Dear Bartender and Priestess,
I was supposed to be getting married in less than a month. Instead, my ex-fiance and I have called it off and completely broken up. Now, I feel like I’m left to my own devices. I am overwhelmed by my sense of loss and pain, and am already seeing a therapist to process everything. I am heart-sick, and can’t even put everything to the side because I have to de-plan everything we’d planned. I never knew I could feel this exhausted.
But still. I am left wondering…just what in the heck am I supposed to do on what would have been my wedding day? I was supposed to be a bride, it was supposed to be the start of my new life. I’ve been told I should try something I’ve never done before, but I don’t really know what I would want to do. I don’t have the energy to plan anything. I understand that I am grieving and eventually this will pass, but that doesn’t change the amount of pain I’m in right now, and I stare at my calendar and the approaching non-wedding day with dread. What can I do to get through this?
–Signed, Never A Bride
P: I’m so sorry. What a painful, horrible thing. Your poor heart. Of course you’re grieving. No matter the reasons for the break-up, this was someone you’d planned to spend your life with and you had dreams together. Those dreams are now shattered. It may be that grieving is exactly what you need to do. And if you don’t feel up to planning something fabulously memorable, wait until you’re healed.
B: I know roughly where you’re coming from. I remember hating the calendar after my ex- and I split, wondering what on Earth I was going to do when our now-pointless anniversary date rolled around. I spent twelve years celebrating that date. And…now what? I remember the weight settling in my chest, the short, panicked breathing when I thought about what to do. It’s not fun. Yes indeed, your poor heart.
P: If doing something is something you want, where are your bridesmaids? They’re the women you wanted to stand by you in your happiness, are they ready to stand with you in your grief? If you want something fun, will they help? If you want to go out and build houses for habitat for humanity, will they go? Will they go out on a canoe trip? Or a museum weekend? If you want people to mourn with you, will they dress in black and come to the funeral? (more about this later.)
And are they willing to help you unplan? Have you asked them? Because they surely don’t know what to do to help.
B: Help. Yes. Ask for it. I’m a big fan of calling in your tribe. Like Ann said, talk to your bridesmaids. Your family. Recruit them, because you shouldn’t have to do everything alone. Most of the time, friends want to be there but don’t know how. They don’t want to intrude, or seem like they know best. So tell them what will work for you. You asked a community of people to stand with you and support you at your wedding. You should, hopefully, be able to call on those same people to support you during these more difficult times. We form social units for a reason, so circle the wagons around you. There is hardly more reason to call for support than when one undergoes heartbreak like this.
P: Just as a starter thought, and I’m sure your therapist has already brought this up, but what ever you do, stay away from the alcohol. Your body is already processing this shock to your heart. Alcohol often lowers your inhibitions so now you’re a hot drunken mess (usually in public, eek). And you don’t want to wind up having a fling or a rebound relationship with someone that you entered via alcohol.
Lots of us have done this. And you don’t need anything else to extricate yourself from!
B: Believe me: these are the customers that bartenders dread. Don’t be the drunk weepy girl at the bar. You may come in to my place but once; those stories live on forever.
P: The ritualist in me has two thoughts here. One is something private that might help. I had a lover “ghost” me, just disappear from my life a long while back. It was dreadful. Someone taught me this ritual and it worked really well. It worked particularly well because I did it in another state… It’s a ritual of release. It takes a week, so you may want to start beforehand and release on the day of.
You need Paper, Pen, matches, salt.
Draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper ¾ of the way down. Then draw a line at the bottom of your line. Under that line write: I release this relationship and my sadness in the unrealized dreams. (or whatever mission for this ritual makes sense to you.)
Then to the left of the line, right all the things you’d hoped for, all the things you’d liked about your relationship and this partner.
On the right, jot down every big problem and every petty annoyance that you had in the relationship and with the partner. Hated her hair? Write it down. Chewed with his mouth open. On the list. Wasn’t trustworthy? Write that. Write until you’re done. Take a couple days.
Then make a small circle of salt on some land or in a parking lot, or, or, or… I left my boyfriend by a fishing pond in Colorado. He liked to fish, I hated it, and I was never going back there.
