Shout-out to my Ex

Do you ever doubt your own gut feelings? Ignore your own instincts? You’re sitting at home doing a Zoom quiz with your mates (that’s the 2020-2021 version of pub quizzes for those of you lucky ones who weren’t in lockdown for the past year). You ignore the tugging feeling building in the pit of your stomach as the multiple choice answers are read aloud for the second time – A. No, actually… it’s erm, B… Wrong, again. The correct answer was A – the first answer that popped into your head. It’s frustrating as hell, isn’t it? Well, what about in more serious situations, such as being unsure of your feelings towards your partner? You tell yourself one thing; what you believe you’re supposed to think or feel, but your gut screams the opposite. Which do you listen to?

When it comes to your relationships, have you ever felt as if things were just not right? You can’t rationally pinpoint it, you feel as if there are no “logical” reasons, yet your gut is churning with doubts, sounding the alarm bells. This was the case for me, initially, at least. There were in fact a few ‘causes’, however, I distrusted myself to such an unhealthy extent, that I believed my reasons were invalid. Why wasn’t I happy? My ex was kind, caring and looked into my eyes as if I was the first sunrise of the spring after a harsh, dark winter. He told me loved me and that I was his “favourite person in the world” regularly. My gut gremlin would yank at my intestines with wonder as to why was he never at the top of my list whenever I started running through the most important people in my life? I’m a bitch, that’s why. Or so I told myself.

Why did I have this gremlin gnawing away at my insides, trying to warn me that I wasn’t happy. As aforementioned, I spent a long time attempting to silence these doubts – at the end of the day, I ‘should’ve’ been content. Grateful, even. I had a great guy on my arm, and despite our (supposedly temporary) troubles (every relationship of every kind experiences problems at some point, doesn’t it?), I couldn’t rationalise why I felt anxious and dissatisfied. I felt like the Wicked Witch of the West, the Cruella de Vil of our story. Was there something wrong with me? Yes. That must have been it. I was the problem, I had to be. He loved me and treated me well, that’s all that counts, isn’t it? What was wrong with me that it just wasn’t quite enough?

I replayed these questions and self-criticisms over and over, again and again until I was completely convinced that the issue alone was me. I wish I’d had someone telling me to open my mind and listen to the gurgling of my gut gremlins. Actually, I did have someone telling me exactly that. My mum. “If the relationship isn’t right for you, you can end it. There doesn’t always have to be a cause, if he’s not the one for you, then that’s just one of those things. You have to do what’s best for you.

What a wise woman. Do we ever out-grow the phase of not listening to our parents’ advice? Do we ever stop responding to their compliments with “you have to say that because you’re my mum”? (Queue the obligatory eyeroll that we perfect as teenagers). My mum had kept her opinions to herself until I approached her with how I felt. She admitted she’d secretly been very surprised upon meeting him that I’d picked him to pursue a relationship with. However, she’d understood the importance of the reality check coming from within myself instead of from an external source.

I am ashamed to admit that I allowed my anxieties, doubts and unhappiness to brew in the distillery of my gut for so long that when they erupted, they didn’t just froth at the top, they well and truly exploded, causing me an emotional flood. The ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’ was an understatement. I was just so done. I was exhausted from trying. I was exhausted from denying that my feelings for this really nice guy had changed and there was no going back. I was exhausted from being unhappy and unfulfilled in the remnants of our relationship, and in all honesty, I was so damn tired of feeling like I was dating an overgrown teenage student. When reflecting on just how different our values, personalities and interests were, I now realise that our relationship was doomed as soon as we rolled a ‘six’ and ventured out onto the gameboard.

I do genuinely wonder how it lasted as long as it did, and at times, I’ve looked back at the relationship and thought I regretted it happening altogether. However, upon further reflection, I see now that it had to happen. It served a purpose. I now have a much more solid idea of what kind of values, traits, qualities, and attributes I’d like a potential future partner to have to complement and even help to improve my own. It was definitely a lesson learned and I’d like to believe it played a role in further developing me as a person too, hopefully making me a better version of myself. If nothing else, I hope that it at least made me a stronger person. Breaking someone’s heart is a f*cking horrible and near-impossible task. As much as I felt like a heartless bitch for doing it, I was hurting too. My heart, my head, my whole being. Causing someone else pain takes a mental toll, at least, it does for me. My life was changing dramatically and although I hadn’t been happy, the prospect of such a significant change and facing it alone was definitely daunting. The prospect of loneliness, and with my overactive analytical brain questioning if there was something wrong with me for being unhappy with a “nice” guy, my head was a pretty confusing and miserable place to be confined in.

