How to Forgive Your Ex and Move On (*Hint: it involves dancing)

For most that knew us, we appeared to have the perfect relationship. People would often ask for advice on how to find a partner and have a relationship as fulfilling as ours. And, for a while, they were right to think of us that way. We had a beautiful, enriching relationship that comes around very rarely in life.

Our first date was the calibre of Jesse and Celine’s from ‘Before Sunrise’. We traveled to Wilmington, NC together after having just met and had the most romantic three days of our lives. We snuck onto the top deck of a cruise ship in the midnight hours, where we shared our first kiss. We exchanged ‘I love you’s’ on the flight home, on December 21st, 2012 — the day the world was supposed to end, according to the Mayans. We met each other’s parents and friends the week we returned. We told everyone that we had met ‘the one’.

It went on like that for quite a while. Until, one day, things changed. I can’t tell you the specific moment her or I knew, but they did.

We began to notice things about one another that bothered us. Were we always this way, or did we just not notice before? It became apparent that we were two very different people.

I was a morning person, she a night. I liked to schedule and plan, she liked to live more spontaneously. I knew what I wanted from life, she was a wanderer, and liked it that way .

Even though we felt ourselves drifting, we held on tighter instead of letting go. Our fragile egos only survived by claiming what was ours to the rest of the world, while jealousy began to rear it’s ugly head more frequently than not. The more time we spent together, the more we’d argue, and the more time we’d need to spend making up. It was a vicious cycle, an exhausting emotional roller coaster with no end in sight.

We broke up and made up many times, until one day, it really was over.

We dealt with the break up very differently. At first, I went inward, reading books and articles and spending hours with my thoughts as to why relationships, and mine in particular, failed. She did everything she could to distract herself.

Some friends suggested I read the books, ‘Mastery Of Love’, and ‘The Truth’. They were huge eye openers for me. I learned that you can’t truly love someone until you accept them for who they are, as they are, today without judgement or trying to change them. I used to vilify the things I didn’t like about her. It was always me against her, instead of us against the problem. .

Over time, the things that used to bother me about her didn’t anymore. I didn’t necessarily appreciate them, but I didn’t judge her for them either. I felt, for the first time, that I truly understood her and saw her in a new light. She wasn’t Celine from Before Sunrise. She wasn’t this fictional person I had in my head of who I wanted to be my partner. She was Jelena. And she was pretty great, in her own way. And with that, the toxicity of our past relationship became painfully clear. I experienced a deep sense of regret for projecting my expectations and needs onto her. I felt terrible for making her feel like who she was, wasn’t good enough for me. Similarly, I wanted to be told the same things from her. We really did love one another deeply, despite everything, even at the end.

I wanted to call. I wanted to see her. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. Or, at least that’s what I thought.

I started researching online to see if there were examples of people getting closure post break-up. I came across an article reviewing a performance art piece from Marina Abramovic and her lover, Ulay. They were lovers and performance partners for many years. They decided they wanted to end their relationship. In order to signify their parting and new beginning individually, they traveled to China and traveled the great wall from opposing sides, until they finally met in the middle to say their final goodbye. Their piece was filmed and titled, ‘The Lovers’. It took them several months to complete the walk.

The article called it their ‘tabula rasa’, which is latin for blank slate.

It really spoke to me. Sometimes you just can’t get that kind of result by talking.

I had my spotify playlist on shuffle while working on the computer and the song Eye of The Needle came on. I’ve been a Sia fan for about a decade now, but for some reason when I heard that song play, it felt like I was hearing it for the first time. It captured the feelings I had toward my past relationship so clearly and vividly that I had to replay it several times.

Sia has been particularly inspiring to me lately as she blends music, dance and performance art to create powerful, moving work. I was trained as a dancer growing up, and I’m an actor now, so it only seemed fitting to consider our own tabula rasa a performance piece.

The idea wouldn’t leave me alone. It unfolded in my head so quickly that it became overwhelming. I couldn’t do it alone, though. This kind of thing would only work if she was willing to do it with me.

And so, this time, I called.

To my surprise, she was in sync with a lot of the same things I was feeling after we broke up, and wanted some sort of closure too. She was open to the idea of creating this piece with me. Although she was a trained dancer growing up as well, neither of us were choreographers.

Jade, a choreographer we met through mutual friends, loved our idea and agreed to help us craft a piece. We started thinking about how we could represent our troublesome relationship through dance.

In a toxic relationship, not only do you feel burdened by your partner, but when you escape, the anxiety can be overwhelming, luring you back into what you were desperately trying to escape from.

We were starving for love while starving the other of the love they so desperately needed to feel.

We thought the best way to depict an unhealthy level of co-dependence is by attaching ourselves to a chain with shackles.

You want to leave but you feel you can’t. Resisting hurts more because you’re holding onto things that you know aren’t good for you. We used shackles that were big enough to take off if you really wanted to, showing that people can leave at any time, but we make excuses for why we can’t.

From there, we reached out to my friend, Chris Hau, who owns a production company. He loved the idea and agreed to film it for us.

We decided to create this video for a few reasons:

- To deal with unresolved feelings in our own past relationship and create a blank slate. Our own tabula rasa.

- To show the world that you can only truly love someone if you let them be themselves and are okay with who that person is. It’s better to accept someone as they are apart from you, then to try and change them while being together. This was shown through the removal of the shackles at the end of the video.

Will we end up together? Que sera sera. One thing is for certain; we both feel we’ve let go of the past, gotten our closure, and now see each other, and others in our lives, in a much more positive light.