August 2021: I was holding Thái’s hands after a few Soju shots, crying, “I’m so scared, Thái. I can’t live on my own. I have never lived on my own. What am I supposed to do? What if I cannot live without him?” You know, the whole damsel-in-distress routine.
Even though I was the one who broke up with Petr, his reaction, or the lack thereof, made me feel like he’s abandoned me. It hurt a lot because I felt like I didn’t matter, like those five years meant nothing to him, and he was just waiting for me to call the shots so he could do the silent approval BS and kick me out on the street.
And yet, I loved him.
Thái helped me move. It took me two weeks to move out completely of his house. I then began a new life chapter, living alone in Prague.
Loneliness, Self-help, and Tinder
During the first few months of my moving into the studio, there were countless moments where I would crawl on the floor, bawling my eyes out listening to “Drivers License” by Olivia Rodrigo. Loneliness was inevitable after a breakup.
I was fucking miserable.
I went on Tinder about a month after the breakup. Not to find a new man, a rebound, or a hookup. I was just lonely, and I need as much attention and validation from men as possible. Any distractions from dwelling on the breakup and drowning in self-pity and self-help podcasts were welcomed. I knew I was emotionally unavailable. That’s why I always texted first. It made me feel in control. In power. Because you have nothing to lose – you’re heart-broken already. But if you’re lucky, you’ll have a nice conversation and maybe land a date.
But as soon as they stopped replying, loneliness would creep up again. I would feel like the most pathetic hopeless soul on the planet.
When I’m not busy texting men, I would listen to all kinds of self-help content on Youtube while doing housework or self-care, decorating the place, or creating art. From Matthew Hussey talking about “starting over after a breakup”, School of Life analyzing different attachment styles, to Dr.Ramani explaining stonewalling in relationships, to Bill Burr screaming “just checkin’ in on ya” before rambling for 10 minutes about commitment issues and emotional maturity using sports analogies then ending with “I don’t know, man. I don’t know.” Somehow all of that helped. These people made me feel less alone (everyone goes through heartbreaks, it sucks but you’ll be fine) and less lonely (I understand you. I’m here with you. I will go through this with you). It felt like a group therapy session with internet personalities.
Journaling, Traveling, and Searching for Rock Bottom
Despite being very calm during the breakup itself, I was a hot mess afterwards. The frustration, the pain, and rage came after I moved to the new place. It was very difficult for me to process the events and my own feelings because of how little Petr and I communicated during our relationship. In fact, we never argued or fought, or negotiated on any terms. When I broke up with Petr, he simply vanished from my life.
It was as if I was dating a ghost or an imaginary friend I invented in my head.
I tried journaling, recounting the events, expressing my thoughts and feelings, and analyzing the relationships from different standpoints. I went through our email and text exchanges, and reached out to my and his family and friends to ask for their input. But still, it was impossible to pinpoint exactly what went wrong with us.
I felt like I need to hit rock bottom to find my voice again.
But of course, you wouldn’t know where the rock bottom is until you’ve crashed into it. Every time you hit something, you wonder if it was truly the “legendary rock bottom” you have been searching for, or if it was still not hardcore enough.
My first hit was also the first event I organized for my company when I was barely out of probation. I was crying to my colleague saying that I’m way too drunk to stay until the end of the party that I organized and that I hoped my manager wouldn’t fire me, but if she did I would also totally understand. It was only 10 PM and I was already wasted because I was so stressed about the event that I didn’t eat or drink anything all day. Four glasses of wine in and I was out. On my Uber drive home, I started crying uncontrollably, realizing how weak, sick, exhausted, and alone I was; that I can barely recognize Prague, the city I had lived in for the past six years but now felt so foreign, cold, and cruel. Yet, after puking, shitting, and crying till exhaustion, I still managed to take a hot shower, went to bed and the next afternoon was ready to go on my first Tinder date.
In retrospect, the second hit was quite a reckless and risky move as it involved not only a strange man I just met, but also me traveling alone in a foreign country. But this was a solo trip I rewarded myself for my birthday, celebrating freedom and independence. I wanted to have some fun; I trusted the guy and felt safe and confident enough to try something new. Basically, after a number of cocktails and shots, I successfully exited a techno club at 4 AM in Barcelona with a Bumble date and unsuccessfully puked into a public trash can: As I leaned onto the trash can, I swung and banged it against my forehead, creating a huge bump that lasted for two days later. My Bumble date was kind enough to take care of me, listen to my sobbing breakup story, and walk with me to near my metro stop.
