Day 16 – Vada Advent Calendar
The Ex You Can’t Move on From Never Truly Existed to Begin With
Moving on is hard to do. Or is that breaking up is hard to do? Breaking bonds is hard to do? Investment finance is hard to do? Ugh, everything is so horribly hard to do. But moving back to moving on – we all know that the end of a relationship can be terminal soul cancer.
Comfort, companionship and coitus (forgive me, Father, for I could not abandon the ‘Covenant of C’) are forcibly removed in a heartbeat. Your broken heartbeat. Steadfast stalwarts of love are obliterated without discrimination and it is Grade A awful. Particularly because, as you well know, you were going to be with them forever (their right to individual autonomy be damned!). You were better with them (no, really, you miserable bastard, you actually were better with them). You had a connection the likes of which history and humanity had never seen – it was energy, pure creation, an indomitable spark (and now it’s gone. I’d consider returning said indomitable spark to the decaying thrift store where you’ve presumably been buying other big and fundamentally faulty life moments). Anyway, why would you want to move on? When you fully let go, you lose the last part of the person you loved, the person that still exists in your memories.
BUT, and I like big buts, have you considered the possibility that your memories are lying to you, and that your supposed soulmate, the One, the better and missing half of your entire being – rational thinking is nobody’s friend – never really existed to begin with? Don’t worry! This is not the part where I somewhat omnipotently diagnose all y’all en masse with paranoid schizophrenia. Your relationship happened. You’ve not gone mad. Well, apart from the fact that you have, actually, ever-so-slightly gone a little bit mad, if mad here is taken to mean ‘believing something to be true that isn’t’ or, more specifically, ‘believing something to have happened to you that never did’. The ludicrously high chances are that the person you now obsessively masturbate then sob over only really existed in your wailingly wanking and wantonly weeping mind. Isn’t it a good thing that it’s a 2-4-1 on all bodily emissions this holiday heartbreak?
You see, your memory may be suffering from problems of bias, in which your current frame of mind reaches backwards and impacts on your memories, modifying them to fit what we believe we know or feel now. Daniela Schiller, memory specialist of Mt. Sinai School of Medicine and all round authoritative name-drop on my part (so it must be true)(…just like our memories), found that our memories change each time they are recalled. Schiller asserts that our memory banks are less like an insipid admin office, and more like a drug-infused, beatnik, poetry den (okay, fine, whatever, I’m both paraphrasing and pretentious). Our memories are less like files, and more like stories that are edited every time we recall them, and in doing so we inadvertently edit the emotional meanings we attached to them.
So we subconsciously alter our memories to fit our current narrative ideals. Or, if you’re anything like this compulsive liar of a writer, you’ll consciously alter your memories to fit absolutely anything (but that’s another article. And another ten years in therapy). Unsurprisingly, we do the same with people, reshaping how we think we know a person in order to complement our own unconscious and current agendas; ultimately, our lasting impressions of people become a complex hybrid of reality and fantasy. One of the struggles of moving on is the perceived change in the person you once loved, a sentiment that surfaces in my top three post-breakup warring exchanges: ‘you’ve changed’, ‘what happened to you?’ and ‘I don’t recognise you anymore’ (although if the last one is said constantly and to anyone, it’s worth considering putting Grandma in a home). Sure, you broke up, it’s bad, they’re putting on a front, it’s all very nerves and gristle and emotional sinew, but they probably haven’t changed. They just can’t live up to a version of themselves that never was; a version that exists only in your mind. Your memory functions paradoxically, whilst it complements how you presently feel, it also engenders distinct dissonance, making the chasm between who you thought someone was and what you see them as now so much more profound.
WELL, isn’t this all terribly depressing? Do not despair just yet. Take your head out of the oven, for I bring good news. Have nothing but bilious, corrosive hatred for your ex? Put those arcane maledictions to one side – it’s just your frightfully venomous memory working overtime to complement the narrative arc you’ve unconsciously prescribed to the demise of your relationship! Basically, this means you’re a miserable wretch and you’re accidentally changing your memories to justify your self-piteous core. But now that you know this, you can take comfort in the fact that your ex wasn’t nearly as ruinous as you thought they were. And, uh, you can start doing something about that core.
On the other hand, was your ex was the paragon of earthly compassion, the human embodiment of love itself, the missing piece of the puzzle? Further good news! That pesky memory is telling the tallest of tales – they weren’t anything near any of these things! They weren’t a visiting god – and you will get over it. It wasn’t your one shot at happiness. You will love again. There is, however, the niggling implication that you weren’t actually as loved as much as your eager ol’ memory maniacally maintains you were. That’s right. You heard me. You’ve made your love more real, more powerful and more history-shaking than it ever actually was. Get you, you quixotic bitch!
Now you know the truth that your Gatsby-esque memories cannot be trusted, you can go about getting on with that long overdue healing process. Physician, heal thyself, and let the great work begin. However, a caveat: your memories literally cannot be trusted. Potentially at all. It exaggerates constantly and, sometimes, just plain old makes things up! Really quite the histrionic dame, ain’t it? Can you trust anything that you think you remember? “I definitely remembered to switch off the oven” – your flat is reduced to cinders and ash. But at least you’ll have your smoulderingly lurid memories. Oh god, how can we possibly separate history from myth, the dreamt from the undreamt, truths from encroaching and ever-present falsehoods?! Have I even had an ex? I can’t be totally sure.
But there’s something comforting in the total unreliability of memory. Learning to let go, accepting that it was never ever as great, or, more importantly, as bad as you thought it was. But you know, because we’re only human, we can cheat a little bit. Whilst we can learn to accept that it was never as awful as you remember it to be, you can make one little, contrary exception: that it really was as great as you thought it was. That it was wonderful, sprawling, maddening love – both illusory and irrefutable. And, if you can learn to smile about that, whether true or false, then that’s fine by me.