Men on romance – ‘How I navigated the post-relationship split minefield’

From nights in with a meal for one to convincing yourself you just saw your ex on the Tube again, getting over a break-up is never easy. Writer Jolyon Rubinstein shares his journey of going it alone

It was Valentine’s Day. Food had been cooked, cards had been written, candles had been lit. And yet the ache in my stomach persisted. The nagging knot that refused to go away even on the day when society says we must celebrate our love. And it was love, of a sort… An ever so complicated mixture of what I wanted, coming up against the harsh reality of what I needed and what I had been conditioned to want.

She came in and sat down and I could feel the tension rise as the density of the air in the room increased. Our balloon was about to pop. She started to talk about her corporation’s losses in the luxury goods sector with the BRIC economies spending less, and I sighed, outwardly and inwardly, expecting more. And then I interrupted her. I had a habit of doing that, and she had rightfully run out of patience with that more jagged of habits.

That was the moment it snapped. There had been an awful lot of precursors, but this was different.

‘In the era of Instagram, it becomes so much harder. I found myself checking her social media to get another hit of self-inflicted grief’

The depth of the breath we both then took was internal reassurance that what was about to happen was necessary, if deeply divisive and painful. But it was so much more painful than I had expected. Now in my thirties, I found myself less emotionally resilient than I had been in my twenties. And with friends settling down with children and mortgages, there were fewer Saturday evening congregations to ease the blow.

I had invested a great deal in this relationship, even though I knew it wasn’t right for me. I wanted to have children, I thought we would get married, and our break-up meant going back to square one. I packed a small bag and went to stay at a friend’s house. Within two weeks I had booked a trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands with a deep desire to walk the relationship off. Break-up is like a death. Various different stages of the recalibration process take place whether you’re ready for them or not. The practicalities of finding a new place to live, and moving your stuff out, happen alongside those moments when you spot a familiar hairstyle on the Tube and for a moment you’re convinced your ex is right there next to you. Or when walking to lunch you catch her jacket on someone else’s body and you suddenly remember folding that garment in a life 
that’s now gone.

Can you ever stop loving someone? In the era of Instagram, it becomes so much harder. I found myself checking her social media to get another hit of self-inflicted grief.

Emotions, by their very nature, are irrational and unperturbed by the passage of time, which is ironic because everyone says, ‘you just need time, it’ll get better’. It does. Sitting here writing this 20 months after the break-up, I can genuinely say it no longer has the same hold on me that it once had. But it has taken its pound of flesh to get to this point. Having always been emotionally open, I embraced therapy, yoga, meditation… But nothing really readies you for the moment you find out that they have moved on. For the moment you find out they are now engaged, living in another country with a slightly less good-looking version of yourself who has a much safer set of circumstances.

Then one day, unexpectedly, in a moment of quiet solemnity, it happened. The shift was real. Tangible. My soul was refreshed, rebooted. Suddenly that unthinkable message someone sent a couple of weeks into the darkness, that ‘this too shall pass’, makes sense. And suddenly it has.

Jolyon Rubinstein is a BAFTA-winning satirist. His TV show, Ministry Of Justice, 
is on Channel 4 every Friday at 11pm

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