Breaking Up is hard to do

As of this past Thursday night, I’ve been officially single. Which is an odd thing to say, because I was never officially un-single. Despite the intimacy, despite the overwhelming good times and the overwhelming bad times, despite having met all of my family, and despite the eventual love, she was never officially my girlfriend and I was never officially her boyfriend. I never had enough trust in her to bring it to that point; I feared our relationship would eventually end up exactly where it did, and had it been official, it would’ve added an even more painful layer to our already complicated relationship. But if I was always single, one thing’s clear: I am now officially broken up.

Breaking up is hard to do. But there’s more than just the emotional aspect, more than the “I hate you’s” and “I love you’s”. There’s the incredible amount of work that goes into actually giving up the comforts of stability. There’s the kick in the stomach feeling that you may never speak to this person again, coordinating through friends how to pickup each other’s respective belongings. The daunting thought of starting anew, of checking all the relationship boxes and assuring yourself that all of this is more than just some Sisyphean exercise in emotional abuse.

When you’re breaking up with someone, that means that every aspect of your lives, both intimate and routine, are no longer going to be one with each other. There are no longer “us” things but now you things and they things. Wednesday night is no longer date night. Bobby pins that have been sitting on your dresser for weeks no longer have the expectation of returning home to their owner. Saturday mornings you awake to an emptiness in your bed, and you scroll through your phone, no longer certain of who you’ll be having brunch with. Every song that comes on the radio you want to tell your friends “This is ours! This is our song!” but it’s not your song anymore and so you let it silently consume you as you sit in the back of the car and pass that restaurant the two of you had always talked about eating at but never did.

You think towards the future. You’ll start dating again. You’ll go out to bars. You’ll spend money on alcohol. You’ll talk to the women that are willing to talk to you.

You’ll say, “Hi, I’m Eric, and this is what I do, and this is who I am, and this is why you should like me.” But they don’t, so you go to the next bar and you spend more money on alcohol, and you talk to the women that are willing to talk to you and you say, “Hi, I’m Eric, and this is what I do, and this is who I am, and this is why you should like me.” And they do and so you go home and you have sex, and then a few days later you invite them over for dinner and you go to the store because you’re going to make that incredible empanada recipe that you’ve only made once before but it was amazing and then when you’re three glasses in you realize “I don’t even like this person that much,” and so you start over. You’re exhausted.

But then you meet that girl. And it all feels the same at first. You have the drinks, the sex, the non-committal, low-risk social outings. “Saturday afternoon at Dolores Park? Sounds perfect!” And you have a great time. You have a great time and you decide you’d like to have more great times together.

You tell each other your stories. She tells you things that she says she’s never told anyone before. You know her and she knows you. You meet her friends. She meets yours. And even though they’ve met girls in the past you tell them that this one is special and different and if they want to know you they need to know her. You introduce her to your family. “This is my girl,” and they’re happy for you.

And as you hold hands, sitting on a rock with bodies pressed together overlooking a place you’ve never been but now feels so much yours, you think ‘This is it. This is us. This is what I’ve never had.’ And you stop. You feel a slight stab in your stomach. You look into her eyes, trying to find some sense of reassurance to make the unease go away, but she looks just as scared as you because she’s feeling the same stabbing unease. You have been here before. You have had this before.

You think towards the past. You think about the last time you were here and how real it felt. You think of all the times you had together. How you locked hands and shared bike rides and told each other things that you’d never told anyone before, and that no matter what, no matter the capacity you would always be a part of each other.

You think of the last time you had sex. That was the last time. That was how it was going to end. You had no idea that was going to be the last time. You can’t help but cry a little.

You’re back on the rock. And you’re no longer in the past but you’re scared. You’re cynical.  Every time you’re holding hands, every conversation you have about exes and why that didn’t work out and how “sad” it is that the person who was always going to be a part of you has now blocked you on Facebook, how you can’t even acknowledge one another as you pass each other on the street, you can’t help but wonder if one day that’s going to be the two of you. And a month later it is.

