Since He's Been Gone I Can Breathe For the First Time

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July 31, 2014

In the world of dating post-divorce, there are sad breakups, and then there are breakups that don’t matter.

The sad breakup is like the one I experienced with Tom, the guy who got away. When we broke up (actually, when he broke up with me), I was devastated. It was a good month before I could drive past his exit on the freeway without crying (and even years before I could drive past that same exit without feeling sadness). I read self-help books, engaged in tons of retail therapy, got massages, indulged in chick-lit books, went on vacations, stopped eating, dated with a vengeance, and (this is the kicker) married a guy I didn’t love-- all in the hopes of trying to heal and forget. There were all kinds of songs I’d hear on the radio that seemed to be written just for me. They were all sappy and pathetic.

And then there are breakups where one is just… happy, and at peace. Wondering why the heck you didn’t walk away sooner. All that time and energy wasted on a relationship that didn’t matter.  Such is the story of my friend, Lia, who split from her boyfriend amidst his cheating on her repeatedly throughout their relationship. Upon finding out, it took her two weeks before she was ready to confront him and call it quits. But once she did, settling into life without him was surprisingly painless.  

Not long ago, Lia and I were discussing breakups and I shared my story of Tom and the freeway exit. Lia had just the opposite experience. Days prior, she drove to a children’s museum near where her ex lives. She didn’t feel a thing. No interest in driving past his house, or a desire to run into him or avoid him, no sadness or anger… nothing. The thought of him was just irrelevant. That was weird.

I asked her for a theme song about her breakup. Surely she had one. Yes, actually she had two:

  1. Since You’ve Been Gone by Kelly Clarkson: “But since you've been gone, I can breathe for the first time, I’m so movin’ on, yeah yeah, thanks to you now I get, I get what I want”…

  2. Someone Saved My Life Tonight by Elton John: “And someone saved my life tonight sugar bear, you almost had your hooks in me didn't you dear, you nearly had me roped and tied, altar-bound, hypnotized, sweet freedom whispered in my ear, you're a butterfly, and butterflies are free to fly, fly away, high away, bye bye” (This song because Lia is quite certain that they would never have broken up at all if she hadn’t found out about his cheating and she probably would have ended up marrying him, ugh.)

Next, I asked Lia if she had ever loved her ex. “Obviously not,” she said, “because if I had, why do I feel nothing but relief? I am seriously so happy that he’s gone.”

And how is life better without him? Lia started rattling off reasons so quickly that I had a hard time writing fast enough:

  • She loved the flexibility of her new life. Her ex was super needy and time consuming. Without him, she had time to develop new friendships, date, and work on projects she loved. She was attending Margarita Thursdays and Coffee Sundays with a fun group of people. Her boyfriend’s absence was a welcomed change in her life. Who knew?
  • She got to go to bed whenever she felt like it
  • She didn’t feel the constant pressure of taking care of her boyfriend
  • She got to remember who she as an individual and she rather liked that person
  • She had time to focus on her priorities, namely herself, her children, friends she loved and trusted, and projects that were important to her
  • She reconnected with her old boyfriend
  • Her time was all hers and she was living in the present more than ever

So now the Million Dollar Question: Why did Lia stay with a guy who she was never all that into in the first place? That took her longer to answer.

  • She thought she was really into him: Except when the cheating scandal erupted and she was forced to think about their relationship, she realized she wasn't into him at all. She was spending far too much time meeting his needs and too little time meeting her own
  • Habit: Lia was so used to her boyfriend being around that it just felt normal and she didn’t second guess it
  • She forgot what real love felt like (and this wasn’t it)
  • Companionship: She enjoyed, or rather, was used to the friendship aspect of her boyfriend
  • Hope (oh, that mixed bag of "hope"): She had forgiven him the first time she found out about his cheating. She hoped that his promises to change and never do it again were real. She forgot that no one changes “just like that”
  • Stagnation: Before the cheating scandals, they had a great relationship (well, at face value only, since his side love life was a deal breaker had Lia known about it). They were compatible and there was really no reason to end it
  • Committed sex: (Except when Lia realized her guy was cheating on her, the whole “avoiding STDs”-thing became moot)
  • Settling: Lia had invested so much time and energy into the relationship, why walk away? He might not have been her dream guy, but he was better than nothing (ouch)

Lia then mentioned that she was really happy that she found out about the cheating. It was really a blessing in disguise. The cheating freed her in unexpected ways.

Of course, none of these reasons are sufficient for staying with a guy who obviously didn’t rock her world. And, at the end of the relationship, feeling absolutely nothing (minus relief and a little revulsion).

I find Lia’s story disturbingly sad and all too common. How often do we ladies end up in relationships that, really, aren’t important at all? That are actually harmful? How often do we find ourselves then marrying those guys?

And that is the trick with dating and finding The One as we enter this next stage in our lives: knowing when a guy is what he claims to be, knowing if our feelings for him are genuine, and walking away before it is too late. Taking frequent "gut checks" with ourselves, and trusting our instincts. If we "know" something is wrong, it is. These are the first steps in ensuring that we don't find ourselves moving forward with the wrong guy.

With Lia, at least she didn’t marry him.

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