Read your mission statement aloud. Read the good qualities. Put that aside. Then read the bad qualities aloud, adding anything else that occurs to you. Then set the list on fire and place it inside the circle. When it’s burnt, add some more salt to the ashes. I had to go back to that circle a couple days to add a few more “and another things.”
Then every day for the rest of the week, read your mission and the good things list. Because there were good things. You didn’t just make bad choices. At the end of the week, read your mission; read your list. Then say I am done with this relationship and I release it to the world. Burn it and the mission, not inside the circle, and scatter the ashes. Walk away.
I was greatly relieved by the time I was done. Honestly, I did pieces of it again, because I was heartbroken. And I always felt as if I were taking a step in the direction of my own well-being and self-esteem.
B: You’re such a priestess. But I think you’ve hit what’s most important for the letter writer right now, which is rebuilding her self-esteem. We tend to define ourselves and our well-being by our significant others, which creates such problems in the aftermath of an ended relationship. We have to understand who we are, anew, without this other person beside us. The important thing is that you do reconnect with yourself. Figure out who you are and what you stand for. Figure out what you really like. You’re in therapy, and I’m sure there’s a lot of discussion with your therapist regarding your former relationship and its demise. But you are still here, with or without the fiancé, and you need to merit your attention too.
I say you should do what you want to do, on your not-wedding day. I don’t mean that you need to do something new and wild—you don’t need to hang glide, or travel to Tahiti, or spend the day building a better mousetrap. But you should spend the day honoring who you are. IF (and only if) that means spending the day alone, in your pajamas, watching Steel Magnolias and eating ice cream, then do so.
P: Seriously. You don’t have to overlook the possibility of a stack of sad love stories or movies and a huge box of tissues. You’ll need popcorn and chocolate. Your jammies. Eat bad things. Go to bed and cry yourself to sleep. Get up and remember, you may have sad memories, but no date is ever going to be that bad again.
B: The catch, though, to a day in bed with movies and tissues: you need to be moving toward something. You’re not allowed to dig out the foundations of a new rut to wallow in. Be in the moment as you cry and pound your fists and honor your pain. And then release it. Emotional pain should not be your closest companion. Honor and acknowledge it, because if you don’t, pain has a sneaky way of hanging around. Oddly, I’ve found that once I’ve said, yes, I hurt, yes, this sucks, yes, I deserve the cry of my life, yes, I feel miserable and all I want to do is shake my fist at the sky, the pain becomes less antagonistic. People often try to get their loved ones to turn away from the pain, because they don’t want to see them hurting. I say, embrace it, because you are human and your pain is real. What you’re going through sucks. Unfortunately, to get to the other side of something, you need to be in it, you can’t get through it from the outside. How’s that quote go? When you’re going through hell…just keep going.
P: And if you’re really feeling awful and want closure…
B: I hate the word “closure”. I think it’s overrated. Can’t she commemorate and move on?
P: Yes, sure. Whatever. Gather your friends, ask them to dress in black, and have a funeral for your relationship. There are three things you’ll want to pay attention to: Talk honestly about why this relationship ended, what killed it. Talk about the things you loved about it and the things that weren’t so great. And then talk about what kind of life you will now have, incorporating the wisdom you’ve gained or will have gained at some point when your heart stops hearting. Don’t hesitate to burn a picture and scatter the ashes. Or cut the ex out of a picture and burn that half.
B: It’s funny how burning pictures can help. Just be careful, of course. No errant flames, no injuries.
P: And then go out to a lovely lunch with your besties spending some of the money you get back from all your deposits, etc. Charge the cost of that to whatever (if any) money you’re splitting with your ex. Should she/he complain, point out that you’re doing the settling up of accounts and that it’s the cost of doing business.
B: My answer to my anniversary quandary was to have an anti-versary party. I gathered my friends and family around me. Like I said, I’m a big fan of circling wagons. It was a great way to remind myself, even though my life had gone so not how I had planned, I was still loved. And I know that can be difficult to remember, right now, but it’s true. You might not have the romantic love you’d envisioned, right now. But you have people who love you, and want the best for you.
P: Again. I’m so sorry for your broken heart and your dreams.
Thanks to Deb Slade for her Phabulous Photos!
Thanks to the Lewisburg Hotel for location, location, location!
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