I’m exhausted. I want to think towards the future but it’s impossible to without thinking towards the past, without seeing how it’s all happened before and without letting that affect the present.

I don’t want to introduce another woman to my family. I don’t want to endure OKCupid date after OKCupid date, meeting her friends and she mine. I don’t want to have to scroll through pictures of myself on Facebook to see which of my memories I no longer have access to. It’s an incredible amount of work to get to know someone who soon enough you won’t even know.

There were beautiful, amazing times that were had. There were intimate moments that were real. But to what end? To be hurt, to be embarrassed, to be jealous, to be ashamed? To be loved?

I’m not sure I can have intimate moments anymore without an undercurrent of doubt running beneath them all. At this point to not do so would seem foolish.

I’m not sure where anyone goes with confidence from here.

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About Eric Barry

Eric Barry is a Chicago comedian, writer, and creator of Full Disclosure, voted "Best Sex-Positive" podcast by the Chicago Reader. He holds a B.A. in Theater & Performance Studies from UC Berkeley, and his work has been featured on Huffington Post, Cosmo, SF Chronicle, and more. He is currently working on developing a pilot based off his time in the sex work industry.

  1. Ughhhhh. I feel like this is exactly where I’m at. Exhausted. Exhausted of the dates, the hurt feelings, the games, the giving myself and not getting, the getting and not giving…and then everyone just telling you, “You just haven’t found the right one yet!” Barfola.
    I’m so sorry you’re feeling this way, but you’re not alone brother!

  2. I have always been cynical about relationships and so am not so surprised when they don’t go well. Growing up in my house I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to bind themselves legally and emotionally to another person, especially knowing that my family wasn’t even NEAR close to as bad as it gets. So, most of my life I had both a natural and an affected aversion to the idea of NEEDING a romantic partner and a family was out of the question. I took boyfriends when they came, gave a lot to them, had a great time, loved them, but fully expected the relationship to fall apart at some point. Whatever issues we had I would imagine how much worse they’d be in 5, 10, 20 years. With age I have become less cynical, understand my family and relationships better, and am much happier with who I am. For the first time EVER I feel capable and even optimistic of being happy with someone long term. That might just be baby mind control hormones coercing me to find a mate, but I think it is also the result of introspection, an effort to be open, and working on myself and my issues. It is also from an acknowledgement that finding someone doesn’t mean I’ve won and can relax. Dealing with other people is the most challenging thing we do and I will need to continue to work on myself and my interactions with my significant others and other others regardless of my relationship status for the rest of my life. We all have to remind ourselves that for everything in life there is no rest. You’ve never made it and you’re never done (until you die). You might find the perfect person and they die in a bus accident the day after you get married (or get blasted by a drone AT your wedding). The end of a relationship is a mourning period. You have lost someone just as assuredly as if they had died. Even if you stay in contact, what you had is dead. We will never be all happy or all sad. There will be ups and downs. People will come and go and die. We are still young and there is a lot of suffering and happiness ahead. I try to stop thinking about happiness as an achievable goal. If I get the right job…if I find the right person…the right friends… All you can do is enjoy the good times, wallow in and try to learn from the bad times, and surround yourself with people you love in different ways so when you lose someone, and you will, there will be others to see you through the mourning period. Maybe if we all stopped putting so much pressure on romantic love as a happiness end game, we wouldn’t destroy our relationships with our anxieties, baggage, and unrealistic expectations. We will all just go on living up and down regardless. Are you really that miserable single? I don’t think so. Are you really that happy attached? I don’t think so. Are you going to love someone again? Yes. Will it be forever? Maybe, maybe not. All you can do is make yourself the best partner you can be and be lucky to find someone who is making the same effort.

  3. Imagine the weirdness of the dating world after marriage. It was awkward, weird and I was a nervous wreck of sexual energy! and I was only 23! I am 26 now and I had a blast! It will work out. I promise the cycle will end. And if you don’t want it to, then well, play on sir, play on! 😉

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