We all know those gay couples who have been together 10, 20, 30 years. But what about those of us who meet a nice guy, fall in love, are together for one or a few years, and then find ourselves single again? How do you bounce back?
How we recover will not only impact our well-being in the moment, it will also set us up for success going forward. For us gay dads, how we recover will also be a strong lesson in strength and resilience for our children.
My straight marriage lasted 14 years before I came out. I’ve been in four relationships with men since. Of course, there were periods of singleness in between each. I can speak from experience and hopefully wisdom, as I’ve learned (and am learning) how to move forward in healthy ways.
What have I learned to do for a healthy recovery? This list isn’t exhaustive, and this is just a quick summary of the steps. But it’s a starting place to get you moving forward.
#1. Assess the Damage
What are your immediate needs? Maybe you lived together or had joint accounts. Where will you live? Will your ex be there for a while as you each make new living arrangements? If there are financial or other ties, you’ll have to figure out how you will divide your assets. If necessary, engage good counsel in the form of an accountant or a lawyer.
How will you tell your kids about the breakup in an age-appropriate way? You must consider how your kids will deal with the loss of someone who may have been a significant part of their lives. Will there be some arrangement going forward for the kids to spend time with each of you? It’s important to put the best interests of the children first.
How are you emotionally, mentally, and physically? Maybe the breakup was a long time coming, and you’re fine. Maybe it comes as an absolute shock, and you’re reeling. Assess where you are. Is it time to call up your therapist and book an emergency appointment? Do you need to go out for a wine and cry night? Getting an accurate picture of where you are emotionally and financially will set the stage for a successful recovery and give you concrete action items for the next steps.
#2. Take Your Time
Take a breath. You don’t have to rush into anything new with someone else. It’s often healthiest for us to become comfortable in our singleness, to fall in love with ourselves again. As Mama Ru Paul preaches, “If you don’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?”
Your self-esteem has likely taken a hit. Take some time to regain your confidence. If you do start seeing someone right away, make sure he’s okay with taking things slowly as you recover. Being transparent with him about what you’re feeling and what you’re currently capable of will help you both navigate the relationship.
Remember that self-care isn’t selfish! Take that trip. Go for a spa day. Spend time reassessing what you really want and need. Focus on your kids and enjoying the love they return to us as daddies. There’s no reason to rush the process.
#3. Set Boundaries
For most people, a clean break gives the closure needed to move on. It’s not going to help if you’re looking at old photographs or re-reading old texts. Stalking him on social media or Grindr is not going to make you feel better. And you certainly don’t want to hear about what he’s doing with whom.
If he’s constantly trying to reach out to you, take the steps you feel necessary to protect your heart and mind. You may have to block his number or social media accounts. If he continues to reach out, remind him that you do not owe him a response. This may feel harsh, but now is the time to do what is best for you. Yes, in six months or a year you may be able to have a rational conversation or even be friends, but in the near term know what you can handle and stick to your boundaries.
Protect your heart. Protect your kids. No one has a right to your story. You do not owe anyone any information about why your relationship ended. You also have no obligation to correct any misinformation that may be spread. When you’re ready, you can choose whether you want to tell “your side of the story” and to whom.
#4. Remember Healthy Feels Best
In the final months of my last relationship, I knew something was wrong. I was often angry. I stopped running and exercising. My eating habits suffered. I didn’t realize until after the breakup that I was allowing my anxiety about our relationship to affect my wellbeing. He had checked out of the relationship six months before. My heart knew, but my mind wouldn’t accept the truth. The cognitive dissonance led me down an unhealthy path.
Start eating healthy. Start moving. Start going to therapy. Remember that the healthy choice almost always feels best. If not in the moment, it will in the long term.
#5. Lean on Trusted Friends
Know who in your circle is a safe person. Some people are a really good time and can certainly take our minds off our losses. We need those kinds of friends. But be careful that the people you’re leaning on will not take advantage of you while your decision-making is impaired. Will they keep your confidence? Can you talk to them openly without the entire gay community hearing about it? Can you trust that they will be a listening ear and not take advantage of you sexually? Are they wise in their own relationships and able to give good feedback when you ask for their advice?
#6. Make a Plan
Get back to the basics. I devised a new household budget. I joined a new gym. I set regular appointments with my therapist. I started meal-prepping again. I set little goals for myself.
Set realistic expectations. It’s okay to not be okay for a while. It’s okay to struggle as you adjust to a new lifestyle. Having an accurate picture of where you are and where you want to be in one month or one year will give you hope and a path forward. Accomplishing the little goals you’ve set for yourself will give you momentum and propel you to where you want to be.
#7. Honestly Assess Your Own Actions
It’s easy to cast blame. I’m tempted to list everything he did wrong while ignoring the areas where I fell short. But it’s important that we fairly assess our own actions leading to the breakup. You don’t want to make the same mistakes in the next relationship. And until we’re honest about our own shortcomings we will never address them directly. We will never grow and could repeat the same mistakes again.
#8. Remember: a Relationship Doesn’t Define You
You are more than what happened to you.You are a different person now: wiser, more mature, and with knowledge that will serve you well in the future.
One of the most famous scenes in cinematic history is that tear-jerker moment when Tom Cruise knocks on Renee Zellweger’s door in Jerry Maguire and declares, “you complete me!” It’s cute, but it’s not true. We are not incomplete if we don’t have a partner. We are not “less than” because we’re unattached. We are whole and complete standing on our own. A partner may complement us, but they do not complete us.
I get to choose who I want to be. No one else and no former relationship or lover will define me. I am enough standing on my own.
#9. Practice Gratitude
Remember that the world is good. People are good. It’s easy to become jaded, to believe that the world is out to get you and that all men are evil. But that’s not true. We live in a beautiful, dynamic world that is constantly presenting us with new challenges and opportunities.
Be thankful that you get to move forward. The future is limitless. You have an infinite number of options that you, and only you, get to choose as your next best opportunity. Relish this newfound freedom. And finally, and most importantly, be thankful that you are you. There’s no one else in the world like you!