The unexpected joys of breakups and separation

The unexpected joys of breakups

Originally published on 20th October 2021 at 3:00 PM

Reading time: 2 mins

One bright autumn morning during the ambiguously gradual unravelling of my five-year relationship, I strolled briskly from our rented house on Brixton Hill across Brockwell Park to the Lido. I was looking forward to the mindful back and forth of swimming bracing lengths. It was my daily therapy, clearing my mind of my feelings of fear and hurt. Although my girlfriend and I were separating as compassionately and amicably as possible, in something of a ‘conscious uncoupling’ model, I was starkly aware of how much I would miss her steadfast companionship.

Yet on this particular morning, I felt a new sense of contented calm wash over me. I was listening to a sort of ‘breakup playlist’ on my clunky iPod, an outdated model that my girlfriend often gently mocked. As I turned up the concrete path towards the tennis courts, Richard Hawley’s yearning song ‘Open Up Your Door’ started up. Just as the strings began to swell, I noticed some golden leaves trapped in the criss-cross intersections of the wire fencing. There was something about the way they glinted in the shafts of hazy sunshine that made me pause. They were hardly Wordsworth’s daffodils. But there was something about the way they hung there, soon to decay yet still beautiful. They seemed like memories of old love, little trophies to be celebrated not mourned.

"As much as a chapter of my life was ending, a new chapter was beginning too. I was about to be single. And that, I realised, was going to be just fine."

When we emerge from a relationship, we have often been stuck, run aground, for a while. Yet we are suddenly, perhaps unexpectedly, experiencing music and colour with a new intensity, observing our life from a new vantage point. And we have the autonomous freedom to determine which way to turn next. Hurting and confused as we may be, there’s a peculiar energy about us at this transformative moment of renewal. These primal feelings that can sometimes push us towards destructive acts of revenge can instead be harnessed and used as forces for good, for creativity, for moving forwards towards new adventures and connections.

"I call it ‘breakup energy’."

I have often puzzled over the curious cultural binary that seems to value coupledom over singledom. The truth that I have experienced is the exact inverse of this, a photo negative of our programmed expectation. Film director Yorgos Lanthimos also comments on it in his bizarre and biting 2015 satire The Lobster. The characters that play by the rules and pair off get to stay in a luxury hotel. While the rebels and renegades who opt for single life live as outcasts in the woods, facing the lashing wind, rain and storms. Yet a more genuine kind of connection seems ultimately more likely to blossom out there in the real world than in a high-pressure production line of forced matches. Maybe it is during these times spent single, facing the crashing waves of self-reflection, that we are free to be at our most authentic and electrified. And to become a bigger, better version of ourselves to take into a relationship again… if we so choose.

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Rosie Wilby
Rosie Wilby
Rosie Wilby is an award-winning comedian, author and podcaster who has appeared on BBC Radio 4 programmes including Woman's Hour and Four Thought on many occasions. Her first book Is Monogamy Dead? was longlisted for the Polari First Book Prize and followed a trilogy of solo shows investigating the psychology of love and relationships. Her new book The Breakup Monologues is based on her acclaimed podcast of the same name.

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