A dear cousin is going through a long-drawn-out break-up. I only realized how deep into it she still is when, after declaring, “That’s it, I’m done” in the way that 22-year-olds channeling wise, worldly 35-year-olds (yeah, that’s me) tend to do, she camps in front of her TV set with a bottle of red wine in the hopes of drowning out the shameful, shameful thing she just did earlier that evening: She was in her room, going through old scrapbooks when she came upon photos of her ex—the one she was supposedly “done” with—which brought back old memories. Which weren’t that bad, apparently, because they prompted her to send him—gasp!--a text message. And—bigger gasp!—he didn’t reply. Kapow!
Indeed, how does one recover from such a blow?
A few years ago, I would have told her that the only solution would be to “stay strong, stay firm, cut him out of your life, erase his name and all contact details from your directory, pack up everything he’s ever given you (unless it’s an iPod or a Sony Ericsson Walkman phone or a Zara cocktail dress) and stuff that reminds you of him and throw it out. Then take up kick-boxing. Or jujitsu.”
But when you’ve become a more mature, more balanced woman (yup, still me), you now know better. You now know that while the aforementioned method is still a personal favorite (because it uses rage—a lovely emotion that gives your cheeks a nice, healthy reddish tinge and, as a bonus, keeps out unwanted company), there are, in fact, a wide range of getting-over-him/it weapons at your disposal, with yet more in product development. All you have to do is ask a woman. The older she is, the more she will likely have in her arsenal. And you are most welcome to employ any or all of them.
For my heartbroken cousin, I shared one of my favorites—a wonderful and surprisingly effective tool: a story. My girlfriends and I have come to know this story as The Last Sweet Roro. Two years ago, as I was in the throes of my own long-running, di-pa-rin-ba-tapos-yan??? break-up saga, my friend Kat told this story to me, which was told to her (during Kat's own dark days) by the story’s main protagonist herself, another good friend of ours. Like a precious family heirloom, I’ve passed on this story to my sisters and girlfriends, hoping that they would derive the same comfort and magic and sense of hope that I felt when it was handed down to me.
Once upon a time, in the south of the Philippines, my girlfriend was in a long-term relationship with her high school sweetheart. Then she got accepted into her first-choice university, which happened to be in Manila, and so off she went. As a wide-eyed, impressionable freshman, she caught the eye of an upper classman. He was smart, sophisticated, older—and on his way to taking up law. The girl was, naturally, flattered and quite impressed. When he asked if she would like to be his girlfriend, she promptly broke it off with her boyfriend and took up with the future lawyer.
Alas, two weeks into this new relationship, the girl realized that she was, quite possibly, with the biggest narcissist in the metropolis—the kind of guy who hooks up with much younger girls because they were the easiest to brainwash into becoming adoring fans/groupies. The “relationship” was all about him. And the guy just couldn’t stop yakking about himself. TOTAL mistake.
The girl left him in mid-sentence, so to speak, packed a few things, hopped on a bus that rolled into a Sweet Roro ferry and practiced her I-made-a-mistake-please-take-me-back speech to her sweet, sensitive, thoughtful ex-boyfriend. But when she tried to deliver this heartfelt speech to him, he refused to hear it. In fact, he refused to speak to her and to see her.Kapow!
The girl was devastated, but not discouraged. She rationalized that she had brought this upon herself, and she was willing to do whatever it took to win back his affection. Every month or so, when she had scraped up enough of her student’s allowance to afford a ferry ticket, she sailed on the Sweet Roro from Luzon to Mindanao, hoping against hope that this time, on this trip, he would finally let her back in. I don’t recall who said this, but it’s awfully on the mark: “What men will only do for God and country, women have always done for men.”
She had a goal—and to her mind, it was a noble one: love. She was going to be worthy of it again, and if that meant packing her quivering heart in her suitcase every few weekends, offering it to her stony ex only to once again watch it being tied to the back of a truck and dragged mercilessly along the Mindanao highway like Lito Lapid, so be it. At the same time, she wondered just how long she could do this, how much more humiliation and rejection and heartache she could endure.
Perhaps because we’re the gender assigned to experience the necessary violent act called childbirth—not to mention the agonizing nine months prior--women tend to have a much higher threshold for pain than men. The kind of prolonged intense physical pain and suffering that earns men medals and hero status, women experience all the time, as a simple matter of fact, without fanfare. And so this girlfriend of mine, by the mere fact of having been born female, was genetically predisposed to let it rip.
Eventually, she—and her poor, battered but brave little heart—stopped thinking, became numb to the pain and just went on her business of taking the blows. Kapow! Kapow! Kapow!
One day, she took her place in the queue towards the entrance of the ferry bus, the way she had done for the past year. (Yes—YEAR!) As she planted her right foot on the first step of the bus, it dawned on her, clear as a sunny day--“I’m done.” Just like that. No bitterness, no anger, no remorse. Just a sense of finality and…relief. And gratitude. She did her time, and now she was free.
She stepped back from the crowds, calmly watched the activity before her. And she stayed long enough to watch the Sweet Roro sail away and disappear into the horizon.
I think I got to my feet and applauded when Kat was done telling me this story.
The truly genius thing about going--as my siblings and cousins put it--“all out” is that it guards against that silent monster--regret. The regret of not having done enough, the whole pwede-pa-sana school of thought--wishing you had done more and wondering what would have happened if you had—that haunts your waking and sleeping hours, as terrifying to some as seeing dead people. I suspect this is the reason women stay longer than they should in situations that make them miserable. They want to face down their monsters now, when they still have energy left, and not run away only to have these monsters lurk around in their supposed happy and content future. They don’t want to regret anything; they don’t want to think they had “given up too soon”. They want to be sure. They want to be able to walk away and never look back. So in the meantime, as my sisters say, “Go lang nang go!”
Certainly, there will be none of that regret for you when you board your own Sweet Roro, when you choose to just ride out the excruciating pain—and humiliation. Even those have expiry dates. You will have known that you did give it—that job, that friend, that dream, that relationship--everything you had and found out that it just wasn’t for you. At that point, no amount of pleading or negotiation or argumentation or guilt-trip or even bodily threat can reel you back in. You’re sooo DONE. You can peacefully let the damn thing go already.
There is no way to accurately describe the rush of relief, the odd sense of victory and liberation at finally arriving at your last Sweet Roro. You’ll watch it sail into the sunset—that relentless drama boat that rocked you to the core—with the giddy knowledge that, finally, you’re not on it, anymore. You’re on solid ground.