Falling in love in your 20s is different from falling in love in your teenage years. Nobody forgets the first rush of excitement at claiming somebody as your own and allowing someone to claim you too. Everything is new, and heightened, and let’s not forget about all of those hormones. So many hormones.
That isn’t what I want to talk about, however. I want to talk about the mid-to-late 20s kind of love, where you graduate from going to the movies as an excuse to make out, or sleepless nights in a cramped XL twin bed in your dorm room when your roommate is out of town. Oh no, that was child’s play. You and your significant other have moved on to shopping at second hand stores for that George Foreman grill that would be so great for your kitchen! Planning vacations together, whose parents should we spend Thanksgiving with this year? Talking about the future in un-vague terms, maybe even adopting a kitten or a puppy. The heavy kind of, commitment and compromise kind of love. The first time you ever envisioned your future as inextricably tied to another individual, and well, the thought of sleeping next to them every night for the rest of your life, feels as natural as breathing. Right?
And then one day it doesn’t. For whatever reason. One day this future that you are so certain about falls out from under you, and with it – every single thing you ever thought you knew about love, and promises, and getting wrinkly with another person turns out to be drudgery, a sham, and you enter the first of nine stages of heartbreak.
Stage 1: Pain. So much pain. Literally, your heart hurts. Your body hurts. You do the groveling thing, the begging thing, and perhaps, worst of all – the “why?” thing. When you ask questions that you don’t really want to know the answers to, about why s/he doesn’t love you anymore. Then you ruminate on this, as you lay catatonic in a bed of snot and tears.
Stage 2: Anger. You had been together for – how long? Two years? Six years? How can they throw all of that away just like that? How dare they put you through this pain? How dare they not love you anymore? This stage is a slight improvement on being doubled over and nauseous from debilitating depression, but make no mistake, you are just as preoccupied with the ex, just channeling the emotion differently.
Stage 3: Acceptance (kind of). Okay. Maybe you don’t want them back anymore. In hindsight, maybe you didn’t bring out the best in each other. Maybe it was a slow drift away from one another, and toward the end even you got a little bored of Friday night Thai food and West Wing. Speaking of Thai – you passed by their favorite restaurant today and had a minor panic attack. You might not want them back, but everything still reminds you of the ex.
Stage 4: Latency. This is a phase of nothingness. You realize you have to shower eventually, and slowly ease back into the day to day of things. Maybe you even go to a bar, praying you don’t run into the ex. Your friends are grateful that you are slowly returning to a semblance of your former self, and even you realize that getting through the day is a teensy bit easier.
Stage 5: Hormones. One day you catch yourself creepily ogling an attractive stranger. Congratulations. You finally started noticing the opposite sex again. You suddenly realize you are single and horny.
Stage 6: Whore-dom. You start half-ass dating. A date here, two there, sprinkle in some hook-ups. Oh you are definitely still keeping tabs on the ex, though, because you will be damned if they move on before you.
Stage 7: Clarity: Oh! You meet someone you actually like. Not just for their body either. It is an eye-opener. You can like someone, and be liked again. It’s too soon though. Too soon to want to claim someone for yourself, or to allow yourself to be claimed by anyone, again. One might call this the rebound phase. Just don’t string it along for too long. Nobody wants to be at the receiving end of that.
Stage 8: Single-dom. You are single. In fact, you have been single for a good while. Sometimes you enjoy not having to answer to anybody, star-fishing the bed, and being selfish with the last bite of dessert. Other times, you get lonely. When you do get lonely, though, your thoughts don’t immediately gravitate toward the ex. They still cross your mind from time to time, but more out of curiosity. One day you hear that they are dating someone new. You expect this news to sting badly, and maybe it does sting a bit. But after that initial moment passes, you realize that you are okay.
Stage 9: You meet someone. You like this person. You look forward to spending time with this person, and you catch yourself thinking about the way they squeeze their eyes shut when they laugh at something really funny. Or the way you feel after a night of cheap beer and B-movies, and they are getting up, ready to leave, but it’s late, and you don’t want them to go just yet. You start making small talk, and your palms start to sweat, and your gut is in knots, and all of a sudden you realize that you really, really want to kiss this person, and you don’t even realize that you are finally, truly, over your ex – because that was the past, and this is the future, and well, the future just holds so much promise.