Six years ago on the rooftop bar of a hostel in Istanbul, I met Amelie.
Five days before meeting her, I sold my house and car, quit my career job, and set off to backpack around the world. I was excited to meet new, interesting women on my travels. I didn’t expect to find one so quickly.
Amelie was everything I had been searching for. She was a world traveler working as a tour leader in Asia, traveling back and forth from China to Turkey, through Russia, Mongolia, and all the ‘Stans. She had tattoos, dark hair, and a sexy French Canadian accent. She oozed confidence. When we chatted on that rooftop bar for the first time it was like she was the only person there in a sea of international travellers.
I chased her half-way across the world to try to win her heart. We fell in love and had many adventures together. We fought off a pack of wild dogs with sticks and stones in India, got drunk with locals at a beer festival in China, and drove a ’98 burgundy Ford Falcon wagon around Australia that we affectionately named “Ronny.”
Finally, we moved to Montreal where we settled for the past three-and-a-half years. We worked, found the best cat ever for free on Kijiji, and built a loving, respectful relationship.
We were a great couple. People often commented how perfect we were together.
Then, one month ago, we broke up.
The breakup didn’t happen after a big fight. The catalyst for our split was a discussion about the future. Our visions of the future weren’t lining up. Over the course of a couple weeks we read relationship books about commitment and whether or not it was the right decision to stay together. We reflected on what it was we both wanted as individuals and what we wanted from our relationship.
In the end we decided to go our separate ways.
July turned into one of the saddest months I’ve ever had in my not-so-difficult life. We cried together and reminisced about the good times. We slept in separate beds. We discussed who would keep what. We sold our car. We cried some more.
During the past month I drank and smoked too much. I didn’t write, work on building my business, or exercise. I told myself I was grieving. I thought it was what I needed to do.
Three days ago, Amelie and I said good-bye. We agreed that she would keep our apartment and I would leave.
I’m writing this post from my buddy’s 9th floor condo. It’s a bit weird. For the first time this year, Amelie won’t be proofreading my newest blog post.
I’m not writing this for sympathy. In fact, it’s the last thing I want.
I’m writing this post because it’s hard. I feel vulnerable. I’m scared to move forward without my best friend and I know other people have experienced the same type of loss in their lives.
During my Year of Fear I’ve planned many of my monthly challenges and then reflected on what I’ve learned.
It’s early. Maybe too early to know exactly what I’ll learn from this experience. But here it goes anyway.
1. Love is not always enough.
I grew up hearing a phrase from friends, family, and movies:
“Love conquers all.”
What a load of shit.
I’m sorry if you’re a hopeless romantic who believes “all you need is love.” I’m not trying to deflate your heart-shaped bubble.
The thing is, Amelie and I still love each other.
After our breakup, friends and family asked, “If you still love each other, can’t you make it work?”
My answer was always, “Maybe.” Perhaps we could have made it work. Who knows. But neither of us was willing to take the risk of resenting the other person years from now if we’re having doubts.
Amelie and I had a solid relationship right up to the end. But when we started to think about our futures, we realized that we both needed to do things that we could only do alone. Perhaps it was inevitable from the day we met on that roof in Istanbul. We were both care-free, stubborn, independent world travellers who both clearly had (and still have) a few commitment issues to deal with.
Love was never a problem. We always had it.
But as I’ve learned, love isn’t always enough, nor is it a reason to stay in a relationship that isn’t allowing you to be the complete individual you strive to be.
2. Keep friends and family close at all times.
I’ve always believed in maintaining my relationships with friends and family, even when I’ve had a girlfriend. We all know someone who has put the rest of their life aside when they’re smitten by a lover. And that shit ain’t healthy.
Because when you do eventually breakup with your “soulmate,” who’s going to be there for you if you’ve closed all other doors in your life?
My family and friends have been great support over the past month. From my parents and sisters, to my boys from Thunder Bay, to my buddy who is letting me stay at his place until I get things figured out. These people are carrying me through the tough times.
To all of you, thank you. You know who you are.
3. Grieve. Then move on.
My buddy Nick (aka Antonio Robbinito, the Italian version of Tony Robbins) sent me a text the other day that went like this:
“Stop drinking wine, sobbing with your ex, and move on with your life. You have a goal. Now get off your ass and make it happen.”
For the record, it was more beer and whiskey than wine, but the point is still the same. I’d grieved enough. I allowed myself to be a sad sack of shit for a month and I justified it accordingly.
But now it’s time to move on.
Breaking up is difficult, but if you allow yourself to get sucked into the vortex of depression and sadness you might end up grieving forever.
Change can be brutal, but it’s inevitable. We have to deal with it. As a coach, change is my business.
So for what it’s worth, if you ever experience loss and find yourself drinking and crying too much, it’s OK. Let it happen.
Just don’t let it go on for too long.
4. Physical pain is a great replacement for emotional pain.
Before we broke up, I hurt my ankle and had to stop jogging. During our breakup, I didn’t have the motivation to do anything physical.
Then last week, after a particularly tough day, I said to myself, “That’s enough.”
I put on my running shoes and went for a run. My ankle felt good, but the rest of my body was an aching disaster. My legs were on fire and my lungs were ready to burst. But still, I kept running.
When the physical pain got to be too much, I ran some more.
And it felt amazing.
Exercise cleared my head and took the place of my emotional stress. I’ve been running all week and I swear that it’s one of the things getting me through this experience.
5. Even if a relationship comes to an end, it was never a waste of time.
After we broke up a thought came into my head: “Damn. Did I just waste five years of my life with the wrong person and now I have to start all over again?!”
But that thought was gone as quickly as it came.
Relationships are never a waste of time. We learn, grow, and change throughout. There’s no way I would be the person I am today without Amelie having been in my life. We traveled together. I moved to Montreal and learned to speak French. I met new friends. I started a blog and became a coach, all with her support.
I’m proud to say that I have zero regret.
Like I said before, I don’t want sympathy. I made sure to write this post when I was ready to move on.
This post, as much as anything, is my accountability to you.
I’m moving forward. I’m getting back to my writing habit and building my coaching business.
Now that I’m ready to move on, I’m working with my own coach. I know she’ll also keep me accountable and moving forward.
This is the Year of Fear and I’m as scared as I’ve been. I’m scared of moving forward without my best friend and biggest supporter. I’m scared of being homeless and trying to build my business at the same time. I’m scared that I’ll fail.
But most of all, I’m scared about missing Amelie.
I’ll miss eating pig intestines at our favourite Chinese restaurant. I’ll miss her smile. I’ll miss bouncing ideas off her and knowing she’ll always give me the hard truth, even if she knows I don’t want to hear it.
I’ll miss a lot of things. But the fact that I have things to miss tells me we had something special and that our relationship was worth the price of admission.
Loss, change, and transition aren’t easy, but I believe the best things in life happen during the most challenging times.
Love you, Toupette. I’ll miss you. And don’t forget…
Garbage day is Tuesday and Friday. Recycling on Wednesday!