The good that can come from bad breakups: stories


August 11, 2013 by aggiesez

This week marks one year since I began writing this blog, So much has happened since then — most of it good, all of it instructive.

winThe spark that pushed me to start this blog was a horrible breakup I suffered last July: I was dumped, courtesy of blatant couple privilege, by my married poly boyfriend of 3+ years. Turned out that once his wife got insecure, she was not expected to manage her insecurities — and I no longer warranted consideration.

Yeah, that experience sucked — but it clarified some valuable lessons for me. Especially why, and how much, I treasure my autonomy — and how I can use that as a foundation for navigating relationships.

Often people fear breakups, and avoid them even when relationships are hopelessly toxic or beyond resuscitation, because they fear being on their own. Such is the stigma that single or solo people face in this society — as is the myth that staying visibly coupled up protects you from feeling lonely.

But what I discovered, partly through breakups, is that for me solohood is the best way for me to live my life and relate to others. It literally took many years and a lot of pain to finally get that through my skull.

Since that breakup, this blog has been an important part of my healing process. And many people have told me they find it helpful, too — which makes it even more of a “win” for me!

Before that ill-fated relationship, I’d been married for a long time to a man I love very much — he remains very close and dear to me. Still, I was often lonely and depressed in that relationship, which spanned nearly two decades. It wasn’t just that he and I were ill-suited to be married to each other. No: As long as I made it a top priority to preserve our couplehood (an identity I’d always unconsciously assumed I needed to be happy), I avoided taking responsibility for my own happiness. I kept sacrificing myself on the altar of an “us” that ultimately couldn’t exist without “me.”

When I reluctantly, finally let go of couplehood, I found me. And so much more.

As it turns out, I am indeed damn good at being my own primary partner. I’m so much happier this way, and my life is far more stable and fulfilling. I do have important intimate relationships with friends and lovers who matter greatly to me, but I stand on my own feet. I make my own decisions for my relationships and life. I decide which goals to pursue and risks to take. I roll with the consequences whenever I screw up, slack off or simply happen to be unlucky.

And I don’t feel one bit guilty about focusing on myself as an individual first. It’s right, and good, to put on my own oxygen mask before assisting the people next to me.

Like any human being I am not an island; I value interdependence as well. Especially my close friends, four of whom stuck by me on a daily basis with sympathy and patience while I duct-taped my heart back together last summer.

More recently I’ve discovered a strong sense of the interdependent value of community, locally and in the world. I believe in acting on behalf of the greater good; that’s the kind of “us” which resonates with me far more strongly than mere couplehood. My book project is a big part of that.

Fortunately, having such a solid sense of autonomy is what allows me to be the best lover, friend and family/community member I can be. I try to choose my interdependencies consciously and carefully, and to add value to any connection I make.

Couplehood doesn’t exempt anyone from heartbreak; neither does solohood. But now, when someone close to me makes a decision or holds a view that saddens, hurts or betrays me, it’s so much easier for me to grasp that their choices are not a personal referendum on my worth as a human being.

… And it only took me 46 years to really grasp this lesson! (OK, so I’m a late bloomer.)

So for me, my last bad major breakup ultimately yielded a world of good. Starting this blog led me to strong kinship and community with fellow solo poly folk. It also put me on the path to my current project, a book on nontraditional relationship options. (So far I’ve gathered input from nearly 800 people for this project via my survey.)

Recently I asked the members of the Singleish & Solo Polyamory Facebook group to share the value and insights they’ve gained from their own bad breakups. Here’s what some of them had to say. (Quoted here with permission)

Crystal Joy wrote:

For me, I learned SO much. To sum it up I learned the importance of being authentic to me, speaking my truth at all times, and honoring my personal boundaries in relationship.

A bit more specifically I learned that:

  • Abuse can occur even when someone does not physically hurt you or threaten your life.

  • Codependence is not just a relationship thing. It is in my opinion a U.S. societal structure that is slowly shifting toward coempowerment.

  • People show you how they really think a lot by their actions outside of their words.

