with bravado

one man's 28-year-old quest to live and share a worthy story

hey so here’s a taylor swift track for every step of your breakup.

Today, after work, I was jamming to a playlist that includes some of Ms. Swift’s work, and I realized the song –– ‘Come Back…Be Here’ –– perfectly captured the feeling of missing someone we know we might be better off letting go.

Then I thought, ‘Hey. I wonder if Taylor has written and performed a song for every step of a breakup?’ (The answer, I’m sure you can guess, is yes.)
taylor-swift-intimate-gig-news.jpg

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part x: return to the breeze.

user's manual

There was a time, when you were running, that you glimpsed at the world around you and saw beauty in every direction. To your left, crops swayed gently in the breeze, and, to your right, a warm brick home sat amicably on a grassy knoll. Ahead of you, the morning sun peeked over the horizon, spilling golden rays onto all the everything. Lifting your arms into wings, your closed your eyes and basked, for a moment, in your existence.

This is you at your most yourself, reader. Joyful, hopeful, aspiring, and marked by wild gratitude.

To get here, to find yourself at this point, you will have to take a variety of steps. Now that we’ve reached the final section, we’d like to reiterate them to ensure you’ve properly reconstructed your broken heart:

You will need to learn to run again. When you set out before, when you chased after what you wanted, closed your eyes, and stopped counting your steps, you tripped. Your body was pulled to the earth, your hands and knees scraping against cold, cruel pavement. Your Heart was startled, your Mind rushing to compute: This is not what we’d calculated for! And so you hobbled onto your feet, onto wobbly legs, and took stubborn-ass steps.

Your first few steps of running again will, of course, be tentative. You won’t be sure your limbs are okay, and your Mind will find you scanning the horizon for pitfalls. Not on my watch, your Mind will say to itself, protecting your healing Heart from another jolt.

But, eventually, you will need to trust yourself again, to close your eyes, lift your head, and let your arms be wings. Yes, this will find you vulnerable, but, my God, you will discover you have missed this joy.

You will need to believe in it again, the beauty of it, the light in every direction. You will need to seek meaning from every corner of the world, to make mountains out of molehills, to continue deriving incredible significance out of ‘meaningless things,’ and to apologize for none of that.

To lift your arms, to truly allow them to expand, you will have to believe you deserve to expand, to stretch your limbs so emphatically in every direction that your being perpetuates love in supernovas around you. You will need to expand, expand, expand, until you’re no longer willing to give yourself over to anybody who asks you to shrink.

You will need to trust them, your words, and the role they can play in the stitching and the unstitching. You will need to believe in your strength, in the light that you uniquely bring.

In order for your fingers to know the breeze, they cannot hold onto what came before, onto heavy things like why somebody left when you were so willing to stay, and so you will need to be sure they are empty, cleared by forgiveness and acceptance and the summer winds.

Your eyes must be fixed on the horizon, no longer searching for love where it does not dwell, and your Heart must be at the helm of your existence, calming your restless Mind and paving your way forward with reckless, breathless courage.

A closing note: Sounding like yourself again, aren’t you? It seems that you’ve made it, shed what you needed to shed.

Well, we’re glad to hear it. No, no –– we’re okay. We’re just, well, we’re glad to have been with you through it.

Brave travels, reader. We’ll be here again if you need us, so w –– okay, enjoy the run! Congratulations on doing it, transforming those scars into stars.

 

part ix: the art of letting go.

user's manual

Here’s a radical fragment of honesty: You saw him, as you see him now, the entire goddamn time.

You discovered that the man you loved could not be filed under People Who Stay, but instead under People Who Leave, but the truth was that a part of you suspected it all along. But the truth is you love as you live –– with stubborn conviction –– and your Heart drowned out your Mind.

But, the moment he left, whether you wanted to acknowledge it or not, a small part of you exhaled. Because you had begun preparing to lose him a thousand miles ago.

You prepared to lose him day that you sat down to talk with him about the writing you’d shared with him, the bits of your bared soul you’d shared so that he might see you, and he started listing out all the problems with your choice of words.

You prepared to watch him leave you behind the afternoon you drove him home from a weekend in the city together, when he subtly let you know that he didn’t want you to linger at his apartment for long.

You prepared to feel his hands let you go over the stories he told you of leaving his ex, and the time he ripped up the airport parking stubs and told you to ‘stop saving meaningless things.’

