When Self-Care Causes Heartbreak
I majored in English Literature in college. I had no idea what I wanted to do with the major upon graduation, but I didn’t care — because I devoured literature. I loved all of it: old, new, classic, contemporary — it didn’t matter.
One of my courses featured the works of Jane Austen (because what English curriculum doesn’t), and one of her lines in Northanger Abbey struck me because when I read it, I felt like the words were inscribed across my soul. It read:
“I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature. My attachments are always excessively strong.”
Yes! I thought when I read it. Yes. That’s me. That’s 100% me. I develop attachments slowly. I have only a few close friends. I love them fiercely. I go on plenty of dates, but I enter into relationships with men infrequently. When I do, I’m all in — I jump with both feet.
Because of this, the attachments that I develop are strong — perhaps excessively so — and this works for me. I feel that I am able to throw myself fully and presently into those relationships. Conversely, however, should those relationships become strained, or severed, the loss I feel is significant. I grieve those relationships as I would a death, and it can take me months to recover.
I’m currently recovering from such a situation, and I’m hurting, but I chose to exit this relationship, and I know that it’s for the best.
I met him online. I almost canceled the date, because I just didn’t feel like going; I’d had a long day at work and I wanted to go home. But, I went, and liked him immediately. Our attraction to one another on both physical and personal levels was mutual, and we ended up dating for a year.
Toward the end of the year, I felt him drifting from me, and it began to cause tension in other areas of my life. I felt more stressed at work than I usually did, and I became agitated more frequently with others. I didn’t want to ask him what he was feeling, because I knew deep down that our conversation could lead to a break-up, and I wasn’t ready for that rejection. At the same time though, I just wanted him to come forward with his thoughts. Whatever it is, I told myself, I’ll deal with it. I’ll be okay. And it will be nice to have this situation resolved.
Eventually, he did tell me that he wanted to break things off. He had a new job offer and was moving out of state — not far enough that we couldn’t drive to one another for the weekend — but too far for dinner after work.
“I care about you so much though,” he told me. “I like having you in my life. This wasn’t just physical for me. We have love and respect for one another. I want us to stay friends.”
“Sure,” I said. “Love that line. Love when men tell me ‘they want to be friends.’ K, see you later, hear from you never.”
“No,” he said. “It’s not like that. I want to be friends. If you don’t, I understand, but I still want you in my life.”
My attachments are always excessively strong, and I wasn’t ready to give him up. I still wanted him in my life as well.
“Okay,” I said. “If you mean it, let’s try it.”
Now that I knew where he was at with me, and what was happening in our relationship — now that the situation had clarity — I was certain the nerves I felt in regards to our relationship would cease.
But, they didn’t. There wasn’t actually any clarity. Perhaps he felt that things made sense, but I didn’t. We still spoke on the phone. We still texted. We still sent one another funny memes on Instagram. We got together on different weekends. Nothing in our interactions changed, but he no longer felt like my person. I realized that I still wanted more, and was trying to force myself to feel differently.
I felt like hell. My anxiety surrounding our relationship didn’t lessen but rather intensified. I wondered what he was doing when we weren’t talking. I wondered if he had met someone else in his new state. I found myself checking his social media accounts more frequently than I ever had when we had been together. I hated how desperate and pathetic I felt.
In an effort to make myself feel better, I poured myself into self-help books and self-care ideas. I tried yoga. I tried meditating. I tried drinking tea before bed. I tried positive affirmations. I tried this, I tried that. I tried everything, except severing our attachment. Nothing was working. Of course nothing was working. I wasn’t taking care of what I knew was the problem.
Self-care isn’t meant to be frivolous. It can be, sometimes, and that’s okay — but that’s not its purpose. The purpose of self-care is to care for yourself. It’s meant to make you mentally and physically healthy. Sometimes caring for yourself isn’t fun. I’d rather eat pizza than broccoli at every pass, but I know which one is the healthier option. I know which one more often falls under self-care, and I know which one more often falls under self-indulgence.
Self-care sometimes means making the difficult choices — the choices that hurt and the choices that you don’t want to, and had hoped to never make — for the cause of long-term greater good.
Self-care dictated that I couldn’t maintain this friendship. It wasn’t serving me — it was hurting me.
My attachments are always excessively strong, and upon ending our friendship, I felt that I lost a limb. Someone incredibly important to me, who I cared for immensely, was no longer in my life and it hurt. It still hurts.
But it hurts a bit less each day. I no longer have to wonder what he’s thinking about me, or our relationship, or what he ultimately wants from me — and that’s helped to ease some of my stress. Maybe I’ll become friends with him again someday, but for now, I can’t have him in my life — this is me, choosing myself.