  • When your internal guidance (your instinct) is telling you “no,” it will continue to tell you that over and over — until you finally see this in your life and realize it.

  • Even in a abnormally intense crazy breakup, later on you can end on a positive note — even if both of you have differing viewpoints on life.

Michael Fleming wrote:

The breakup of my marriage felt like I had been stripped of everything I held to be right, my world was turned inside out. I had to rebuild myself and reacquaint myself with my core values.

I am eternally grateful to my former spouse for ending the relationship. I am a better man because of it. The breakup strengthened my belief in polymory.

Wayne Dyer says that your greatest growths come after a great fall. It’s like you have to get down low, like a high jumper, in order to spring yourself up. That’s what it was like for me.

Stephanie Bolick wrote:

My line of polyamory-themed jewelry was the result of my breakup of my quad relationship, which had lasted a year and half. I lost not only three partners I loved very much, but two children in that breakup as well.

It’s only been four months since then. My health had tanked pretty badly due, in large part, to the enormous amount of stress I’d been under during the six to eight months leading up to the breakup (which mostly had nothing to do with my partners). So as you can imagine, the breakup was incredibly devastating.

I was also a stay-at-home mom at the time. In an attempt to keep myself as busy as I possibly could (to keep myself from being alone with my thoughts) I took a job offer from some of our mutual friends who owned a handmade jewelry and craft boutique downtown. During my downtime there I began playing with ideas for a poly charm for myself. When I posted pictures on Facebook it went viral — and now I have an entire line of handmade poly jewelry.

I worry sometimes that maybe I’m using the jewelry to avoid dealing with my feelings. I still wake up crying in the middle of the night and I wonder if I haven’t processed my feelings properly.

M.K. wrote:

My worst relationship was such a pit of hell, but I came out of it so much less naive and more willing to stand up for myself — and also really understanding my own darkness so much better.

I still think about it frequently. Not in a bitter or angry way, but just reflecting on how I survived and am a totally different person now. But the lessons in my own darkness were priceless. Maybe I should send my ex flowers!

Melina wrote:

How interesting. Yesterday was the fourth anniversary of my first miscarriage, the event that saw me pull my life into focus and triggered the chain of events that led me out of the monogamous marriage I had been in. What curious synchronicity! Here’s my post about that part of my life: Birth and Rebirth.

Dylan wrote:

Most good I got from a bad breakup: Friend and lovership with the metamour. That was completely unexpected. They broke up in the cascade failure that my breakup was part of. We bonded over processing the strangeness we just went through and have remained dear to each other for a decade now.

Joreth wrote:

I think the most good that’s ever happened from a bad breakup is that I escaped a future with the sort of person who would put me thru a bad breakup. I think that’s a pretty big “good” all on its own.

My latest bad breakup happened only a few days before I spent several days sharing a hotel room and co-presenting with an ex from a good breakup. The contrast and the conversations with the Atlanta Poly Weekend attendees who were surprised to learn that we were exes because of how well we get along has inspired us to co-write a workshop on how to break up well, to be presented at next year’s APW, followed possibly by a book on the subject.

But as that hasn’t happened yet, I hesitate to count it as one if the good things that came from a bad breakup, in case it doesn’t pan out.

Kim wrote:

At 16 I married a physically and verbally abusive man. He told me that, since I had kids, nobody else would want me. He kept telling me I was stupid — even though I was always a straight-A student. I believed him. We were married nine years during which he hit me, cheated on me and put me down.

After the last bout of physical abuse I left. I put myself through college while working three part-time jobs and raising two young children on my own. Turns out the only stupid thing I did was believe his lies.

I don’t tend to pick abusive men anymore. I see the signs early enough and get myself out.

Many thanks to all the solo poly folks who contributed to this post! And also to my former boyfriend and his wife: thanks so much for being unintentionally helpful while acting like complete jerks! It gives me some hope that the jerks in this world may serve a higher purpose 🙂

What’s the most good you ever got from a bad breakup? Especially if you’re a solo poly person. Please comment below!

