with one caveat: In our 20s most of us are on a long highway. Time is on your side. You can engage in the scenery until “the one” appears on the horizon.
When one reaches a certain age, the road ahead seems rather short, with dangerous twists and turns. We may feel our best days are gone—but maybe not. One cautionary note, we must grieve our loss; yet there may be a sense of urgency to be done with the grieving.
Folks, remember the trunk? We don’t want to toss the work of unfinished grief into it. Timing is everything and we will know if it is time to get on the road again.
Many folks of a certain age give up on love or companionship, citing caretaker fears or becoming involved with a “Dirty John.” (A con artist preying on vulnerable women.) Worries about companionship and dating morphing into caretaking are unfounded if marriage is not involved.
Life is fluid. We are never too old to find love or companionship, even for the fourth time. What lies around the next bend is anyone’s guess.
But wait— I took a peek recently and it looked quite interesting!
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