Long-Term Struggle-town

When you get out of a long-term relationship, you forget how to live for a while. Everybody does. You’re alone, and suddenly making an omelet is bungee jumping into a boiling Mt. Vesuvius. Driving to McDonald’s becomes something like climbing the four flights to your apartment, something that you’d just rather not do. So you decide never to leave again, because the journey back is too risky. I remember one morning after a particularly intense breakup, I literally napped on my tile kitchen floor from 9am til 3pm, then crawled to the couch and slept until the next morning. I woke up with a blanket on me, and note from my roommate telling me not to eat his Milano cookies. It is debilitating, really, to lose the person that you spent so long with, they had melded into the fabric of your existence. I ate the cookies.

You start asking the logical questions. Shower? Why shower? Who’s going to smell me now? HAHAHA, GOODBYE MANSCAPING, BECAUSE NO ONE’S GONNA SEE. Screw working out, only my wolf-themed blankets are going to be feeling this body. If this person you trusted to want you forever decided your abs weren’t cut deep enough, then why bother?  Why drink, eat, laugh, write, succeed, when you’ve already failed with someone who you had in the bag?

In pour the phone calls. Texts. Little facebook messages popping up (yes, you can’t manage to shower, but you can facebook, you have to see what your newly minted ex is doing). Friends that mean well, friends that you are ashamed to admit your monumental failure to, friends that don’t want to overwhelm you with their concern. You don’t want to be a burden, so you push them away when all you really want is a bed full of friends that will never leave you, that can get you tea and burgers and tell you that you’re worth something while watching Arrested Development on Netflix.

Speaking of friends, this when you get to start the friendship war. You know, those battles where you mentally start to claim who is really yours, and who is your ex’s. Oh yea, Laura is hers. Nate, mine. Katie? Who does Katie belong to, who gets dibs? We all met at the same time. She’s a girl, so my ex has the edge. But Katie has fantastic breasts, and I’ve thought about touching them someday, so I’d like to hold on to her. Lists compile in your mind, running off like ticker tape, the names of who you are sure are yours, who you are sure you have lost, and those that you will have to battle for. It’s the Gettysburg of friendship.

Then hits self-evaluation. Or if you are anything like me, self-incrimination. Was I not emotionally available? Was I too nice, too much like Zach Braff? Fuck, maybe I wasn’t dark and mysterious enough. Or dangerous. Maybe I should have lit fireworks in the yard or something, or watched Fight Club on continuous loop. Your mind is racked with a battalion of Maybe. You search for anything to make them feel like they don’t really know you, like there is more fascinating stuff to unearth. Truth is, they had you figured out long ago. Around year one there isn’t much else for them to discover; you work out only after Bowflex commercials, you want to be famous but have little direction to get there, you like to be on bottom but with your back propped up (so you don’t feel lazy), and the best meal you can cook is toasted bagels with strawberry cream cheese. Well damn, maybe there wasn’t much for them to hold on to.

So you plot out where your life will go from here. You commit yourself to writing them a song for every week you are apart until you reunite, like the power of your soulful tunes can lure them back in. You work out harder, because no one can resist a vein riddled twenty-four pack. Might as well add in some new hobbies to cultivate interest, so you study biodynamics, marine biology, and rock climbing. That way when you happen to run into them on the street, they will see your rippling arms and mountain climber gaze, eyes that have seen the Earth’s tallest peaks (soon), they will faun over pictures of the baby seals that you might save at some point, and all you have to do after that is get your hands on them and work your biodynamic magic. Then boom! Sex! And there are your abs! It’s the reunification of the millennium.

You plot all this while the scalding water from the shower cuts through a week of unwashed grime, and you fruitlessly try to enjoy some self-love for the first time since the breakup.

Oh, the dreams. Sure, they’re different for everyone, but we all have things in common. They are there, and they are gorgeous, and they are just waiting for you to kiss them. Suddenly it’s all a big mistake, and if you could just push through this god-damned    slow           motion                  you                                             could                                make



BETTER but shit, your brain spasms before you reach them, and you are alone in your friendless, ex-less, Arrested Development-less bed.

Just rinse and repeat a million times, am I right?

But it’s not all like this. After a while, you manage to go to class, or work, or just for a walk around the block. You pass a cute twenty-something that offers a shy grin, and for a second your day is grand. Just – sunlight pouring through the post-Apocalyptic cloud cover for the first time ever – grand. Of course, your ex’s ghost slams into your chest and that cute twenty-something gets to look back and watch you crumbling into tears in a juniper bush, but it was an awesome second.

