It is impossible to be prepared for a breakup. You can seek advice from your friends or family and think about the words over and over again, but nothing prepares you for the aftermath of an ended relationship.
You can run through all the postbreakup steps outlined in romantic comedies or self-help books — mourn the loss of the relationship, let go of your anger, distract yourself, et cetera. Yet you cannot predict the exact emotions you will feel or when they will hit. You might feel peace at first and pain later, or the opposite might be true. We can control our postbreakup actions, but not our emotional responses.
After ending a two-and-a-half year relationship during the end of June, that cycle of uncertainty has been a constant cloud over my head. I’m grateful for the peace of mind I have felt since making the decision and the comfort I received from loved ones, but I can’t help but wonder when the panic will set in. I keep asking myself, “Why aren’t I crying?” and live in fear that my emotions will spring up when I least expect them.
A couple weeks ago, I sat down to read some essays by the writer Adrienne Rich as part of my research for my thesis and came across her poem “Diving into the Wreck” from her eponymous seventh volume of poetry. The poem follows a scuba diver as she descends into the ocean to explore a shipwreck and the treasures it left behind. She describes the uneasiness of entering a dark, empty area by oneself and reveals her purpose for diving was to explore “the wreck and not the story of the wreck / the thing itself and not the myth.”
I first read “Diving into the Wreck,” for professor Libbie Rifkin’s “Gender and Care in Modern U.S. Poetry” class last fall, but this time, while reading, I connected with the scuba diver in an intimate way. As a newly single woman, I found solace in the diver’s overcoming of her fears to embrace the unknown.
The diver claims she has “to learn alone / to turn my body without force / in the deep element,” meaning that only by exploring alone can she learn who she truly is. Only by diving headfirst into the wreck can she understand it, and no amount of preparation will prove adequate when the moment of discovery arrives.
Just as the diver excavated the shipwreck, I could feel the poem untangling the ball of emotions that sat in my heart. The diver wanted to explore the wreck, and I too wanted to understand my emotions — or lack thereof. The diver was scared of the unknown, and I feared my newfound singleness.
I am not pretending the poem is about a breakup; I highly doubt it is. But for me, Rich’s distinction between the myth of the wreck and the wreck itself helped me realize that a proper breakup regimen does not exist.
For a month, I had let a myth of how I should be reacting distract me from exploring my actual emotions: uneasiness and loneliness. I had to learn that just because I’m not curled up in bed crying doesn’t mean I’m not processing correctly; I’m just processing in my own way.
Like a wreck, a breakup is messy and scary, but as Rich puts it, it’s also home to “treasures that prevail.” Beneath my complicated emotions is a trove filled with excitement, opportunity, adventure and self-discovery; they were always there, but it literally took “Diving into the Wreck” to bring them to the surface.
Before reading the poem, I was diving alone, but once I entered Rich’s world, my mission merged with the diver’s. Rich acknowledges this collective journey in the last stanza when she writes, “We are, I am, you are / by cowardice or courage / the one who find our way / back to this scene.”
Diving into ourselves is a continuous process, and it’s never an easy one. Rich’s diver made me feel less alone, and if someone going through a breakup reads this column, I hope they feel a little less alone, too.
Kathryn Baker is a rising senior in the College. This will be the final installment of Novel Ideas this summer.