I’m grateful for being dumped.
Not because I was terribly miserable in my relationship. And not because I was dating a complete jerk. Neither of those statements are true. In fact, I have never experienced so much fun in a relationship, such stability, and such a great amount of my own ability to trust, support, and love another person. We were often very silly. In terms of drama, it was minimal. We didn’t fight. When there was tension, we acknowledged it, not as something scary that would be big enough to break us but as the very typical and expected kind of tension that can arise when two people have to consider each others’ feelings and needs. And we were pretty good about communicating and checking in even on little things when they would occur. I always really appreciated how neither of us would get defensive when we would bring up concerns, worries, or minor hurts. In short, it was the best relationship I’ve been in so far for lots of reasons. It was in many respects the healthiest. And honestly, it may have been one of the only relationships where I actually put myself into it. Which is perhaps the very reason why I’m grateful for being dumped.
I’m grateful because I was wholly invested in it. In other words, I wasn’t thinking of ending it.
But don’t let my gratitude fool you into thinking that I haven’t been going through a painful process. As a natural romantic, I’m anything but a heartless robot. And just because I can say that I am actually grateful a few days after the fact doesn’t mean that I was deluding myself all along into thinking that I had feelings that weren’t really there. Of course, I was confused, hurt, and sad and it was precisely because of my investment that the sudden end to the relationship was bewildering, hurtful, and extremely saddening. If anything, when a break up is unexpected, such feelings are to be expected, for when you are met with a decision and not a discussion from the one you love about how your relationship cannot continue, there is very little that you can do. You lose a sense of control, of participation, of choice. Someone chooses for you what you would not have chosen for yourself. I was, and I think understandably so, shocked, disappointed, and angry all at once.
But I wasn’t feeling all of those emotions out of a stupid fear of being alone forever. And since I’m one to respect such a decision when it is made, hurtful as it may be, I’m not one to cling and beg and plea or try to convince anyone to stay with me. I knew that my world wasn’t going to end right then. I knew that I had put everything I had into being the best partner I could have been, so I also knew that I couldn’t take it personally. This means that I trusted even when that old cliche saying,”It’s not you, it’s me” was said. More than anything, it was the shock that hurt the most. I was angry that I wasn’t part of the process, which I read as not being treated with a fair amount of respect. And my sadness was rooted to the simple fact that I had no other choice but to yield, to let. To let–something and someone whom I love–go while I was the one being left.
When I experienced my first wave of gratitude, it was because I quickly saw how my investment in the relationship meant that I would have remained in a situation even if I was the only one in it. Clearly, this is not an ideal scenario. But after years of growing and learning to be a better me, I wasn’t in a place to decide against the continuation of everything that we had, not with my hard-fought, newly-found, and highly-cherished levels of patience. I could have continued on for who knows how long. I was willing to move to different cities, to offer support for many more years through debt and the acquisition of more degrees. So, despite often feeling like I was waiting for him to be in the relationship to the same extent that I was, it came down to the simple matter that he would have to gauge his own levels of commitment. If I was fully in but he wasn’t, he would be the only one to truly know. And he did. On a whole other level, then, and this one is a bit more complicated, I’m also very grateful that he didn’t continue on any longer out of a fear of losing me. No matter how it all went down, at least he also got to a point of being willing to let me go. There’s truth in that other old saying, too, I guess, that if you really love someone, you have to be willing to let them go. I know that he loves me, and his ability to make a decision that actually keeps my trust in him intact shows an undeniable amount of respect. So for my sake, in terms of what I was not thinking to do myself and what he eventually decided to make happen for us, I’m very grateful for being dumped.
In all of this, I have been reminded of conversations with my students from last spring in my Asian Philosophies class. I used lots of real-life examples to illustrate how to break the cycle of dukkha (dis-ease, unhappiness, anxiety, fear, and suffering). As one would expect, in an attempt to relate to young college students, heartbreak in relationships was a common theme: “Imagine if you found out that your boyfriend or girlfriend was cheating on you. And then you broke up. How would you feel? What would you do?” As one would also expect, students said that they would be anything from really hurt to really pissed. Images were conjured up of infidelity in a bar scene where punches were soon thrown. Some students who thought themselves to be more enlightened said, “You should just hold it in then and not make a big deal out of it, otherwise you make things worse.” Other responses went something like,”To punch someone in the face would only be contributing to more pain. If someone cheated on you, they probably weren’t good enough for you anyway.” And there we encountered the most subtle slip, one that goes from non-attachment and seeing the intricacies of the situation clearly to simple rationalization. Students wanted to explain it away by asserting things like, “Yeah, you can’t really be hurt because it’s their loss anyway” and “You shouldn’t be upset because you have to know that there are better people out there who would treat you right.” However, the skeptics said, “There’s no way I couldn’t be hurt by that! How are you not supposed to feel hurt when someone hurts you?!?” (To be clear, infidelity was not the cause of our break up. This was only one of our examples from class.)
I have caught myself in these superficially affirming modes of rationalization: “I deserve to be appreciated,” “I wouldn’t have been happy in the long run,” “It’s better off this way….” All of those may be true, but I feel weird settling into such statements as if they are magical explanations to make oneself feel better. And I certainly am not the faithfully future-oriented sort who says, “Everything happens for a reason, you just don’t know it yet” so that’s not going to cut it either. For me, non-attachment and the ability to let is certainly not a passivity founded on blind faith. If anything, it can only grow from a ground of seeing things deeply and clearly. And non-attachment is not the same thing as detachment or apathy. We still feel things, and should feel our feelings without bottling them up or denying them. This helps make clear why the “skeptical” students were not getting things when they assumed that one wouldn’t ever feel hurt. We can still, and will, experience painful things, but if we do not cling to the sources of our pain (or even our pleasure for that matter), then that pain can be experienced apart from any kind of suffering. And finally, non-attachment is very different from rationalization. This is perhaps the hardest one to get, but for me, to let refers to the willingness to see, to encounter, to embrace all of our experiences, even the most painful ones, with a sense of understanding that allows for love, gratitude, and compassion to take the reigns. Rather than bitterness and resentment which foster greater negativity, and rather than rationalization which is more than anything a sign of denial, aversion, an attempt to turn away from and explain the pain away, non-attachment allows us to appreciate everything for what it is.
I’m not a sociopath who is grateful for being dumped because I don’t feel any human emotions at all. Neither am I a masochist who is grateful for her pain and desires more of it. Right now, I feel a whole lot. But those feelings are no longer dominated by sadness, anger, or even confusion. I’m filled with love and gratitude for him, for my very supportive friends, and for myself.
And I’m happy.