The break up test: relief or sadness

“So, which is it? Relief or sadness?”

“I don’t know.”

When someone says they don’t know how they feel when you’re breaking up, it means they feel relief, and don’t want to admit it. Everyone is hurting enough already. Why tell them you’re relieved it’s over as well?

Relief or sadness. Relief and sadness. Rarely is it just relief, but it can happen. When it’s just sadness, when all you can feel is the tightening of your chest, the lump in your throat and the thought of no longer getting to touch that person, be close to them, to wake up next to them brings you to tears, that’s a different thing. It’s the heartbreaking way of knowing for certainty that what you felt was real and now it’s gone.

When there’s relief mixed with sadness, it’s likely you’ve known for a while that things were not as they should be. You loved each other, sure, but you fought a lot. You still found little quirks and behaviours annoying, despite the passing of time. You sometimes thought about life without them. Where you might be, what you might be doing.

When it ends, it’s sad, no question. But a part of you feels relief. Sometimes it’s small and sometimes it’s overwhelming. Relief tells you it’s the right decision. Still sad, and in the days immediately after you’ll reminisce on all the good times, and question whether it’s the right move. You’ll remember all the things they did for you, to show they cared, and you’ll remember the smiles, the laughter, the hanging out on the lounge on a Saturday night, just the two of you. You’ll forget for a time the fights, the arguments, the days without speaking, the passive aggressive acts. And while you remember these things, the sadness will well, rise up from the bottom of your stomach and threaten to drown out common sense and rational thinking. Your friends will gently remind you, but for the most part you’ll ignore them, convinced in the accuracy of your own memories.

But if you can wait long enough; if you can push through the barrier covered in signs that tell you to call or text, to casually drop over in the hope that things will have changed, if you push on through, you’ll land in relief again. Relief that you were strong. Relief that you didn’t allow the fog of good memories to influence the knowing, knowing things weren’t right. That things could most certainly have been better.

And the things could always be better. Every couple has fights and sometimes those fights are the ones to stay together. At the end of the day, it’s about deciding whether the fight to stay is worth the happiness that can ensue.

In moments like that, I remember the great but forgotten 2001 movie The Mexican, starring Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts. There’s a scene where the “villain” asks Julia this question:

“When two people love each other, really love each other, but they just can’t get it together, when do you get to that point where enough is enough?”

Julia struggles to answer, reflecting on her troubled relationship with Jerry (Brad Pitt).

“Oh well, that’s … you know … you know it’s over when … OK, I have these psychosomatic, insomniac manifestations of … we … Here’s the thing about me: I’m a product of my emotions versus being a product of my environment like him, which is he, exactly. That … environmental … I need sunshine to grow. That’s who I am, and with a projection of … I have goals.”

“That’s your answer?” he asks.

“Yeah,” says Julia.

“That’s not right. I mean there’s a right answer here but that’s not it,” he replies. “Look it’s a loaded question. When two people love each other, totally, truthfully, all the way love each other, the answer to that question is simple, especially in your case. When do you get to that point where enough is enough? Never. Never.”

The film is tied up beautifully at the end when Julia and Brad are reunited and Julia asks him:

“If two people love each other, but they just can’t seem to get it together, when do you get to that point of enough is enough?”

“Never,” Brad replies.


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