Breaking Up

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“Well, the break up takes place in parts. The brain, the heart, the body, mutual things, shared things. The mind leaves but the heart is still there. The heart has left but the body wants to stay. The body leaves but the things are still at the apartment. You must come back. You move everything out of the apartment. You must come back. You move everything out of the apartment but the mind stays behind. Memory lingers in the place. Seven years later, perhaps seven years later, it doesn’t matter anymore. Perhaps it takes longer. Perhaps it never ends.”

 – Paula from Fefu and her Friends by Maria Irene Fornes

 One of the most interesting plays I ever performed in was Fefu and her Friends. It’s a feminist play that’s pretty prickly around the edges. The characters (all female) muse on different topics: relationships, evil, genitals, charity skits, etc. I found it confusing, yet exhilarating at the same time, with poetic passages that have stuck with me long after the performance.

The quote above is given by the character, Paula, speaking of human connections and the process of breaking up. It’s a convoluted monologue, but the statements resonate. I’ve never had a clean break up—the separation occurs in stages, often erratically, with one part of the psyche alternately hanging on, and then letting go when another part kicks in.

Interpreted one way, the passage sounds bleak. Perhaps it takes longer. Perhaps it never ends. A never-ending break up? Ridiculous. And, if possible, horribly tragic. Surely, though, marriage is the cure, right? Find the one true love you’re destined to be with and everything works out. You leave all the past in the past and proceed into a glorious future.

As a five-month veteran of marriage, I hardly qualify as an expert. While human, my husband is a good man and challenges me to be better woman. However, one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that the past isn’t just memory—it’s the motion that carves you. The water that beats on you and smoothes you into a unique form. My marriage is molding me into a more complete and understanding person, but it’s only building upon what was started years ago with other individuals. My past relationships broadened my mind and stretched my capacity.

And maybe they still linger. Some remnants, at least. One helped me understand my personality better, and why I interacted with others a certain way. Another challenged my opinions, but taught me to defend them better at the same time. One in particular didn’t ask much—only that I join him in Doctor Who marathons. Different people who were there for me at the proper time, but then left when I no longer needed them.

Honestly, I’d rather take the messiness, the gradual separations and heartaches that follow than to opt for clean slates and no lessons learned. A garden metaphor comes to mind. You have to put up with a lot of crap in order to cultivate a fertile plot. One that’s primed for the right relationship at the right time. And even if that relationship is still waiting, at least your garden is better for the fertilizer.

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How have past relationships enriched your life? Do you find yourself still working through a break up long after the fact? What crap has fertilized your garden?

6 thoughts on “Breaking Up

  1. First of all, the phrase “what crap has fertilized your garden?” is so. perfect.

    I loved this post because breakups have definitely shaped who I am and the type of person I chose to marry in the end. There was a phase in college where I was going from relationship to relationship and I had several breakups in a row. Some of them were actually devastating because of what I had lost, and others were devastating because I felt rejected. However, from each one, I learned very specific qualities that I needed in a relationship, and when I did find my husband, he possessed each of these qualities (and a few more bonus ones as well). I think perhaps because of those experiences and all that I learned, I have lost most of the residual anger at the boys that I cared about before I met the man who became my husband. I doubt I will see any of them again, but if I do, I think I will want to shake their hands and thank them for helping me learn what I really needed. I hope I helped them learn something too, and that they found women who make them happy.

  2. Interesting post! I think about this idea sometimes. I have been married for almost 6 years, but I still see and feel many ways that past relationships have shaped me. There are individuals who, while I have no current romantic feelings for and am quite happy I did not marry, hold a place in my heart that allows me to think back fondly and wish them well. Unfortunately, I think of the memories of one particularly bad relationship as daemons that I have to fight off. I don’t like the negative feelings those memories bring, and the relationship ended 8 years ago. That bad relationship, however, taught me a lot about who I was, who I wanted to become, and what I wanted in a marriage. My husband is in many important ways the antithesis of that ex-boyfriend. I think I could have still met and fell in love with my husband without having had that bad relationship, but I suppose the bad helps me better recognize and appreciate the good.

  3. Katie R, I could have written that exact same story, except not quite so well :) That’s exactly how I feel.

  4. I was 30 before I felt like I finally left my pre-marriage baggage (including an ex-fiance who really did a number on me) behind and moved on. We had been married 6 years. We are going on 15 years this year and it is better than ever. I now understand the need for those experiences and appreciate the growth they gave me. But it was very, very difficult to be healthy and normal and make my relationship the same.

  5. I’ve been married 36 years and appreciate all my premarital exes, many of whom are still friends. But I do regret breaking up with that one — and that one still haunts me.

  6. Lorren–Thanks for sharing your experience from college. I feel like a went through similar process as well and hope that the boys (men, in some instances) I dated feel I helped them as much as they helped me.

    Katie R–I’m glad your husband is an antithesis to that bad relationship. It hurts sometimes to think back on how other people that we once held dear may have used or manipulated us (at least, that’s how I feel). I hope you continue to heal from that.

    Science Teacher Mommy–I’m glad you were finally able to find peace. It’s nice to know that it’s possible to eventually move on past the emotional baggage.

    Sorry it’s taken me a while to respond, but I’m glad you felt inclined to comment. Just like you all, I feel like I’m still a work in progress and I’m glad for others being willing to share their own experiences to help give credibility to my own.

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