Moving On

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.)


6 responses to “Moving On

  1. Hi Zeynab!
    I wanted to ask, do you intend to mean ‘breakups’ as for married couples who are going through divorce, or couples who were planning to be married but could not?
    Because just from a muslim perspective I wasn’t sure what sort of ‘breakup’ you meant

    • It could be applicable to either really, though of course being married and then splitting up adds a whole other dimension of pain.

  2. This was applicable to me as I a getting over what I’m calling a crush (she’s interested in someone else). I’m a very conservative guy, if it adds useful context.

    Z I just wanted to say, different parts of your blog I really appreciate at different parts of my journey, bless you. The paragraphs on platitudes… Should write it in gold ink! I love that you talk about these things from a Muslim angle, it’s tough for us. We’ve been dropped in a culture, been told we can’t do certain things in finding relationships (rightly so), but without being taught how to do it. We haven’t developed that bit yet. So thank you.

    • I’m so glad you find benefit in it, Alhamdulillah 🙂 may I ask how old you are? I’m sorry to hear it didn’t work out with you and the sister.

  3. To summarise quickly – I’m 22, stuck in a long college degree. If I was a robot planning life on paper then 25ish (i.e. half a year into work) is where I’d put marriage. But, alas, even the coldest tin-men react to the right compound of good qualities and chemistry! I admire her through our work in community projects, got to know her more than others I’m working with and naturally [my] feelings grew. The problem is, she is “looking” (younger than me but Pk parents obviously think 21 is “too old”), while I have been busy with 101 things and not made a move. Meanwhile one of the suitors seems compatible for her. And alhamdulillah I’m glad she found someone who seems not to be a douchebag.

    I’m not convinced I made the wrong decision by not making a move (it’s more than just college/finances behind why I feel I’m not fully cooked yet – yes I’ve read every word of your blog!), let alone questions of destiny and that I was doing Istikhara. It’s a strange one, having crushes at an age when I could potentially be married (I keep calling it a crush cos I like to put it behind me, and I think it is to a large extent, given that I’m not familiar with many girls). My greatest fears are (a) not finding someone else who I like, have a spark with, and ticks enough boxes, and (b) regretting not taking the leap sooner. Spirituality can solve the second problem to a large extent, but having problem (a) solved would help too!

    I ramble on. The only other thing I would add is that it’s been a comforting feeling these past (many) months, having someone I can see myself with in the back of my mind. That’s something I will miss. And the mind does run away quite a bit wrt the future, which requires deconstructing. Maybe in hindsight I will see this in a very positive light, but I do have random thoughts that vary from “who the heck am I gonna marry” to “are there even any other [compatible] girls out there”. Anyway. I ramble on.

    • Thanks for sharing and glad you’re enjoying the blog 🙂 This seems to be fairly common: guys and girls being of a similar age, yet worlds apart in terms of what outside expectations of them are. A 21 year old girl is seen to be ‘ready’ for marriage, but a guy of a similar age is not. I’m always interested in the factors as to why this state of affairs exists.

      It seems like you’ve rationalised this well and have accepted that she’s now with someone else. But maybe next time you’ll feel more ‘ready’? I’m not sure how a person knows when they’re ready, but I suppose if you don’t feel it you don’t feel it.

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