Pretty much since the minute people found out what has happened with E, I have been the recipient of much advice and opinion. Most of it has been good, almost all of it has been sympathetic, but occasionally the comments I received were insensitive, rude or just downright bizarre.
As the news about E and I breaking up began to spread, I slowly began to realise, that, rather like being pregnant – where the world and his wife seem to feel they’ve got the right to comment on, advise upon and pontificate about you and your bump – a break-up is something of a free-for-all for know it alls.
There was the inevitable, unsought, advice; such as “because you’re not married you have no legal rights to any support for yourself you know.” Then there was the person who suggested I ask my Dad to help me with deal the household finances – as in ask him to show me how to do accounts and pay bills (I had, in fact been doing the household accounts for 25 years).
Some people thought it was ok to comment on my newly acquired single mother status. Take for example, the person who launched into a full-on lecture about how boys needed to have their Dad in their lives, told me how much my boys needed a good male role model and informed me that I MUST always let them see their Dad whether I liked it or not. Before offering this perspective, they hadn’t even bothered to enquire as to when, and how often, my kids saw their Dad.
Another person, opined at length about a single parent home was an unstable environment in which to bring up kids, and how families needed both parents, saying: ‘we all know’ that a Mum and a Dad at home is always what’s best for bringing up children. I didn’t grace this one with a reply, but, if I had it would have been along the lines of: “Do ‘we’,? Do ‘we’ really? What about same-sex parents? What about bereaved families? What about families where one parent is abusive? Actually I think ‘we’ all know that a Mum and Dad isn’t *always* what’s best. A loving, secure, home is what’s best for children, however that is achieved.”
My favourite was the person who patted me on the shoulder and said: “ah well…. at least no-one’s died” (which I think must be the break-up equivalent of “smile love, it might never happen). I replied: “yet” in the voice that the E and the kids would recognise as *dangerous*, but I think he thought I was still being pessimistic and still not counting my blessings.
Even more bizarre were the comparison comments when I told some people what was going on (always in response to a direct question about what was happening, it wasn’t like I wasn’t running around telling anyone who would listen – I saved that for this blog…). I lost count of the number of times people would respond to my honest, factual, answers about what was happening with comments along the lines of : “You’re lucky, my friend’s Ex walked out on her and she had three children under 6 and no child support”, or, “My friend’s Ex left her when she was pregnant with no financial support at all” or (this is an actual quote) “At least you’ve got girls, my daughter’s Ex left her with TWO BOYS AND A DOG to deal with.” These ones tended to leave me speechless. Apart from anything else, I wasn’t aware that I was in a competition. What those people went through was shit. What I was going through was shit. You wouldn’t respond to someone who had an incurable or even a treatable cancer diagnosis with; “you’re lucky, they caught my friend’s cancer too late and she was dead within two weeks of diagnosis”.
Again, a bit like the “at least no-one’s died” comment, I’m sure these sort of remarks were intended to cheer me up and help me put things in perspective (although, to this day, I’m not sure how telling me how much more shit someone else’s life is than mine, would make me feel any better), but all they did was make me feel patronised and insulted. I could have understood the comments if I was moaning about my situation or complaining about how bad my life was, but I wasn’t. In fact, if anything, I was being too cheery and positive. Whenever I saw people I assumed my ‘work face’ and was all smiles and positivity. Occasionally my guard would drop and I’d tell someone how I was really feeling (or, in the case of one friend, burst into tears on her when she turned up at my house with a thank you gift for me), but generally I was quite considerate about not imposing my woes on people, so the comparison comments used to really irritate me.
Of course, most of the comments I received were utterly brilliant. By now my Mum had graduated to swearing by text (she wasn’t even using asterisks), so if I was having a bad day, I could always rely on her for a choice phrase or two. The same applied to my lovely friends; they were never short of a hug or a sympathetic ‘what a knob’ comment. I liked to think I was fairly proficient in the profanities department, but thank to my friends, and a few of their husbands, I learned a fair few more brilliantly abusive terms.
However, the best advice I received, wasn’t really advice at all – it was sympathy and it was given to me very early on my sister. My sister is younger than me but she is much wiser than me. She’s also been dealing with the fall-out of a horrible break up for far longer than I have. She’s ferociously intelligent and she’s hugely protective of me (I refer you to the kicking in the bum of the kid who nicked my tennis ball when we were at school incident). She came to see me in the February after E had left, read the emails, watched me drink my way through a couple of bottles of wine and then she gave me a massive hug and she said just four words: “breaking up is shit.”
As the year has gone on I’ve realised again and again how right she was and how those four words summed up a world of pain, confusion and struggle. There is no getting away from it. You might be miles better off without the person who left you, you might know logically that you don’t need them in your life, but dealing with the fall-out of everything (especially having to be Mum, Dad and mental health counsellor to four children) is shit. It’s an honour that my children need and trust me so much, but seeing them go through such a hard time and not being able to make it better is shit.
It’s also shit comparing your 48-year-old peri-menopausal self to the incredibly young, slim and attractive woman that your ex has left you for.
It’s shit having your whole life thrown up in the air and trying desperately to reshape something out of what falls back down.
My sister’s advice was concise, blunt, to the point and – vitally – it didn’t give me any pointers or tips as to how to deal with things or what to do about them. It just let me know that she understood what I was going through and gave me the freedom to work things out for myself. The fact that someone had been there before, that someone knew how I felt, was all I needed. It’s one of the reasons I started this blog; I wanted other people going through a horrible break up to know that they weren’t alone, that they had someone’s unconditional support. This blog isn’t here to give advice or tell anyone how to behave; it’s here to share an experience. It’s here to say ‘breaking up is shit’.
If you don’t mind, and somewhat hypocritically, I’ll finish this piece with some advice: if you have an opinion, or some advice, about someone’s break up, please don’t offer it to them unless they ask you to.
Of course, if you wish to seek advice, or an opinion, from someone with a wise head on her shoulders, I’m sure my sister can be available at reasonable rates…