10 Things You'll Probably Do The First Year After A Long Term Relationship Ends.
In the last couple of months I have spent a great deal of time thinking about the past two years. There have been so many changes and I made the decision (sometimes it feels like a mistake) to write a new show about it all and take that show to the place where the story of the last two years began. The show is appropriately named 'Miserable' although it's predominantly a comedy. As I sit in my friend’s apartment here in Melbourne, a city I left behind chasing adventure and a healed heart, what seems like a decade ago, I realise that there have been so many things I learned as a dumpee that I’m grateful for. As I did in the past with my post about the things nobody tells you about break ups, I thought I would take a moment to list some of the things I’ve noticed that people will probably do in the first year after a long term relationship ends. So here goes.
1. You will make a lot of not so great life choices
Being dumped is hard, really hard; but then again so was being in a long term relationship. They’re not easy. Spending that much time with one person without wanting to kill them is tough. Unless you’re in a polyamorous or open relationship which I can’t say I’ve ever been lucky enough to try (I think I was almost in a thrupple once does that count?). With any kind of relationship there is always a constant pressure of multiple forces coming together and moving apart sometimes creating amazing harmony, like beer, pizza and a movie on the couch on a Friday night. Sometimes it causes friction like when you haven’t done christmas with your own family in almost a decade because his mother somehow manages to forget it’s not her turn and decided to buy you surprise tickets to come see them. Even though these multiple forces, egos and emotional states pull in all sorts of directions, you’re in the relationship bubble, you know how it works and how you should respond to things. Then suddenly the bubble is gone. You no longer have to take someone else into consideration. There’s nobody waiting for you at home who hasn’t seen you in a while because of both of your busy schedules. So then you don’t feel the guilt you normally would for staying for one last drink, in fact sometimes you feel entitled to that last drink. You are single now you have given up this for too long. One example of this that hopefully not too many people remember is a night I was performing cabaret in Melbourne. Well lets just say my aim that night was to see just how much gin I could fit inside myself. It was actually a lot. The Audience was then treated to one of the strangest covers of Crazy by Gnarles Barkley and then I continued to get black out drunk and ended falling asleep at Macdonald’s in a burger. I later fell out of a cab, and threw up several times in my neighbours front lawn. I woke up the next morning with the worst hangover of my entire life only to realise that no less than two weeks before moving permanently out of Australia, I had lost my wallet. Not the greatest of life choices.
Now you may be thinking to yourself that this can be excused because I was recently dumped and going through a tough time. That’s an excellent point anonymous gay person who manages to read articles that don’t have anything to do with Tom Daley without a shirt. Yes it is to be expected. Most of my friends in Melbourne will tell you that this particular evening would be unusual for me. Flash forward almost 2 years later and if you told my Icelandic friends this story they would say, “that’s so Jono!”
Excuses are a gateway drug and sometimes we are so deep in our own hurt we believe our own bullshit because we experienced pain. The lesson here is that the pain you’re dealing with is one that people have and do get through, it’s a break up, not bone cancer. Making stupid life choices after being dumped is normal, but In my opinion the breakup excuse has a shelf life of about 6 months…. oh and just throwing it in there, unless you really have killed people in prison, I wouldn’t get a teardrop tattoo on your face.
2. You will probably catch something
If you don’t that’s great, good for you. But if you do, also good on you, because it means you’re having sex. It’s a pretty clear numbers game. The more sex you have the higher your risk is of contracting a sexually transmitted infection. Safe sex practices are exactly that, a practice. It’s never going to be perfect every time but if you end up picking something up it is not a big deal and there is nothing unclean about you and if someone is going to make you feel that way, then they don’t deserve to have a slice of the delicious cake that is you. I wouldn’t say that I have had sex with a large number of people in the last year (well not a lot of good sex) but I’ve still had three HIV related incidents, got scabies, and even crabs. That was an awkward conversation, because the doctor examining me had heard about my comedy, which isn’t hard being the only gay comedian in Iceland. When I told him I had crabs, he said, “oh, that’s old fashioned.” The reason he said this is because crabs are kinda dying out. My pubic trojan soldiers were sort of an endangered species. Get out there, have fun, play safe and if something happens, be a grown up dammit, get checked and get on with your life.
