Friday, 18 February 2011

Auntie Seraphic & Weathering a Break-up

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

I have recently come across your blog and it has brought much wisdom and hope, and, you will be glad to know, has prompted me to order your book. :-) I have been reading a lot of back posts which have helped a lot, but am wondering if you have written on handling break-ups and/or broken hearts. If so, could you refer me to them; if not, would you care to?

My story is not all that unique. I was in love with an NCB who I was sure was "the One." My friends approved and I truly thought God did as well, but NCB disagreed and has moved on to a new, younger NCG. (I am not sure whether to be flattered or appalled that according to my friends "she is just like/another version of" me.)

While I could fault him for a few minor things, e.g. communication, he's basically a good guy. There was a reason why I loved him in the first place. The fact that he loves someone else is painful but not a character flaw, so I am having difficulty mustering enough anger to overcome what is simple but profound grief at my loss both of the person who I hoped to marry and someone who was close to a best friend. I feel an acute sense of loss both of the reality that we had and the dream (unreality) that I thought we had and had hoped for.

It does not help things that I am 3-, and less seraphic than I would like to be re: the prospect of prolonged or even permanent single life.* I have tried to be for many years, but the deep desire for marriage and babies has never been something I have been able to overcome (other than at brief moments of spiritual high in church, when I also thought I could be martyred :-)). You and your readers are well acquainted with this particular cross so I needn't spell out more details. Statistics re: marriage "over 35" (particularly in a city in which NCGs are said to outnumber NCBs 4:1) and babies "at advanced maternal age" don't help in the hope department--the "oh well you'll find someone new/better" is not a given and has even been replaced by some well-meaning(?) friends with "are you sure you aren't called to religious/single life?"

(*My heart ache is definitely over this specific NCB, who I was convinced was the Perfect One for Me, but is compounded by the loss of a One in general. I had thought, like the couple in When Harry Met Sally, that I would never have to go through [the dating life] again--and yet here I am. Sigh.)

Your blog addresses finding acceptance and happiness in the single life in general, but I am hoping you can offer some advice for some practical ways to pull myself out of this pain in the meantime. I know the right things to tell myself, and on good days I believe them: that God's plan is perfect; that God desires my happiness and has a different/ better plan for it; that if I wasn't right for him, he was not right for me, and I am undoubtedly better off in the long run. Etc., etc., etc.

I have brought my grief to daily Mass (not a new practice, but a helpful one) and tried to unite it with the Cross. I know also, when I think about it for even a moment, that others suffer more severe pain than mine (abandoned and divorced after years of marriage, widowed, etc). I can even acknowledge, intellectually and theologically, that I have grown and that though I can't see it, this is probably a "good thing for me." I have tried to fill my time with other good things and good people.

But I still feel a huge concrete block in my chest where my heart was and would love some good advice and/or encouragement to help me heal and move forward, and/or be joyful in the meantime. Thanks!

Weathering a Break-up

P.S. I do find hope in your story, especially since you were my age when you met BA, and also the story by KimP. I believe I am not alone among your readers in wishing for more such stories from those whose hope was fulfilled albeit after long waiting. I know in reality God might not have a similar gift for me, but hope is helpful at times... :-)

Dear Weathering a Break-up,

I just got your email, and the first thing to say is that I am sorry that happened to you. Breaking up is hard to do, and although the pain might not be as over-the-top and acute when it happens to us in our thirties (as it does in our teens or early twenties when it makes it seem life is over), the ache is certainly compounded by the sense that the years are slipping away.

I go through a break-up in my book (at age 36), so there is a lot on breaking up there. In fact, the whole section "Loneliness Happens" addresses it. However, I have some things to say in the meantime.

The first is that pain is a part of life. It is absolutely natural and normal for you to feel the concrete on your chest---or the cross on your back. "Take up your cross and follow Me," said the Lord. He didn't say that our crosses were illusions or that we just had to get over it. He acknowledged that we carry pain--and He invited us to bring that pain with us as we follow Him. He doesn't expect us to be joyful 24/7.

One meditation I have found helpful is to imagine myself at the foot of the Cross, and I lay down my cross before it and say, "Lord, I can't carry this by myself today. Could You help me?" Because, sometimes, only He can help me.

Don't try to escape the pain. Sit with it. Pray with it. Cry with it. Especially cry with it, if you can. The occasionally fit of weeping is very healthy. Don't encourage it artificially with sad music or whatever. But acknowledge your pain, feel it and make peace with it. After one particularly horrible break-up, I used to go to the same cafe night after night and pour my feelings out into a notebook as rock music blasted around me. And I used to think "By March I will feel better...By April I will feel much better..." I acknowledged that right then I felt terrible, but also that this would not always be so.

Pain takes as long as it takes to go away. Your pain over the break-up will indeed go away. But I don't know when.

The second is that God has a plan for you and all of us. We only get to see it as it unfolds although sometimes we do get hints. We have to trust that He knows best and that if we start setting plans in motion without any reference to Him, we will mess things up for ourselves. He is asking of us a profound trust: "Though He slay me, so will I trust in him"--I think that's in the Psalms, and I have certainly said it through gritted teeth!

The third is if God has planned from Eternity for you to get married, you will get married.

