Every relationship, whether romantic, platonic or purely professional, has some element of power at play. Striving towards a state of perfect equilibrium is generally considered to be ludicrous, and one’s expectations should be readjusted to anticipate a constant oscillation as each participant swings gently in and out of the power seat.
Over the past few months, some of my closest friends have gone through breakups that may or may not be forever. Over the past few years I have witnessed many more temporary breakups, including my own, and every time I find myself repeating the same process.
This is how I break down the “break.” Firstly the ins and outs of the actual event – who said what first, how volatile was the situation, how damaging for the future relationship, and how was everything left. How is everyone feeling?
Secondly, the reasons, the rationale and the reflection on all of the missed signs. This is what I like to call the “smile and nod” portion of breakup consolation.
The newly single swan will sing of all his or her woes, the pains caused by the other party and of course, the blame game. You will smile and nod and agree with everything in this immediate aftermath but DO NOT offer any similarly destructive or negative comments towards the offending swan in case they do get back together and you’ve meanwhile revealed your hatred for your friend’s partner.
No one wants an opinion unless they’ve asked for one – so don’t offer them up for free. Especially in text, email or any format that can come back to haunt you. Just smile and nod.
Thirdly, the rules. For me, this is where the power dynamic becomes most clear.
Every “break” comes with a severance package. Some will have oxen willpower and clamp down on all communication until the weeping and wailing has ceased. No texts, emails, phone-calls, sneaky meet-ups, bonus nights, nada.
Others will crumble four hours in and find themselves whining and scratching on their now-ex’s door like a stray pup.
But who is making the rules? Who comes out on top and knows how they want this to play out?
How do the rules change as emotional states change, as coping becomes easier or harder, or as moving on becomes more or less of a priority?
Breakups are a form of loss. But when you’re on a break, you don’t get to fully grieve. In the immediate aftermath, we go into fight or flight mode and arrange our first set of boundaries -- or total lack thereof.
We think we can handle it or we know that we absolutely cannot. We are sure of our eventual recovery or certain of our inevitable decay. Who has the power to initiate the reconciliation, and who is left waiting in limbo?
For me, in a traditional breakup scenario I was always the one who came out on top. A friend once told me that I get over breakups the way an alcoholic gets over a hangover. (I am no longer friends with this person for entirely unrelated but equally offensive behaviour such as that comment.)
But it stuck with me throughout the ages. Why was I always so okay? So fine, so chilled out, so ready to tackle whatever was coming next – be that man, work, travel or anything that could possibly consume my attention as much as being in love.
And therein lies the answer. I am one of the highly fortunate or extremely unfortunate ones (depending on your angle) who falls in love hard and fast, much like a Labrador finding a new owner. And yes, I understand all of the levels of weirdness in that analogy.
I am generally the one (in my extremely detrimental and possibly delusional opinion) who is more committed, more involved, more willing to sacrifice friends, social life or general hopes and dreams and not because I’m a total idiot, but because I just prefer being in love to anything else.
I have my priorities in order, right? Wrong. So, so wrong.
So when breakups have happened in the past, I have been left with a large empty void that isn’t sad or fearful, but is just hyper-enthusiastic to be filled once again!
When me and my current beau (he’ll hate me for calling him that) broke up while I was in New York, there had been an implication that we would reunite when I was back in Ireland but I didn’t believe him for a second. I did not categorize this as a break. This was a breakup.
I immediately typed in the usual set of recovery codes to my brain and marched along my practiced route of self-love and rejuvenation! I was in New York! I had so much love to give! What new projects and fun activities could I completely throw myself into now that I had been thrown out of love?!
Sensing the bitterness? Oh it was there, lurking, like a sharp burst of coffee granule residue at the bottom of your cup.
My problem is that I become competitive. Not only with the person who I have just left, or who has left me, but with myself.
This time I will recover better, faster, stronger! I will do more things with all the time I used to spend on you and will have infinitely more fun loving them than I did loving you! Victory, here I come!
I had the power. But with a breakup which is clean and clear, the power is there for the taking. When you’re on a break – or somewhere in between – it’s not as cut and dry.
This time, the plan failed. Had I been left alone on my march towards whatever was coming next, I may have been proven right and the alcoholic theory could still stand tall.
But he came back for me. The breakup had been the mistake. The “break” had been the nightmare that was finally ending.
And there goes the power dynamic doing its magical reversion trick all over again. All of my hurt and pain that had been channelled into feigned positivity and forced enthusiasm was allowed to crumble back into its natural state.
With nothing and no one to fall against, it felt impossible to fall apart. Only when we were back together could I let myself safely fall asunder. So this is what I always come back to.
What does a “break” really mean? In some cases, what does a breakup really mean if you feel that one day you’ll end up back together? What happens in the meantime?
Are you supposed to move on or just try and grieve for something you haven’t really lost? How long are you supposed to bear it?
It’s messy, it’s uncertain and it leaves you feeling completely powerless. The biggest question that you both need to ask yourselves is, who has the power to break first?