1. Dear You:
These breakup letters were sent in by FTS readers
This is for you. Yes, you, sitting behind the screen and wondering if you really want to read something this long. I know it sounds an awful lot like a break-up letter, but you have to trust me on this. It’s a love letter. You’ve got to believe me and just stick it out.
I am a girl who’s been dumped — and here we’re talking the sort of break-up that comes with all the waterworks, being dragged through the dust and left in the ditch — all of twice in my life. That was how my first real relationship ended, and afterwards I spent a couple months in a haze, watching the guy move steadily through my closest friends like a snake through the grass. It didn’t surprise me nearly as much as it should have, but it was a sucker punch to the gut every day for about a year. At the time it seemed like a fair enough penance, after giving him a year of my life and coming up short at the end.
I dated a few girls after that, and surprisingly the two girls I had a real connection with are now two of my best friends. Even the messy break-ups smoothed over with time. I don’t know if that means I work better as a girl’s ex-girlfriend or a guy’s, but it’s just an interesting coincidence.
The next guy I dated was a completely different person. More the outdoorsy type, for our first date we hiked into the mountains behind my house and had to creep through the desert in the dark to find our way back. He was less into music — I think his favorite song was Pocket Full of Sunshine. But we really hit it off. We made a great pair. His family liked me. His family got along with my family — but then again, we were both military brats. My dad liked him a hell of a lot. We made out to the cacophony of fireworks over the Fourth of July — and if you’ve ever known a military base, you know they go all out for fireworks. The cracks and booms rattled us to the bones, and somehow the stars in his eyes surpassed it all. I didn’t even mind that his aunt made us all wear matching shirts.
But he left anyway. Called me up one day, and said, “I was talking to my case worker, and he’s really happy for me,” he said, “but he also thinks that I am putting too much energy into this relationship and not enough into myself.”
“Okay,” I said. “And what do you think about that?”
“Well, he bet me I couldn’t handle being single for a month.” He started to get choked up. “So that’s what I’m going to do.” I asked if he just meant for the month, and he was too busy apologizing and calling himself an idiot to answer. But that was the end of that. I still don’t know what the hell kind of therapist he was seeing, but if I ever met the guy I’d give him swift kick in the ass. We had a great thing going.
I started going to college full time in the fall semester, after several flings that seemed to splutter and die before I could fan the flames. And somehow, my first high school boyfriend found himself in my group of friends again. I have no idea if he was dating anyone at the time, and I wasn’t interested in finding out. We could have conversations again, talk about the little things. He tried, for example, to get me into the Lumineers because they seemed like the sort of thing I (tiny baby fourteen-year-old me, the me that he remembered) would like. For the record, I don’t like the Lumineers but I certainly would have in my freshman year of high school.
Did we start having deep conversations again, like the time we laid on his floor for hours pointing up at the ceiling like it was set with all the constellations? No. Did we pretend we knew what the hell we were doing with our lives, the same as before? Definitely. But, still — there comes a time where the pain fades enough that it’s apparently possible to exist peacefully in the same room as someone who wrought your world in two.
They say time heals. We do the healing on our own, though. Time is just one of the ingredients. Nonetheless, hurt has always been something that makes the synapses in my brain fire wrong and leads me to throw myself into the fire without even taking a big, deep breath first, and I decided that I would never be dumped again. And that decision — was really stupid. The world doesn’t actually get divided into the ones who leave and the ones who are left. We can’t tap on the trunk of our feelings and discover which tree is infested, where we should feed or flee. We aren’t that profound.
I went through a long string of relationships, turning tail at the first scent of danger. I got called a lot of things, most of which I don’t care to repeat. How dare I barge into people’s lives, throw some things around like some mix between siren and poltergeist, and then flee before they I could be exorcized properly? And so, the worst thing I’ve ever been accused of is changing someone’s life. Eventually that became just as bad as being left, so there came a point in time where I decided that I was going to stick it out and let it happen even if it killed me.
