How a Breakup Taught Me to Relax and Be Myself


“Never apologize for showing feeling. When you do so, you apologize for the truth.”

– Benjamin Disraeli

Someone I love broke up with me in December of last year. By March, I thought I would be over it, or at least feel okay. I wasn’t, and I didn’t.

I had tried to be friends with him. I had tried to not be friends with him.

I cried a lot either way.

I’ve been through breakups before.

But I had always been the initiator, or the guy was such a dick in the relationship or when breaking up with me (or both) that I disliked him enough to never speak to him again and be fine with that.

This was different.

I wasn’t ready.

There were significant problems. Neither of us was truly happy with the other.

But . . . he was my friend, and I felt safe with him. There was no malice; we didn’t play games with each other’s feelings. We talked almost every day on the phone.

When we first broke up, I spent an embarrassing amount of time reading Internet articles about how to get your ex back.

Most of them say not to talk to him (implementing no contact, stat). They say to focus on yourself and improve yourself (getting hotter, check). They say to go on a date (two first dates, on the schedge).

And then when you do talk to him, BE CHILL, ya puta loca.

I was like, sure. Doing, and done. I went to Portugal by myself for a week and had a great time. I got hot new jeans. And I lined up those dates.

Then I went to dinner with my ex, and the truth was . . . I wasn’t chill. I cried. I sent him a sappy text the next day. He said he’d call . . . and didn’t.

I tried to push him farther away by telling him we should both move on. When he agreed, I ended up on the bathroom floor.

I wanted to call him and tell him the whole truth more than anything, but I had convinced myself that that was not allowed. If I wanted him back, most of the books said, I couldn’t let him see how much I hurt. I had to be out there having a great time.

But I realized something, there on the bathroom floor. In all the advicing, and the doing to impress, and the trying to get someone else to do something or feel something, I had lost the real me.

I had this idea of how I was “supposed” to deal with the breakup “in order to” get him back, and it was killing me.

Instead of actually focusing on me, I let my wanting to control him—to make him come back—get the better of me, and I focused on him and how he was going to respond to what I was doing instead of on my own needs and feelings.

I realized, there on the floor, that I had to remember how to be me.

That I couldn’t control what he would do or feel.

I couldn’t make him do anything, and I didn’t want to.

I wanted to be the real, best me, and if he didn’t like it, well, then he’d have to walk the plank.

If it meant we’d have a different relationship than the one I first envisioned, well, then we would. If it meant we’d have no relationship at all, I knew I would find a way to live with that.

Of all the things I ever wanted to be good at, staying true to myself and not letting fear run roughshod over me was number one.

I don’t ever want to be pretending to be someone I’m not.

So I called him, and I spoke to him, and I was the real me again.

I apologized for that stupid message, we chatted and caught up, and I felt like a ten-ton weight had been lifted from my poor stupid heart.

I knew there were more tough nights ahead of me. Maybe the bathroom floor again. I knew I had to find a way to be friends with him; we have a heavily overlapping social group that I would not give up, because the people and the things we do bring me great joy. Including him. So I knew I would figure it out.

Besides … I talked to one of those first dates for 7 hours.

I was hot in those new jeans.

I remembered all the things about our relationship that didn’t work for me.

I focused on work, on launching my blog and website and doing scads of writing, and I loved it.

I could never do all that while obsessing over his next move.

I stopped needing a relationship and started looking for someone who complemented my life.

I didn’t know, then, if he would want to come back or not. I didn’t know, if he did, if I would want him back.

(He did, and I did, and we started over. Things are different now; we are like different people, both of us. But I would have carried on, focusing on me, if he hadn’t.)

From there I could see the future of not wanting him. I could see the future of getting back to loving me and staying true.

And that was all that really mattered.

Photo by Konstantin Stepanov

8 thoughts on “How a Breakup Taught Me to Relax and Be Myself”

  1. Great article Rachel. Too many times we hang on to relationships are not good for us way too long. Even though we are in pain we have become accustom to the pain. The pain is familiar territory.

  2. Dear Rachael, such a great article and so true. I am currently in a situation when my boyfriend asked for a break and I find it a constant struggle to follow or not the advice in many articles about no contact, limit meetings with him, etc. while I realize that I loose myself and calculate what I should or should not do or say, instead of being myself and be honest with him and myself, whatever the consequences.

    1. Ilona! I know how that is. Try to stop the analyzing as best you can. Let him have the space he requested, and use the time to take some space for you (that’s the REAL point of no contact). Find something new that excites you, something you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t yet, and get out and do it. Take good care of yourself. Then you’ll be a more relaxed you when you’re both ready to deal with each other again. You want to be honest but not forget to value yourself. Keep in mind what you bring to the table and don’t let the fact that he asked for space make you feel worthless. You’re not– xoxo

  3. Hi Rachael,
    Thank you for writing this. I’m going through a terrible breakup with my girlfriend of 5 years, who admitted she is in love with someone else. I now realise that in order to either get her back, or stand the best possible chance of recovery, I need to focus on me and becoming the best version of myself.

    1. I’m so sorry to hear that, Tom. Breakups are so hard no matter how they happen. Don’t forget to take the time you need to grieve, okay? Then start enjoying the extra time you’ll have for you.

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