My Sweetie and I broke up Thursday night.
Like so many moments and aspects of our relationship, the breakup was another first. It was the sweetest, most mutual ending I’ve been through. I had the courage and integrity to set a new, important boundary. He had the courage and integrity to say he couldn’t do it. There was no yelling, hysterical crying, blame, manipulation, or hatred. He didn’t ghost me, or dump me suddenly out of the blue. This was a choice point building for a long time, and when we finally arrived, we just couldn’t grow past it together.
I’m feeling a lot of things: grief, relief, pride, disorientation, fear, gratitude, anger, hope. But I’m not doubting this decision. Months ago, I noticed myself starting to do little behaviors in this direction. I think it began with inviting a new fuzzy to come live with me last March. It showed up in increasingly assertive conversations I was having with Josh. It showed up in tickets to local events, as venues opened up after COVID, which I purchased without knowing who I’d invite. It showed up in me deciding not to include Josh as an emergency contact on my new car paperwork.
I saw what I was doing, and yet I held it with curiosity instead of fear, guilt or denial. I was able to sit with the ambiguity instead of succumbing to an urge to DO SOMETHING to resolve it and ease the tension.
In fact, my seeing in general has been so much clearer with Josh, from the beginning. I allowed myself to see the red and yellow flags. That’s new. I made conscious decisions to trust and take risks — instead of putting myself in risky situations unconsciously, out of fear, overwhelming need, or a faulty danger-detection-system. That’s all new. I acknowledged the possibility I might get hurt or regret taking those risks. I was willing to take responsibility for the consequences. I was willing, and finally able, to be an adult.
So many firsts. By any measure, this is the longest relationship I’ve had in two decades. This is also the first relationship I’ve ended in 19 years — since my marriage. I don’t count the ending with Alex (AKA Psychoman), 16 years ago when I discovered he was a deeply mentally ill pathological liar (because, breakup, duh!). Maybe I’m getting better at picking men, becoming more honest about what I really need, and gaining strength to make an exit when it’s time.
Actually, that’s a YES, not a “maybe” to what I’m getting better at. My sister is right — the quality of the men I’ve chosen has gotten progressively, linearly, better over the years. My “picker” — damaged by early childhood and other relationship trauma — is slowly healing. My danger-detection-system, damaged in the same way, is also being repaired.
But it’s been a long fucking road. To be fair to Josh, I wasn’t much more evolved than he is when I was his age. In fact, in some ways he’s healthier than I was back then. At 32, I’d just abandoned my miserable, toxic marriage. While the decision was absolutely best for all involved, I never properly grieved that deep loss. I moved to New Mexico, threw myself into grad school, and engaged in a series of relationships and behaviors from which it took a long time to recover.
But damn, have I grown. Lately, I’ve been recalling another breakup before my marriage, half my life ago at 26. My live-in boyfriend of 2 ½ years, for whom I had moved 400 miles and changed jobs, cheated on me in a particularly gross and unforgiveable way. The revelation and my subsequent ejection of him from our home and my life were big and intense. I remember the grief felt like a clawing, seething, gooey-black frantic monster in my body, trying to tear its way out of my chest and eat me alive. It terrified me — I couldn’t hold it, I couldn’t contain it, I couldn’t allow it to fully speak. I thought I’d die.
Because of all the personal work I’ve been doing — therapy, workshops, rich friendships, and especially the last 2 ½ years of trauma-and somatic-healing, I can now hold it all. I have a “me” that’s bigger than the pain. I have a relationship with all the Parts in me that vie for my attention and care. I have a connection with Spirit that provides a foundation, and a still, small voice that nudges and reassures me. I now know that voice is one of my best friends, and I know what happens when I don’t listen and heed.
In other words, I now have a relationship with my Self. I’ve healed the trust I’ve broken with her over the years. She now knows that if anyone — even, and especially the people closest to me — hurts me too much or too often, I will keep her safe. That’s my job. I’m 51, and I’m finally a grown up.
One way I hope to continue being a grown up is to attempt a graceful transition with Josh, and explore what a new relationship might look like. Not a fucked-up entanglement like he has with his other ex (one of the main catalysts for our breakup) — I’m certainly not going to engage in the very behaviors I found unacceptable between the two of them. But maybe we can create something that retains the connection and sweetness, at an appropriate and respectful distance, leaving space for other loves to grow, and other people to take up space. I don’t know. Like so many other things with Josh, I’ve never done this before.