And, because I picked the absolute worst person to stick it out with, it just about did.
I ended up spending two years of my life with someone who could only love me at his own convenience, and he had an awful lot of excuses. Some of these were mental health-related, some of these were being more interested in what he wanted than what
I needed — but to make matters worse, I made excuses for him as well. I took a trip and ended up spending a week without cell service and a just copy of Wild Child’s album Pillow Talk for company in The Middle of Nowhere, Tennessee. I did an awful lot of hiking around Fall Creek Falls and I definitely impulse-bought a mandolin at a secondhand instrument shop. And somehow, over the course of this week on my own, I found the clarity that I had spent so long avoiding.
Strangely enough, the first days of that week, I was a nervous wreck. I was checking my phone constantly, and my head was swirling with questions: What if something awful is happening right now and I’m not there for him? What if he does something stupid and I can’t talk him out of it? What if he has another fight with his mom and he gets kicked out or decides to just take off, and I can’t help him find solution? It was forty-eight hours of straight panic, and on the third day, when my mother had to go to a dingy little dialysis clinic an hour away from the national park — I didn’t pick up the phone at all. I had spent so much time expecting disaster that, by the time I was able to get in touch with him... I had no desire to find out what was going on with him, and more importantly I had no energy to deal with it. A month later, that mindset hadn’t changed, so I called him up and ended it.
After I broke up with him, I completely cut him off. But I missed him, all the same. I know that sounds weird. I’m the one who ended it, right? Shouldn’t I have been happy and healthy and all that jazz? Well — yes. And no. But this is a person I spent two years of my life with. For all the horrible times, there were just as many good times, just as many good things that I simply couldn’t bring myself to enjoy as much anymore, just as many cool and interesting things that I wished I could show him. I spent a lot of that time getting back to myself: getting back into my art, back into my writing. I hadn’t even noticed that I’d stopped.
But that radio silence only lasted a few months. I have no idea what possessed me to get back in contact with him. It may have been residual anxiety, leftover knowledge that he couldn’t take care of himself without another person standing beside him. I walked him through trying to build new friendships, new relationships. I told him not to take illegal drugs, I told him to make appointments and then to actually go to them. And whenever something problematic cropped up between us — I called us both out on it. I started telling him when I needed to take a step back and consider my behavior. When you’re used to being hurt by something, it doesn’t matter if they turn into the Second Coming of Christ — you will still react to them the same way. And for a while, he acknowledged the issues I brought up, said he would work on them. Over. And over. And over. Until the friendship ended in a very dramatic way. At this point, I don’t think we’ll even be able to talk about something so simple as the weather without getting into a fight about it. And to be honest, I don’t want to. It isn’t worth my energy, and I shouldn’t have gotten to that level to begin with.
The point of all this is: you don’t owe anyone anything. In a relationship and especially when a relationship ends, your feelings, needs, and safety always need to be the priority. It doesn’t matter if you’re getting dumped, or if you’re the one ending it — you are the person you need to be taking care of. I’m not telling you not to feel bad about breaking up with someone, or that you should be able to get over someone as quickly as possible. Regardless of where you stand, grief is like a boulder in the living room which, try as you might to ignore it, nonetheless redirects the traffic of your life.
But that doesn’t mean you need to make concessions in your future relationships. That doesn’t mean you should run at the first scent of danger. That definitely doesn’t mean you should sit through an unhealthy relationship. You have to find a happy medium for yourself. You have to take the time you are alone and figure out what you’re looking for in a person. Chart out the red flags — but don’t constantly scrutinize and nit pick every little thing. Make time to enjoy the small stuff. Make sure your partner will open up to you. Make sure you can open up to them. Use your time alone to see how your friendships work — because, let’s be real, if you spend the rest of your life with someone, you’ve got to recognize how to fit other people into the ebb and flow of your life. You have to find your place.
You are the only person you are going to spend you entire life with. And you have to love yourself first.