Part of the letting go, reader, is discovering that your heart didn’t actually shatter in a singular moment. Rather, he broke it in steps, in a series of stories in which no one meant to hurt anyone. This is the reason that, on the morning he finally told you, after all the tears and the shock subsided, you began to feel early rays of relief. He had been right.

And that realization, you will find, will have a way of unfurling your clenched fists. Your fingers, nails previously embedded in your palms, will soften and stretch unto the air. As you let go of him, the idea of him and the love you fostered, you will find that the past is not a place you hope to return.

Another part of the letting go, you will find, is deciding not to remember him in only these dimensions. Your Heart was not wrong to love him, to see the charisma burning in his body and the courage waiting to emerge from within him. You will remember the times you held one another, you lost yourselves in the magic of it, you laughed together, running with hands held beneath the stars.

If there are People Who Stay and People Who Leave, you have made peace with where to file him. Perhaps, to someone else, he will become one of the People Who Stay, but that is his story, and not yours.

As for you, reader, you have learned what it is to be somebody who stays, who shows up, who loves with courage and honesty. And you have learned, whether you liked it or not, that you will not die if your Heart is returned to your shaking hands.

So let go, one finger at a time. Exhale, inhale, exhale.

 

part viii: the heart and the mind, revisited.

user's manual

The moment he left, and your Heart fragmented in your hands, your Mind went to work salvaging you from the storm. ‘People who want to stay,’ your Mind begged your Heart over its cries, ‘stay.’

Your Mind beckoned you to run, to get a haircut, to seek new adventures, to kiss the cute man at the bar, to say no to the man’s request to come home with you, to break off all contact with your ex, to let the break be final and to close the door on your side, to decline his terms, to build new adventures, to stop looking for love where it does not dwell, to repurpose your energy toward healing and loving others better.

For a very long time, over the past few miles, your Heart sat in stubborn silence, hurting and healing, quietly holding out hope that ‘people who want to stay’ might just … come back.

Things began to change for you, your fists unfurling and beginning to let go, when your Heart stopped arguing with your Mind about who he is: the good, the bad, the fine-but-not-right-for-you. All of it.

It’s worth noting, lest your Mind grow a bit too proud of its abilities, that your Heart has had its own miraculous victories over the past weeks and months. It has been your Heart beckoning you to be courageous, to be honest, to be loving, leaving behind bandages in place of wounds, a trail of love rather than pain.

It was your Heart that wouldn’t allow you to be cruel, that sought to disarm and not to incite, that empowered you to err on the side of kindness, forgiveness, and grace. If your Mind sutured your wounds with stitches, it was your Heart that began to gently pull them loose, to grant your scars the opportunity to breathe.

If it was your Mind that fortified you in steel walls, beckoning you forward in stubborn-ass steps, then it was your Heart that ordered the deconstruction, granting you permission to unravel, to weep and to laugh and to find meaning in the world around you again.

They’re at their best, your Heart and your Mind, when they’re working together. You can feel it already, can’t you? The return of the softness, the gentleness, the warmth that so characterizes your being?

This is a tell-tale sign that your Heart has reclaimed the wheel, that your Mind has softly sighed and relented, sitting in the passenger seat and gently coaxing your Heart to pay attention to the signs, your Heart animatedly telling a story about the day it first discovered love.

We’re getting close, reader. There aren’t many pages left in this manual. You’ve got fewer and fewer knots to untangle, at least from this mess, and, my God, has the horizon ever burned so brightly?

part vii: people who leave / people who stay.

CAUTION: You have reached an advanced section of the manual. It is essential that, prior to approaching Part VII, you have carefully studied and moved through the previous six sections. They are designed to prepare you, to bolster your broken places, so that you can trudge through. It’s okay to wait.

No? Okay, well move forward with care.

user's manual

You will note, reader, that the manual, up until this point, has focused pretty exclusively on you and your journey following possession of a broken heart. This is, of course, a decidedly passive way to describe your heartbreak. Spoken this way, in this language, it sounds as though you happened upon a broken heart by accident, by happenstance, by random lottery.

But this is not what happened, is it? Like many before you, your heart was broken by a human. You held it out, handed it to him, he broke it, and he left. As absent as his name has been from the manual thus far, your ex has been absent from your side.

