Live on this earth (and wanna learn from it) long enough and you will probably come to the conclusion that if two things are a process, it's forgiveness and breaking up with an ex. What I mean by that is, just because you verbally declare that you've done either one, just because doing so may truly be good for you, that doesn't always mean that they automatically transpire, fully, the day that you make the decision to do it.
On the forgiving tip, there are still people who I am going through the stages of forgiveness in my mind and heart in order to fully and completely do it (hmm…one day, I should probably expound on that because if grief has stages, forgiveness definitely should/does). As far as breaking up goes? Well, I've shared before that it took me over two decades to really get over my first (everything—check out "6 Reasons Why You STILL Can't Over Your Ex", "Why Running Into Your Ex Can Be The Best Thing Ever" and "Why Every Woman Should Go On A 'Get Your Heart Pieces Back' Tour") and even the last boyfriend that I will ever have in this lifetime (check out "Why I'll Never Call Someone A 'Boyfriend' Again"), we were "officially together" for four years—and then breaking up for two more (and yes, that included having sex). Lawd, that is a lot of time that I can never get back.
It's precisely for that reason that I thought it was so important to write this. It's because time is precious and pretty much non-refundable. Know what else it is? Limited. So, if you've broken up with an ex of yours and yet the relationship doesn't feel fully finished—whether it's because you're still hanging out, still having sex, still communicating on some level or even just still hung up on him—I want to share a few points that can help to get you out of that relational purgatory that you seem to be in.
Why Did You Break Up in the First Place?
When I reflect back on my past break-ups, if there is a commonality, it's the fact that it was easier to move on when I ended the relationship rather than when the guy did. While, on the surface, that might seem like an ego thing, it really isn't. It was because, if I ended the relationship, I was usually really clear that it was time to. On the other hand, when he did, either I was still caught up in him or I didn't fully understand his reasons. As a direct result, my codependency tendencies (at the time) made me want to try and stick around and make things work anyway.
The only real exceptions were the two men I mentioned in the intro. My first? We never really broke up. Like the movie The Notebook (which is a movie…don't try and make your real life be some damn movie), we would just kinda fade in and out of one another's lives without ever really saying "goodbye". And my last boyfriend? Well, we had been besties before he convinced me (quite literally. I may share that at another time too) to put a romantic spin to the relationship. So, what I realize, looking back, is I wasn't struggling with not being together anymore; I was trying to keep our friendship intact.
Y'all, it took me a lot of years of journaling and article-writing to understand all of this; yet remember that I'm trying to save you some time.
So yeah, if you're in a weird spot with your ex, the first thing I recommend you do is really get clear in your own mind on why the two of you even are exes in the first place. Did you want something that he didn't (or vice versa)? Did he really not treat you all that well? Are you in too much of an unhealthy place to even be in a relationship? Are the both of you just not as compatible as you need to be? Has one of you discovered that you just don't feel the same anymore?
Listen, the fact that y'all are exes at all means that something was not working. So really—why stay? Still, it's hard to get the courage to fully move on until you really get why you should. That's why knowing why it ended is my first suggestion. Let's move to the next point.
What’s the Benefit to Keeping Him Around?
Look, I tend to side-eye Dr. Phil, just about as much as the next guy. However, if there is one thing that he has said that I apply to my life on a regular basis is we stay in things that have a payoff. What he means by that is, it doesn't matter how counterproductive, toxic or even just stagnant a person, place, thing or idea may be in our life, if it didn't serve us on some level, we wouldn't keep it.
Take my first, for instance. He's fine (lawd). He's really smart. He's witty as hell. And we click. To this day, if I were to call him up, I'm pretty sure we'd be on the phone for 6-8 hours. We always do that. And so, what I finally had to realize is, what made it hard to let him go, was the familiarity of the relationship. I like how much we really "get" one another. At the same time, the more I come to heal from past traumas that happened even before he came along, the more I have come to the conclusion of what I deserve (and how sometimes that's far better than even what I want) and that no relationship should take over 20 damn years to get somewhere—I see that the payoff of witty banter and sexy attraction isn't as big as it used to be.
I don't care if it's good sex, the fact that you've been with ole' boy a long time, or you're afraid to start over (we all know I could go on and on with other examples), if you really want to get out of relationship purgatory with your ex, you've got to compare and contrast why it's best to leave him alone vs. how it's benefitting you to keep him around on some level. Oh, and make sure that the benefits are holistically benefitting you. Like, if it is because of the sex, is the physical pleasure worth the mental anguish or emotional gymnastics that you are constantly sending yourself through? Is. It. Really?
Have You Ever Really Processed What “Purgatory” Means?
