How a breakup builds character

The breakup that was the catalyst for this website was back in 2010. I went through a lot of different emotions and only once I had overcome most of them, did I start writing this blog.

Sometimes, however, something will happen to me in my daily life, and I’ll feel something, and it will take me back to those times. It will be a challenging situation, and I can pause for a moment, and recognize the feeling. Not only is it something I’ve felt before, it’s a challenge I have overcome before – it’s a lesson I know.

Here’s what happened.

I’m living in Switzerland at the moment, sub-letting a nice room from a very friendly girl that’s been living here for a while. I remember our first encounter, which she set up for her to see if she could live with me and would want to sub-let the room to me.

We really hit it off. We had a two hour long conversation which was supposed to be half an hour. We laughed and talked like old friends and I left with a very good feeling. She called me a couple of hours later that I would get the room, I remember being ecstatic.

Over the months, our relationship dwindled. We had different jobs, different schedules, different lives, different priorities. She is neat, I’m a bit untidy. She cooks late, I cook early. The result was our lives became disconnected, we were living in different dimensions, yet we were still living together. I knew this – sort of – but was indifferent.

Today she surprised me. She said “can I talk with your for a sec” – sound familiar? Now I had no romantic relationship with this girl, but there are some parallels in our friendship to a romantic relationship, that I think are instructive.

She sat me down at the kitchen table and told me she would like me to move out. Things had not gone as she had expected. It wasn’t personal, it wasn’t me – it was her. I hadn’t done anything wrong – it was just a feeling. She was very unspecific about everything, but very specific about ending things with me – our living together. Sound familiar? There’s more.

My initial reaction was a mild state of shock. I had been blind sided by this. Although I realized we had had very little contact over the last several months and that we were not getting along as he had once done before – I had not been aware of the growing discontentment she was obviously feeling.

I had thought about moving out myself several times during the same period. The fact that we were not interacting anymore played a part. But I didn’t pull the trigger. She did. And I would be lying if I said that didn’t hurt.

My mind raced. “How could she do this to me?”. Why didn’t she talk to me about this when she was feeling this the first time? This could have been averted! Why was she dropping this bombshell on me now?

That’s when I was able to pause – to become aware of the moment, of the girl that was sitting in front of me. All the lessons I learnt during my breakup and the time after, now came naturally to me. The shock – and slight anxiety – sunk away.

This moment of awareness opened a channel of compassion for me. I could now see this girl, obviously torn by the situation and struggling with her life in general. She had told me her job had not been fulfilling anymore, that life was hard for her – frustrating even.

Only now could I see that she had been struggling all along. Her sister who she had a good relationship with had moved to another city and she had broken up with her boyfriend. In a roommate she had hoped for a connection, she had hoped for a companion – perhaps not consciously, but when it didn’t materialize she recognized it as problem.
Her life feeling as struggle – she realized she needed change. That change could have come from within. But not everyone is in a place where they have that capacity – or will ever be able to use it at all.

So the change had to be external.

She undoubtedly sensed my indifference, our different lives our different characters. I was fine with not connecting – I didn’t need it, but I think she did.

It’s too late to change that, even if I wanted to. She associates me – our relationship – with a situation where she is not getting that companionship. It is very hard – if not impossible – for her to conceive of the same situation which would include a meaningful bond. And it’s very hard – if not impossible – to provide that, even if I wanted to.

My shock, anxiety and I have to admit, resentment, were gone. I smiled. “I understand” I said. She looked surprised. “Listen, you need to follow your feeling, I understand that. I’m not part of that feeling, that’s okay.”

She was relieved – and a bit surprised – I took it so well. I’m glad I took it the way I did. I am glad I have the capacity to take it the way I did. I did not use to have that capacity. I cultivated that capacity, it is part of the person I have become. A process which started with my breakup.

Now the emotions did not flare up once and now they’re gone. Quite the contrary. On a daily basis I am faced with the reality of having to find a new place, having to live with another room mate who was not asked to leave and having to keep up appearances to both. Emotions flare up all the time.

I feel flares of frustration, resentment, antagonism, annoyance – you name it. Sometimes the idea of being deliberately inconsiderate pops into my mind. But as I’ve learnt, and as I try and teach, that’s okay. I can’t control my emotions – but I can choose not to let them run my life.

I can choose to observe my emotions, rather than live through them. I can choose to observe my thoughts for I am not my thoughts. I choose how I respond and I shape how I feel. I respond to my best capacity and I feel the very best I can.

This approach of present mindedness helps the emotions to dissipate. It takes conscious effort, and it’s a skills that needs developing. I started learning this stuff after my breakup. It’s made a me a better, stronger person with a capacity for compassion and level of resilience I am proud of.

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