Breaking up in a foreign country right before the holiday season sounds like a sappy Christmas film right before the protagonist meets “the One” under a mistletoe. Yet here we are, no magical encounter with a stranger at the coffee shop, no mistletoe. I’ve known heartache over the holidays. In 2015, I wandered the streets of Madrid alone, sad that my then leading-man did not want to hang out until after New Year’s because he did not want his family to suspect we were dating. I was the secret girlfriend. That year, I went on an impromptu solo trip to Barcelona for New Year’s Eve. I claimed back my girl power watching the sunrise in Park Güell with two Korean travelers I met at the hostel I was staying in.
Fast forward to 2019, we are about to welcome a new decade, and I am living in the most magical, beach paradise in Southern Mexico, sharing an apartment with the man who has been my partner for nearly four years. Not even sandy toes and piña coladas can keep some ships from sinking. While this could be cause for pity, I’ve come to think of this breakup as a vehicle that propels personal growth in ways books by Brene Brown and Rachel Hollis cannot. If you are a personal development junkie like myself, I hope you find comfort in knowing that nothing will help you kick into gear for a new decade like a breakup.
Not that being broken up with over the holidays twice in my life makes me an expert, but there’s something very positive to say about this experience, and I refuse to let the negative feelings overshadow that. The first time this happened, my life was transitioned onto bigger and better things. This amazing four-year relationship came six months after I was begging the other guy to stay. Breakups force us to rely on ourselves to feel calm, confident, and safe—to lean on ourselves to not just survive but thrive into the new life, and in this case, new year and decade.
The closer we grow to someone, the more we rely on their presence to keep us feeling calm, confident, safe, and sometimes even stagnant (which does not have to have a negative connotation here). I am not thrilled we are parting ways once our lease is up in January. In my heart, he is still the one. Relationships are a two-way street, and it is not always about love or lack of it, sometimes it’s about timing. We love each other enough to accept that our dreams do not align at this time of our lives, which can often be the breaking point in relationships with an age gap like ours.
Whether you are hurting this holiday season, in spring, or summer, a broken heart is a broken heart. Hurting abroad, however, allows for a completely different experience than hurting in the comfort of your parents’ house (where you are welcome to crash on their couch forever). In these times, I have learned to lean on me as my number one love, and to connect with strangers that provide a sense of safety in a world that suddenly looks bigger.
The first Saturday post-breakup, I decided to get out of bed and take myself out for breakfast, where I had the first warm meal in three days of mourning. I had already called and cried to my friends and family, and was in fact beginning to regret my decision to tell everyone back home right away. Not that they made it harder, but even in the worst of times, you’ll find that you’ll be able to get caught up in something interesting that makes you forget you’re mid-breakup talk until the phone rings with a whatsapp that says, “How you holding up girly?” It’s all it takes to make you drown in tears again. So I was at this coffee shop in Puerto Escondido while a musician strummed his guitar, singing an original song about finding love again. I was mortified by my lack of control as I cried while trying not to choke on green juice. The waiter and cook comforted me with hugs and words that reminded me how incredibly kind strangers can be.
This coffee shop was called “Los Alebrijes.” Alebrijes are mystical, colorful creatures that protect people. They are the folkloric Mexican version of a guardian angel. If you’ve watched the movie Coco, you’ll think back to the flying tiger that was the family protector in the after life. I don’t believe everything that happens to us is some kind of sign, but from time to time I believe we find ourselves walking into the exact place we are meant to be. For me, it was a coffee-shop named after guardian creatures, a place where my healing began surrounded by total strangers.
Breaking up is hard anywhere in the world, and when you are abroad your options can be limiting. I am not running away to a new country. I am getting comfortable in my sadness, and waiting until it passes. I am going out to coffee-shops, writing, and watching those cheesy Christmas movies where everything works out fine. I am trusting the goodness of strangers to let me know it’s ok to cry in public from time to time. It’s ok if your heart breaks because there is a lot of good that will carry you through. Strangers will get it. Tell them. They’ve hurt too.