Why Does My Breakup Hurt So Long After It Actually Happened?

I’ve always had delayed reactions to things. When my grandfather died, I thought I was dealing okay until it hit me full-force a short while later, forcing me to grieve. I had the same experience with a breakup. I’d left the guy, so I thought I’d forget about him in no time, and I did… until the sweatshirt appeared in my closet.

Small things triggered the biggest memories. I was cleaning out my closet when I found his old sweatshirt, the one I used to wear when it was cold. I loved it because it smelled like him: comforting and sexy. It triggered a waterfall of memories: the time we went on holiday, how much fun we used to have, how lying in his arms had made me feel so safe. Ugh.

There’s no such thing as an easy breakup. When I broke up with the guy because I just wasn’t happy even though he was a good person, my friend had said to me, “There’s no such thing as an easy breakup — ever.” Months later, when I was crying in front of my closet at the memories flooding me, I realized he’d been right. I’d been arrogant, thinking I could just walk away when things were still so unresolved in my heart.

It had been the first time I’d dumped someone. Before this specific ex, I’d always been the one to get dumped. I thought that taking a stand and getting out of a relationship that wasn’t making me happy would mean that it would be easier to deal with the breakup. I’d be empowered by that choice. Well, I thought so for a few months, until I realized that underneath the backlash of memories was the feeling that I’d made a mistake.

I was filled with self-doubt. I made myself so stressed out feeling crappy without the guy. Had I made a mistake to leave him? What if things would have got better? What if I had missed out on a chance to be really happy? It was hell and these doubts made me hurt — badly. Suddenly, all the times I’d felt that he wasn’t really right for me didn’t feel like a good enough reason to leave.

I had escaped, but I couldn’t run forever. After the breakup which I’d felt so sure about initiating, I’d escaped from my feelings. I’d jumped into a fling with another man, which was just what I felt I needed to forget all that had happened. The problem is that when that ended about a month afterward, I was left alone with my thoughts and they would not be silenced. The holiday was over and I had to deal with my emotions.

“Back to normal” is when things really hurt. They say that the worst part of grieving someone’s death is after their funeral when life goes back to normal. This could refer to breakups, too. Trying to get back to normal revealed to me the spaces that my ex used to occupy in my life but didn’t anymore. I know I was probably viewing my relationship with rose-tinted glasses, but I couldn’t help it. I missed him.

I needed closure. I thought that since I’d been the one to initiate the breakup, I didn’t need closure, but I was wrong. I was clearly still riddled with doubts about my decision and the relationship, and I needed to get closure. But how? The last thing I wanted was to deal with my ex again. So I needed to give myself closure. I had to spend time remembering what had gone wrong and how I had felt in the relationship — bored, unhappy, unsatisfied. I had to remember the bad times to keep moving forward with my life.

I could still love him, but I had to move on. I realized I still loved the guy, but instead of pushing those feelings away (I’d done way too much of that for my own good since the breakup), I had to accept them as part of me. We had had good times and I would cherish those, but I couldn’t allow my love for him to hold me back. The breakup had happened, I had wanted it, and time wouldn’t change what had been wrong with our relationship.

Science gave me some answers. What made some people battle to move on after a breakup? A Stanford study gave me some answers. It found that people who believed the end of a relationship was a reflection of who they were as people were more likely to suppress the memory of it instead of viewing it as a learning experience. I believed I was wrong to break up with my ex and I was blaming myself! I was making myself out to be a bad person.

Hello, self-worth, nice to meet you. I doubted myself a lot during the relationship. It took me weeks to finally pluck up the courage to follow the feeling I had to break up with my ex. I was afraid to take a stand in my life and pursue my own happiness. Eventually, when I did, I thought I was sure of my decision but it turns out I wasn’t because the breakup haunted me for a while. I was still doubting myself. It’s like I didn’t think I had a right to make a decision and follow through with it, my low self-esteem bringing me back down to earth. Screw that. I had to trust that I’d done the right thing for myself!

Now it was really time to move on. I started writing down my feelings and after a while, I realized that being unhappy with someone, for whatever reason, was a good enough reason to walk away from the relationship. Instead of feeling I’d made a mistake, I should have been proud of what I’d done. I had valued myself enough to leave. It was a new feeling for me, but hopefully the start of greater self-worth in the future. The more I loved myself and focused on my future happiness which I deserved, the more I realized I was leaving my ex and all the hurt associated with him in the dust — this time for good.

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