The purpose of this section is to have you consider, with honesty and openness, the role your ex is going to hold in your life as you make your way back to yourself. Ultimately, that will be your decision to make, reader, as we’ll remind you: Each broken heart is unique, as is the story that shattered it.

In the world, you will encounter two kinds of humans: People Who Leave, and People Who Stay. Here’s an idea of what you might feel and/or notice when encountering each:

People Who Leave

  • Their presence, initially, has all the warmth of the sun, but their absence becomes increasingly dark and difficult, leaving you in waiting for their return.
  • For them, you will hustle, and they may praise your effort, igniting you and beckoning you to hustle further. The hustling will not cease.
  • Early on, they will be impressed by your brighter characteristics, but, with time, they will find your flaws, and they will convince you that to hold you is heavy.
  • Their arms will reach for you when you are useful, when they are unable to stand on their own, but you will find they do not reach for you when they are feeling victorious.
  • They will resist letting you see their broken pieces, snapping at you once you’ve noticed them, and they will not know what to do with yours.
  • You will study them closely, learning the language through which they speak and hear love, and you will learn to pull their smile into being. In return, they will never learn to decipher yours, to understand what it means when you tell stories, or when you explore sadness, or when your hands are reaching quietly for theirs.
  • At the ends of your visits together, their eyes will fixate on the clock, and they will not reach for you to stay, but instead urge you to go.
  • They will leave. When they do, maybe they’ll give you words, that you ‘deserve more,’ but they’ll ring empty, because they’re not meaningful, because they’re the words of someone who’s leaving. Or maybe they’ll leave with a whimper. Or maybe they’ll leave in silence.
  • The moment they leave, their eyes will fixate on what’s next, on new beginnings, on finding something to distract them from the very real wounds they’ve just left on another human being.

People Who Stay

  • It may be that you haven’t noticed them, that their constancy caused you to forget them in favor of the ones for whom you’d been hustling. But they’ve been there, you’ll realize, through all of it, the storms and the stars and the quiet mornings and busy days and long nights.
  • Rather than beckoning you always to hustle, they will summon you to be still, to be proud, to recognize what you have done, and to rest in the beauty of your own being, as you are now, without modification or influence.
  • They will find inspiration in your brightest characteristics, will point you to them when you’re not feeling steady on your feet, and they’ll remember them when you’re not at your best.
  • They will see your flaws, will be honest with you when you’re not owning them, but they will teach you to hold them, to repurpose them, will convince you that the cracks in your being are no excuse to feel broken.
  • They’ll study you, learning the language through which you speak and hear love, and they’ll say words / do things that make you feel seen, that make you feel like they’ve got a direct line to your heart, and they’ll use this to make you feel tall, brave, and loved.
  • With them, you do not have to perform, to put on the act of perfection, but instead you can relax.
  • Their hands will reach for you in times of victory, in times of failure, in times of boredom, summer, winter, fall, and spring.
  • They will not seek to change you, but will change you in doing so, by teaching you to exist, as you, with courage, honesty, and sincerity.
  • They will not leave, not if they can help it, even if that means reaching over miles of geography or mountains of emotional turmoil or the deafening distance between life and death. They will always show up, show up, show up. You will never look within yourself and not find them there.

Erm, that was a lot, wasn’t it? No, it’s fine to cry. This is a difficult chapter to make meaning of.

As you might guess, it is decidedly difficult to know what kind of person you’re loving in the middle of loving them. Love, as you know, orients the Heart to look for the good, to search for the hope, to keep paving forward.

You were not foolish, but brave, to love. We thought it was important that you knew that. At least this time, you were one of the People Who Stay.

Yes, you’ve also been one of the People Who Leave. Not this time, but yes.

No, that’s all right. Take some time. It’s important that you know the two types of people, that you understand the definitions. You’re diving into the tricky stuff now, the pulling out of the old stitches. Take a breath, spread your limbs.

We’ll be here when you’re ready.

part vi: on wobbly legs.

user's manual

One side effect of coming in possession of a broken heart, in most all cases, is a bit of a blow to the ego. In your case, you devoted months of your life to turning your love into actions, a language he would understand, and he responded by letting you go. It would be unusual, we have found, if you didn’t wrestle with a little bit of self-doubt.

In any case, it’s been some time since you ventured out into the world of dating. More than likely, you won’t be certain you’re ready in the first place, which will make you unsure of what you want, and you’ll be annoyed at your friends’ eagerness to see you ‘getting back out there!’

