When your Knight in Shining Armor Ends up Being a Jackass
Let’s say that your knight in shining armor ends up being a jackass in the end. Or let’s say that the unspoken in your relationship ends up being the very thing that consumes it. Your world changes completely. Suddenly. Irreversibly. What’s in store for you? How do you pick up the pieces and move forward when everything feels like winning last place? How do you find yourself again, let alone find the zest and zeal for life that you once had?
I don’t have it figured out, but I do have some perspective. When my long-term relationship fell apart, I saw what happened as a profound personal failure, so I invested in the only thing I wanted: improvement. I decided to become a better person.
In the beginning, I healed from shock. Martha Beck writes, ask yourself if you feel clear and strong or despairing and frail. If the latter, you’ve been the recipient of pure meanness. Breakups are painful but they don’t have to leave you feeling broken. If they do, someone has shoved the blame onto you in a horrible way, which makes you feel insubstantial, ugly, useless, unattractive, confused, lost. You name it, I felt it. I had some major self lovin’ to do.
Self love looks like creating space immediately between said jerk and you. It looks like clear boundary setting and doing that which makes you feel safe and secure. Good food, long baths, plenty of sleep. A good haircut. Books. Sobbing while belting out tunes at the piano. Planting a ton of daffodils. Watching Mary Poppins on repeat. It looks however it looks for YOU. Listen to yourself here.
Then, I asked myself "what do I want to do?" Ignoring all revenge fantasies (mantra: only do what makes YOU feel grounded and loved), the only thing I knew was that I wanted to go home to family. That was it.
So, I let my life fall apart, and this is a big step in midlife transitions. You have to let it happen. It’s not your job to hold it together. Routines and friends must change. Houses must be sold. You need to let it crumble while soothing yourself with more self love. Or cookie dough, wine, oreos, & pringles. Or trail running and weight lifting. Perhaps, 3-hour cardio sessions.
I made sure I felt cared for as I split the assets, divvied up kitchen gadgets, separated sheets and sold garden tools. I sold the house, split the profits, hosted garage sales, quit the job, and moved. That old life no longer served me, and it hurt while it fell apart. Your job is to gracefully let it go, or at least do it with a modicum of grace.
Once the explosion of life changes slowed, I found myself back at home at age 45. My primary focus was to spend quality time with people I love. I cut out all dramatic or highly anxious people, bitter or angry people. I invested more time in friends who made me laugh. I began to volunteer more, especially as I realized that the job industry had changed and that I needed new job skills.
For a long while, I didn’t know what to do next. I had no plan. My old life was gone, but nothing about the future seemed exciting. This was yet another hard stage. “Where are you heading?” I thought while feeling depressed, scared and unmoored. I could barely remember what I enjoyed. People asked me about my future plans, and I had none.
If you're in this stage, it will just suck for a while. It’s ok. It won’t last. But, the longer the original relationship lasted, the longer this phase will last. It felt like an eternity to me.
Then, I started investing in myself. I went to the personal development section of the book store, and read books with titles like “You are a Badass.” Awesome book. I gained new perspectives. I looked into spiritual development. I learned about attachment styles. Therapy. Meditation. Prayer. Chi gong. Yoga. Anything that felt good and centering. I journaled. I learned to question my thoughts. Byron Katie. Eckhart Tolle. Pema Chodron. Martha Beck. Dali Llama. Add your favorites to the list. Use the tools they offer us. Study yourself.
After awhile, I started doing more new things. I faked it at first, actually. Just in the last year I’ve explored style school, dance classes, dog training, job placement classes (ugh), herbal medicine, coaching, hospice and refugee volunteering, model train set building, coding classes, sacred journaling classes, painting, and lots more. I explored and am still exploring. I looked for new community. Traveled.
If you're in this phase, find your gutsy girl, and be brave. Remember what it felt like to be in your 20s and the world was ahead of you and you were excited about what could be? Find that place. Ignore jokes about all your experimentation. WHO CARES if you never use the skills again. When life is changing, you need input in order to discover what direction is next. Nothing clarifies your next move like action.
Eventually, you’ll find your self confidence again. Your sass will sneak back in when you least expect it. You’ll start negotiating the new you, the better you, the wiser, smarter, stronger you that demands better.
You’ll become a clearer person. A better person. A bigger person.
Your story will subtly change.
You’ll no longer think of yourself as a victim.
You’ll begin to talk about what you loved in that last relationship as well as what you learned from the experience. And that’s good because your next partner deserves a healthy you.
And then one day, maybe years in the future, you’ll find yourself sitting on a sand dune high in the Rocky Mountains. You’ll miss your ex intensely as you reach the summit of a giant sand dune, remembering his habit of waiting for you just below every summit so that you could walk the final steps together and see the view at the same time. It was a thoughtful gesture he maintained throughout your 19 years together, and the memory of it will catch in your throat like a stone. The loneliness will ring long and loud like a gong. And then you’ll sit on that ridge, feeling grateful for him, for the love you experienced, for kindnesses big and small, and you’ll know, deep in your bones, the way you KNOW how love feels, the way you KNOW how the sun will rise in the east, that you have been given insight, strength and wisdom. You’ll marvel at how much you’ve changed in 2 years. And you’ll think, “I still don’t know where this is headed, but I am grateful that I’m no longer where I was. I am better.”