The lingering goodbye

When a relationship ends, it’s not just a person that you part company with. You also leave behind the hopes and dreams that the person once kindled in you.

That’s the hardest part, I suspect. I was the one who left my marriage — a long time ago, now. But even the person who leaves suffers the loss of the hopes and dreams that once blazed in the hearth of his heart.

The leaver doesn’t get off scot free. He (or she) is first to suffer the loss. He grieves as his precious hopes and dreams fade and die:  like watching a loved one succumb to a lingering, terminal illness. He grieves, then he screws up his courage, and he leaves.

The person who is left confronts grief in an instant:  like losing a loved one in a tragic accident. I guess it’s worse that way; who’s to say?

The point is, I doubt that you still love him, all these years later. I doubt that you still grieve the loss of that relationship per se. Rather, it’s the promise that the relationship once held out to you; the loss of your own innocence that can never be reclaimed.

That’s the hurt that smacks you upside the head when you listen to Mozart, or receive Columbian roses, and you think of him.

The Grief of Women, by Tim Holmes

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8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. nebcanuck
    Nov 12, 2007 @ 23:43:14

    The thing about being the victim of a breakup is that it’s not like having your partner die in a car accident. Having witnessed people go through each situation, it’s incredible the contrast. If anything, the emotional impact of a partner leaving is more akin to a suicide than a death by accident.

    The thing is, the intentionality of the action changes everything. In the case of the death, there are no initial hard feelings. It is an immediate impact — which is admittedly the one thing it has in common with a divorce — but one which brings anger towards God and “fate” more than any animosity towards a specific human being. A break-up on the other hand results in a great deal of anger on the part of the victim… something which seems to occur after a suicide as well. The fact that the leaver deliberately chose to end the relationship through departure or death causes a more gaping wound than an accidental death.

    However, I also think that the healing process which you describe is made infinitely more possible by the choice of the person who leaves. Having watched a man who lost his wife prematurely due to cancer, it is incredible to see just how much he glorifies her. Every memory of her is monumentally difficult to push aside in order to progress with his life. And her last command is more potent than scripture. Though many years later he has made some progress, it is clearly hindered by the inability to want to move on, a desire which naturally ensues after a break-up.

    The people I know who have gone through break-ups have wound up recovering and only occasionally thinking back to the relationship. The ex is of less concern to the victim because they can pass them off as more trouble than they’re worth. Instead of comparing each potential future spouse to a near-deity, a person whose partner left them is able to see the positives in glaring contrast with the negative.

    So, though the pain is greater and more personal to begin with, I think the pain of a break-up is also shorter-term than the pain caused by premature death. Weird combination, but with a certain amount of sense to it.

    Reply

  2. McSwain
    Nov 13, 2007 @ 03:07:01

    I’ve thought about this a lot since I wrote my own post. I think the difference in my case was that an actual emotional breakup never happened as an “event” per se, and too many loose ends were flying around. It was a physical separation that tore us apart, then we both got married (likely on the rebound from each other), divorced, lots of bad timing, and it’s a very long, not so mature, story. The man I wrote about was someone I loved, but never married. With divorce, my relationship truly ended. Marriage was easier to let go than the breakup that never happened. I think I might need to write the novel.

    Reply

  3. Stephen
    Nov 13, 2007 @ 12:00:27

    • nebcanuck:
    The emotional impact of a partner leaving is more akin to a suicide than a death by accident. The thing is, the intentionality of the action changes everything.

    (An aside: the font in the comment box for this template is extraordinarily small! Yow! That could be a problem for some folks.)

    That’s an insightful response to my analogy. Mind you, it’s not entirely accurate. Believe it or not, loved ones often feel anger toward the individual who has died. Anger is one of the standard stages of the grieving process. It makes no sense to get angry at someone for dying (as if they wanted to!), but human psychology often responds that way, at least temporarily.

    But of course you’re right about intentionality, and I don’t mean to diminish that part of the equation. This post wasn’t an attempt to evade my responsibility for the divorce — I should make that clear.

