When my long term relationship came to an abrupt end, my girlfriends wasted no time activating The Sisterhood Code. There were countless invites to coffee and drinks; offers to go to the spa or go shopping—anything that would cheer me up and make me feel better. They rallied behind me and evoked the time honored cries of The Sisterhood:
“You deserve better!”
“It’s his loss!”
“You’re better off!”
It was the very same things I have said in solidarity with other gal pals going through a breakup. They lent a sympathetic ear, they hugged me and held my hand. One cried along with me.
Breakups are always hard.
I was lucky to have found an unexpected sounding board among my guy friends. They didn’t cry with me or hold my hand, but they did give me measured and tempered views that helped me get a better grip on things. They didn’t defend or justify another man’s (my ex’s) actions as I had somehow thought they would.
I’m not saying that the love and support of my besties were not enough. Neither is it that I never thought men would make for good relationship advisors. My last relationship was so long that I never really had a reason to have a serious chat with men about breakups, except when writing a story.
I have yet to arrive at an acceptable reason why things turned out the way they did. Maybe there will never be a sufficient explanation, but I do know that my boy (space) friends’ words of wisdom served to complement and complete the emotional support system I badly needed.
My sadness was debilitating. I couldn’t do what usually came naturally to me, whether by virtue of inspiration or by looming deadline: write. It was much easier to lose myself in social media, a book, a movie binge or mindless text exchanges. I passed on assignments and cooped myself up inside my apartment.
I knew that the bigger reason behind this was that my ex-boyfriend was so involved in my writing. We would have long animated discussions and debates on various issues that ran from politics to sex. He was my work’s toughest critic and most enthusiastic supporter. He was what some writers like Stephen King called their “Ideal Reader,” the one person they imagine they are writing for and the one person they trust to read their “first final draft” (writers will understand the irony in that). He was also instrumental in encouraging me to make a career change from banker to writer and saw my evolution from sex columnist to hardcore journalist.
All of that took out the joy from writing. I was listless and couldn’t manage anything more than a templated news report.
“Hindi mo naman ito ginagawa para sa kanya, e. Hindi para sa kanya itong mga sinusulat mo, Ana.”
[You’re not doing this for him. What you write is not for him.] Raffy told me over dinner when I told him about my “writer’s block.”
I started to protest but Raffy firmly reminded me: “Pwede sa umpisa dahil sa kanya, pero at this stage, this can’t be just about him.” [Maybe in the beginning it was because of him, but at this stage, this can’t be just about him.]
Let me add a bit of context to that. Raffy and I were on assignment covering the impact of the drug war. We had spent the last couple of days with mothers, widows, and sisters who had lost loved ones. Two years on, there was so much sadness and grief. Hearing Raffy say that, at that precise moment, made me snap out of it and remember my WHY—why I do what I do and why it gave me so much purpose and fulfillment.
Heartache can make you lose sight of your WHY. You need to step back and pull out to the bigger picture. Regain your balance, reclaim your purpose, and get back to work.
“Darating din yung araw na mababaduyan ka sa sarili mo.” [There will come a time when you’ll find yourself corny.]
This made me laugh out loud despite myself. Dondi was right. The day would come that I would look back on all this and it wouldn’t hurt as much. I would probably cringe and laugh at my melodrama.
“I should pull an Adele or a Taylor and make a fortune from my breakup story,” I shot back.
Dondi agreed and commended my attempt to keep my chin up. He also said that till my best selling debut novel becomes a reality, “It’s ok to feel hurt. It’s ok to not heal for a while. There will come a time that you will move on but until that happens, it’s ok to be in the ‘then’ and ‘now.’”
Carlos who has graciously been standing in as my critic and first editor discouraged me from indulging in the feeling that I had lost The One and would not be able to find Another One.
“I don't think you had exactly the same type of guy in mind when you got into the relationship. We change, so our ideal partner changes, too. The One now was probably not The One 10 years ago,” he said.
It was a good reminder not to compare anybody new to the ex, but not lower my standards, either.
Dante also weighed in on The One. He identified with how when you’ve been in a relationship with someone for so long, the person becomes many things and all things to you. The loss of just one person leaves such a huge gaping void that is hard to fill.
“You can take steps to free yourself from the pain of thinking in terms of The One. Invest or re-invest in old friendships and relationships. You will need multiple people so that you have a fuller support system,” he said.
“It’s like having a diversified portfolio rather than constantly betting on the Lotto,” Dante offered, talking in a more lighthearted note. Then in his typical, stoic humor, he said, “Maybe it’s time to try girls. Who knows?”
I broke out of my melancholic reverie and I laughed. I haven’t gone there yet, but I promised Dante I would give it due consideration. New year, new playbook, afterall.
My closest guy friend, Dominic, offered the most insightful perspective particularly because he was friends with both me and the ex. He saw me at my most livid and gently insisted that I think of the happy years. And to be completely fair, there were many. Many more than the bad ones.
Dominic didn’t push me to view those joyful periods as a reason to get back together, but more so I could think of the relationship with less bitterness and regret.
“People make mistakes. Some are temporary, but unfortunate lapses in judgment. Overall, he was still a good person,” he never ceased to remind me, reining me in with much needed sobriety.
It is something I constantly think of when I find myself drudging through denial and anger and slowly chart my way to acceptance.
Lastly, my friend, Phelim, cautioned me about falling into the trap of “failure of imagination.”
He mentioned that during a totally unrelated conversation, but I thought it was an extremely useful nugget to hold on to.
When one dream dies, you simply dream another dream. Failure of imagination is the only thing that should stop me from dreaming and living another life, another version of the future—one that may be completely different from what I had previously imagined but nonetheless happy and fulfilled.
Ana P. Santos writes about sex and gender seriously. She is a Pulitzer Center grantee and the Pulitzer Center’s 2014 Persephone Miel fellow.