Break-ups in your 30s are hard. Really hard.
Don’t get me wrong, they can be just as painful as break-ups in your 20s (or teen years, for that matter). But they are challenging in a different way. Growing up, I think many people of my generation had preconceived notions about what our 30s would be like. And whether those notions came from our families, communities, or from ourselves, chances are, for better or worse, the life we are living now is very different from that which we imagined.
Break-ups in your 30s are different because relationships are often tied up in the picture we have of what life will be like. Whether you imagined yourself jet-setting around the world, schlepping kids off to school, shaking up the art world, or whatever, a companion was probably in the picture somewhere. Break-ups feel like getting sent back to square one to start this game of life all over again.
A thirty-something friend of mine is going through a break-up. And it’s hard. Knowing that I had gone back to square one in the not too distant past – and in fact, had sent myself there because things weren’t panning out the way I wanted – she asked, “How did you do it? How did you make it through?”
My answer to her was, stay focused on the life you want. Never forget about the life you want to live. And never feel bad for wanting it. (Tweet that!)
Two and a half years ago, I thought about the life I wanted, looked at the man I was with, and realized that the two didn’t line up. He wasn’t willing to move in the direction I wanted to go. And although I felt he was the love of my life, I walked away. It was hard. Damn, was it hard. But I kept my focus on what I wanted – marriage and a family. And I wouldn’t let myself feel bad for wanting it.
People must have thought I was crazy. The two of us were really happy, we had a lovely home, great friends, and made the best travel companions. But that was only part of the picture. I didn’t want to compromise. I wanted the whole image.
We may desire all kinds of things – a promotion, a book deal, a first class ticket to Italy – but those things are only single slices of the picture. We need to keep the whole picture in focus.
In your perfect world, what is your career like? What is your home life like? What is your social life like? With the whole picture in focus, we can more clearly see the significant other supporting us through our endeavors and life choices (or more clearly see who he or she is not). When we are really honest with ourselves we can see if a person fits in that picture or not, whether he or she can help us build the life we want or take us further from it.
As it turned out, that guy realized that his life picture and my life picture were the same. Two and a half years later, we are married with a baby boy on the way. I don’t think we’d be here right now if we hadn’t stayed true to our respective desires.
And desire is key. Base your choices on your desired life. Paulo Coelho wrote, “Keep your eyes open, concentrate and make sure you know exactly what you want. No one can hit their target with their eyes closed.”
The thing is, we expect to be figuring things out in our 20s. When we get to our 30s, we look around and if we are still figuring things out we feel like a failure. In reality, we are always figuring things out. We never stop. We are always adjusting our aim, fine tuning our focus. And that’s as it should be, as long as our desired life is always the target.
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