In Defense of Your Ex

Everything deflated like a balloon. That’s what it felt like to be broken up with. It wasn’t devastating. My identity remained unaltered in her absence, but the air went out. Eyelids sagging, I struggled to stay awake those first few days. “Chemically, it’s like going through a drug withdrawal, Marisa” my brother told me. I nodded, riding the bobbing emotions of the days to follow.

The greatest part of my life is all the people who love me. They rallied around me, hyperprotective over my wounds. While I was hurting, here are the realities of the situation: I was twenty-five years old. My ex and I dated for 6 months. We shared no property nor pets nor children. And for as much as I loved her and she loved me, we can love more people than we can build a life with. So it ended. It doesn’t discount the agony of that moment to frame it in the reality of the situation, something I cradled my feelings within even in those moments.

The way we talk about break ups is messed up. For your ease, reader, I’m going to list why:

  1. “My ex will never upgrade from me”— People aren’t iphones, a new addition with updated features rolling out annually. We aren’t sports cars. We aren’t inanimate, but soft and feeling creatures. Some pairings compliment one another better. That isn’t an upgrade nor a downgrade. It’s just how life works. This explanation simplifies the pain often associated with an abundance of love but a lack of chemistry or shared values, which will tank any tether, regardless of how much love is there. I hope my ex and anyone I’ve ever been involved with finds someone who makes them feel good about themselves and excited about the future. I don’t want to see that in person. I don’t want to witness how their eyes sparkle adoringly, immediately sensing the grief of glimmer no longer on me. Nevertheless, I wish that for them.
  2. “I dated a narcissist.” There’s a huge temptation to vilify our exes when things sour. It makes sense. What feeling is deeper than love? What palpates inside our hearts closest? So, yeah, it fucking sucks to lose that. We cope by protecting. We arm ourselves in a story that our ex was the worst, and we are better off. One percent of people are clinical narcissists. Personality disorders are psychological protection methods on steroids. Meaning that the narcissist likely experienced trauma that developed the personality disorder. People behave in the way behavior is modeled to them. While we should rage against abusive behaviors, I worry we pathologize so much we are seeking to label as opposed to understand. That’s not an excuse for their behavior. That’s not the victimization of your ex, just an explanation. Yeah, your ex definitely had flaws. So do I. So do you. But, hard as it is, we have to hold our hurt over the ending in the same hands we hold those mushy, warm memories alongside the relief of being free. A friend who survived a horribly abusive 2 year relationship once said about why she didn’t leave sooner, “It isn’t horrible all the time. When it’s bad, its unimaginably bad, but it’s not always like that”. And I get what she meant– that her relationship was no less abusive or problematic, but it wasn’t just that. She had to leave because it was abusive, but even in retrospect, she could locate where she really loved this person. And that perspective takes a lot of strength.
  3. “This wouldn’t have happened if I looked different (if I were hotter, thinner, more ripped)”— People don’t love people based solely on their looks. That is called lust. Moreover, we aren’t solely turned on my looks. Attraction is chemistry and emotions and biology, and all these amorphous, uncontrollable things. For the love of Dolly Parton, do not use the mirror as a reason someone bolted. When you get discarded, it’s hard not to feel like trash. I’ve been there. I felt that. Still, I don’t want to be with someone so shallow and dull that the only way they can experience love is through looks. That’s bullshit. That’s a watery notion of love, and Toni Morrison once said, “Thin love ain’t love at all”. Partnership is loyalty, respect, trust, humor, chemistry, and a lot of shit. So, no, changing your looks would not have changed the outcome.
  4. “I’m going to win this breakup.”— Don’t believe Instagram. Literally no one “wins” a break up. You survive it. You breathe your way through it, and you build a new normal. Time moves in millimetres until you find yourself inhaling deeply in the sunshine, realizing you don’t feel that way anymore. You’re transformed a little, grown in the wild afterlife of a breakup.
  5. *trash talking your ex to anyone who will listen/ spreading rumors/ trying to prevent your ex from moving on* — Here’s the thing, if I loved you when things were good, that love doesn’t dissipate the moment your self-advocacy no longer serves me. I can’t harm someone I loved. What does that say about my love and care? What does that say about my character? Obsessing over the past paralyzes us from moving on. And conversely, we do not need to beg for love. We needn’t arrive there on all fours, praying for scraps. Everyone deserves love and respect, and that includes our exes even when they don’t do it in the best of ways. An portion of moving on is releasing all the sacred real estate we held for that person who isn’t ours anymore. Even if the absence of that energy sinks in grief, it will float again. It just will.

You’re exes friends probably won’t like you after the break up. Their job is to be loyal to your ex. And there will be many narratives where I am the villain because I am a person, and therefore, problematic. Realizing that I could not win a popularity contest there AND heal was a reckoning. We are meant to do more on this earth than appease everyone we come into contact with. In breaking up with me, my ex advocated for herself. I don’t vilify or sanctify her. I see her the way I see people in situations where they lack the tools to express themselves, with a desperation accompanying that. And she just wanted out. The door was always open. No one has an allegiance to us to stay. We also owe it to ourselves to free that space, to not labor over trying to seem like a “good person” by making the other person feel better. In order for our truth to hold its weight, it can’t be watered down.

My defense of your ex and my ex and those people who were never officially ours so they can’t be our exes but are is this: people are just people. No being with a beating heart is bronzed from imperfection. How people talk about their exes says a lot about them. That doesn’t absolve anyone of their actions, but it does wash everything in grace enough to move forward– to inflate again. Because this isn’t about being a better person or winning. It’s about feeling deflated less, having wider eyes, and joy. And suddenly, you’re rising again.

Photo by Stef Streb.

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