“Breakups are easy,” said no one, ever. If they were, I don’t suppose you would have clicked on this post for a shot of rejuvenation from failed relationships, or at least see how I got closure with the help of a book about tidying. I wasn’t searching for an answer — it magically presented itself to me.
Breakups can be one-sided or mutual. Messy and brutal. Bitter or regretful. They can be a combination of things, leaving people feeling a little less whole after giving fragments of themselves away.
I have been on both sides of the heartbreak spectrum, and while they are awful in their own ways, I’d rather be on the receiving end than to be the one ripping a collaborated love story to shreds.
Getting dumped can feel like being swept up in the sudden impact of a tsunami, where you lose control of yourself, questioning your existence and everything you had, stuck alone with the aftermath of your worst nightmare. But as the storm clouds of bad dreams wisp away over time, you recover — learn that pain is temporary — and you live on stronger and wiser. It was yesterday.
Breaking up with someone, on the other hand, you can move on, swiftly with one foot in front of the other without turning back to face the mess in your wake. It could be seen as heartless and as easy as turning the page with the flick of a finger when that couldn’t be further from the truth. It hurts the same. Only the pain is slow and dragged out, with the difference being something extra sticking to you, like an invisible scar called Guilt — and you carry it with you to tomorrows.
A universal truth is that goodbyes are complicated, and it is the hardest word to say
Take it from me; I broke up with my ex without giving either of us a chance to talk over why it all came to an end. I cut him clean from my life — which was, in hindsight, the worst way to end a long term relationship.
He had worked into the fabric of my life, making up a large part of my identity, my history, and once part of my vision for the future. Ripping him out was painful and left a void. What filled that space was a concoction of remorse, nostalgia, and gratitude all spilling over during times of reminiscence.
Is it ever really over when you have reached the end of the road? Do you get closure from letting go?
I did what I do for people I love and who have impacted me positively — I wrote my ex-boyfriend a letter of gratitude, through an email after many years of cutting contact with each other. We shall call him Theodore.
Before and After Theodore
He was my first and only boyfriend from high school, who I was utterly enamored with, blinded by the kind of untainted young love that is treasurable and only comes once in a lifetime like a dazzling gold rush of adolescence.
Invincible in a world tinted in the pale blush of roses, we experienced all our firsts together during five formative years that felt endless. Individually we weren’t perfect; I was clingy, insecure, and overly-jealous. He was secretly shady, a flirt, and had a wandering eye. Nevertheless, in retrospect, we were a good match, hailed a “dream team,” and our relationship was sweet while it lasted.
I remember a lot. Some of the more obvious things one would recall about an ex or a friend, like his birthday, horoscope, favorite color and number — basics and nothing worth remembering.
But then, other things I remember vividly to the point where the past is almost tangible, like how I haven’t spoken to him in a decade, but I can hear the echo of his voice, down to the habit he had of clearing his throat.
Without any of the letters or cards he’d written to me in the distant past in my possession, I can still visualize the strokes of his writing on paper. His letters are not too big, not too small, kind of bubbly, and exceptionally neat for a guy’s — like a cute Comic Font.
We always held hands while he was driving, tuned into old school CDs of unforgettable melodies, and his eyes would light up at the sight of the airport runway lights at night over the bridge.
I can envision the countless times I used to watch him play basketball and the way he’d flash me a smile whenever he made a shot, in contrast to his dejected tear-stained expression from disappointment after losing the final game with his graduating team.
Or that time we were together in his room with the door open, and I was laughing endlessly like a maniac at something that probably wasn’t very funny in the first place, worried his elder brother in the adjacent room must have thought I was a weirdo.
I remember his long-awaited return from a trip to Asia one summer mentioning a book he’d read, The Five People You Meet In Heaven. It was a random conversation out of the thousands we have had. But I hadn’t forgotten, and years down the road, it has led me to read the sequel to the book, The Next Person You Meet in Heaven.
How Theodore’s one seemingly insignificant action influenced mine no longer in each other’s lives, he and I are still connected. We have had our share of ups and downs, but in the end — I see my cup as full, and it is brimming with beautiful memories.