11 thoughts on “The good that can come from bad breakups: stories

  1. Cooper West says:

    Actually, while the breakup was sad, it wasn’t traumatic in the sense that we had a huge falling out. But we had been married monogamously for 14 years, and neither one of us was happy about where our relationship had gone or was going. Letting go of being “a couple” was traumatic, and felt like a huge failure for both of us.

    So I really related to your comments about holding on to something for the sake of self-identification instead of self-fulfillment or happiness, because that is why we stayed together years past the expiration date (after all, everyone we knew said we were “the perfect couple!”). What I’ve learned from that is the fact that I’m responsible for my own happiness, I can’t rely on being defined as “in a relationship” or as “a wife” to make me feel good about what I’m doing with my life. It’s been a hard slog, but worth it! And that’s why I (at least for now) consider myself solo-poly, because I really like where I’m taking my life right now.

  2. E. says:

    Thank you for this blog! I’ve always known I wanted to be single/solo, but your blog has really helped me through getting involved in my first poly relationship (with a man who got married not long after we started dating). I’m really grateful that you created such a wonderful resource out of the ashes of an ended relationship.

  3. Jez says:

    Oh, where to begin? Every breakup and relationship has, to me, been beneficial in some way. Sometimes I could not see it at the time, but I know that it always brings something positive, if only the knowledge about what warning signs to look out for.
    The worst I am still recovering from. In short (haha): met person, love at first sight (I still don’t quite believe it but there it was – I was sixteen or seventeen at the time I think), sparks flying, mutual love declared, both in relationships, no happy ending there and he went bonkers because of parent dying. So fell out, never really stopped loving, took years but eventually stopped thinking about him every day.

    Five years without any contact, then suddenly a message on an old IM account. Start talking, person has bad mental troubles, I figure hey, if I can help by just being a sympathetic ear that says “yes you hurt me like HELL but it’s okay, I became stronger and better because of it, and you helped me out of an abusive relationship” then why not.
    Realisation dawns that love had just been dormant, we meet and well, can’t be more than best friends because of my long-term mono relationship and his… getting married. Augh. Oh well. And having a kid. AUGH. Oh well to each their own.
    Time passes. Pain is had, but love doesn’t die, and everyone gets along.
    His wife decides to move out “but no divorce”. He comes out as poly. I am “accepted” as a partner (warning signs anyone?).Twelve years after our first meeting, finally a couple.
    Forward a year. I go through breakup with Other Boyfriend. Job bringing Married Guy down, other partners behaving inconsiderately, finally finds a new one. I encourage this, of course, I love(d) seeing him happy!
    Then – Warning Sign #1: Contact gets more sparse.
    I give space. Of course I do, he’s stressed out of his mind because of shitty job, moving around apartments, wife going bonkers and filing for divorce while having his second child…
    Try not to feel put aside. Try both communicating and leaving well alone.
    Warning Sign #54: Feel far less connection during sex. Uh oh.
    He makes Bad Choice. I go batshit insane but bounce back over the night and start walking, unknowingly, the more solo-ish path.
    Contact grows ever more sparse. Too many odd things showing untrustworthiness. Suddenly – “…what the hell?” Facebook (augh!) unwittingly shows him in a whooole different city than expected, with my metamour. Well, not to mention I hadn’t heard from him for about a week or more. Not even by text. Nothing.
    Ah well. Manage after several weeks to meet. Explain, can’t quite go on like this. (Didn’t yet know what I was on to – solo-hood suits me perfectly, I just couldn’t find the words). When one withdraws, the other clings.
    And then – breakup by phone. BY PHONE. The complete dogs-arse (ahem. still bitter, yes).

    Me: Big crash. BIG crash.

    Survives. Redefines just about everything. Goes very relaxed about everything relationshippy. Finds this blog and thinks “0,O Halleluiaaaa!”