You know, I say this all the time, and I never realized how annoying it could be until readers started telling me that if God wants me to have a baby, I will have a baby. Both statements are true, though. I think the problem with these statements is that taken alone they don't acknowledge the pain and disappointment we feel if God does not give us what we want so badly. However, (A) pain is a part of life and (B) we must trust that God knows best.

You will never be too old to get married. Amongst my older-than-me readers who were recently married or engaged, one is about 50. Not any man is going to marry you, but I don't think you want just any man. You want the right man. The right man will marry you, no matter what age you are. Is he out there? Only God knows.

I am very glad to read that you are going to daily Mass and uniting your sorrows to the Cross. I honestly cannot think of anything better than that. The only thing I really have to add is that you must allow yourself to feel the pain and not to be ashamed of your sorrow and sense of loss. Look at Our Lady of Sorrows. She is our model of respect for pain and sadness. When an otherwise wonderful priest suggested we paint smiles on every statue of Our Lady of Sorrows, I was horrified. To whom would we go when we were sad, I wondered. It is so important to us that Our Lady knows what it is to lose someone we dearly love, and so very, very important that Our Crucified Lord knows what it is to be lonely.

I hope your pain processes itself out sooner rather than later. And of course there is always blessed hope that God has something prepared for us beyond our fondest imaginings.

Grace and peace,


Christine said...

"Though He slay me, so will I trust in him" is from the book of Job (Job 13:15), which has helped me through some of my toughest times.

Seraphic said...

Aha! Job! Thank you.

Kate P said...

Such kind and encouraging words, Seraphic. Weathering, I'm singing for two Masses this weekend and I'll offer them up for you, that you might find some comfort and peace.

Ashley said...

I had to pipe in with a couple of comments, but also to wish this lovely lady my sincerest condolences! Breaking up can be such a vulnerable and uncertain time, and I think sometimes it is this uncertainty and vulnerability that adds to the experience of pain as we face an unknown future without a firm trust that it will be a *good* future. It is also particularly difficult for women, who are especially relational and have the tendency to form an identity tightly wound around those with whom they are in a relationship. The closer the relationship, the more the identity is, in a sense, proverbially invested. When the break-up is from the other side, there is always the hurt of rejection and questioning, which is difficult for a woman's soul, which has been uniquely designed to experience God's love through a man (spouse, ultimately). Something that has been helpful for me and I would love to share it in hopes that it also brings some peace for this writer. It is by no means a quick-fix, so I don't mean to sound trite or offer it in that way, but it is a point of meditation to take to prayer. Here goes: for a woman who feels called to the vocation of marriage and indeed was hoping to marry this particular man, there can be a great sense of powerlessness when the NCB doesn't agree. Many times, I think the woman feels "left hanging". She still wants to love the NCB with even what might be a pure or holy love, but feels thwarted of the opportunity by his decision. In these cases, consider making the decision to SURRENDER: Surrender the person to God and actually consecrate him (or her, in a man's case) to Christ or the Blessed Mother, or to whomever you have a particular devotion. Consider praying: "Lord, I would like to love this person with a holy love, but they don't want me to right now, for whatever reason. I can't love them like I want to, and to dwell on it will be unhealthy. Therefore, I respect that decision and consecrate (this person) to You, Lord. Love them for me, because I can't. I place this person in Your hands, and I'm going to go continue to live my life now." This meditation and prayer has been helpful for me and for other friends as well and I hope it's helpful for you during this time of uncertainty! Peace. :)

KimP said...

Dear Weathering A Breakup,

I could have written your exact letter in 2006. I, too, thought I had found "the One" and then discovered he had no interest in marriage. It was by far my singlarly most disappointed moment in life.

I felt I lost my dream, my future husband, and my best friend. In short, it sucked, and the pain I felt was just this short of unbearable.

All I can do is to tell you to keep doing what you are doing; going to Mass, praying, etc. And tell you what worked for me: I found a Catholic counselor for some therapy. She was there to remind me to respect the process and to help me deal with issues I hadn't yet explored. That emotional work helped set the stage for meeting my BF three and half years later. Frankly, without it, I might not have appreciated Jamie's qualities, and I might have missed out if I had just stuck to the old husband checklist I used to have in my head.

In short, while my breakup was horrible, it was God's way of saying, "I have something better in mind!" I believe whether you get married or not, God has something planned for you that is much, much better!!!!!!! Just hang in there, let time and God heal, you will enter into an exciting new life. Praying for you!

JenB said...

Amen and amen.

I think the best part of what Auntie said was to not be ashamed of the pain and to not escape it. Oh, how it threatens to crush!! But the hope we have is Christ won't allow us to be crushed, even though it feels impossible now. And even though you may want to yell a few things at Christ. ;) (PS I say, go ahead and yell. )

In times of great pain and struggle, my wise mother's words return to me, "This too shall pass". It will, I promise, so long as you let it cry out of you and not become resentment and bitterness.

I am so sorry for your loss, dear sister, I really am.

Andrea said...

In a strange way, this note from Weathering is comforting to me, as I have experienced a break up at age 3* too...It is good to know I am not alone, which is a great benefit of this site. In hindsight, I might add, the fellow who seemed so right for me was actually very wrong, and the break up was a rescue from a (possible) future filled with unhappiness. I just add my best wishes for peace, grace, love and some humour to find their way to you. When I was going through the worst part I hung out with one friend in particular, who always had a way of making me laugh, and that helped, temporarily, at least.