Your friends take you out to a bar, and you manage not to cry (bathroom doesn’t count, they didn’t see). Maybe, just maybe, you try to flirt with someone, and it comes out like a rusted bike chain, but it is something:

You: Hello.

Them: oh, hey.

You: You…um…Neil? You’re name, I mean…Neil.

Them: Hah, um…I’m Jackie. You’re Neil, I’m guessing?

You: I do like intercourse.

Like I said, not great, but it’s…something. You probably won’t have sex that night, which is good because you’d collapse in tears during the copulation, but hot damn you’re on the right track. It cycles like this for weeks, months, maybe years. Pride and self-loathing box it out in the back of your brain, but we are all human and we all do what we do best, which is go on.

Which brings me to my point. The point is…hmm. I’m not sure at this juncture, to be honest. It has been two years since my last long-term relationship. I still dream of this person, or sometimes the one before that. I still question, still wonder. But hopefully, you reach the place where you don’t regret.

Some of my best memories come from these relationships. It took me a long time to accept that no matter how angry I was at my exes, no matter how much time passed that I wanted to file away as ‘wasted’ on my timeline, I loved them at some point. And they helped me discover things that I loved about myself, about others, about life. I know it sounds vague, and I have no shame, so let’s give specifics:

One ex believed that I could do anything. Literally, anything. I would tell her my dreams, and she’d say “Yea, I can see you doing that. Do it.” Just like that. When I doubt myself, I remember that at least one person believed at some point that I was capable of doing anything that I set my mind to. If they can think that about me, then I can too.

Even if you can’t cook, try. It’s sexy, even when it burns.

Horror movies aren’t as sexy as I’d like them to be.

Shitty romantic comedies are sexier than I think.

Painting is sexy too. Who knew?

Bowel movements aren’t dinner talk, even if your best friend instigated the conversation.

With chivalry, go for broke. Open doors, stand when she arrives, always bring something when you visit. She will tell you if it’s ridiculous and you can scale it back, but you can’t introduce chivalry late in the game. That is weird.

Don’t be afraid of taller women.

Midgets are sexy people too.

Video games can be a fun, shared activity. But there better be bunnies, racing, or Mario. And if she wants to drive backwards down Rainbow Road and throw the whole race, that’s fine. Just breathe.

Never be afraid to share your passion. Unless it is animal porn. Keep that to yourself.

If you’ve drunk too much, don’t try to sneak through her window. It’ll break, someone will bleed, and be decidedly un-hot.

Honesty, honesty, honesty. If they’re going to leave, they’ll leave. Honesty = trust = not wasting time.

Be independent. You can’t exist with another until you can exist alone.

Be dependent. It’s confusing, I know, but you have got to be willing to share yourself, no matter how frightening that may be. If you’ve picked well, they’ll be kind, gentle, and worth it.

Finish strong and vocally.

My favorite quote of all time is by Donald Miller, who writes “Everybody has to change, or they expire. Everybody has to leave, everybody has to leave their home and come back so they can love it again for all new reasons. I want to keep my soul fertile for the changes, so things keep getting born in me, so things keep dying when it is time for things to die. I want to keep walking away from the person I was a moment ago, because a mind was made to figure things out, not to read the same page recurrently.”


Take a moment and go over that quote again. Did it? Good. Let that world-altering piece of literary orgasms sink in. It makes so much sense. None of these things we’ve learned are invalidated because a person no longer wants to be with you. You aren’t validated by other people, and neither is what you have experienced. People change. As much as it absolutely sucks nutsack, and seems like such a crock of shit at times, people do change, and it is a perfectly reasonable explanation for someone moving away. Sometimes, it is just not your fault.

I mean, if you sleep with someone else, totally your fault dude. Stop fucking up.

You change, too. That’s what life is. Even if you manage to sit in one spot for a day, not moving a muscle, the time has changed, the weather has changed, and you smell gross so you’ve changed. Nut up and hop on board with the movement. Just because someone has moved on, that does not mean that what once existed wasn’t real, visceral, and meaningful. It wasn’t wasted time; it was part of your life. Which isn’t a waste. I hope.

Man, that got sappy, heavy, and cliché ridden. But I mean every word of what I write, so I hope this leaves you with something. Balls.

Published by Neil Stratman

I'm an actor currently based in Chicago. Woot.

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