I cried the night that I knew our wedding would never happen. She was lying next to me, fast asleep, as I sobbed into a pillow and clutched my engagement ring, desperately hoping that if I only held it tight enough, our problems would disappear. I spent years building a life with a person who wasn't right for me. Our constant, circular arguments left me drained and repressed. I felt suffocated by a relationship that didn't -- and couldn't -- provide me with what I needed.
My dress was sitting in the closet. The vintage, knee-length lace number I had fallen in love with a summer earlier. I'd never wear it.
Within six days, I signed a lease and used every minute not spent at work to pack. Half of my belongings sat in black bags on the curb while budget movers hauled what was left of my life into a dirty truck. I gave our cats goodbye belly rubs and kissed my ex's tear-streaked cheek. Twenty minutes later, my new home was with two complete strangers and a co-worker from a job I had started less than four months prior to moving day.
Several weeks later, my life is finally moving in a direction of positive growth. I listened to more Pink than I'd care to admit, but I feel stronger and more purposeful than ever before. Most importantly, I didn't enter into a legally binding commitment because it was comfortable.
My one wish is that the people in my life knew how to support me, though I understand how tough it can be to conjure up the right reaction to something heart-wrenchingly painful. And terrifying. And hopeful. And damn awkward. Good intentions can very easily become lost in a mix of fumbled words and misguided actions.
There's a good chance that someone in your life will one day come to the agonizing -- and freeing -- decision of breaking off an engagement. Here are some tips for acting like the rock star friend every woman needs:
1. Something major has happened. Act like it.
I know we gushed over bridal magazines and chose reception nail polish colors and watched episodes of Bridezillas knowing deep down that tying the knot would temporarily turn us into raging monsters. I'm ringless now and our double wedding dreams are dashed forever, but there is an elephant in the room and it ate my dress. You should probably say something, even if it's a simple "I'm sorry." We can't move past something that goes unacknowledged. That elephant will probably trample our friendship.
2. Treat her like a strong person who's hurting, not a shell of a human being.
If breaking up sucks, getting un-engaged royally sucks. Sure, I cried and ate ice cream and maybe re-watched the entire first two seasons of "Dance Moms," but I also went on dates, learned how to cook (if jarred sauce counts), kicked ass at work, and made genuine attempts to improve myself.
I want to be recognized as the brave person that I am, and starting every Facebook message with a sad face and entire paragraphs about how sorry you are that my life must be such a wreck makes me feel disempowered. A jokey text message about cats or an "I'm thinking of you" will go a longer way -- and give you major friend points.
3. Throwing her hands up in the air and partying/being set up with your ex-best friend's cousin's sister might not be the first thing on her mind.
A night out at the bar is fun, but I'll pass on shoving a dollar into a half-naked dancer's thong. I'm all for being young and free, but I just lost a major piece of my support system and I'm not even sure I can walk in pumps if I tried. Almost three years is a long time, so give me time to heal and get used to actual heels.
Nobody tells you how to ask for help when you go through a devastating loss. I have mastered the poker face and am ridiculously hard to read at times (thank you, Italian father). But just because I manage to clothe and feed myself doesn't mean that I'm a superhuman who's incapable of feeling a whole range of emotions. I have the feels, and most of them can only be tamed by ice cream, Netflix, and awesome friends.
To date, the most meaningful thing someone's done for me was cook a homemade meal the night I moved in (roomie props!). Since the way to my heart is through my stomach, the gesture was as thoughtful as it was delicious. And if you ask anyone who has ever moved within a short time frame, unpacking help will be appreciated for-freaking-ever.
4. If you want juicy details about the tragic end of a relationship, pick up a tabloid.
Please take a genuine interest in the lives of those you care about. Please never slam your hands on a restaurant table and say, "Gimme all the dirty details" about the traumatic end of a relationship. This is probably one of the easiest ways to permanently damage a friendship. You will get shut out. And probably Facebook blocked. Someone's life is not fresh gossip to share with your cube mate. When in doubt, remember that a little tact goes a long way.
5. We're all human here. Never forget that.
My relationship was chock full of rocky stretches, but it was also my first taste of romantic love. This was all complicated by my ex's debt and mental illness. None of these things make her Satan's spawn. And while I'll never regret calling off our engagement, I value every good -- and not so good -- moment. There are living, breathing, and beautifully flawed human beings behind every failed relationship. This isn't a Buffy episode, you guys.
6. If she's gay, don't ask her if it would've even been legal anyway.
I'll keep this one short. There is this magical tool that brings the world's knowledge to our fingertips. It's called Google. Questioning the legality of someone else's relationship is grossly belittling, and while I can make it "official," there are lots of queers who can't, thanks for reminding me.
7. Support her grieving process (unless it's dangerous).
I bought a very large and very pink stuffed llama from Japan and drank a lot of beer. I don't even like beer. People do weird things when they lose someone they love deeply. Whether she refers to her apartment as "The Sex Den" or spends her weekends bingeing on Netflix, stop it with the "too soons" and "just don't think about it"s. You're a better friend than that and Netflix is actually half-decent sometimes, so make Orange is the New Black viewing parties a thing.
Breakups are messy and friendships are hard, but it's entirely possible to avoid earning the dick friend label. When in doubt, be compassionate. One day, we'll be sipping overpriced sangria and trading crazy work/life/love stories again. But today, I think I'll just hang with my llama.