3. You Will Gain Weight
I worked for quite a while in the medical industry and one thing I remember very clearly from being bored at the end of the day, waiting for doctors to finish was side effects. I would open the drug samples and read all of the side effects. I really loved reading the anti-anxiety and antidepressants side effects because they were out of this world.
“Side effects may be; depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts.”
Having been on them at several points in my life and also being the dark, cynical human being I am I would just read it and chuckle. Not at the people who need to be using the medications, just at the absurdity that the medication someone is taking to treat something may cause the thing their trying to treat as a side effect.
There was one side effect in all the antidepressant brochures that was always a mystery to me. “Some patients may experience dramatic weight loss.”
The reason this was a mystery is because I never saw it happen. In fact, the day a patient was first prescribed them they always had this gaunt look like they had not eaten in a week and gradually over the course of their treatment they would look healthier and then eventually the weight gain would begin. I remember one day mentioning it to one of the doctors who chuckled as he said, “Nobody ever loses weight on antidepressants.” In my experience, the same can be said for that first year out.
Perhaps you were blessed in the genetic lottery, perhaps you have not yet hit your 30’s (where second puberty demands that fat stays and hair grows in places you never thought it could). If you happen to be one of those lucky people, go fuck yourself, I mean good for you. My journey of self neglect, excessive drinking, a lack of a will to exercise and a terrible diet did different things for me. The trick to beating it is to realise it’s happening and deal with it accordingly. At the end of the day you may end up unhappy with how you look and there is only one person who can change that.
4. Sometimes you actually have to become a whole new person.
One of the largest struggles I had as a newly single person was that I had no idea who I was. My ex and I got together when I was barely an adult, and then departed when I had almost entered my 30’s. I had literally never had to ‘adult’ alone before and it raised all sorts of questions. The main reason for this was the incredibly codependent nature I had within the relationship. Over time, without even realising it, I had moulded myself into an idea of what I thought my partner wanted me to be. From the kind of literature I read, to the way I looked. At the age of 30 I had never grown a beard, because he didn’t like the way the stubble felt against his skin. He never demanded any of these things from me, I just gave it all so willingly because I had such little self worth when we met that on a subconscious level, this was the way to keep him. When the relationship ended, so much of my identity was built on being part of a couple that I had no idea how to function. It was as if I didn’t know who I was anymore. It’s important in any relationship that we maintain a sense of self and without it I don’t believe a relationship can truly thrive in a healthy way. If at the end of the relationship you find yourself if a similar situation, it’s not something to stress about. Imagine it as a chance to get a new start. Discovering who I am as a single person has probably been just as rewarding as being in a relationship, if not more. Enjoy the journey.
5. The year of firsts lasts longer than a year.
One of the big things I focused on in that first year was getting through the firsts. The first birthday, christmas, valentines day. The first time you experience what was once your anniversary, the firsts eventually come to an end and you feel a sigh of relief that you got through them, but unfortunately they don’t just end there. There’s the first time you have an injury and they’re not there to help you. The first time you. The first time you have to deal with a family drama or tragedy. There are so many firsts that will not happen in the first year. Putting a timeline or setting a goal to get to can be helpful but it doesn’t mean it will all be over when you get there. I don’t know how many times in almost two years that I have honestly thought I was done with the occasional twinge of memory that brings a pinch of sadness. There was actually a period where I was constantly having the same dream. In the dream I was back in the first couple of days of the break up and trying desperately to fix things, while knowing it wasn’t going to end well. I would wake up and immediately say to myself, “goddammit, I thought I was over this.” Eventually it stopped and I was once again filled with a feeling of satisfaction that I had fought grief and won. Then out of the blue I would see a commercial where someone is being loving, or watch a youtube video about a flash mob marriage proposal, or even meet someone who had a similar nose to my ex and I would be back at square one again. The point I have learned in this is that you really have no control over when these moments will stop and I’ve actually come to enjoy them. The fact that occasionally a perfume someone is wearing reminds me of my previous relationship means that I still have those memories. The fact that it’s able to make me have a twinge of longing means that those memories were good ones. Honestly I have no desire to rekindle the relationship I once had, but we were together a long time and I’m still on the journey of operating alone. On that journey I will have moments where I wish I still had that life because it probably felt a bit easier. Don’t hate the feelings, just acknowledge them and know that there’s no timeline for them.
