I recently finished reading the book “Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar” by Cheryl Strayed. The tiny, beautiful book, a work of non-fiction, chronicles Strayed’s on-line advice column that she writes for The Rupus.net under the pseudonym Sugar. (It’s a hipper, longer version of Dear Abby, with advice typically coming in three versions - long - medium long and really long).
As a columnist, Strayed turns the tables on the advice column world. Rather than give traditional advice column tips, she uses reader questions as a springboard to tell her own personal story based on a real-life experience. As a professional storyteller, the book had quite an effect on me to say the least.
Taking my cue from Mrs. Sugar, I’ve decided to temporarily hijack my Psychology Today blog and turn it into an advice column. Rather than field questions from other lonely, lost souls seeking pressing counsel throughout the internet ether on all important matters relating to the modern world, I’ve decided to only field one questions from myself. I will then proceed to answer myself. Enjoy.
Dear Mr. SlashLand,
Recently, my ex girlfriend lent me an advice book. I won’t tell you the name of the book, but the cover is orange. While I read the book I found myself swaying back and forth between thinking it was over between us to thinking we still had a chance and between thinking it had been the best decision I’d ever made to thinking it was the worst.
You see, we Facebook broke-up on New Years Eve 2011. I spent that evening with my cousin who had also broken up with his girlfriend - as cousins we’d come to our epiphanies on nearly the same day and decided that ringing in the new year together and single made a lot more sense than continuing to date different versions of the same mixed-up woman who didn’t share in the excitement of realtionships in quite the same way as we did.
The reason for my breakup isn’t important. Though my crash-and-burn marriage proposal (see previous blog post) didn’t help matters, I was prepared to find a way to get over my rejection and continue our relationship.
I am writing to you now because I am confused.You see, her and I have been messing around secretly since our breakup - my friends and family don’t know anything about this (my friend George doesn’t even know about this). We don’t call one another boyfriend and girlfriend and we no longer have a relationships status on Facebook even though we still send each other Facebook messages regularly. The first thing I do each morning is check her Facebook status.
We talk every few days, have dinner and lunches together about once a week, and she even helped salvage my birthday in August by taking me to the beach and out for gluten free pizza. She says she still loves me.
This past weekend, after spending a great few days with her - we attended a bunch of shows at the NY Clown Theater Festival, had dinner, got massages, brunched, reveled in frozen yogurt - I finally told her how stupid it was to keep on doing what we were doing - existing as invisible people in this void of definition.
“It’s like we’ve been pretend dating,” I said. Neither of us is dating anyone else, but to be honest it feels like an affair because it can’t really go anywhere. I know this.
I told her that instead of wandering around in the twilight, it was time to either turn off the lights or turn them on. She’s everything I’ve always wanted in a partner - she’s super smart, spiritual, artistic, sexy, joyful, playful, nurturing, socially aware, generous on a regular basis, has a cool sense of fashion with a great shoe collection, shines in her own very distinct way, is actively seeking her mission and she’s someone who wants to make a difference in the world.
She is everything that I want in someone, except the one thing that I want her to be - someone who wants to build a life with me in relationship.
Right before our weekend ended, she said she wanted to just be friends. I tried to convince her that we needed to heed the signs - us still remaining single after all this time was a sign that we were meant for one another. She didn’t agree. Then, I told her I couldn’t be just friends - not anytime soon, at least.
Then, I got mad. Mad at myself for being an idiot. For chasing after someone who I knew would never let me catch up with them. Stupid for wasting the last year of my life in limbo and for not having the courage to move on.
I decided for the 112th time to end things with her. We hugged goodbye. She was in tears. It felt different this time, but I no longer trust that feeling. It felt the same way the other 111 times. I rode the subway home while inside of me the voice of a skinny, strung out relationship junkie sitting on the cinder block steps of a trailer park home kept laughing and saying, “Damn boy, you just can’t quit her, can you?” and “Here we go again.”
