What an amazing thing we try for, when we launch a serious relationship.
We’re picking one person, out of all the people in the world, to form a couple with, and around that couple we hope to structure our whole life—domestic, emotional, social, and financial, often including children. It’s amazing we ever have the temerity to place such a bet. The only way to do that is to really believe in it. It’s
like founding your own religion. The belief in your partner becomes your central dogma.

So when that platform fails, when suddenly you find that this person isn’t going to be the one after all, the whole edifice of your life seems to slip, as if it has lost its moorings. There’s a sense that the whole universe has gone crazy, has tilted madly. The world isn’t right anymore. Your coordinates of truth have been knocked askew.

Even when you instigated the breakup, this can be true: your belief in the universe that the two of you
represented, is gone. So how do you believe in anything?

We can’t live very long with that first crazy feeling, so after a while we have to erect a new belief system to substitute for the old one. And that’s when things get tricky, because the new system has to remove anything that may have led to the collapse of the old one.

And the easiest way to do that is to get rid of the parts that made hope possible in the first place.
We end up in a world that doesn’t feel crazy—that’s what makes us more comfortable there—but in fact it may be crazy.
In order to understand its insanity, we need to look harder at the madness that led to it, and still infects its timbers.
That initial feeling of disorientation, that tilting feeling, which follows a breakup. I’m going to offer some comparisons here, to capture the sense of unreality, the surreal sensation, that is so hard to deal with. What is that experience like?
It’s like what a child feels when her parents divorce. I lie in my bedroom at night —or is it still my bedroom? It is on some nights . . . I don’t feel safe. The walls that kept the night away, they don’t feel so solid anymore. The big world can get me. The grownups had my back, so I could be a kid. Now I’m not so sure. I don’t feel the same way about them anymore. Or myself. It’s like what an adult feels when his parents die. Again, the buffer is gone. There’s no one between me and the grim reaper. I’m next on his list.
Moving even closer to religion, it’s like what one feels when one’s friend is struck down by a senseless accident. This is when people tend to lose their faith. They say, “The god I believed in wouldn’t have let this happen.”

It’s like having the world’s best job, and one Friday morning they come to your office and they tell you to collect your things—just your personal effects—and they escort you out of the building. You didn’t
suspect a thing. You were doing a good job. Your position was solid. This can’t be happening.

It’s a little like watching those towers come down. (I’m referring to the disbelief of seeing the physical structures collapse, and not the other sorrows of that grievous day.)
It’s like that moment in the movie The Truman Show, when Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) is driving through his sunny town and his car radio accidentally picks up the secret patter of those who control and
shape his whole life. His world—wife, friends, job, everything—is a clever illusion created by a TV studio, and for a crazy moment that illusion slips, making him doubt everything he knows.
I use these examples to conjure the sense of dislocation, of disconnection, the feeling of being lost in space, that can engulf you when the relationship you based everything on disappears, and the two people who said they loved each other, walk away from each other.

Things that were always true, aren’t true anymore.
• You don’t believe that other people are basically good, or that you understand them. Especially members of the opposite sex.
• You don’t trust your own goodness; it doesn’t seem obvious anymore that you deserve to be happy with someone.
• You doubt that any couples are really happy.
• You doubt your own judgment. You’ve always been a good judge of character, and in this instance you certainly did your very best to pick out a fine partner. And now it’s all gone to hell, so what does that say about your discernment?
• In particular, you doubt your own ability to detect fraud. You keep sifting through all the clues that were in the situation. All the signs that something was wrong. Apparently you could stare right at them and think they were fine. “I don’t know the real thing from the fake,” you tell yourself. “I don’t know a healthy relationship
from a travesty. Maybe they’re all fake, all travesties.”

So you conclude that nothing is what it seems. “What a fool I was,” you think. “I took everything at face value; I was so naïve.” You walk out the front door and the street feels different. Everything seems worthy of a certain suspicion. The tree may drop a limb on you if you walk blithely beneath it. The grass may contain a wasp’s nest. The people on the sidewalk are up to something. The cars all carry some smug secret, some mockery that may be at your expense.

How did you ever believe in love?
John Donne wrote a poem once in which he said, “And now good tomorrow to our waking souls, which watch not one another out of fear.” And now you think, wouldn’t that be nice, to look at someone
without any trepidation. But that’s exactly what you no longer know how to do.

You’ve lost your innocence.
I don’t mean naivety here—that’s a good thing to lose—I mean a deeper thing. A bad breakup can seriously affect your spiritual health, for a long time. It can mire you in what some traditions would call a “fallen world.” I want to unmask that impaired place, and to point a way out. To do that I’m going to walk us through a spiritual “landscape,” slightly exaggerated to reveal its true nature. That will help us see it for what it is, which is the first step in breaking free.

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