Ah, purgatory. Even as a marriage life coach, I am constantly learning what it means to love someone and be loved in return. Based on where I am now as a "love student", I would have to say that I've genuinely loved four men. One of those men, we spent several years knowing that we had a truly uncanny connection; however, because he was (and still is) a super commitment-phobe, we could never really get…there. And by "there", what I mean is marriage. Towards the end of our emotional roller coaster ride, he said something to me that clicked in a way that nothing else really had prior to—"Shellie, I care about you. I also feel like I'm in marriage purgatory."
Call it an occupational hazard yet something that I am big on is really paying attention to word definitions. Since purgatory isn't a word that I personally use often, I assumed he meant that he was in limbo. Yeah, not quite. Purgatory means "any condition or place of temporary punishment, suffering, expiation, or the like". Oh OK, Black man. You feel like you're in emotional purgatory. We're good. No, really…we're good.
All things work together. While, in hindsight, considering how close we had become and how much he had benefitted from our connection, I kinda think he was an ass for saying that. Still, his reality is his reality and I've gotta give him the space to feel that way. Besides, because of that little gem (side-eye), I can encourage some of you to ask yourself if you're in something similar. When I think of break-up purgatory, there is actually a song that immediately comes to mind. Any of y'all remember who I consider to be one of the best R&B singers ever? Ms. Lisa Fischer? If so, do you remember her GRAMMY-winning jam "How Can I Ease the Pain"? Talk about some damn purgatory.
Every time that I let you in
You take away something deep within
A fool for love is a fool for pain
But I refuse to love you again
How can I ease the pain
When I know your coming back again
How can I ease the pain in my heart
How can I ease the pain
Love isn't some Disney film or rom-com. It consists of two flawed individuals who care about each other enough to try and make a relationship work, so that they can become better people as a direct result of caring about each other on a deep and profound level. And yes, that can be mad challenging. Listen here, though. What it isn't supposed to do is make you feel like you're in a constant battle between sometimes feeling good and sometimes feeling in some state of mental or emotional anguish—or even like the Universe is somehow punishing you or wanting you to suffer for sticking around.
Again, "he's" an ex for a reason. If you feel like you in any level of purgatory for staying, that is reason enough to shift out. ALL. THE. WAY. OUT.
What Is “Riding the Fence” Holding You Back From?
Last summer, I wrote an article for the platform entitled, "You Love Him. You Prefer Sex With Your Ex. What Should You Do?". In some ways, pardon the pun, being in that kind of place is like riding a fence. Fences are stationary. They don't get you anywhere. That said, I have talked to countless women over the years who do remain in some sort of one-foot-in-one-foot-out state with their ex. A part of it is because they feel like if they rip the Band-Aid completely off and call it quits that it could be their last chance at being in a serious relationship.
There are a couple of times when I've been in that headspace before. Here's the flip side of the coin that I want you to consider—if he's not good enough to officially be with and yet you allow some sort of "in between" to remain, not only are you sending a very clear message to him that he doesn't have to do more or better, you're always not clearing the path for you to process, heal and better yourself so that you can get into something that is better for you. Something that is on a very clear side.
Listen, healthy men? They are attracted to healthy women. Mature men? They are attracted to mature women. Emotionally available men (and yes they do exist)? They are attracted to emotionally available women and the reality is, if you're still in some-kind-of-something with your ex, you're the one who is unavailable. And there's no telling what kind of possibilities that could be holding you back from.
Be Honest: Is “the Middle” Wasting Your Time?
I mentioned the importance of valuing time at the beginning of this article and I'm gonna end it here. You know, there's a Scripture in the Bible that says that God is someday gonna spew the lukewarm church out of his mouth—the collection of people who are neither spiritually hot or cold (Revelation 3:16). If you believe that you are made in God's image (Genesis 1:26-28), a part of what should come with that is accepting that you also were made to reject "lukewarm" experiences; that you deserve to be in situations that are totally and completely "on". Otherwise, they need to be totally and completely "off".
Women aren't perfect (some of us need to quit acting like we are). Still, when it's coming from a real, genuine and non-needy space, there is absolutely NOTHING like the way we are able to love a man. And the more I have learned to love myself, the more I have learned to fully value what I bring to a relationship—and the time that it takes to nurture it.
That said, that ex of yours? Just like there's a reason for why the two of you broke up, there's a reason why you got together in the first place. So maybe, just maybe, up the road, the two of you can revisit things. For now, though, if things are lukewarm—you're better than that. Let it go. Put all of that super precious time, effort and energy into what can make you a better person—so that the next time a relationship comes along, things can be defined as paradise (bliss). Not purgatory (some level of suffering).
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