By this time I was already seeing Štěpi. So thank God, after getting super high and paranoid out of happy brownies at a friend’s place, I called him to come over to pick me up. He took care of me and I slept like a baby until noon the next day. Waking up to him reading while petting the cat next to me was probably the most heart-warming thing I’d experienced in a long long time. We then went for lunch at our favorite restaurant and spent the rest of the weekend together. I decided to abort the finding-Nemo-and-rock-bottom mission as I don’t want to drag any close people in my life into one of these dumb “self-exploratory adventures” again.
Therapy, Forgive, and Begin Again
I started going to therapy four months after the breakup. That was when I felt ready to tell my story to a complete stranger and hear their take on it. The story was incomplete, of course. It was only from my side. But trying to tell it from an objective POV with understanding and empathy helped me gain a sense of control over the narrative, and in a way, control how I feel about it.
I would begin every session with, “I don’t know what happened, doc. Why didn’t it work out?” For months, I kept reverting back to the denial stage and could not move on. During our sessions, I would describe Petr to my therapist, his personality, development, our relationship, communication issues, the breakup, and its aftermath. She would listen, take notes profusely, analyze the situations, and provide psychological insights, basically looking at the issue from a distance and explaining “what happened” to me.
Going to therapy is like getting out of the cinema after watching “Inception.” You feel so confused about the plot that you’d start questioning your own reality and existence. So you go online to read “plot analysis” and “Inception ending explained” done by movie nerds who have spent hours doing research and studying the details of films just to piece things together. You finally understand the big picture and go to sleep in peace that night. But then morning comes, and you really don’t understand why there were trained fighters shooting at our people on the snowy mountain in the movie, and wait, why sometimes you die, you die, but sometimes you die, you come back to the “real world.” — That’s me going to therapy, repeatedly asking, “hold on. What happened back there? I’m lost.”
For the first time after months of raging hatred and anger at Petr, I sort of understood his behaviors and reactions. It didn’t make things right, but it helped me forgive him and myself. Accepting that we were simply incompatible and there was nothing I could have done differently to save it was vital to my moving on and starting something new.
One thing about going through therapy, though, was realizing how exclusive the whole experience was. It felt like mental health was a privilege reserved solely for the elites. Because (1) therapy isn’t cheap. Mine was 850kc for a 50-minute in-person session, which for me, was a reasonable price for the help that I receive and I can afford it, but I can see some people wouldn’t be able to get the support they need due to the costs. (2) Sessions are available only during the day and only on weekdays, which means you must have a flexible schedule: you can come to work late, leave the office early, or work from home altogether. (3) You’re lucky enough that your issues aren’t that serious. I started with 2-3 sessions per month, then after 2 months down to once per month. You can’t resolve complicated childhood trauma and master self-love and acceptance by talking for an hour with your therapist every 30 days. There’s just not enough time to go so deep effectively. So there’s a lot of work you’d have to carry out on your own alongside therapy – if your issue is simple enough in the first place. I went for therapy for a bad breakup. Literally, everyone has gone through at least one breakup in their lifetime. On the other hand, many people suffer from mental illnesses, abuse, toxic relationships, rape, generational trauma, addiction, etc. and I can’t imagine how they would deal with these dark layered subject matters in therapy given that these people, the most vulnerable people in our society, won’t be able to afford point (1) and (2). It’s ironic how the most sheltered people get to complain about the tiniest discomfort where those at the bottom can’t afford to have trauma.
My therapist started asking me if I found this sort of “counseling” helpful after three months because I seemed to handle my emotions much better now and managed to resolve lots of issues on my own already. But I kept going for another three months because I actually quite enjoy the experience. I loved my therapist – she was helpful, smart, and very funny. Her insights were spot-on and easy to understand. She even gave me very good career advice at one point when I temporarily diverted from the romantic issues to professional ones. It was a very valuable experience and a precious connection I developed with her. So, if your circumstance allows it, I highly recommend therapy.
For anyone interested, my therapist is Jana Gál. She speaks amazing English and works with expats a lot so she really understands the immigrant’s mentality and cultural barriers. You can check out her website https://en.psychology-prague.com/ (Not an ad. I just really enjoyed my experience with her.)
Moving out of the studio
Obviously, there’s part of me that wonders if moving in with somebody again is too soon.
It’s funny because, in the beginning, I was terrified of living alone. I was scared of the dark, scared of the meth addicts and hobos arguing over random things on the streets at night, scared of the thought, “what if something happens to me and no one finds my body?”
But slowly, very slowly, I’ve learned to live with myself. I do talk to myself a lot, which sounds a bit crazy, but what’s the difference between writing diaries and saying it out loud? If the goal is the same: expressing your emotions and making yourself heard (by yourself). The point is: I’ve learned to entertain and take care of myself.
