It’s Ok to Be Sad For as Long as You Need To

During the summer between my sophomore and junior year of college, I dated this guy that I fell hard for. It was a great summer. But when we returned to campus for Fall quarter, I was dumped at the end of our first week of classes. I was blindsided. He, I believe, saw some fresh new faces in his classes. Lest I sound like I’m still bitter 25 years later, I’m not. Things 100% turned out as they should for a few years after that, I married my soul mate, and what I thought was love with this other dude, was not once I met my husband and found out what real love was.

But back then, oh boy did it sting. I was never the type of girl who had lots of dates and lots of options. I truly didn’t enjoy the game that went along with being a single co-ed. All I ever wanted was my person. When one is 19-turning-20 in a relationship, it’s all too easy to get swept up in thinking about “the one.” What gets dangerous is when in your naiveté you don’t see the total picture, ignore the subtle warning, and especially in the context of being Christian, think you can pray all problems away. So, in retrospect, the dumping was God saving me from my foolishness and while it hurt, it was the right thing for me.

That said, I was gutted. At the start of a new quarter, now I had to hold it together on a small campus where bumping into him was highly likely and highly unwanted. I cried nearly every day for the first couple of weeks. I had never felt so low as I did then and it’s very true—first loves can be brutal.

I’d start to feel better about things and try to feign that I was cool when I’d see him. The reality was my stomach was in knots and my heart would be pounding out of my chest when we crossed paths. But I thought (foolishly so), that perhaps in creating a friendship and playing it very cool on the surface, he’d soon see what a dumb mistake he made in letting me go. Oh… I shuddered just writing that.

But then I’d see him talking to some girl and I’d be bummed all over again. It didn’t help that there no one else on campus to shift my attention to—no pleasant diversions to be found. I got to a point of normalcy for the most part, by winter break. Then we went on a trip overseas and I came back to find out he was dating someone! And kill me—she was in my Tuesday/Thursday 1 p.m. class! I found out because I saw them driving back to campus after lunch one of those days and then I noticed girlfriend was always late to class. Can you imagine trying to concentrate on the coursework then?

It tripped up my sadness—and anger now—all over again.

My family was sympathetic for about one week after the breakup. But when my tears kept going for weeks after, any compassion quickly soured to irritation and indifference. Thus, I made sure to shut down at home. It was not a safe place to feel my feels. My girlfriends were sweet and understanding through the more than eight months it took me to finally be over the whole thing, but I know I tried them.

The thing is, while it is hard for friends and family to deal with someone dealing with grief, sadness, and all that comes with it, the timetable of that is not their call to make. I dearly wished I could have shut off the hurt valve and rallied on to enjoy college life for whatever else it had to offer. But my soul was a sensitive one—especially at age 20—and it was as if I had no control over the waves that would wash over me.

I did what I was supposed to do: stayed busy, focused on good friends, worked out, trying new things, etc. But deep down, I was very much still licking my wounds. When you think about the fact that our relationship was just months, I should have been feeling better rather quickly, right? Not so.

One of the sweetest encouragements given to me in those gloomy days (my junior year was a bust, y’all), was a note from my best friend’s mom. I still remember what she said in her flowery and beautiful penmanship. “Emotions will come in waves, give an ear to them as they come.” At the time, I didn’t fully grasp what that meant. I wanted to feel better. I didn’t want to hurt. I didn’t want anyone mad at me for being such a pile of Eeyore-level malaise all the time. But what she was trying to tell me was that to heal, you must ride out each wave of grief as it comes, but what you don’t realize is happening is that each wave is moving you forward.

I’ve reflected on that note so much since. We don’t have control over the sadness that ensues when we lose someone or something important to us. But we don’t need to fight the waves when they come. Allow them and let the feelings out as they need to. Give them an ear and let them wash through and out. You aren’t staying stagnant in your hurt, you are working your hurt out.

To family and friends that think someone is taking too long (in their opinion) for a person to “get over” whatever they are mourning, either support them with kindness or shut your mouth. While it is important to look out for our hurting people to make sure they are not going into darker depression or deeper issues (and if they are, help them get help), your most important role is to be a soft place on which to land for them. That’s all.

And if you are mourning a loss right now, keep taking steps forward at the pace that feels comfortable to you. Don’t fight your emotions, but give them the space they require, knowing that while the pain of loss will always be there, it does progressively get easier, and easier.

And you are not alone. 🙂

Photo by Luis Galvez on Unsplash