I'm sure that no one is interested in my personal recount of a long #relationship that didn't ultimately work out (and for the best, I might add). However, as with almost all other posts concerning this blog, the topic here is how #stoicism helped me deal with the crushing level of disappointment I experienced in my relationship. I hope maybe in some way it could help you too if you find yourself in a similar situation.
When you ask most people how they dealt or are dealing with a bad breakup, or any breakup for that matter, or if you ask for advice on how to deal with one yourself, you'll generally get answers from people like:
- Listen to lots of music and/or watch lots of TV and cry it out
- Foster your relationship with God or find God
- Go on a journey of self-discovery and travel and/or live like a hermit
- Bury yourself in hobbies or other activities
i.e. basically do any and every possible thing that isn't facing your heartache and just hoping that good ol' time, technology or some form of socializing (or the complete opposite) will smooth the recovery of your emotional wounds.
This is about the most unstocic and often pointless set of things a person can find themselves doing.
To further elaborate:
My own sister went to India to “find herself” and see first hand the misfortune of others, and she even did a 30 day vipassanā course. All in an attempt to try and get over the ex-boyfriend she thoroughly abused and took for granted consistently over the span of 5 years. My sister traveled from Sri Lanka and Southern India to the west and Goa and then up North though India and into Nepal. During this time she (and I quote) “I saw a woman with maggots living in her arm and I could only walk past after deciding that I would return with at least some kind of food for her”. Well, I can tell you now more than 7 years after she returned from not only India, but Sri Lanka, Nepal, Finland, Sweden, Estonia, Denmark, Germany, Thailand and Indonesia (these were all the places she ultimately went to), she is an even more volatile, bitter and manipulative person than she was before she stepped foot into the first plane on her journey. Despite the story she told back then not even a journey of self-discovery that spanned multiple continents and a dozen countries worked in helping her become a more warm and accepting person. Ironically she's now preparing for another trip, this time in a personal van that she will use to travel around the continent and sleep out of. No bonus points if you guessed that it won't fix her horrid disposition and foul personality traits that she knows she has, until such time as she faces them directly instead of e.g. throwing herself into a place where people are worse off than she is in an attempt to try and foster some kind of gratefulness or something like that...
To put it bluntly and refrain from being pleonastic, I can just say simply avoiding your heartache and burying your head in the sand is a bad answer to a bad situation. To be even more blunt, you can just say that it simply isn't an answer at all.
Consider a similar situation where you find yourself fired from a long-term position you held at a good job. You had a fair degree of 'job security', good pay and your life and routines were somewhat built around your work, only now you find yourself unemployed and face-to-face with many new doubts, questions and emotions. If should we apply the same carbon-copy advice you will be told for dealing with a breakup, would you even consider it? Music and TV? More Church? Hobbies? Surely not! There are bills to pay, and yet why should your emotional health and mental well-being be instead so easily cast aside in favor of what amounts only to a distraction of sorts?
I certainly won't deny that facing an emotional hurdle head-on is often incredibly painful, in fact it can be so painful that many ultimately commit suicide in the face of such adversity. I also won't deny that distractions can at times provide some emotional respite in order to better face your problems later. The real problem comes with relying on a consistent chain of distractions in favor of facing the task at hand.
Life is absolutely full of distractions and even at its inception, stoicism and the stoics were convinced that back c. 60 AD, there was too much for any man or woman to concern themselves with and be distracted by in daily life. Things have only gotten more complicated 2000 years later.
Anyone even mildly familiar with stoicism knows that adopting a stoic mindset means that one must come to terms with what ails them. In particular, stoicism seeks to actually prepare a person for the pitfalls of life before they ultimately happen. In the famous book 'The Discourses' one of the first quotes from #Epictetus deals with the topic of humans facing an ultimate and inescapable death and how one should accept such a fate as quickly and maturely as possible so they can move on to what they can change.
So if we're supposed to look death straight in the eye, and according to stoicism, even consider to lay down our lives if it was the 'right' thing to do at the time, wouldn't then one consider a mere relationship breakup to utterly pale in comparison to the rest of life's pitfalls?
Well that's the answer. A breakup absolutely does pale in comparison to something like death and the end of all things, least of all the 'self'.
Around 3 years ago I got out of what, at the time I considered a pretty good relationship. Naturally I was heartbroken and very confused. This wasn't my first breakup, although this relationship was by a good margin, my longest. I too went on a bit of a soul search and traveled and even connected with old friends. Friends now whom I would not at all consider reaching out to.
Looking back now though, the time that I spent with friends, family and traveling and doing what I justified at the time as 'healing', was really just me acting out of desperation to bury the pain that had been inflicted upon me when my relationship dissolved. In short I was doing the same thing as my sister, just in another flavor and on a somewhat smaller scale.
Today I can say with certainty that the only thing that I really feel proud about was when I stopped traveling, stopped investing in friends that I had kind of always felt disappointed by and stopped crying about my 'loss'.
Even after the pain really did go away, I'm talking about the doubts, questions and emotions I mentioned earlier. Those that I felt daily, even after all that. The feeling of satisfaction, the peace and the calm I felt at knowing that I had accepted the fact that our relationship was a dead-end and we were ultimately incompatible. Despite the fact that I had, had regrets and probably even still did. I had faced my disappointment, walked the filthy swamp of 'grief' and ultimately emerged a new person.
Make no mistake. I was not at all the same person who had been for years connected to another through trust and love and life.
