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Sex + Relationships

Growing up and growing out of a Long-term Relationship


-After you left, I texted you saying “I love you” for the last time. That moment had passed, we’d already said it for the last time. You were no longer mine. I still feel yours.

-I miss you, and the time we shared, what a beautiful, happy time that was.

Heartbreak is simply inevitable. Its universality is unquestionable. It is something that has been fuelling the poets, the artists and the downright angsty for centuries and with access to such an extensive body of work that speaks so candidly of the woes of having your heart broken, it’s a fairly safe bet that we will all experience it at some point. However, how are you supposed to cope when you are experiencing this intense heartbreak and at the same time, experiencing the dramatics of packing up your life and moving away from home, ready to embark on the supposed ‘best years of your life?’

I had been in a relationship for four years and it had been nothing less than healthy and very happy. From the age of fourteen all the way through to eighteen, another person had been at the very centre of my life, and I had been largely content to remain in constant orbit. There was always the awareness that going to university would signal a new stage in my life, one that I knew I had to go through single, and very much on my own. The relationship itself had begun to run its course; problems were arising, and outgrowth appeared to be the inevitable outcome. We had mechanically agreed that breaking up at the beginning of the Summer was our best option – it was futile to drag our relationship through the distance and the summer months for it to end come September. My friends had even joked in the weeks leading up to the breakup that I was insane for having set a date to my own heartbreak and admittedly, there was something deeply cold about picking a date that was convenient to put an end to four years spent with another person. Above all else, it was glaringly obvious that it needed to happen so that we could move forward in life.

It would be a lie to say that the three-month period after the breakup was anything other than a carefully organised exercise in distraction. The day after, I went out with friends to celebrate the end of exams, then I visited family in Belfast for a week and shortly after returning, ran away again to Europe for a month. It was that free summer after A-levels where everything seems so incredibly possible and there was this inescapable sense that if I stopped, the reality of what I was feeling would prevent anything from starting again. I’d spent so long in love, only to later on spend a long time acting as though it was easy to recover from it. At the time, I remember being furious that I couldn’t quite manage to talk about what I was going through. The show went on and it certainly wasn’t going to stop for something as small my emotions. When friends would ask how I was doing, my ability to describe the extent of what I was going through was limited to “it’s really shit to be honest.” And it really was, but there was so much more that also needed to be said. My insides felt like a house on fire, I’d categorized all my pain, placed it into specific boxes and when the time came to erupt all of it out onto the unsuspecting audience of peers, all the words sat damply in my mouth.  I distinctly remember one month into Uni, after crying for an hour in my room, I called a close friend to come up. When she did, all I could manage was sitting there, sobbing and muttering about how shit it all was without ever really expressing what I was going through. After twenty minutes, I abruptly closed the conversation, cracked a joke whilst thanking her and went to a class. There was such a pressure to feel good, make people happy and have fun that I couldn’t allow any negative feelings to intrude on that. 

Truthfully, I wish I could talk out loud about my problems without feeling ridiculous, then maybe I could talk about this.’ 21.01.20

It was so clear to everyone close to me, apart from myself, that a lot of pain was simmering under the surface and I was willingly looking away from it every time. Nearly a year later, a close friend even admitted “we all thought you would be a mess but you just weren’t.” In reality, I was feeling like the mess that she described, but I was skilfully ignoring it. You cannot heal from the grief that you refuse to allow yourself to experience and what was happening, was a far cry from healing. On reflection, when I should have been spending the post-breakup months sitting with myself and working things out on my own, I had actually been getting blackout drunk on nights out and spending next to no time truly alone. There were just so many more things to do and experience. The situation only became clear when someone sat me down and gently said, “we feel like we don’t know you, Emma” and in all honesty, I had no answer to that because neither did I. I didn’t really know the other person who had emerged on the other side of those four years and I was making no effort to become acquainted with her. I was expecting myself to create new, meaningful relationships and at the same time, I was actively rejecting vulnerability in all its forms. There was crying at 3am, at 4pm in the kitchen, at 7pm listening to cheesey Taylor Swift songs and the dread of going back home to where he resided, was hard to bear. In short, there was no longer any distractions and I was no longer coping. It took a lot of courage to finally call my mum one rainy day in January and admit to her whilst crying down the phone that I didn’t know how to be alone. She knew that. I knew that. I just didn’t know how to come to terms with it.

Sometime later, I began to cut out the people I was using as distractions. I started going to the cinema alone again – an adored pastime that comes highly recommended. I am still learning to stop, feel sadness when it happens and let it inevitably pass. Sally Rooney wrote in Conversations with Friends ‘You live through certain things before you understand them. You can’t always take the analytical position.’ When I read that, it seemed as though I had done enough living with the pain and had grown tired of it. In reality, the thing that I had actually grown tired of was the constant performance that came with keeping distracted. You cannot always understand your emotions but that does not mean you are exempt from the responsibility of acknowledging them. Even if you feel like the timing is incredibly inconvenient, it is imperative that you don’t take your pain and run with it. It will inevitably trip you up. All the excitement that independence and University life has to offer will still be there once you have taken the time you need; that is a promise. 

‘I see that there’s a new person at the end of all this, I don’t quite know her but I can still vaguely see her. It’ll take time. So so much time. There will be relapses. But we are out of the worst part of it.’ 04.03.20

Emma Cogan

Bristol '23

Hi I'm Emma and I'm currently based in Bristol. Studying English and Spanish at the University of Bristol.
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