Sex + Love

Running Up That Hill

How to turn a painful breakup into the best thing that ever happened to you.

Illustration by Esme.

Illustration by Esme.

Every morning, I wake up in a bedroom that I do not recognize. It feels like a hotel suite where I am simply a guest. I am still adjusting to the way the summer sun streams in through the windows during the earliest hours of the morning, not-so-gently prodding me awake way before my alarm goes off, but this is pleasant, actually: Sunlight is a familiar comfort in this new place where I live.

I live here now because I recently left my partner of six and a half years, the last five of which we spent living together. After we broke up, I brought my dog and my possessions to this new apartment, where, despite the occasionally jarring novelty, I am basking in the freedom of my own space. I can stretch my arms out wide and not touch any walls, I can binge-watch any Netflix show of my choosing. I feel relaxed and self-assured, and I know moving here was the right choice, but I have to admit that the joy I am experiencing is bittersweet. There is an emptiness here that sometimes threatens to swallow me whole; each day I have to consciously remind myself that any ghosts floating through these rooms are just whitewashed memories of our love, and that if I treat them with proper respect, those ghosts will find peace.

From the moment we met, the relationship was easy. The first time we spoke, I experienced none of the social maladies that seem to plague initial encounters—like how you can sometimes stumble over words because you’re lost in someone’s eyes. It was as though I’d known him forever and we’d already shared a trove of memories. And as the years went by, we created many beautiful new ones. Our love wasn’t fiery and dynamic; it was so tranquil that we rarely disagreed about anything. My previous relationships had been emotionally abusive, and I’d come to believe that a “good” relationship was a torturous one. But this man taught me that love could be a source of comfort. I treasured our life together; I loved our home, our dog, and our record collection of the beloved shoegaze bands that drew us together in the first place.

When people talk about breakups, they tend to focus on the emotionally ruinous kind. The dominant breakup narrative tells us that the end of a relationship is necessarily an event that will reduce you to rubble. Picture the ghostly bride of Mrs. Havisham or sad, slothlike Rob Gordon in High Fidelity. But we never hear about the boring breakups, the ones where you are sitting on a couch together and don’t face each other because you know it’s over. The ones that feel more like a heavyhearted ache than a stabbing pang.

But our breakup would’ve made a terrible movie. It was undramatic, and the relief was immediate: As soon as the words “I want out” tumbled out of my mouth, I felt reborn, glowing and alive and free to roam. It was like a light was turned on that I hadn’t noticed was ever out. Maybe he feels the same way—I have no idea, as we haven’t really spoken since the day we piled our vinyl records on the floor and went the through laborious process of splitting them up.

Thankfully, I got to keep Hounds of Love by Kate Bush, which includes “Running Up That Hill,” a song I’d always loved but never really understood. Now, though, the lyrics started to come into focus. When Kate sang, “Running up that road, running up that hill, with no problems,” I pictured myself traversing an emotional obstacle course with no resistance, and reaching my destination as easily as taking a morning stroll. For the first time, I saw the world as a place full of fluid possibilities, where I could exist on my own terms.

Was I emotionally affected by the breakup? Of course. Breakups are always painful, not just for the breakup-ee but for the breaker-upper as well, because really loving someone means never wanting to hurt them, and leaving them is an act of high heartbreak. But once you’ve arrived at the conclusion that a relationship is over, there is no turning back. You feel it with every ounce of your being, and that feeling cannot be ignored.

My heart churned for a long time with this feeling of wanting out, but I kept making excuses not to leave. But eventually I could no longer quiet the internal monologue that urged me to walk away. Here are some thoughts that my brain ran in circles, which you might have when assessing your own relationship, and my eventual conclusions:

“I’ll never find love like this again.”
There’s no sugarcoating this one. You won’t. You will never love anyone else in quite the same way. Each time you fall in love with someone, the love grows out of your experiences together. It’s shaped by your nuances and dynamics and, yes, flaws, until it grows into something beautiful and unique, just like the two of you. Some love is a wildfire that can’t be tamed, other kinds are gentle waters that you can swim through and never worry about drowning. Love is wonderfully particular, which gives you the freedom to enjoy it for what it is—and look forward to the next kind of love you’ve yet to experience.

“I’m scared to lose this person.”
The end of a relationship is a loss. The feelings you have about it are a legitimate form of grief, and the thought of choosing to go through can be paralyzing. Why would anyone voluntarily put themselves through the grieving process? The answer is simple: Because out of this death springs life, and you will find yours. It can be so easy to organize your whole life around your relationship, and when it’s all over, you will need time to mourn both the person and the life you had together. Power through these feelings of fear, because you will emerge on the other side. It just takes time—but you have all the time in the world.

