Why It's OK to Build a Wall Around Yourself After a Breakup

Instead of partnering and re-partnering, what if we poured the same amount of love and attention on ourselves as we did on the last person?
Publish date:
March 26, 2016
breakups, Dating, divorce, being alone, healing

My client was nearly in tears. She said that she'd been divorced for almost a year after finding out her partner had been cheating on her. The divorce was gross and painful, and her friends kept telling her that it was "time to get back out there."

"I don't want to go out there!" she said. "There are assholes out there!"

She'd tried dating again right after her divorce. She managed to find essentially the same guy in a different suit, who I'm sure wore a necktie to keep his foreskin from rolling up over his face. He cheated on her, too.

So, I'm sitting here watching this intelligent, beautiful woman dissolve into tears because she's afraid she's being too protective of herself. She kept asking, "What if I'm being too afraid? What if I'm going to miss My Person because all I want to do is watch Broad City and color? What if I die alone?"

First of all, Broad City and coloring are awesome. Secondly, people die alone sometimes, and it could suck or it could be great. Having a partner doesn't guarantee a happy life. More importantly, though, I don't think she was being too afraid. I think she was being exactly as protective of herself as she needs to be.

Women in our culture have so much pressure to be partnered up and "taken care of." Even if their last partner just ran over them. Even if the one after that did the same thing. Just keep tossing your heart into the ring and hope and pray that it comes back in one piece, instead of limping back to your corner, bleeding and battered, looking for respite. Because you know what? Once you get those cuts and bruises handled, and get your pretty face back on, you can get right back out there and find yourself a partner. Because it's your job, right?

Is it really better to feel lonely in a bad relationship than to be alone? Really?

I think that I have so many tarot clients who keep finding the same partner again and again because they haven't done the work they need to make themselves whole. If you are broken and jagged, you draw to yourself partners who are broken and jagged. Then you slam your broken selves into each other and walk away devastated.

Instead of partnering and re-partnering, what if we took some time to date ourselves and poured the same amount of love and attention on ourselves as we did on the last person? We can duck behind the walls we build so that we can heal and nurture ourselves and figure out why we keep walking the same paths into the same conclusions. It doesn't have to be about fear, necessarily, or self-protection, but about self-care and awareness. About taking our own needs as seriously as we do everyone else. You know. For once.

I have a friend who just went through this. After a terrible year full of heartbreak, unemployment and major surgery, Ms. Red felt and was being told that she should get back out there. Instead of going into the green, healing space of her home and quiet, she went on three dating sites. She kept feeling that she should be dating and so she did; but she wasn't ready, wasn't truly in it, and broke some hearts by accident. She realized finally that the only thing she should be doing was getting better, and that wasn't going to happen while she was putting in the effort to meet a person, gearing up for dates, putting on her lipstick and having all the dating anxiety on top of her already stressed out self.

So she quit. For over a year, now. I think that she might almost maybe be ready to "get out there." She might not be. She's not sure yet, which is perfectly OK, too.

Sometimes, we go into our shells because our guts tell us we're just not ready. It doesn't matter what that intuition is built from: fear, insecurity, anxiety, or just running out of give-a-damn. Our intuition tells us "Stop, no, and don't" and our well-intentioned friends don't get to argue with that. If you think of the phrases that people use — "She's being defensive" "She's put up a wall" — well, so fucking what? People build walls and put up defenses when they're feeling in need of protection.

Good for you. Keep that wall up as long as you need to. When you're ready? Really ready? You can build a door.