One Friday, however, once work has subsided and you return from a run, you will look at your spot on the couch, the blanket still curled from your last rendezvous, and you will turn instead to your closet. You will pull on a crisp white button-up, beckoning your friends to join you for a night out, and you will set out to find a little bit of confidence.

On that particular occasion, we’re happy to tell you, you will make eye contact with an extremely attractive stranger, and he will smile at you. For the remainder of the night, you will practice making intentional, prolonged eye contact, and you will find yourself blushing as he glances downward and smiles. At the end of the night, when he hugs his friends goodbye and makes a beeline to you on the dance floor, you will have an out-of-body experience. And, after he pulls you into a kiss lasting the span of two songs, you will re-enter your body, glad you ventured out.

And you will tell him ‘good night,’ surprising him and yourself, because it will turn out that you aren’t ready. You’re simply figuring out how to stand again, how to make use of these wobbly legs.

There will be similar forays into the world of dating, each of them seemingly ill-fated in retrospect, but their purpose will not be to find you onto the next great love, but to direct you back to yourself. You are learning, reader, to stand and breathe and rest in your being. These are vital lessons in healing, and they are essential skills to discover anew.

You will entertain a 72-hour first date, and you will realize about 6 hours in that you are in over your head. You will develop and nurture a crush on someone whom you will not be able to pursue. You will have a number of coffee dates, each of which will find you shaking your head as you drive home, wondering why on earth you ever left in the first place. These will bring you laughter, of course, and more than few feelings of foolishness, but they will also give your legs some much-needed practice: You are learning to stand, to walk, to run. Please allow your legs to be wobbly.

 

An important side-note, during this time: Please make note of the friends walking beside you, ready to catch you if you stumble, and rejoicing when you find your footing on new terrain. These are your people who stay (more later), and they deserve some of the love you haven’t been certain how to repurpose.

part v: the miraculous better.

user's manual

Well, hello there. No need for apology, by the way. We knew it would take you some time to get to this section of the manual. You have a tendency to read closely at the beginnings of things, then to lift off, as though you’ve got a good grip on where things were headed. Very ‘I’ll take it from here!’ of you.

Oh, no need to huff. We don’t mean to make light of what’s going on with you. It’s just that we knew we’d find ourselves here, or –– more accurately ­­ –– that you’d find yourself here. What you’ve just experienced, reader, and the reason you’re staring these words in the face, is what we’d like to term ‘the miraculous better.’

After the initial shock of a broken heart wears off, you may note, and the stubborn-ass steps become a bit less heavy, it is common for the possessor of a broken heart to break into a sprint. ‘I’m ready to date,’ they might tell themselves, venturing into the online dating world with a fetching new profile picture, or ‘that’s quite enough wallowing.’ The phase that follows, marked by a kind of euphoric joy, are the miraculous better.

You had time to sit with your pain, reader, and you made meaning. You sorted through it, pulled it apart until you comprehended its edges, and you reassembled it into meaning. You found the lesson, as it were, amidst the parable. Using your words, you felt your feelings unfurl. And so, like a mud-caked child rinsed by an ocean wave, you felt cleansed. ‘Why continue to dwell?’ you asked yourself, and so you embarked.

And now you’re back. As it turns out, there is a marked difference between feeling ready and being ready.

You have learned, much to your chagrin, that you can’t really control the tempo of a healing process. There’s no number of ‘hell-yeah-I’m-fine’ playlists, you have discovered, that will erase the tear you feel within whenever you remember his laugh. You’re wounded, flightless, and you’re going to have to move through all chapters of this journey.

Resist feeling foolish. This is a time, if you haven’t gathered already, to be gracious to yourself. The road to healing will be lined with missteps, and this isn’t really a time to berate yourself for that. (There are very few, if any, times to berate yourself, by the way. This warrants mentioning, though it is a much larger lesson requiring a manual of its own.)

So, if you will, work to unravel. Work to stop bunching in the bundles and pretending you’re weaving yourself together. Take the time to love each stitch, each suture, and run your fingers over the beauty of these new scars. You will not learn to love again, we suppose, until you’re certain you are worth loving, too.

Another thing: You can, and will, turn these scars into stars. Trust us. Or, maybe better: Trust yourself.