As I say, I now realise this was a stepping stone, a crucial life lesson, even. Although my inner critic still has days where I believe I’m destined to be alone forever and it feels like I’m battling against a strong current, I’m trying to swim towards the beacons of positivity and light. I’m sick of drowning with the negativity. This goes for all aspects of my life, not just my disastrous (or perhaps more accurately; non-existent) dating life. I do hope he is doing well and that he is now on the same page as me in agreement that it was the best decision for both of us. At the end of the day, we were too different and had very different levels of maturity. Let’s just say, one of us still had a lot of growing up to do…

I recently listened to a podcast in which they suggested that if something isn’t a “f*ck yes”, then it’s automatically a ‘no’. Although perhaps a rather crude way of laying it out, it’s so bloody apt for situations like this. I’m using this as my new philosophy for dating – and probably for other aspects of life too!

It’s perfectly fine to be alone or to want to be on your own. ‘Alone’ doesn’t mean ‘lonely’, and I think a lot of people need to be reminded of that sometimes. It’s not selfish to end something that isn’t serving or benefiting you in the way it should; it’s actually the kindest thing you can do for both parties (despite it feeling like you’ve just stabbed the individual in the gut with a rusty Stanley blade). It may take time, but the relief does arrive and your load will feel gradually lighter. I feel as if there’s a stigma in which people automatically judge or assume the “heartbreaker” to be a “bad” person. I understand this can be a natural protective response when your loved one is hurting – you automatically side against the stimulus responsible for inflicting the injury (i.e. the person who ended the relationship). I think this can also influence a person making the decision to end a relationship and perhaps impact if or when they follow through with it. No one wants to be viewed or portrayed as a villain, and it can be increasingly frustrating because relationships are generally private between the two individuals involved, meaning, the spectators are often unaware of at least some of the struggles the couple have been facing. At best, the audience will likely only have one biased perspective. You will never truly know what it’s like to be in an intimate relationship with a certain individual unless you have experienced it first-hand yourself, and so it isn’t exactly fair to cast aspersions.

Personally, I felt trapped in my relationship due to lockdown and being unable to see my ex in person, but with hindsight, I think the relationship had sailed away and been lost at sea long before that. I just felt like I didn’t have a “valid” reason to end it, so I couldn’t. He was a lovely guy and I liked his friends and family too, so I felt an immense pressure that I’d be letting everyone down and hurting them all through ending it. But, I was slowly suffocating. I reached breaking point. If I didn’t let go and breathe, I’d have been lost to a black hole of misery and depression – like he seemed to already be dragging me into at times. There is only so much love and support you can pour into someone who refuses to help themselves before they drain you completely. My fuel tank was below empty at the end. I had to escape and refuel before I completely broke down.

A Lesson Learned:

Don’t starve your gut gremlins of the emotional attention they require, nae, deserve. They’ll just silently torture you and chomp away at your sanity until you reach breaking point, like I did. Don’t continuously absorb these negative emotions; you’re not a sponge. In order to ring out the tension and stress, you have to admit to the problems. This does not mean you are succumbing to them. Baby steps: start off by talking to someone you trust, be it a family member or a close friend. Straighten out the curly mass of your confusion and clear the frizz of your mind. I’m blessed to have had my parents, my younger brother (an unexpected but very helpful source of comfort and reassurance) and my besties as my security blanket throughout the whole season preceding my breakup, and especially in the aftermath of the painful finale. You are not alone either. If you feel you struggle to open up to your loved ones, that may be another issue entirely, but there are other resources available. If you’re struggling, my inbox is always open to anyone who feels they can relate and would like to discuss their situation or even ask more about mine. However, every experience and issue will be different. Every person is unique. Fact. This means, every relationship between two individuals will be inimitable. There can be common themes, patterns in behaviours and similarities, but no one will ever experience things exactly as you have. It’s your story, it’s your life. You can listen to other people’s advice but ultimately, the decision has to be yours. Be brave and own it, you deserve to be happy.

You don’t have to, and quite frankly, shouldn’t be, “stuck” with or surrounded by people who are draining your battery. This goes for any relationship – friendships, colleagues and perhaps much more troublesomely, but also familial relationships. If you’re putting in all the power you have but are receiving no recharge back from the people in your life, you need to find some new people. Relationships are 50-50% effort no matter who they’re with. (Except for with dogs – they always give their humans 110%; and cats, who give their pet humans perhaps 10-20% as and when it suits them, but they’re (mostly) furry and cute so we can make an exception). My point is: if you hung out with someone and they stole all of your money, you wouldn’t hang out with them again. Why don’t we value and prioritise our time and mental health in the same way as we do our finances? If someone is stealing all of your positive energy, happiness and leaving you drained, the best thing you can do for yourself is remove them. (FYI: I mean by cutting communication and contact with them, NOT by cutting their breaks or wiping them out in a hit and run!). This is a challenge in itself; but it’s worth it in the long run. Your happiness is worth it, good mental health is worth it; YOU are worth it. It’s not a sacrifice, it’s an informed choice with an outcome that will benefit your life in many ways, with, you’ll realise in hindsight, usually very few negative consequences for you personally.