It’s fall in NYC, my favorite time of the year and I’d love to fall in love and spend it with someone great, but it feels like my life is covered in a thin shade of gray. I know what a really great person my ex is and what a really great friend she’d make. I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water, but I’m wondering if I can even be her friend at this point? Please advise.
Chicken Little aka Henny Penny
Dear Little Chicken,
I know this book well. The book cover is a bright “convict jump suit” orange (also the same color as the traditional orange dress of ascetic Hindu holy men). If you remember your esoteric matters, then you’ll remember that orange is the color of the second chakra where the emotions of attachment and letting
go are stored. This is why people who wear orange jump suits often have a “coo coo for cocoa puffs” look in their eyes. The line between attachment and letting go is often a thin, delicate one.
It makes perfect sense, that after carrying your ex girlfriend’s orange book around the city for the past month, that it would finally come to shape your blog (the most intimate public real estate for your inner-most feelings).
Think back to New Years Eve with your cousin. The kinship you felt with him as you shared your breakup stories in your father’s Jeep, the cold winter air of Virginia seeping into you as if trying to wash things away, the feeling of wandering through the party later, feeling empowered for a new year of possibilities, the way you felt when you were approached by the beautiful, bohemian goddess asking you to go upstairs and make out. Though you refused, you remember that “this is going to be a really great year” feeling?
Then, at the end of the night that feeling of watching dozens of paper Chinese Sky lanterns rising into the sky lit by tiny fire candles, as if they were taking your troubles away. Your cousin filmed it, remember? He even filmed the portion when the lantern fell from the sky onto the little boy’s head, dumping the lit candle into his hoodie and setting his hoodie on fire.
The boy was fine, but remember how you and your cousin laughed and laughed and laughed as you re-watched the footage he filmed of the incident on his iPhone - the way the little boy screamed and seemed to take flight as the flames engulfed him. He looked as if he were dressed in an orange jump suit, his eyes had the coo coo for cocoa puffs look as the adults chased him and swatted at him before putting the fire in his hoodie out?
Unless you want your life to be like Bill Murray in his portrayal of Phil the Weatherman in the movie “Ground Hog Day,” (he relives the same day over and over again throughout the film), I petition you to call on those memories now as you fast track the healing you need to do to get to where you want to be.
In any breakup there are two portions: the breakup and the letting go - two different and separate things.
You broke up with your ex last year. That was the easy part. Now, it’s time for the hard part - letting go. You need to have a talk with your own inner little boy. Tell him that you need to send him on a mission. Make sure to tell him that you’ll be there for him just in case. Re-tell him the story of New Year’s eve - how everything turned out fine. Tell him when he feels that fire to revel in the heat, scream and run around a little, let the wind fuel that fire, let his eyes go crazy - he’ll grow along with it and you’ll grow along with him.
Tell him that it’s time to risk everything for what may or may not be hidden behind door number three. Remind him that the two other doors where you tried being with your ex and in-between with your ex, just didn’t work.
His mission begins tomorrow when you unfriend your ex on Facebook. Silly Chicken Fry, don’t you know that checking her status updates are like pushing a bruise? It will continue when you hide all your couple photos, delete her from your phone, and that painting of hers that hangs in your relationship corner needs to go. You broke up a year ago and now it’s time to let go.
Ultimately, you’ll get back to a place where you can trust in the divine right order of the world and your perfect place within it. You’ve been chasing after something for so long that you’ve exhausted yourself. Often, when you chase something it tries to escape. It may be exciting, but it’s also exhausting.
When you have the urge to contact her, do something meaningful for yourself instead. Know that contacting her is part of you chasing her. Glue your feet in place if you need to. You don’t have to chase anyone anymore.
I’m no mathematician, but you can set a clock by your break-ups. Since you turned twenty you’ve averaged one break up every four years. It’s time to clear the karma, make different choices that come from the passionate, learned and thoughtful man you are now. It’s time, Chicken Little, to become an expert on lasting, loving relationships and have everything you want and need in your life right now.