Monday, 25 November 2013

Broken Engagements

A broken engagement usually equals disappointment, a unique dream that has died and a cherished friendship that has either been wounded or exterminated. Sometimes it signifies a betrayal. It is serious stuff.

It is serious if the man broke off the engagement (which a gentleman was never supposed to do), and it is serious if you broke off the engagement. Either way, it hurts. And, unfortunately, it represents HIGH DRAMA to all your mutual friends and relatives. Your nearest and dearest will be sorry and perhaps embarrassed, and many of your under-twenty-five friends will talk, shriek, speculate, shake their heads... Ugh.

This is why I recommend, from the bottom of my heart, that a broken engagement is a good reason for you to get out of Dodge. Now is the time to take a quick How-to-Teach-ESL course and move to rural Poland for six months. I'd suggest Japan except that it would be harder to get to Sunday Mass. If you are away from almost everyone you know, you will escape both the possibility that your broken engagement will be of interest to those who should not be interested and the possibility that people who should care don't care.

Another long-distance plan involves mission work in some country so desperately poor, your own problems will be put into perspective. Incidentally, don't do anything dangerous or life-changing or involves a commitment of more than six months. St. Ignatius of Loyola says that you should make no important decision when you are in a state of desolation, and very often after a broken engagement a person is in a state of desolation.

A safer option involves your aunt across the country or ocean. "Scooter and I broke up. It's over. Can I stay with you for a month to get my head together?" sounds perfectly reasonable to me, aunt of three, wife of Uncle Kindhearted.

Or if you really can't move away that long, see if you can take a holiday away somewhere, as in across a large body of water. Presumably there was a wedding budget; use some money for this.

At very least, you must take a week off work or school, as soon as you possibly can. And you must not contact your ex-fiance. You must not allow your ex-fiance to contact you. It is not time for closure. Closure after a broken engagement is not something you can make happen, particularly not within a week of the break. Closure may take months. If you broke up in October, you will feel just a little better in November, and then a little better in December (with a dip around Christmas), and then a little better in January. By April, you will be much better indeed. Look forward to April.

Wherever you go, I recommend hiring a therapist to listen to you talk. The etiquette books of yore held that a gentleman cannot say anything about a broken engagement, and a lady can speak of it only to one ladylike friend who can be trusted not to say anything to anyone else. These etiquette books were published long before Bridget Jones was a book, let alone a film. I think it is almost impossible to talk about a failed engagement to only one ladylike taciturn friend, and that there are only so many times she can listen to the same story before she starts screening your calls. Therefore, I think the addition of a shrink a very good idea. If you have little money, I recommend seeing if you can talk to someone at Catholic Family Services or your university's mental health services for a nominal sum. And, for the truly poor and distressed, there is always your favourite priest.

I seriously recommend not dating for six months. The temptation to win emotional intimacy with a cool new guy by telling him all about the last cool guy (which never, ever, works in real life) will probably be too much for you. Ignore everyone who tells you that when you fall off a horse, you have to get right back on. Relationships are not horses.

Above all, allow yourself to be sad. The natural healthy reaction to disappointment and loneliness is sadness. Sadness is not a disease. It is your right to be sad until you slowly begin to discover that you are happy. (If six months go by and you are still not happy, and indeed feel worse, I recommend you see at doctor about this at once. Sadness is not a disease, but depression is.)

So to recap:

1. Get some physical distance from the community where the engagement and break-up occurred for up to six months, if you can.
2. Do not contact your fiance or allow him to contact him, no matter how lonely either of you feels. Of course you feel lonely. Find other ways or people to help you carry the burden of your loneliness. Your OWN loneliness. You are not responsible for his loneliness; you can't help him.
3. Do your best not to tell everyone in the universe what happened. Instead, hire a therapist, see a counselor or talk to a priest. If you can afford only to talk to a priest, stuff some money in the poor box.
4. Don't date for six months.
5. Don't demand instant closure. Instead, own your sadness. Imagine your sadness is a wounded bird you are going to take care of until it can fly again. Don't feel ashamed to be sad. But don't hang onto the wounded bird when it is ready to fly away. If the wounded bird doesn't show any signs of healing, go to a doctor.

I hope this is helpful.


Anonymous said...

Highly recommend travel abroad for the broken hearted. Japan might have more access to Sunday Mass than you might expect if you live in a large city (where you're more likely to get a job anyway). The population in those places is so dense that the .5% of Catholics in the country are more likely to be there. Nagasaki, for example, is historically very Catholic.

I lived in Korea, where Catholics make up 10% of the population, and Sunday Mass was very easy to find in the cities. In fact, I had a Catholic church literally next door to me. Korea is also an easy place to teach ESL... they'll pay you to go there. Highly recommend it. Just be careful what other expat friends you make. Some of them are real jerks. The Koreans were lovely.

Wayfaring Single Girl

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Sheila said...

I second Korea -- my parents were always trying to get me to move there with them! Everyone there appears to want to learn English, and everyone is quite friendly. They call it "the Italy of Asia."