After a conversation with a good friend recently, we realised, there seems to be a lot of pressure on women to ‘like’ or date guys just because they are “nice” – even if there is no chemistry. I think this is partially why I felt I couldn’t end my previous relationship even although it really wasn’t working for me. I felt my reason wasn’t “valid” and that because he was a nice guy, I should just be happy with him; or even, that I should just be grateful to be with him. This is not a healthy mentality at all, which I fully realise now. It was upon my friend mentioning that she felt this pressure, that the tape clicked into the VCR in my head too. We really do get grief these days if we don’t reciprocate feelings for someone who “treats us well”. We are judged if we don’t return the feelings and we are labelled as “shallow” if the attraction, chemistry or spark just won’t ignite – even although it’s something you cannot control.

I fully agree that there is so much more to a person than the likes of their appearance, income and whether or not they own their own house, BUT, I also believe that chemistry is key. If that spark isn’t there, if that intimacy isn’t there, they are not who you should be in a romantic relationship with. I’ve met some amazing guys in my life, and as much as I’ve really wanted to like them, that special chemistry just wasn’t there for me. We had similar interests, values and I really liked their personalities and had a great respect for them, but that “fuzzy” feeling just wasn’t there as much as I searched for it. I just couldn’t imagine myself being intimate with them and that’s also a key part of a relationship. Not feeling the attraction is out with your control; it doesn’t make you a bad person. However, if you find yourself in this position, please be kind. Be honest, be gentle, but be clear to prevent giving them false hope. It’s a horrible thing to have to do, but a bruised ego and some mildly hurt feelings are preferable over full blown heartbreak if they’ve been “led on” long enough to fall head-over-heels. 

As aforementioned, this relationship was a lesson learned for me. It has taught me what I need and what I want from a future relationship, as well as which traits will immediately sink my ship. I have decided on a few characteristics that are my “non-negotiables”. My reasoning is, that if a guy does not meet these conditions that I am unwilling to compromise on, he is probably not the right man for me – and also that I’m not the right girl for him. This may sound completely ridiculous, or even insane, but think about it logically. I have not created a full person-specification and I have absolutely no intentions of putting them through a job-interview-type grilling (after all, that’s what your girlfriends are for, and trust me, some of them will be aiming for background checks more thorough than the police!), but I fully believe that there are different things that each of us will never be truly happy with if we have to compromise. If you’re looking for someone to spend your life with, why waste your precious time with someone you’re completely incompatible with?

For me, the non-negotiables are:

  • Must want children in the future
  • Must be a non-smoker
  • Must be honest and kind
  • Must get along well with my family
  • Must be ambitious/ driven

I mean, these things aren’t too extra-terrestrial, are they? I suppose a non-negotiable checklist sounds shallow without explanation.  For instance, if, like me, you loathe smoking, but you start dating someone who chain smokes constantly, are you ever going to be truly happy with them? Their home, their clothes, their hair stink of smoke and their breath is like an ashtray whenever they try to kiss you. Be realistic, if someone isn’t willing to quit smoking and you can’t learn to deal with the habit, it’s basically a non-starter. Am I right? Or, if you know you’re born to be a parent one day, and the person you’re dating hates kids and doesn’t want any of their own… someone is going to be miserable. In all fairness, raising little humans is a life-changing (not to mention, life-long) decision so if neither party wants to concede, the relationship won’t last. For some, it may even be as precise as “must be a brunette” or “must have blue eyes”. At the end of the day, I reckon most people will not start dating someone they don’t find at least somewhat physically attractive. After all, one’s physical appearance is usually what we base our first impressions on, so it’s the core-values and personality traits that we discover as we spend more time with the individual that my list is based on.

I wish I’d listened to my gut gremlins, my best friends and, alas, my mum, sooner. She always encourages me to trust my instincts, and too often, I ignore them out of sheer self-doubt (I’m working on it). I’d listened, but I hadn’t absorbed their valuable advice. Instead, I was pre-occupied with banging my head against the wall, punishing myself for my feelings. I know now that my feelings are valid, and also the importance of addressing them. I never want to regress back to the anxiety-induced emotional carcass I had become. The candles of my relationship had been snuffed out long before, I just didn’t realise straight away and it took some time to navigate my way out of the darkness.

The truth is, I was slowly but surely being engulfed by the quicksand of familiarity, guilt and self-doubt. I had to do something before I suffocated. I forced a deep breath (well, as deep as my sobbing would permit) and walked the plank, fully expecting the crocodile with the ticking clock to be waiting for me. But, just like that, the ground solidified beneath me again. I knew with 100% certainty that I’d made the right decision for me. There was no croc waiting to devour me for being a villain. I could breathe again. Now that he is gone, no longer clouding my views, I can see the immense, beautiful sun rising in the distance, illuminating the infinite directions life could steer me towards next. And do you know what? I’m excited. Lucky, even. Grateful to have found the inner strength to put my own needs first and escape a relationship in which I was slowly drowning. Gut gremlins are actually pretty useful; if they’re grumbling, there’s likely a valid reason as to why… don’t be afraid to listen.

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