Uh-oh! It's post February 14 again, a time of sadness and pain for many couples. In fact, it may be the single worst time of the year for breakups.
For singles, Valentines' Day (and evening!) is tough enough, with the ceaseless marketing of romantic gifts, cards, and flowers. And for couples who lack physical intimacy, the sexual not-so-innuendo of Valentine's Day messages elicits additional feelings of inadequacy.
A patient of mine with ED once recounted spending a lovely Valentine's Day weekend with two other couples at a Vermont inn, however at dinner there was considerable banter about sex, "and at the end of the evening my wife and I knew the other couples were going to their rooms to have sex, but we were going to turn off the lights and just go to sleep. I felt like such a loser."
In terms of relationships, though, it is the day after Valentine's Day that can be deadly. Couples who struggle in Sept or October may pull it together for the forced good cheer and family obligations between Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's. Some regard Valentine's Day as the final leg of this series of "togetherness" holidays that applies a temporary bond to cracked relationships, but once Feb 15 rolls around, there's nothing else on the horizon and it's time to move on. A patient told me once, "I couldn't break up with my girlfriend until after Valentine's Day. Her friends all compare notes about what their guys were planning for the day, and it just wouldn't have been fair if I'd taken that away from her."
So, for those struggling with PVDB (Post-Valentine's Day Breakup), here are a few thoughts that might help you get through:
1) Break-ups are painful, no matter the circumstances, no matter the age. Having teenage daughters reminds me of this, and I don't think the agony is diminished as we age, although we may (or may not!) learn how to hide it a little better. I guarantee the pain lessens with time. Really.
2) Real life bears no resemblance to the perfect relationships we see in movies or on TV. Most importantly, the end of a relationship does not mean it was a failure. On the contrary, there is always something to learn. As Roberto noted, "My ex-girlfriend Jessica showed me how special it can be to have a regular sit-down dinner at home with my kids. I'd never done that when I was married. What a gift she gave us!"
3) Acknowledge the magnificence of your former partner, no matter how ugly the circumstances of the breakup. There was a reason, or twenty, that you first were attracted to each other and stayed together. You aren't an idiot, and he/she isn't the devil. We live crazy lives, and it's no small miracle when we can create a special world of two, and allow ourselves to be known to someone else. Even if it only lasted for a moment.
Last week a patient of mine, a professor in his mid-fifties, shared his concerns about a blossoming new relationship with a former graduate student. He went on for a few minutes listing the issues- she was younger, she lived in another state, he felt weird about the teacher-student thing, and so on. Finally I asked him in a casual way, "Why don't you just enjoy it?"
He stopped short as if I'd slapped him, his eyes misted up, and he grabbed my shoulder. "That's so great," he said. "I needed to hear that." After a moment, he went on, "It's been fantastic with her so far, and the truth is that I'm very excited. I'm just worried it won't work out, and I'll wind up feeling like a fool. Thanks for the encouragement."
We live so much in fear. Fear of hurt, loss, failure. Just the anticipation of failure and pain can prevent us from accepting the most wonderful gifts life has to offer.
So, for those dealing with PVDB, or a break-up on any day of the year, remember: Enjoy the miracle, and give thanks, in whatever way you can, to the person with whom you've shared this magical time!