Holy shit, I’ve learned so much. I learned that gifts can appear unexpectedly from nowhere, at any time. I learned it doesn’t really take a lot to make me happy. I learned that a man can respond to (most of) my requests with openness and generosity. I learned that I can be met by other people. I learned I actually do crave, and respond positively to, feedback from my partner. I learned a whole new level of how to co-create safety and solve problems directly and collaboratively.
I learned that I’m incredibly patient, and that I can discern when I’m done being generous. I learned that I know when it’s time to say yes and time to say no, and that I can tolerate waiting until I’m sure. I learned that I can be with what is without getting too caught up in what will be. I learned that I do know the truth, and that’s enough, regardless of what anyone else thinks or says. I’ve learned that people truly can change and grow. I’ve learned how powerfully healthy relationships, and art, heal and save people’s lives.
Josh taught me all that. Josh made it all worth it. He was absolutely worth one of my remaining heartaches.
I’ve also learned (again) that the body always knows. A week ago Saturday night, Josh and I had a conversation that was the beginning of the end. As I processed that likelihood on Sunday, I was surprised by how OK I was, despite the tears. Starting on Monday, I proceeded to experience the most energized, connected, fulfilling week at work in a long time, delighting in my clients and the way I was able to show up for them. All week, I did healthy behaviors and had good boundaries with myself around my routine, eating, bedtime, etc. — effortlessly, in a way I haven’t in many months. I felt purposeful, connected, and relaxed. I felt lighter. The chronic exhaustion faded.
I realized that the exhaustion, frustration, and intense stress over the past few months wasn’t just coming from work and a suddenly hectic schedule — it was also coming from our relationship. This week, my body told me that I’d been carrying a burden even greater than I knew. No matter what I did to try to set it down or shift it more equally to Josh’s shoulders, it still ended up on my back and weighed me down. For all its sweetness, affection, and connection, ultimately our relationship was taking more out of me than it was giving.
Life was telling me that I’m now needed in the World in a new way — to serve and show up for my changemaking clients, friends and family. Life was telling me that service through this work also brings me joy, satisfaction, and support — sometimes even more than my relationship. To serve in this way, I need to be resourced. I need sufficient support. I need sufficient order. Supporting Josh and our relationship so heavily was draining me and getting in the way. I was being flexible and generous in a way that was no longer serving me.
The tragedy of relationships is that sometimes people can desperately want to, but they just can’t. I need a partner I don’t have to teach how to love me. I need a man who is capable of carrying himself, clear about his worth and his goals, and fully committed to me and our relationship. Integrity is a must-have, but it goes beyond verbal honesty — integrity also requires being honest with ourselves, and doing behaviors that align with our words and intentions. We can be mad at the truth, but we ignore it at our peril.
Also, people change. Needs change. Circumstances change. Some truths change. The question is — how can (and do) we respond when everything is an open question?
No matter what, I will always be grateful to Josh. It’s not hyperbole to say I don’t know how I would have fared during the height of COVID without his presence — physically and emotionally. I haven’t had that much fun with a partner in decades. I haven’t felt that safe with my partner in years, probably since high school. I haven’t been this capable of enough trust to express anger. I haven’t been this equipped to have immediate, appropriate emotional responses without losing my skills, compassion or curiosity. I haven’t been this clear about my needs and this able to communicate them. I haven’t been this willing to be messy or imperfect.
I experienced many, many moments of Josh’s incredible kindness, generosity, honesty, insight and support over the last 2-ish years, some of which I’ve shared here. Our trip to Maui was one of the highlights of my entire life. He is a good man. He is brilliant, beautiful, and worthy. He’s just not good enough as a partner for me right now.
I have no idea what’s next — with anything. But for the first time, I can be grateful and enjoy the memories while also being clear this phase is over, and this is right. Another first.
Don’t let this post fool you. These elevated reflections are written through weeping and the occasional sob fest, where I cry “Joshi come baaaack!” through snot and tears.
But this grief is not a monster. This time, it will not consume me.