When we break up, we consume. Something has to fill that hole where your love used to be right? And so many things can go in there: food, drinks, movies, drugs, Netflix, pricey new coats, compliments from strangers, books, YouTube videos of bulldogs, music, tears, and maybe even couch cushion stuffing (if you’re that lady from My Strange Addiction). The Breakup Diet is a feature where we ask our favorite people what they put in, on, or through their bodies when they’re getting over the end of a relationship.
The details of that first night are razor sharp. I was in the middle of making Bon Appétit’s rigatoni with spicy calabrese-style pork ragù. At the time, it was my favorite thing to cook and eat. Brown sausage. Brown mirepoix and herbs and garlic. Throw in puréed tomatoes. Simmer. The transformation after four hours is transcendent.
I was chopping an onion. My phone rang. “Can you come outside please?” I went outside. A box was sitting on the curb. A box of my things. Clothes and knives and running shoes and a cast iron skillet and so on. I took the box inside and put it into my room. I stared at my dresser for 20 minutes, then went back to chopping my onion.
Eventually, the stupid spicy calabrese-style pork ragù was simmering in the pot. I felt like I had just walked away from a car crash — relieved to still be in one piece, but terrified of what the coming weeks, days, and months would hold.
I went back into my room and continued to stare at my dresser, intermixed with heaving sobs into a pillow because my roommates were home and my sobbing sounds like something is physiologically wrong with me.
I met two of my friends at a bar and drank four bottles of Lone Star. I went home and ate three generous plates of the spicy calabrese-style pork ragù. I haven’t made it since.
When she left, everything — eating, drinking, watching, listening, reading — became deliberate. Everything, in some way, is a coping mechanism. I look at something and immediately think: “How does this explain why my relationship failed?”
Cheryl Strayed lays it out perfectly in her memoir on grief and love (which I read for the first time two weeks ago). “We attempt to name, identify, and define the most mysterious of matters: sex, love, marriage, monogamy, infidelity, death, loss, grief. We want these things to have an order, an internal logic, and we also want them to be connected to one another.”
This process of grasping for connections in music, in movies, in books, in relationship columns — of devouring anything remotely having to do with loss — is one of the few ways I know how to deal with this. This being the baseline fact that a person — who, for a very long time, shared a bond so strong and intimate that all others seemed inconsequential — no longer prefers your company.
But after that first night I was at a loss for things to feed my coping mechanism. The usual movies and music and books that I had leaned on in the past just felt off or horribly false. None of them applied anymore.
Kid A is melancholic to the point of dullness. Blood on the Tracks is too spiteful. I grew out of Stevie Ray Vaughan. 500 Days of Summer, under the new lens of my breakup, is a film about a whiny, delusional guy who refuses to respect the relationship boundaries he agreed to while making out on a bed in Ikea. Cashback chronicles a garbage human who refuses to take responsibility for the failure of his relationship; and upon realizing that he can stop time (?) decides to undress women at the supermarket and draw them. When Gabriel García Márquez passed away, I tried to re-read One Hundred Years of Solitude, but put it down after three pages because of her annotations.
I had to find new things.
I latched onto Future Islands because they’re just so earnest and raw. Listening to “Balance” for the first time felt like Samuel T. Herring sat me down, said “I know, man, it sucks,” and then gave me a hug for the next four minutes.
Somehow, Katy Perry’s “Firework” became a paean to my break up. One night, the Rdio gods delivered unto me a lightning bolt: “Do you ever feel like a plastic bag / Drifting through the wind, wanting to start again?” I do Katy, that’s almost exactly how I feel. “Do you know that there’s still a chance for you?/ ‘Cause there’s a spark in you?” Wh…What did you say? “Maybe a reason why all the doors are closed / So you could open one that leads you to the perfect road.” Okay, yeah. YEAH!
I watched Her and cried like a big fat baby when Theodore Twombly, lying in his bed drunk, explains the depths of his sadness and his failures as a husband. And then again when, while on vacation, Samantha tells him that she’s beginning to move past human concepts of love and relationships, and is exploring those concepts with another AI. And all he can do is stand there, and mutter in the affirmative.
But in between those two scenes, a strange thing happened. Amy, Theodore’s friend, vents to him about her breakup. “You know what, I can overthink everything and find a million ways to doubt myself,” she tells him. “And since Charles left I’ve been really thinking about that part of myself and, I’ve just come to realize that we’re only here briefly. And while I’m here, I wanna allow myself joy. So fuck it.”
For a moment, Amy’s words became my ex’s words. I had little idea how she was venting to her friends — If I just knew what she was telling her roommates, maybe I could understand? — so I filled that absence with movie dialog instead. Every single line in Her presented possibilities —however ridiculous and unfounded. My psyche, kept in the dark and rubbed raw from anxiety, gladly latched onto them. Watching Her re-opened my brain back up to the concept of “what if?”
And so “what if?” bled into music, too. I listened to songs about kicking useless dudes to the curb, or being unburdened from cancerous relationships. She left, and in that small hole of uncertainty gushed feelings of inadequacy, doubt, and fear that I was The Guy Holding Her Back. I listened and listened and still listen to Summer Camp’s “Better Off Without You” like one re-reads a love-letter — frantically trying to find a hidden nugget of hope. It didn’t help that Rdio informed me that she listened to it too. Is she bouncing around her apartment, enthusiastically shouting the chorus? Does it pop into her head on a daily basis?
I needed to deal with this deluge of “what if?” I needed time and space to let my brain run rampant and unclouded. Running the Prospect Park loop was already a well-established habit. Now it was an addiction.
Somewhat reasonable excuses to not go for a run became unacceptable. Monday nights I play in a co-ed soccer league. When I have a late-night game, I go home, run the loop, then head to the soccer field back in Manhattan. For games earlier in the evening I run after I get home. I ride my bike to work, ride home, then run.
I stopped drinking during the week. I force myself to awkwardly refuse drinks with coworkers, clients, friends, so I can go for a run. Saturday mornings, I drag myself out of bed — hungover from the first of two nights I allow myself booze (binging, of course) — to run the loop.
I need to run. Otherwise the “what ifs?” ferment inside my head. Their semi-toxic, gaseous nature distracting and sickening and maddening. Running flushes them out.
My life is now in a state of feast and famine. Of denying myself things during the week (lately I’ve added meat along with booze), running myself ragged, over-extending myself in work; only to reclusively over-indulge on weekends.
Is it healthy? It feels untenable. But I’ve lost weight. I’ve gotten faster. I’ve secured freelance assignments that seemed like pipe dreams months ago. I’ve found an ability to push myself further than I thought possible. And I’ve discovered the concept of self-validation.
I wait for the bottom to fall out. But maybe this is just my new life.