    So. While there is still A LOT to deal with from that breakup for my part, I figured pretty early that my “new” view on how to relate to others around me is a definite step up. Several, in fact. Gods, YES, this is good! Getting rid of, or working around, every little expectation about “relationships”, couplehood etcetera. Feth it all, autonomy was always my thing with everything else in life and now, finally, several decades after being born, I’ve come quite a good way at figuring out how to do that with relationships too.

    …oh dear. Wall of text. I’m sorry! But, as I said, that big thing finally jolted me into living the way that I feel works best for me (it might change, sure, but I think this is going to last for quite a while – solo, autonomous, and in love every now and again).

  4. Well we are not solo but, we got some good from a break up. Mostly lessons we learned about our self’s and who we want to be and what we like.

    Last December we got involved with a couple and things were amazing! It was our first poly relationship that actually went somewhere. They claimed to love us and care about us and for several months that seemed to be true. About may they just stopped talking to us, well the husband did anyway, just complete and total silence. Although the wife kept talking to us a little, it was clear something was amiss.

    After a week or so of debate,as well as random out of place statements from the wife of the other couple, my wife and I decided to ask if we could all get together to talk about this. what we got was text, I won’t go into all of it here but, some high lights:

    1. “Sorry if you don’t understand I have to work for a living.” Work was never an issue before although schedules had to be juggled we managed to fit in some time to spend together until May…

    2. “We felt there was a separation between you guys ( myself and my wife) and we felt obliged to remove our self’s from the situation to allow that bond to reform.” The bond was never broken, in fact it was enhanced by our relationship with them.

    3. “would have been nice to talk about it first” In order for them to even respond to us in any fashion we had to remove them from facebook as friends. This was even more insulting as he was the one that flat refused to talk to us when we asked.

    The rest just boiled down to accusations of wrong doings that never happened in reality. We believe now that it was jealousy and insecurity on the husbands part as we feel he was ready to share his wife sexually but, not emotionally. At the point this text happened we had not talked to them for a month and it appeared they had already ended it but, had no intention of telling us.

    We held on for 4 months hoping they would talk to us and the 4 times we asked to talk were ignored. Finally in September we came to accept the fact they were done and did not want to talk to us about it. So for the final time I removed them from my facebook and all of a sudden we got this “Since it was the weekend I was going to deal with this” Really? only 4 months of weekends had passed with 4 request to talk and nothing in return and now we are something to “deal” with? Again another response that was generated by being removed from facebook.

    To sum it up we learned that we like poly, although this relationship went bad we feel it was due to a total and sudden lack of communication. When it was good it was amazing! We learned that communication is absolutely vital to this type of relationship, more so then a mono relationship. Honesty is also absolutely vital. If they had been honest about the fact that this was not really what they were looking for then it would not have had to end with bad feelings. We learned to be sure of what we want and to honestly communicate that to anyone else we get involved with because, you are messing with people’s feelings when you do not do these things.

    I found within myself the ability to love 2 very different women without it negatively affecting my feelings for either of them. My wife learned that her attraction for women is an actual attraction and she loves it! Previously she had wondered if it was some deep seeded need for attention and not actual interest.

    In any relationship Honesty and communication is important, in a poly relationship that importance is multiplied by however many people are in the relationship.

    Moral of the story, If you are going to be polyamourous then be comfortable in your own marriage first, then you are in a better place to be honest about how you feel about others. If your unable to be honest with your feelings and only want to see the couple to have sex, that is not (imo) polyamory that is swinging or wife swapping.

    • aggiesez says:

      Thanks for sharing your story. I understand that you’re not solo, but it’s always good to get something good out of every breakup.

      Curious though — You spoke about how you and your wife benefitted as a couple from what you learned through this painful experience. But of course, you’re still an individual as well. I wonder if you could say more about how you personally benefitted/grew, as an individual (apart from your couplehood) from this experience?

      • My self personally I learned that it is possible to love two women and not have it affect how I felt about my wife. I still loved her as much as I ever did and it was just amazing!