So when Štěpi mentioned moving in together, my first thought was, “again?” Because I felt like I just moved out. I just got out of a long-ass-term relationship that was going nowhere. And now you want me to do it all over again? It was a selfish thought and an unfair judgment because my relationship with Štěpi is completely different from that with Petr, but I was scared of committing to another person and risking getting hurt again (and therapy isn’t cheap, as previously stated).
When I met Štěpi, through Tinder actually, I really didn’t expect us to have gone this far. I thought dating a lawyer was way out of my comfort zone. His experience and lifestyle seemed vastly different from mine. We have a massive age gap between us (8 years). And he was very absent: barely texted, constantly worked until late, and struggled to find an open evening for a second date. I was interested but not that interested. Or so I thought.
After our first date, I told Štěpi that I was seeing someone else and wanted to see where it would go. I was, but it didn’t.
Around Christmas, apart from hanging out with friends, I spent a lot of time alone, reflecting on 2021’s hits and misses. Interestingly enough, right in the grey area between hits and misses, was Štěpi, sticking out like a sore thumb. We didn’t hit it off – that’s true. But I didn’t think I’d completely missed him. The “what-ifs” started bugging me: “What if I didn’t call it off with him that day?”, “what if I just waited a bit longer until his schedule cleared up (like he promised), and we went on a second date?”, “what if he’s still interested?”
I would rather be rejected than live the rest of my life wondering if I had missed out on an opportunity to be happy with a gentleman. So I reached out to Štěpi, with a voice recording, basically declaring “I’m very serious about seeing you again.” Felt a bit pathetic afterward for sending such a desperate voice mail, but I told myself, “at least if he said no, you would get the full closure you deserved.”
And that continues to be my mantra until today: Go big or go home.
He wanted to see me again as well. We went for dinner. Art museum the next day. Some cocktails. Movie night. Brunch. Walks in the park. I was still going to therapy at this point to deal with some unresolved feelings towards Petr. But Štěpi was open-minded enough to listen and help me overcome a lot of the traumatic experiences of that relationship.
Slowly we started hanging out with each other’s friends. Traveled to Vienna for a weekend. Then Dresden. Every time we progressed the relationship to the another level, taking more risks, and putting in more commitment, in my mind, I’m like, “This is not going to last. He’s about to call it quits and drop me like hot potatoes. This is moving too fast, it will scare him off. Dude is gonna run away from me in my sleep.” But for some reason, he persisted. Whatever issues we came across, we resolved them together, and moved on.
Soon, we discussed moving in together and went for flat viewings. I then visited Štěpi’s hometown to meet his parents and brother’s family.
All within five months of dating. It used to take me years to reach this stage with Petr and he was never ready. It was always external factors that pushed our relationship to move forward, but we didn’t necessarily desire the outcome.
The relationship progress feels very natural with Štěpi. After Petr, I’ve told myself that I have to speak up. It’s funny because as a Communication Consultant, I’m amazing at corporate comms, but suck at telling people how I feel. I used to keep my thoughts and emotions to myself, thinking that was cool and nonchalant, like “I don’t care. This doesn’t bother me at all. I’m fine.” when in fact, I was upset and depressed. Very unhealthy for both partners in the relationship. So now I have to learn to communicate everything. It could be small things like how often we should see each other or which restaurants we should explore next, to bigger things like which countries we want to travel to or what kinds of apartments should we look at.
Good communication also means almost everything is a joint decision. With a lot of SWOT analysis, spreadsheets, and inputs from friends and families.
Moving in together is a big step. But it’s the same as me reaching out to Štěpi for a second date after months of no contact. What’s there to lose?
What’s the worst thing that could happen? It’s not like I haven’t been heartbroken and homeless before. OK, a bit of a stretch, but you get the point: whatever the worst-case scenario is, I can handle it.
I used to remind myself for the first few months of dating that this relationship with the bougie lawyer boi ain’t gonna work out, probably will crash and burn at one point, just not sure when and how, probably soon, but since it is going very well at the moment I will stick around to gather more data and evidence, and then, slowly I will connect the dots, build a case, and finally prove my point. I was going full-blown Sherlock on the case. Intrigued and slightly obsessed, I was dying to solve the enigma of “lawyer boi.”
It’s now half a year into investigation. I’ve noticed some quirks, most likely red flags of a psychopath, but it’s still too soon to call. I might also be knees deep in love, sinking actually, so this detective work will take some more time. But no worries, we’ll get to the bottom of this case eventually. Until I reach some conclusion on this legal case, though, I’m looking forward to building a home, with some random dude on Tinder with a cat.
It’s been a wonderful year living alone in the coziest studio with the dreamiest view in Prague.