There?s really only one reason that matters
Photo by Artyom Kim on Unsplash
Just announced. With the fear and isolation caused by this pandemic, the CDC has officially given you an excuse to reach out to your ex. I get it. This crisis is unearthing buried emotions, and now you miss that person.
I have not spoken to my ex in three months, but because he works in an ICU, I feared he had been exposed to this nasty virus. Then, I got this crazy idea in my head ? what if he is dead? Suddenly, my active imagination envisioned all these heartbreaking scenarios, and I had to know?was he ok?
But when I tried to find the answer to my question, he had disappeared from Instagram and Facebook. My first thought was, I knew it. He?s dead. Panic set in. My second thought was more rational and far less creative.
I was blocked.
Blocked. Shut out. A windowless room with all the doors bolted. I kept repeating the word over and over again as if it was a secret incantation to dispel the demons. Blocked. Blocked. Blocked. Blocked like some crazy chick who?d boiled his pet rabbit.
To be clear, I believe people need to do whatever helps them move on. If a conflagration of ex memorabilia makes you let go, I will help you light the match. If jumping back into dating feels right, only you know when you are ready. If blocking your ex on social media empowers you?go for it.
Given how filthy our breakup was, my ex had every right to wash his hands of us. But I still found myself asking why. Why would you block someone who is not contacting you? I understand unfriending, but blocking feels extreme.
And there I was. Right back to pathologizing his actions. Three months of healing ripped back open, and it felt like we were breaking up all over again.
Why you are blocked
If you have ever been blocked by an ex, I could give you a list of explanations. It could be a new love, vengeance, self-preservation, or the more obvious explanation ? a way to prevent contact. There could be a million reasons why someone blocked you, and most likely, it is a combination of the above.
But none of those reasons matter except one ? why does it bother you?
And it is ok if it does. As long as you reshift the question back to your emotions. Maybe you are still going through the stages of grief and need to hold tight to that last thread of contact. Maybe you were hoping to eventually be friends again. Maybe it angers you because it feels passive-aggressive and melodramatic. The important thing is to understand how you feel about it.
For me, if I am to be brutally honest, it is a muddy mix of all of the above.
Blocked from what?
When you love someone, you bear witness to their life. Their triumphs are your triumphs. Their tragedies are your tragedies. When you break up, you not only lose the person you loved, you lose the job of life witness. But with a click of a button, you can still see a slideshow narrating your ex?s new jobs, new travels, new friends, and new loves. A torturous picture stream of your ex loving and fighting for someone else and that someone is no longer you.
As the last bastion of hope, we settle for witnessing an ex?s life on social media even though it bears little resemblance to reality.
If you think an ex?s fabulous life on social media is real, then answer this question: Did you ever post a picture online of you and your ex where you looked happy, and you were actually ready to slit your wrists? Ok, maybe that is hyperbolic, but you know what I mean. The relationships that suck in real life often need the most curation online. You don?t need to see your ex?s curated life. You already know the person behind the Instagram filter.
The torture of uncertainty
When I was worried about my ex, I was faced with three possibilities. 1. The worst: He is sick or dead.2. The best: He is healthy and living it large. (But, of course, drowning in his tears because he misses me so much.) 3. Maybe #1. Maybe #2. Maybe somewhere in between. Lots of maybes.
The snakes in your relationship
According to a 2016 study from Nature Communications, #3 causes the most agony. In the study, researchers asked volunteers to play a computer game in which they guessed whether or not a rock concealed a snake. If a rock hid a snake, the volunteer got a mild shock. No snake, no shock. The game was designed with predictive indexes to slowly teach participants when a snake would appear and when it would not. Thus, volunteers got increasingly better at knowing which rocks held snakes and bracing themselves for the pending shocks.
But just when volunteers could predict the snakes, the game changed the rules and put the volunteers back into a state of uncertainly, not knowing when the damn snakes would slither out. By measuring the participants? stress levels, the researchers found that ambiguity caused far more distress than the pain of certainty.
In other words, the unknown snake was far worse than the actual snake.
I don?t need to hit you over the head with more snake analogies. Not knowing sucks. Our brains simply don?t handle uncertainty well. To make matters worse, during a crisis, we hold fast to past beliefs because we can?t process all the newer information. Logically, you know the reasons why you broke up with your ex, but in a fight-or-flight state, you revert back to only remembering the comfort that person offered during happier times.
This is all normal. And it will pass once our lives are back on track.
If you are tempted to reach out to an ex during this forced isolation, take a beat. You broke up for a reason and that reason is getting whitewashed due to the panic.
Staying in an unhealthy relationship is like staying inside your house when you know a Category 4 hurricane is coming. You can?t always ride out the storm. Sometimes you have to pack up your belongings, take shelter, and surrender to the incertitude of never knowing.
I had been really strong about not looking up my ex on social media until my worry pushed me over the ledge. I still think about him and pray he is safe. I still write about him because all writing is just one long letter to those you have loved. I could fill volumes with all my unanswered questions. I know snakes.
And so, my last question remains. Dead or alive? The truth plows through me worse than this damned spiked virus ? I no longer have a right to know. But by blocking me, he may not have given me the answer I wanted, but he did give me the answer I needed. The answer I have to finally accept.
And that answer is dead.