It had been awhile since I broke up with my ex.
The thing is, we never actually separated on a sour note. Sure, there were some things that didn’t click between us, and we ended up having more differences than we could reconcile. But when we decided to break up and go on with our separate lives, we never actually hated each other.
I still remember the day when we broke up, clear as day. He was sitting right in front of me, in a dimly lit bar in Central Jakarta. He was fidgeting, I recall, and didn’t even have a sip of his beer—or even talk. Realizing that there were something he wanted to say, I decided to stay put and observe the waft of smoke from one of the nearby guests like it was the most interesting thing ever.
“I want us to stop,” he said on that day. It was almost funny how he invited me over for a drink, spent fifteen minutes composing the sentence, and let out a request that I completely saw coming. He then proceeded to explain that it wasn’t my fault, and that he didn’t hate me or anything, but it didn’t matter.
I want us to stop.
Five words, and our two years relationship ended.
I didn’t even have a comeback for his statement. I just sat there, completely motionless, and tried to put on a poker face and nodded. It’s okay, I remember saying something like that after he finished everything he had to say. I understand that we’re just not for each other. In another life, perhaps. But not this one.
When he left that night, he gave me a quick hug and a peck in the cheek—not in the lips, like he used to do, and said to me something I never thought he would: “Please find your happiness.”
He got into his car, started the engine, and drove away without opening his window to wave a goodbye.
I remember I checked my online taxi application, only to find that the driver was still ten minutes away. I ended up waiting for my ride on a nearby bench in the parking lot, wishing that I wouldn’t go crazy while taking in all the petrichor smell that still remained on the ground after a quick downpour several minutes earlier.
So obviously, I experienced that heartbroken moment we all know. I listened to melancholic songs on repeat, read a bunch of breakup stories, watched overly romantic movies and cried for all the wrong reasons (thinking that why didn’t I deserve a happy ending like those girls in the movies), and binged on comfort food like it could actually replace the warmth of another human being I’d grown accustomed to.
It still feels funny to this day, the very moment when I am writing this post, because I remember how it felt like when nothing in life seemed to interest me. I even thought that I needed to have a fling to feel alright again, which was so sad because nobody should depend their happiness on someone else.
But that was precisely what I did.
For all the strong facade I kept on during our last date together, I could have sworn that I could win the Oscars for acting like I was completely fine. Nobody in that bar could have thought that we just broke up. Sure, he was fidgeting around like crazy, but there were no swear words, no tears shed, no pleadings…. Only two individuals who spent a not-so-quiet night together for an hour before going home.
He used to have this unique scent whenever I was near him. It was a combination of something citrusy with a sandalwood base fragrance, which I thought was a clever combination. I never knew what brand of perfume he used, because he kept it a secret from me jokingly, but every now and then when I walk past some random guys with even a hint of similarity in perfume aroma with him, my mind would instantly wander to the closeness we used to have.
This delusional, self-pity charade went on for approximately two months.
And I’d be lying if I said I know what helped me to move on. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever stopped loving him, even after the months and years we’ve spent apart. I didn’t just wake up one day and suddenly felt okay. If anything, I think this recovery is a long and winded process of wallowing in your heartbreak, picking up the broken pieces by yourself, and slowly gluing them back in place.
The only difference I could possibly describe was when after that two months period, when I a colleague invited me for a drink party with the other guys at that bar—the same bar where we broke up—and actually felt okay with participating. I couldn’t even explain how I could felt okay, but at that moment, I truly didn’t mind going to the bar while reliving my breakup moments.
He used to hold my hands during our dates, and I used to enjoy the warm sensation I felt in my stomach whenever he did it. He always did it discreetly, not the in-your-face kind of way that always seem to proclaim the flag of public display of attention. He held my hands when it mattered: when we were watching a romantic movie together, during one of our fancy dinner dates, and inside the car.
When I discovered that I felt okay after what seemed to be an unhealthy dose of sad songs, romantic movies, and comfort food, perhaps it was also when I discovered that I didn’t need him to hold my hands. Sure, it felt wonderful, and I still miss the warm feeling I used to feel when his hands held mine, but that was beside the point.
Nowadays, I discovered that holding your own hands is just as effective. You know, placing your right hand on your left, or something to that effect. Whenever I thought about missing his big hand on mine, I would bring my hands together, and move them like I am soaping my hands. The heat it generates might not compare to that of realizing another human being is taking care of your comfort—of your need of company, but I ended up missing him less and less each day.
Perhaps it’s the realization that even after being left and broken into pieces, I still survived anyway. Perhaps it’s in noticing how I perform just as well in the office even after the sudden breakup. Or perhaps it’s in all those nights I spent alone, when I ended up filling my loneliness with dozens of productive activites like cleaning the whole room, writing a sappy romance story, or even folding an origami.
Maybe we don’t “feel alright” overnight, after all. Maybe “moving on” is not as instant as everyone else expect it to be. Maybe it’s not even “moving on” in the first place. Because for all that mattered, I never deleted our photos together, or threw away all his belongings that he left with me.
It was through the act of delusional, self-pity charade that I eventually found my strength back. Of knowing that your heart is repairing itself each passing day, even without you consciously ordering it to. It was through this slow and gruelling process did I find complacency of wallowing in my despair, yet recovering anyway.
“Please find your happiness,” he once said, as if all my sadness would just go poof and disappear once I knew what happiness was. I found that statement to be largely bullshit these days.
Everyone inherently knows what makes them happy. Unless you’re in a severe depression, of which I would not go into since it goes way beyond my expertise. But it wasn’t like I didn’t know what makes me happy: writing, reading, watching anime, enjoying comfort food, being in love….
In fact, everything I did during my “mourning period” was indulging myself in every other happiness that I could find; that I knew would make me feel better.
It was only the happiness of being in love that had been robbed away from me when he left. I thought that for me to be in love again, I had to let him go and stop directing all my love to him.
But that was wrong, I feel.
I’d like to believe that letting go does not mean you have to stop loving.
Even to this date, I hadn’t stopped loving him. I still remember the way he made me feel, so why bother trying too hard to hate someone who was in love with you?
When I told my friend about this, she asked me if I really did feel alright. She was obviously concerned that I might have faked myself and tried to act tough. But this was way after the two months period when I have picked up all my broken pieces, so I didn’t even stop to gauge my happiness level.
“I’m alright,” I told her. I remember all the things he’d given me in life, and I remember all the hard times I spent crying over losing him. But I also realized that there I was, talking to my friend in a family restaurant, breathing just fine after being wounded and bruised.
If letting go does not mean you have to stop loving, I thought.
Maybe being happy does not mean you have to be in love.
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