I thought I’d found him. “The one.” My person.
Our lives together unrolled like a red carpet in front of us. It took no imagination to picture our future—the look on his face as I walked toward him down the aisle, curled up on the couch with a glass of wine after putting the kids to bed, observing the life we’ve created together through eyes now blurred and wrinkled with age. He fit me, and I fit him, and I was sure in the deepest part of myself that we’d be together forever.
So you can imagine how I felt about breaking up.
I sat in the car for as long as I could staring down at my hands. It was over, a fact that seemed to defy nature in every way. This wasn’t supposed to happen—not today, not ever. But there we were, broken up, suspended in the moment as long as we were both still in the car. As soon as I got out, the moment would be over, shoving us into a reality I never ever wanted.
I stood rooted on the sidewalk for what felt like forever, watching his car through a kaleidoscope of tears. It got smaller, and smaller still, and then it disappeared for good. Life as I knew it, as I always pictured it would be, was over.
At the time, if you had told me someday I would be “grateful” for this moment, I would have punched you in the face. Nothing could have seemed more blasphemous to me in that moment. I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning, let alone consider that someday I’d look back on this time with great affection.
I’m so glad I was wrong.
From where I sit today, a lot has changed. But one of the biggest things that has changed is this: I’m grateful for the blow my heart sustained that year. I’m grateful for the time it took to get over it—to heal, and to feel like myself again—because in the process of healing, I did some growing and becoming too.
Without that breakup, I don’t know who I would be.
I get it. In the first moments following a breakup, hearing, “this could be a good thing!” is not what you want to hear. Far from it. But after several long cries, and a marathon (or six) of Netflix, it becomes less insultingly insensitive, and more something we actually hope for. We hope maybe, just maybe, it might be true.
Here are four ways to make the most of a bad breakup:
1. Reinvent Yourself
On the back end of a relationship, it’s hard to know who we are without the other half to our whole. What kind of music do I like? What do I do on weekends? What do I want to do with my life, again?
Now is a perfect time to ask and answer those questions all over again. Our hearts are at their most tender when they’ve just been broken, giving us the openness to consider being, receiving and trying things we never would have considered before.
While a breakup is certainly an end, it’s also a blank canvas on which to paint a new beginning.
2. Deal With Your Junk
Nothing brings out the ugliest parts of us faster than a breakup. In the midst of breakups we find ourselves doing things our normal, saner selves would never even consider. We find anger, insecurity and wounds we didn’t realize we had. When the water is stirred, all kinds of junk comes up to the surface.
The good news is, this is a perfect time to deal with the things we see rise to the surface.
You may feel like the worst possible version of yourself as you do this—nose to nose with issues you didn’t realize were there. But if you work through them now, you can walk out of this breakup better and healthier than you’ve ever been.
3. Forge a New Path
What’s that thing you’ve always wanted to do? What’s the thing you think about when you’re falling asleep at night, the thing you find yourself absentmindedly Googling when you’re bored at your desk?
Maybe it’s a trip you’ve wanted to take or a job you’ve wanted to apply for, or a city you’ve wanted to move to. Many of us have these lives we dream about in our minds, but keep shoved behind fear, or responsibility, or the things that tie us in place.
The beauty of a breakup is that those cords have been cut. Not only do you suddenly have the freedom and autonomy to jet off to Paris for a month, but heartbreak often comes with a side of courage and recklessness. Why not use it to your advantage?
Use that reckless courage you have swirling inside of you, not to get a tattoo you’ll come to regret, but to do the thing you’ve always dreamed of. There’s less holding you back now than there was before, this is your chance. This is your time. Go for it.
4. Outgrow Loneliness
The truth is that relationships take up a lot of our time. And while a sudden return to a wide-open schedule can be one of the hardest parts about a breakup, it also provides an opportunity you didn’t have before.
Use the time you would have spent with your significant other to invest in your friendships, your family and your relationship with God. Doing so will not only be comforting, but you’ll find connection that exists outside of your relationship status, helping you feel fulfilled—with or without a significant other.
Breakups are a special, brutal brand of pain, and I’m convinced there’s nothing in the world like them. No matter the circumstance, no matter the duration of the relationship, it’s OK, and good and necessary to grieve this loss. But, from experience, I can tell you that you’ll get through this, and with some intentional decision-making, you can come out on the other side better than you were before.
It’s not about getting over this breakup so you can get into a better relationship. It’s about using this brokenness as a catalyst to become the kind of person you’ve always wanted to be—with or without a significant other.
Stephanie May Wilson is equal parts writer and celebrator who believes that even Tuesday is worthy of a champagne toast. She believes in the healing power of a warm cup of coffee and a place to let your guard down. For her, that space is StephanieMayWilson.com, where she shares stories of big adventures and small moments with friends and strangers alike. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter (@smaywilson)