Imagine if you were to attach your skin, bit by bit, inch by inch, to the skin of another. It’s a painful image, but imagine then the pain of having to take those stitches apart. Whether it’s done stitch by stitch or in one rapid rip, the agony would be almost unbearable. This is what a breakup is like. In getting to know someone, people slowly but surely intertwine parts of themselves with that person. It can be a painful process, simply because you’re forced to share your vulnerable spots-your thin, uncalloused skin. But if and when you pull apart, you’re forced to sever each and every connection you forged together. It’s little wonder then that on the Holmes and Rahe stress scale, ‘death of a spouse’ comes in at number one, followed by ‘divorce’ and ‘marital separation’.
Breakups can make sobbing, dithering messes of the coolest customers. They can cause people to act irrationally, neglect their own health and well-being. The desire for ‘closure’ can drive people to the brink of despair. You yearn for answers almost as much as you yearn for the person. Why don’t you love me anymore? Why are you giving up when you told me you never would? Why did I believe you? How could you treat me like that? Why won’t you talk to me? Why does eating half a tub of this fudge icecream only provide a temporary release from the pain? Why am I eating the other half of the tub as well?
From what I’ve observed, there are two main paths taken by the broken-hearted, both of which have their pros and cons. The first one I like to call the ‘desecration of the altar’ approach. This is a neat little trick employed by many in which all memories of the person and the relationship are trashed and defaced with defamatory graffiti. People hone in on all the vices of their former love and convince themselves that they had ‘a lucky escape’. They tell themselves things like, ‘he was a loser anyway’ or ‘she never made me happy, but I just put up with it at the time.’ This exercise can even lead to a complete denial of the feelings they once had for the person in question. (‘I never really loved him.’)
I understand why people do this. To some extent, it’s probably a necessary reaction to the sting of a breakup. After all, if you continued to believe that the person was the bee’s knees, you’d be likely to keep worshipping (figuratively, not literally-astaghs) at that altar for months and years after the breakup. But the problem with the ‘desecration of the altar’ approach is simple: it’s often based on complete and utter lies. Why was Person X with Person Y in the first place if they had little to no redeeming qualities? What does it say about Person X when only last month they were planning to marry such a complete ‘loser’?
This is why approach number two, the ‘path of excess platitudes’, works far better for a lot of people. After all, Muslims live off platitudes. Even when you’re railing against fate, you tell people, yourself, that ‘it’s all naseeb’. Even when you feel like you’ve just lost the best thing to have ever come your way you say ‘Allah swt will never take something from us without giving us better’. You smile, you pray,you post inspiring quotes about faith and kids in Syria on Facebook, then you go and cry yourself to sleep and wake up with balloon-like faces in the morning. You put your best faith forward and you keep walking, knowing that Allah swt is with you, even if you don’t quite feel it right this very minute.
The greatest platitude of all is ‘moving on’. People move forward, yes, they go to work, they eat TV dinners, but there’s no such thing as people ‘moving on’. Rather, life moves on. You still have to do your tax returns, even as you’re mourning a lost love. The washing up still needs finishing and the socks still need to be bundled and put into drawers. Slowly, the tasks become less mechanical. Slowly, the light pokes its way in through the thickly drawn curtains. And then, one day, you say ‘it was all naseeb’ and you find, to your surprise, that you actually sorta kinda mean it.
If you’re not there yet, be patient with yourself. Not being able to let go is something society tells us is weird, even a bit ‘obsessive’. In a world where all possessions are upgradeable, disposable, replaceable, holding onto something seems utterly out of place. But all the same, don’t let life move on without you moving with it. Keep doing those job applications. Keep ironing those clothes. Go to those parties, even when you don’t feel like it. And most of all, keep praying. As the wonderfully cheesy platitude says, ‘when the world pushes you to your knees, you’re in the perfect position to pray.’ C’mon, as if that doesn’t make you feel just that teensy bit better? (Ok, maybe not, but it was worth a try.)