    I meant only to point out that both spouses experience a loss of hopes, dreams, and innocence. Both spouses grieve the end of the marriage, even though it is less clear with one spouse than it is with the other, largely because the timing is different.

    I need to clarify my intentions for McSwain, too, so read on.

    • McSwain:
    The man I wrote about was someone I loved, but never married. … Marriage was easier to let go than the breakup that never happened.

    That’s fascinating. And you made it clear in your post (i.e., that you were talking about a “breakup that never happened”).

    I’m glad you didn’t take offence at my comment. I was responding to the mood of your post, and staying in that somewhat melancholy place as I wrote.

    I didn’t set out to contradict you, and I fear that I was sloppy in expressing myself. I intended to build on what you had said (not contradict it!) by pointing out another layer to the psychology of the event you were describing.

    The human psyche is multi-layered, which makes it hard to truly know oneself. I immediately saw that you weren’t regretting just the end of the relationship, but some other stuff as well. I wanted to point it out, for your sake and the sake of your readers as well — to help people process those emotions.

    I probably should have set my remarks in context, both on your blog and mine. But I didn’t want to break the mood you had established so artfully!

    Reply

  4. McSwain
    Nov 13, 2007 @ 13:03:07

    I got that you were building on what I wrote, no worries. 🙂

    Reply

  5. juggling mother
    Nov 13, 2007 @ 14:39:29

    life sucks. I let go of my hopes and dreams of life with Aggie years ago. Admittedly we changed them out for new ones, and those have since been re-vamped rather drastically. Letting go of the original plans and beliefs about our life together was difficult though.

    I practise family law – that means I get to see many people going through divorces of all types. And a fair few sorting out their lives after the death of a partner. I think there is little similarity in the emotions that they go through in most cases. Although anger does come into it in both cases, the anger is directed at someone in a divorce. Sometimes they get over it, sometimes it stays with them for life. In death, it is usually a more general anger – at the world at large. Or even at the deads partner for not being there to shout at, but the anger usually clears. perhaps the grief will affect them throughout life, but not usually the anger.

    The new template is very snazzy, but it’s a **** to read! Especially on my mobile, where it is just impossible.

    Reply

  6. Stephen
    Nov 13, 2007 @ 14:50:07

    Thanks, JM. You introduce a good point, exchanging your hopes and dreams with Aggie for new ones.

    To some extent, we all do that in a marriage. Even MaryP and I, who have an exceptionally close and positive relationship, occasionally have to let go of something one of us had wished for in the relationship.

    Also, thanks for the feedback on the template. We’ve noticed a couple of other glitches, so I think we’ll be forced to reconsider our choice. Damn!

    Reply

  7. nebcanuck
    Nov 13, 2007 @ 18:04:04

    McSwain:

    The man I wrote about was someone I loved, but never married. With divorce, my relationship truly ended. Marriage was easier to let go than the breakup that never happened. I think I might need to write the novel.

    I too find that fascinating, and think a written version would be interesting. It’s so easy to think of aggression as damaging that often one forgets that silence can be just as, if not more, damaging.

    Stephen:

    But of course you’re right about intentionality, and I don’t mean to diminish that part of the equation. This post wasn’t an attempt to evade my responsibility for the divorce — I should make that clear.

    Don’t worry about the evading part. I wasn’t even going there! I just thought the comment was worth tackling!

    As for the comment about people getting angry, I think JM got my point better. Though it’s true that sometimes people get mad over a death, it’s more often than not a general anger — which I was getting at when I commented about anger towards God or fate. And even if the individual feels a slight tug towards anger towards their dead partner, there’ll never be a logical reason to do so… when your anger is justified by logic, it makes it that much harder to control, at least initially.

    Reply

  8. Bridgett
    Nov 14, 2007 @ 14:47:50

    This was a topic just this past weekend with friends. The idea of a person, of a future, is sometimes so much more than the person himself. If there is any care for the person at all, when you do say goodbye, it’s like a slowly unravelling rope. I broke up with my first fiance FOURTEEN years ago, and still something will make me wistful, a bit indulgently melancholic. But it’s about what might have been, not about what passed between us. That’s a wonderful post.

    Reply

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