        I was raised to believe that one woman and one man were the only “correct” combination. That relationship also taught me that that is not necessarily the case for everyone. For the 5 months that it was good, I honestly felt as though I was the luckiest man alive to have the love of two wonderful women.

        It really made me see pretty much everything in a different light. It rekindled the relationship between my self and my wife, not that it was ever gone but, I guess one might say we got use to each other. That relationship made me realize that it does not matter how long you have been with the person communication is important… always. Honesty is important always.

        My wife had been involved in a few relationships prior to this one, so she had the feeling already of dividing her love and time. I had not had that experience. This also served to bring us closer as I realized how much work that can be and I had renewed respect for my wife.

        I still feel as though I was a part of something special, it is unfortunate that they were unable to accept it and it really opened my eyes to a bigger world.

        Other then accepting the idea that it is ok to love more then one the rest was stuff I knew but, had been defiantly less present in my marriage. Communication,honesty, openly discussing how I feel about things. I feel like I grew some having these things brought home to me but, I have a hard time separating what I learned from what we learned. I don’t see that there needs to be a separation.

        I can however take these things into my(our) next relationship and hopefully the people we eventually meet can be more honest about what they want out of it.

      • aggiesez says:

        Thanks, Lance. It still sounds like you mainly view relationships from a couple-centric perspective — which is fine, that’s just a personal preference. Still, I’d encourage you to consider thinking a bit more specifically about yourself as an individual who has relationships with other individuals, rather than reflexively allowing couplehood to dominate your identity. Even just as an experiment.

      • I’am open to the idea, at least I think I am. I guess I tend that way because when ever my wife and I talk we agree we would like a quad again. It does not mean that other options are not a possibility just that for us a quad would be ideal.

        Keeping options open is always a good thing and i will take your advice and do some personal work to see if that is where I want to take this.

  5. Callie says:

    Really love your site, still working on trying to read as much as I can, but of the many articles I have read thus far, I have already learned so much- so, thank you!

    My story, not so much of a break-up, than a rough dating let-down… New to being poly, recently met someone online, developed a great rapport, and I was very intrigued by him. He was interested in learning more about poly and me, and after messaging/texting for a week we finally met. He was just as amazing as I had thought he would be, and I thought we had great chemistry. We talked about meeting again, and things seemed to have gone pretty well, but I had a feeling that something was off-plus I felt that he was out of my league-intellectually, emotionally and physically- I can be honest about that, but he didn’t let on that anything was amiss on his end throughout the meeting, even to the goodbye kiss- continued with the great chemistry and knocked my socks off, lol!

    Didn’t hear back from him, and noticed the next day that his dating profile was deleted, and the next day texted him and realized he had also blocked me/was using a throwaway phone. A pretty simple situation, not nearly as stressful as the break-up of a relationship, but it being on my mind brought me to this page today. The good that came of this rough let-down was that it made me do a lot of thinking about how much rejection (giving and receiving) can be involved in being poly and dating in general .

    I have been out of the dating world for a little while, and though I am happily exploring with two lovers at the moment I haven’t been this strongly attracted to someone in a long time and had forgotten how quickly I can become quite infatuated with someone! My current lovers are more like friends with benefits compared to what I felt with this poorly-communicating guy. I really wish I could tell him that it was OK that we didn’t connect, but disappointing that he couldn’t just be straight-forward with me. Totally sucks but this is seemingly normal for guys who are not used to being rejected.

    So, even though it wasn’t a break-up, it was still a pretty great learning experience for me as a newbie solo-poly gal. I realize now how important my goals are to me(and how I really need to take the time to develop and refine them rather than just having a vague idea like I do now), and how I need to work on rules like I should probably not rush into anything if I am unsure about the person and serious about finding someone who suits my relationship goals, even the casual relationships!

    Loved your writing this:
    “when someone close to me makes a decision or holds a view that saddens, hurts or betrays me, it’s so much easier for me to grasp that their choices are not a personal referendum on my worth as a human being”
    Going to have to keep that one handy, I have a feeling I am going to need it on my journey!

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