6. You will realise how patronising you were to your single friends before.
I was that coupled person who loved helping my single friends. Sure I’ll be your wingman. Of course you can stay on my couch while you sort things out with your failing relationship. Oh honey, let me get you a glass of wine and you can tell me your problems. Then when you’re finished, I’ll give you some advice and relate it to myself and my ‘not currently failing’ relationship. Then I’ll tuck you into bed I will then walk down the hall to my big married person bed. I will then spoon my husband and whisper to him how I’m so glad we’re not like you and that we have each other. It wasn’t until I went through my own break up that I realised just how smug I was. When I became that person being tucked in on the couch after receiving advice that wasn’t actually related to me I had what Oprah calls an ‘ah-ha moment.’ People in relationships can be smug, but so can everyone - especially pregnant women, but that’s a different story. I can’t promise that the next time I am in a relationship I won’t revert back to that smug state because the relationship bubble can be a very powerful thing, but I at least am aware of it and to those people I gave smug advice to I’m sorry.
7. You have to accept that even the strongest of relationships can become a Gotye song.
The Belgian-Australian singer songwriter hit the nail on the head. Even though the two of you may want to remain friends and have a relationship post break up, there’s always the possibility that they will become ‘somebody that you used to know.’ Time and distance are big factors of change when it comes to most things. You will grow and change and so will they, and just like regular friendships, the changes and growth can force you further apart. The bottom line is, just like romantic relationships, if you want to keep them, you have to work on them.
8. You will date someone you shouldn’t for a really shitty reason.
This is dangerous territory for me to write about because instantly every man I have dated since the relationship ended will think I’m talking about him. So if you’re are one of these men, don’t worry, I’m not talking about you. (phew, dodged a bullet there). Pat Benatar was right, love is a battlefield. When you live in Iceland and you’re a gay man, it’s actually more like the hunger games because there’s only ten of us and we have to fight to the death to get a date. Dating isn’t easy in general, dating when you're not ready to is a bad idea, but the real conundrum is how do you know when you’re ready? My answer is that you probably won’t. You won’t know really until you try it but when you do, you need to be honest with yourself. I’ve dated people for all the wrong reasons. I was lonely; they were into me and I didn’t see anyone else showing interest; I just wanted someone to spoon; I thought it was time; a friend told me they saw my ex on a date so I instantly thought I should be too. These experiences weren’t the worst in the world but I learned a few things from them. You have to love yourself before you can give it to someone else; continuing to date someone you’re not into is cruel; and being attached to someone is neither going to define you, or fill any void you have. It sounds depressing but recently I told a friend that if I never have another long term relationship again I think I would be ok with it. If I was told today that you only get one, and that I already had mine, I would say, ‘that’s fine.’ It’s fine because after making the mistakes of dating for the wrong reasons I’ve been working on liking myself. Loving myself, that will come, but I like myself now more than I ever have, and that’s all I need. In the words of Rupaul, “if you can’t love yourself, how the hell are you gonna love somebody else.”
9. You don’t have to say goodbye.
Nobody can ever take away your memories. What you had together belongs to you both and always will. You may have said goodbye to each other but the period of life you spent together will always be there. It helped form you as people and you can’t say goodbye to a memory.
10. Go live your life dammit.
I spent so much time dwelling on the pain I felt and how it ended that I forgot how to enjoy things. It wasn’t until a great friend sat me down and told me that they thought I was enjoying the pain too much that I realised that moving on is an active process. Yes things take time and you won’t feel amazing immediately but you also have to put in some effort. The first step is to remind yourself that this is the reality and you have to make the most of things on your own. Then the rest is a chose your own adventure which is so much cooler than wallowing in bed about how sad you are.
Not everyone will do all of the things I’ve listed here, and there’s no handbook to teach the perfect way to handle a break up, but there is one universal truth I’ve learned in all of this. There’s only one person who can actively help healing and make the most of your life… You! So go find a way to have fun, learn to love yourself and know that every day is a gift, even if you’re alone and don’t particularly feel like life is wonderful.
If you are in Melbourne and would like to see my show Miserable, you can get tickets here.