Reality check

A friend of mine recently went through the unexpected break-up. It was an emotional explosion because she and the boy had finally made it to the comfortable realm of “Islamic” dating, and the relationship had worked its way to the cliff point of marriage (it’s a plunge, and you gotta have the right company for that trip). Families got involved, and we all know what that means: Nikkah on the horizon. And then it ended—abruptly, unexpectedly—and left an emotional wreck.

“It’s over,” she said.

But is it really?

We all know the story doesn’t end here. We are talking about emotions, people. Emails, phone calls, Instagram stalking—that itching tendency to be there when he needs you.

Our lives are like stories. And, as with any good novel, the turning point of “It’s Over” isn’t the actual end. There is also the denouement (look it up, it’s the term your 11th grade English teacher should have taught you). It’s the dragging of the storyline and what happens after the climax. From here on out, there are no surprises but we know we’re not at the actual end, either. We’re just coasting to the inevitable.

The same thing happens with our relationships. We still have the continuation of “you and me” after the “It’s Over.” They stay with you somehow. He still texts her. She still messages him. There is that gravitational pull to each other at parties. You feel that kick when you see a picture of them with someone else (or multiple elses). And, of course that sense of validation when they confirm your existence through a social media-ed “like” or comment.

But if I asked you the reality of TODAY, what would you say?

“No, we are not together.”

And that, my friends, is the key. It’s about the Reality Check—that brutal kick forcing you to face the facts. It’s the question you ask yourself (“What’s the reality of TODAY?”) that reminds you of how things truly stand. You might write the answer on a post-it note, doodle it on the margins of your notes, or just mutter it under your breath walking home. Basically, the Reality Check is your weapon of choice to crush that overly heated imagination. It grounds you to: “What are we really?” Employed at the start of a relationship, it keeps you from jumping ten steps into the future when you’re actually only at the third. Or, if “It’s Over,” the Reality Check anchors you from flying into some alternate universe.

When it comes to the denouement, we each have our setbacks and individual timelines on how to move on. We might manage to keep our emotions at bay and practice our emotional planks but then there are those moments. You know what I’m talking about. It’s that slip up: When we sneak into that private joke, share a song you know she’s going to love, or send him that selfie because heck, you’re having a freakin’ awesome hair day. All those things that are friendly-borderline-flirtatious but no-there-was-a-relationship-so-really-it-ALWAYS-means-more. Yeah. Those moments suck because there’s that flicker of, well, emotions. And it’s fine to feel what you feel. Just realize that whatever (remaining) attachment you have to this person is residue. It’s the leftover primer from that “once upon a time” relationship you’re scraping off the walls.

In those moments, it’s important to remember that you are not a loser. Don’t erupt into agony the next time you call her because you feel like she’s the only person who ever really truly understood you. Why wouldn’t you? If it was (at some point) a good relationship, then you depended on each other. So it’s natural to reach out to the person who said: “Hey, I’ll be here for you when you need me.” (Sike.) Yeah, you really shouldn’t have made that call but hell. Whatever. You did. And that’s ok. Just ask yourself:

What’s the reality of TODAY?

“We are not together.”
There. Hold that. Because the key to moving forward is to not pretend some alternate reality of a non-existent relationship. And if you don’t know how things stand—well, then it’s time to communicate.

Aside from the denouement, let’s face it—we’re also really good at ruining things from the get-go. We miscommunicate (or just don’t bother to get the facts straight) right from the start. We function off of assumptions, one-sided conversations that sound pretty rationale in our heads, and cultural bullsh*t that we’ve internalized because hell we’re slightly f*ked. In these moments, the Reality Check could work wonders.

Take, for example, the story of Quirky Boy (QB) and Sassy Girl (SG). Sparks fly (why wouldn’t they—quirk and sass go hand-in-hand). They go out (hang out/whatever you do that you do) a few times and then QB starts thinking (…great). May be the girl lives in another state, works crazy hours, or fantasizes about going back to school.

“Well,” QB says to himself, “that’s problematic. How can we have a relationship if she decides to do a rotation far, far away? How can we ever really be together when she lives across state lines? What if she chooses a school or career that keeps her busy all the time?”

So QB twists his mind over these questions and situations of impossibility. At this point, SG (completely unaware of QB’s frenzied thoughts) is more occupied with: “I wonder if he likes me enough to ask me out next week?”

The next phone call is scripted something like this:

(SG picks up the phone, excited.)

QB: It’s over because it can never work out.

This scene (based on a collection of actual tales) is the classic (and all too repetitive) mistake of building assumptions and treating them as facts. It’s also a scenario that might have been avoided (or untangled) by asking: What’s the reality of the situation? Where are you TODAY?


In this case, if QB* had Reality Checked-it, he would have realized that he actually doesn’t know shit. He has no idea of how SG prioritizes her values. He doesn’t know SG well enough to assume the outcome of her decision-making process. He shouldn’t make assumptions because, as human beings, we are blessed with Free Will and independent minds. For QB to leap to any conclusion about SG (without her input, mind you) is disrespectful and a major cockblock to his potential happiness. You are your worst enemy, sometimes.

Fact: Relationships are complicated. Living in our heads makes it even more of a clusterf*ck. So let’s stop having one-sided conversations in our minds. Check the reality of the situation and function from on-the-ground facts instead of these man-made assumptions. A relationship is a journey. Don’t leave the other person behind when you’re deciding on the future.

And if you’re one of those making your way through the denouement, then God speed. It’s a rough path but an emotional course we all (or will) experience. Relationships end—whether through a breakup, divorce, a dissolved friendship, or even death. Let’s face it: sadness and loss are part of the human experience. I’ve only recently come to terms with this myself, and it all goes back to faith. Last fall, I was reading a book about the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)’s life and came across the story of how emotional he became on seeing Khadijah’s jewelry after her death. She was the first love of his life. Our emotions are a part of our humanity, which also makes them a part of our Muslim experience. So feel what you feel but stay grounded in the present. Check in and function off of the reality of the situation. I know. It can be hard to face your self sometimes (and the truth of it all) but this is only the starting point. Happiness (with yourself) is a continual work in progress (just like with any relationship). When you’re ready, there’s a sweetness to that next beginning. Amen.

*Let it be known that the author isn’t ragging on the male sex here. We’re all pretty screwed up and prone to fall prey to cultural pressures, familial expectations and this whack timeline of where you should be that sometimes bleeds into our thought processes. Reality check yourself, my friends (of all sexes).

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