I say that with fulfillment inside, though it took a long time to reach this point. Saying goodbye to someone you deeply care for is never easy. I ended things, but it was a decision that brought with it much sorrow because you lose a loved one and still go through a grieving process where they exist but are gone. At the same time, I ended up finding my happily ever after, but it wasn’t without hurting Theodore in the process. It took ages to make peace with the past and get closure.
I am a highly sentimental person. Sometimes I have an unhealthy attachment to things and keep them to look back on. But a long time ago, I lost everything in Canada when I had all my belongings stolen, robbed of everything down to my yearbooks.
I happened to be minimizing and reorganizing my life, home in Tokyo and picked up the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Author Marie Kondo from Japan, behind her method for making space for what you love, says,
Many people have equated my tidying method with minimalism, but it’s quite different. Minimalism advocates living with less; the KonMari Method™ encourages living among items you truly cherish.
The simple method is to hold each item close
- If it sparks joy — keep it.
- If it doesn’t, say “thank you” before parting with it.
If only I could have held them one by one to see for myself, which sparked joy. It was unfair that I did not get the chance to sort through my keepsakes. It was ironic to be wishing for everything back when I was trying to de-clutter, but I had a hard time accepting the reality of the irreplaceable losses.
This is where Marie Kondo’s wise words spoke to me, helping me come to terms with and move on from the past while letting go of sentimentality tied to it. Not only with my ex, but all aspects of loss in my life. The chapter about parting with sentimental items was resonating with me so much so that I’ve bookmarked it.
Let all those letters you received years ago from a girlfriend or boyfriend go. The purpose of the letter is fulfilled the moment it is received. By now, the person who wrote it has long forgotten what he or she wrote and even the letter’s very existence.
It is not our memories, but the person we have become because of those past experiences that we should treasure. This is the lesson these keepsakes teach us when we sort them. The space in which we live should be for the person we are becoming now, not for the person we were in the past.
— Marie Kondo (pp 117–118)
I used to think that a breakup meant the end of a relationship where you draw a line in the sands of time and turn your backs on one other for good. The world has mysterious ways of proving you wrong.
Once someone has intricately woven into the tapestry of your life, they leave a permanent mark that seeps into future pages long after you have ended your story together. Despite their absence, they show up in your life like a little character who stays lingering behind, existing in your memories, and the emotions stirred up inside you whenever you recall them, in your actions because of the obvious or subtle ways they have shaped who you are as a person. Relationships last a lifetime when they still beat with your heart, like a never-ending ebb and flow of a song you can’t get out of your head. You cannot forget, nor should you because you carry lessons from that relationship that will serve you well into the next.
We’ve all made someone better for somebody else.
I had not been in touch with Theodore in over seven years before I sent him that long-overdue letter of gratitude.
If there is ever a time you ought to embrace the subtle art of not giving a fuck, let it be when fear keeps you from speaking from your heart. Don’t wait. Apologize if you have to. The worst-case scenario: they ignore you.
Let Your Truths Be Known
Some people would think of it as pointless, but speaking from experience, it is never too late, and they may thank you for it. Like having one heart split down the middle and the opposite side mirrored back, they may reflect and echo your sentiments, having waited all along for a chance to say the same: that, my friends — sparks joy.
What took me so long to get closure was because I did it all wrong. I let Theodore go without first letting him know how much he meant to me, without thanking him for all those monumental steps we’d taken in life together, for being with me when I was lost, and that I was sorry, we couldn’t keep our promises and fulfill our dreams together. Still, with much sadness, our time was up. We had reached the end of the road. Little did I know that I would always carry remnants of him into my future — because for better or for worse — he is a part of me.
Let Go With Gratitude
Once the storm has settled, you will find a silver lining in the wispy clouds of even the worst of dreams. If you struggle with clinging on to your past or certain people, the rules of KonMari apply here. Make space for who you are today, unbound from attachments of your old self. KonMari people from your life. Thank them — and then let go. Not in the opposite order as I tragically learned. Be thankful before burning your bridges. That way, you won’t form any invisible scars.
Farewells can be hard, but letting go becomes easier once you’ve found the good in saying goodbye. The key is to leave nothing else unsaid. Take all the good along with you as you move on in life — leave the lackluster rest behind. So yesterday.