“I don’t want this relationship to fail.”
Tavi and I had a heart-mending dinner together recently, where we both cried and laughed and poured out our aching souls over comforting food. We realized that a relationship doesn’t fail, it simply ends; your lives’ paths intersected for a moment in time, then those paths diverged, and that is beautiful and OK. This is true of every single person you will love—including the last person you love, because even if you stay with them forever, one of you will die first (sorry). When a relationship is over, it is a loss, not a failure.

“I’m scared of being alone.”
Perhaps the most painful aspect of a breakup is what I call empty time. These are the moments you used to spend together, some of which may have become a routine, but are now spent in disquieting solitude. Weekends spent doing things like thumbing through LPs at the record store are now hours you spend staring at the wall. It’s an odd kind of emptiness that has real weight—it feels like a stack of immovable stones in your heart and your mind. But soon enough, that empty time will become filled again. It will fill up with your family and friends and all of the other loved ones who populate your life. And, most important, you will have yourself as company. You are your own built-in best friend. Combating empty time is the perfect opportunity for you to get in touch with personal ventures you’ve put off—whether that means learning how to play the guitar or running a few miles or losing yourself in a stack of comic books that had been gathering dust.

The dreams I wake up from these days are often soberingly nostalgic: Each surreal image seems somehow connected to the love I walked away from. Yet these dreams are sweetly optimistic. Sometimes I dream that I am stumbling through a well-lit hallway, overcome with a sense of loneliness, but then I realize that I’m not really alone, because I’ve got myself as my own guide. In my dreams and my waking days, all I see is an enormous sky filled with possibilities. That can feel overwhelming sometimes, but it’s always thrilling.

Where my heart will go, I haven’t the slightest clue, but I’m running up that hill with no problems. ♦

12 Comments

  • paradisetiers July 22nd, 2014 12:42 AM

    This is so beautiful.

  • FatedToPretend July 22nd, 2014 1:40 AM

    ” a relationship doesn’t fail, it simply ends; your lives’ paths intersected for a moment in time, then those paths diverged, and that is beautiful and OK. This is true of every single person you will love—including the last person you love, because even if you stay with them forever, one of you will die first (sorry)”

    This part legitimately filled my eyes with very real tears

  • Zoe July 22nd, 2014 2:48 AM

    This was so so beautiful and sad but nice and i can’t even

    http://liar-at-a-witch-trial.tumblr.com/

  • irismonster July 22nd, 2014 3:02 AM

    It occurred to me a while ago that romantic relationships are the only thing the success of which is determined by by whether or not it ends. That’s so ridiculous, isn’t it? A relationship can be a roaring success even if it ends like a failure. I think it’s much healthier to measure by how happy it made both parties, how it changed your life ultimately, and even how long it lasted PAST when it should’ve ended.

  • Naomi July 22nd, 2014 5:26 AM

    this was pretty much perfect meagan

  • mangointhesky July 22nd, 2014 8:16 AM

    This is so romantically sad and so beautiful… I feel like a parrot but it’s worth it!

    http://lescarousels.blogspot.com

  • honorarygilmoregal July 22nd, 2014 8:52 PM

    This was great! Love that lyric from the Kate Bush song.

    http://perkstobeinginfinite.tumblr.com

  • hollysh July 22nd, 2014 11:30 PM

    Lovely, thank you Meagan.

    I’ve been really enjoying all of the break-up related stuff on Rookie lately, as I’m going through one currently. I’m struggling extra hard though because it’s just because of distance – I had to move back to my home country and he stayed in his, an ocean away. I would love to read a piece related to dealing with star-crossed breakups. Maybe in a year’s time I could write one, but I have no idea what advice to offer or take from here.

  • HopeBound July 23rd, 2014 5:12 AM

    Just what I needed at this point in life <3
    You touch the soul, Meagan :)

  • elektraheart July 31st, 2014 6:59 PM

    “Some love is a wildfire that can’t be tamed, other kinds are gentle waters that you can swim through and never worry about drowning.”

    So beautiful. And some love can be a bit of both!

  • mildewonrice August 20th, 2014 1:20 AM

    1) kate bush is my all-time favorite artist
    2) i am going through a similar breakup right now and this was extremely comforting and insightful
    3) i also live in chicago!!

    this was a really great piece. thank you so much!

  • cata October 5th, 2014 8:08 PM

    wow, this post was all i needed to read today, it describes perfectly all the feelings that i have now when i think about breaking up