Often we tend to think of ourselves as having fundamental traits that we can never fully rid ourselves of. Habits both good and bad, likes and dislikes. Standards especially. People often think of standards as the one thing they would never sacrifice, and it's funny how something as simple as 'dignity' can pose the greatest obstacle in the pursuit of happiness.
Epictetus again has an answer for this in The Discourses:
“For one person it is reasonable to be a bathroom attendant, because he only thinks about what punishment and privation lie in wait for him otherwise.”
We could apply the same reasoning to making yourself a doormat or emotional sponge in an abusive relationship or slowly changing to suit the needs and wants of your partner whilst forsaking your own needs and wants. Simply because you would place greater power on the fear of loneliness as an alternative to staying in an unhealthy relationship.
“Someone else not only finds such a job intolerable for him personally, but finds it intolerable that anyone should have to perform it.”
A nod to the concept of 'dignity' and these 'standards' I explained, and also to the point that each of us as humans have varying levels of standards.
“But ask me ... and I will tell you that earning a living is better than starving to death.”
*An early example of why we should not cut one's nose off to spite one's face and not only this but a clear example of why our standards and our concept of 'dignity' holds us back from what truly matters.
In the case of this post and topic, the freedom of living within ones means and not placing the act of being in a relationship above own self-value and betterment.
On the topic of dignity or as #Epictetus says in this case “integrity” he states quite eloquently and cleanly:
 “Consider at what price you sell your integrity; but please, for God's sake do not sell it cheap.”
Simply put, it all comes down to fear. The fear of being alone, of not finding another relationship as comfortable as the last. Which really in hindsight is so utterly ridiculous because if my previous relationship didn't last, shouldn't that say enough how paradoxical and thus stupid it would be to try to hold onto any feelings I'd still have to it?
When I eventually arrived at the obvious conclusion that my failed relationship did not, at literally any point of its existence, remotely 'define' me as a person, I subsequently got over my feelings and just got on with my own life.
So when I stopped feasting on distractions and faced the truths I've been discussing here I cut contact with my ex; we didn't stay friends or even keep in touch. The why here isn't really important because regardless of everything there really is no point in keeping in contact with an ex. Unless of course you have children but that didn't apply to me.
I could leave the blog here, and maybe I should. However, I still haven't got to the point I had originally when I started writing this blog post and what the actual title of it alludes to in the first place. So read on only if you are still interested.
Fast forward to the other day and a particular topic that is not remotely worth mentioning arose and my current partner suggested that I contact my ex for the first time in over 3 years to possibly obtain something we had in our possession which she once offered me because she didn't want it, though I refused because it had been bought for her. After discussing the topic briefly and rationalizing that it should be fine to contact her and politely ask, even offer to pay to obtain the thing I wanted rather than buy a new one, I decided on contacting her to ask. *“Why not?” I thought, “it's been years.”
I don't have Facebook or any social media for that matter, so my partner offered to contact her on my behalf. In the meantime whilst waiting for a reply, I reasoned with myself into making a temporary profile to contact her directly and just ask myself again anyway. I didn't have her number because I had deleted it when I cut contact.
In short, my ex didn't reply and instead blocked my partner and myself, something that shocked us both as we both had a mostly favorable opinion of her and considering the years gone by, neither of us expected this would be her response. Whilst theorizing (but obviously not obsessing) about what the outcome of her response would be in the beginning, we'd gone through the most obvious things she might do and of course considered that she might not even have the thing I asked for any more. In the back of my mind I had only a tiny feeling she might not reply. Blocking though? She hadn't blocked my current partner in the years we have been together, so why now?
As for me, I'll be honest and say that despite my best efforts I immediately got a bit annoyed. The nerve I thought, when we parted ways I left with naught but the clothes on my back and she walked away with everything we ever owned. I was contacting her to ask about one of the lowest value (but considering my current personal circumstances, relevant enough) things that I had let her have.
I thought about how I felt then in that moment when she blocked me and of course I thought about how I should feel. Honestly I wanted to throw all caution to the wind and tell her to shove that thing up her ass, but then I thought back to the topic of dignity and I realized some things.
Firstly, it was ultimately my choice at the time to leave that relationship with only the clothes on my back. I had already resigned myself to the fact that it would have been a pretty huge burden to try and deal things out fairly and that I didn't want anything that reminded me of our relationship etc. Just because I've since changed my mind and removed the 'emotional devaluation' from those belongings but that doesn't change the fact that I already made the decision to forfeit them all.
Secondly, and this was probably the main reason for the disappointment I felt now, I realized I had placed a lot of value on the fact that I was capable of spending all these years out of contact with my ex whilst not paying the past any mind, and during that time she had too. I was the one who broke the streak. At all the times, and for all the reasons that we both could have spoken to each other, even for the briefest of moments, I was the one who caved and reached out. I didn't even at first consider this to be 'caving' otherwise I wouldn't have said anything in the first place. However, when I realized how pissed off I got at her blocking my partner and I, it became obvious that's how I ultimately felt: like I had lost some kind of long 'silence contest'.
How very unstoic...
And yet, whilst lying in bed with my phone in my hand, contemplating going on a mission to find her phone number and call her a bunch of names, thus sabotaging what little dignity that I had left even though I've already long resolved myself to the ongoing task of living 'above dignity'.
I decided fuck it.
I don't even want that thing anyway.
Stoicism + 1