Saturday, September 8, 2012

Mourning Who He Thought I Was

Author's note: this is not a post about any single ex-boyfriend, rather an analysis of my romantic relationships in general. This is my view of my experience and should not be taken as a commentary on anyone but myself and my own process.

It seems like a simple concept: you date someone, you break up, and whether or not it’s amicable, you go your separate ways and continue on with your life. In a perfect world, you accept that there are things about you that were not compatible with aspects of your partner’s aspects, shrug it off and go on your merry way, looking for someone whose aspects meld better with yours. Right?

I actually think this might be the case for many people out there, but that’s just a theory. I know people who claim this is their process; I have read books that say that people should feel this way, but I cannot actually claim to have experienced this in a breakup, ever. 

I have only just been able to determine what it is I feel instead: that my persona has been eviscerated. You know…like some witch woman took a really long scary looking knife and slit open my belly, letting all my guts pour out onto the ground, then cackled loudly and kicked them aside for the cat to eat.

Gross, I know. Gross, but please don’t misunderstand what I mean. This has nothing to do with my heart; I am not heartbroken by every man that has ever broken up with me, or whom I have broken up with, for that matter. In fact, there are some men that I haven’t even liked all that much, and yet when the dreaded end of the relationship comes around, regardless of whether it was amicable, there lie my guts, a slimy heap on the ground.

What exactly do I mean by this disgusting mental image? I mean that during a relationship, I have started to define myself by my boyfriend’s idea of me. I have started to keep track of the attributes he has complimented me on and played up on those; I have started to hide my strange habits or insecurities so that he sees only the best side of me. I gather his comments like clues, and use them to build a version of myself that is the kind of woman that I think he wants me to be, for better or worse.

Once I’ve done this, there is little room for error. With each piece I add to the puzzle, I become more strictly defined; confined. It isn’t long before the strain gets to be too much, and I suddenly try to break out of the box I have fit myself in. At that point, my boyfriend is surprised by my outburst because it’s so unlike me.

So here’s the kicker: for better or for worse, this constructed person of me isn’t the right construction. It can be my feelings, or his, or both, but suddenly something is wrong and it’s over. As I said, regardless of how much love was involved, the evisceration scene occurs, because I realize that I have lost track of who I was before the relationship.

I am not this person, and yet this person was dropped by my now ex boyfriend. I am destroyed, literally. Suddenly, there’s room for the real me, but that person is nowhere to be seen – she went on vacation, and has decided not to come back until the tourists are done gawking and she can have her space all to herself again. She must be coaxed, and often, this takes a long time.

I consider myself a slow healer when it comes to relationships; I am not one to jump from one into the other, or even have more than one a year, for that matter. I used to think it was heartbreak, but if that was the case, why was it so hard for me even when I didn’t love the person? Ego? Pride? Perhaps, but it was also the process of recovering my sense of self – of no longer defining who I was in someone else’s eyes. Once I get used to seeing me as he did, it takes a long time for me to find the real me again after he’s gone. In a sense, I am not actually grieving for losing him, I am grieving that the person I built for him was tossed to the wayside, and then trying to pull my real self back in – the one that he fell for in the first place, and that I chose to hide.

Yes, that’s right, invisible audience: I do this to myself. No one asks me to reinvent myself; no one tells me that I must change to be loved. I’m not sure, but I would hazard a guess that most of my ex-boyfriends wonder what happened to the funny, strong, independent woman they met at the beginning, that was less concerned with pleasing them in ways they didn’t ask for and more about wringing the pleasure out of life however she could. I don’t know what they think, but I think that ultimately the breakups have more to do with my inability to be authentic than they do anything else.

That doesn’t really matter, though. What matters is this: it takes me a long time to get over an ended relationship because I must recover the person I was before the relationship, and mourn the rejection of the persona I created FOR the relationship. We can’t all be Sybil: my personalities are slow shifters.

So, what can I learn from this? That it’s ok to be me. That I will ultimately save myself a lot of time and energy if I can be my authentic self, and allow someone to either love or leave me for that person. I can also learn that my worth has nothing to do with others’ perceptions of me and everything to do with my perceptions of myself. If I love me and let the me in me shine, it won’t matter what anyone else thinks. Their perceptions of me can fade into the night, and I won’t even know they’re gone, much less mourn their passing. If I can do this, I can keep my guts intact.

Love and gutted kisses