It’s OK to Be a Lovelorn Sack of Potatoes
Plus, should you take someone else's spot in a race if you know you won't finish?
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Welcome to Tough Love. Every other week, we’re answering your questions about dating, breakups, and everything in between. Our advice giver is Blair Braverman, dogsled racer and author of Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube. Have a question of your own? Write to us at email@example.com.
When I’m not working, my life revolves around the outdoors. I’m out in the mornings and weekends hiking and just being. Being outdoors is one of my love languages. If I’m with (or want to be with) someone romantically, I try to take them out to my places as a way for them to understand who I am and why nature is a huge part of my life.
Last year I got involved with someone and took her out a couple times to my favorite spots. We were stargazing and getting to know the local coyote pack. I was head over heels and asked to make it official. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out between us. She decided to go out with someone else. Now all those places we went are hard for me to visit. It’s like they’re filled with her presence. It sucks. Love like I had (and still have) for her doesn’t come around but once in a lifetime. How do I reclaim those places when all I remember is the time spent with her? How do I go outside and not feel like a lovelorn sack of potatoes?
Part of dealing with loss—and moving through loss—is allowing yourself the space to mourn. If these places are bringing up emotions for you, they may be emotions that you’re working to suppress in other parts of your life and that you need to feel, really feel, before you can move on.
What would happen if you went outdoors, to your favorite places, with the specific intention of grieving your lost love? It will be hard, but most important things are. Block off a day. Bring a dog if you can (if you don’t have one, you can sign up to walk dogs for your local shelter, which is a great thing to do postbreakup or literally any time). And then go to the creek where you asked this woman to make it official, or the boulder where you had your first kiss, or the grass where you lay back to watch the stars. What happens if you just sit there? If you allow yourself to remember the moments of joy, and the love you felt, and the thrill of realizing you could feel that much, which is itself one of the wonders of love, and then you lean against your favorite tree and sob until your face hurts. And then you throw a tennis ball for your dog and laugh until you cry again. If it gets to be too much, you can leave. And you can go back, as many times as you need to. As hard as it sometimes feels, a lovelorn sack of potatoes is an OK thing to be.
You probably won’t feel better outdoors until you feel better postbreakup in general, which takes time. But it’s a necessary process, and it will go faster if you face it with intention. Your favorite fields and the howling coyotes may always remind you of this love—but they will also be part of what helped you heal. Some day this relationship will be just one of the many, many parts of your life that you’ve spent in nature. And that’s part of the beauty of having a place that you go back to throughout your life. It will always be there for you. It will see you through all you endure, all the people you’ve loved, and all the love that’s still to come.
My favorite sport is ultramarathon trail running. I love it—long days and nights in the woods, hard physical work, warm Coke at aid stations, and the camaraderie that can only come with sharing a voluntary hardship with someone who, ten hours ago, was a stranger. I usually complete a half-dozen 50-plus-mile races in a year. My super-supportive partner and I even work them into our vacations.
I recently found out that I’m pregnant, and we could not be more excited. My doctor has cleared me to run as much as I feel comfortable and to listen to my body, so this isn’t a medical question. I have a big mountain race planned for later this summer, and it’s a very popular race that’s already sold out and has a huge waiting list. By that time, I’m sure I will be moving too slowly to make the time cutoffs. Is it fair for me to toe the start line knowing I don’t plan to finish? Or would it be more fair to give my spot in the race to someone who plans to complete it?
First off, huge congratulations to you and your partner! What an exciting time in your lives, and how wonderful that your kid(s) will be part of a family that values each other’s adventures.
It’s your right to enter this race, and if there wasn’t a waiting list, I’d say go for it. But since the event already has a long list of people who, presumably, really want to try to finish—and who may not have the excitement of a baby coming into their life—it would be thoughtful to give up your spot. You know that camaraderie you so value? Here’s a chance for you to support your community by offering a gift to a fellow runner. You’ll be toeing start lines with them again before you know it.