I’m having a lot of nightmares at the moment. Don’t feel sorry for me, if I were to write posts purely to gain sympathy I’d find far more interesting things to pin them on. I think the nightmares – like clockwork, at 4am, unless I take a sleeping tablet – are a way of processing a lot of break-up sadness so that during the day I can get on with being my proactive, practical self. They are horrible, but they’re also good in a way because when I wake up I realise that the world holds far more promise and possibility than my dreaming brain would have me believe. I also reckon I’m not the only one who has struggled with some of this after a break up so I thought I’d get some decent content out of ranking them from best to worst. Here are my top 4 break-up nightmares.
I am fully aware that it’s boring when people tell you their dreams. Break-up nightmares, while a niche genre, are still dreams and therefore dull to most people. But even though everyone knows this, we talk about our dreams nonetheless. Maybe the value lies not in the hearing but in the telling? Giving voice to the things in our heads – opening up about weird sex dreams to work out if they mean anything, or spitting nightmares into the world to find out if they’re as scary as they seemed when they woke us at four in the morning. Tell me your break-up nightmares in the comments, if you like. Spit them into the daylight and see if that makes ’em less frightening. (No promises)
4. All the ones involving my other ex
I’m thinking a lot at the moment about my other ex. The longest and most intense relationship I had before this guy. I’m listening to playlists he made me and reacquainting myself with bands we both used to love, in those long-ago times when I was in my early twenties. If I were to slam some pop-psychology down here, I’d guess it’s because thinking of my previous ex helps cleanse my mind of thoughts of this one. Remembering the intense power of my feelings for him, and how I managed – eventually – to put most of them aside, makes me feel more positive that today’s pain might one day dissipate too.
My favourite nightmare is the one which involves the ex-ex: I am following him around somewhere, trailing him and his current partner and trying to find out why he and I didn’t work. I know why we didn’t work when I’m awake, but when I’m asleep I forget, so my whining, cringeworthy begging feels purposeful. You’ll note this as a running theme: the begging.
Not particularly terrifying, of course – it’s not like I get eaten by bears. But then I’ve never really been one for nightmares that feature bears or monsters. The ones which wake me up in cold sweats at 4 am are less about being crushed in powerful jaws than being crushed like a teenage girl getting turned down by boys at a disco.
The moment in this nightmare which slams me into the ground, and eventually wakes me up, is when the begging congeals to a point of no return…
“Didn’t you love me?”
And he – my ex ex – laughs.
That’s the moment I wake up, drenched in horror: he, my current ex, and all the other exes that came before – they were only ever in it for a joke.
In at number 3…
3 His friends/relatives come to evict me
It’s not my house, it’s our house, and although I am very keen to stay in it, I am fully aware that it’s his right to order me to sell it and move on if he so desires. I will still be fine, of course: you’ll note that I own at least part of a house in London, which makes me a lucky motherfucker. I’ve made peace with the possibility that I might have to leave by letting myself get excited about other possibilities instead: run-down flats or nomadic adventures visiting incredible friends and family. Except… you know… Coronavirus.
In my nightmares, though, I am screaming and wailing and falling to my knees to beg mercy, as relatives and friends of his walk past me with sneers, on their way towards the kitchen or the bedrooms to clear out piles of my stuff. Isn’t it extraordinary, how much life two people can accumulate? Books and Lego and pictures and pots and pans and drawers full of sex toys and bedlinen and tools and stockpiles of pasta and tinned tomato soup. I’ve been compiling an inventory of our lives this last week, and it’s breathtaking how much crap there is. How even the most mundane of crap comes weighed down by memories and sadness. Some stuff still smells a little bit like him, and I have to hold myself back from seeking it out and huffing it like a creepy obsessive.
I digress. In this nightmare, the house is being cleared, and I am powerless to do anything but (yep, you guessed it!) beg.
The falling-to-my-knees is an interesting touch because sometimes when I do this I am naked. I know exactly why this is: it was a strategy I was tempted to employ at the very end of our relationship, when I wanted him to hear something I needed to say – and say right. I approached him while he was in the bath, and he told me ‘can we talk in a second? I’m the definition of vulnerable right now.’
I left him alone, and we talked when he was dressed. Ever since that evening, though, the dramatic part of me has wondered if it would have gone better had I just stripped down to nothing and fallen to my knees, and given him my rehearsed speech as naked as the day I was born. Would it have made a difference? Probably not. It’s the one thing I’m obsessing over right now though: if I’d done that, would this have gone differently? It doesn’t matter, because I didn’t, and time only moves in one direction.
2 He doesn’t love me, has never loved me
When I discuss all the practicalities of the break-up with him, I am cautious about getting sucked in to deeper chats. Partly because I don’t want to go over old ground that might hurt him, more likely because I can’t bear him to remember me as this nagging, whining bitch who couldn’t let go.
The main reason I avoid the deeper chats, though, is because of this particular break-up nightmare. In this one, I am usually interrupting him at work. I walk into his office (which doesn’t look like his real office, of course – it’s a huge, cathedral-like space filled with workers running busily around) and go to his desk. I come to him with some minor point of admin – “We need to close the joint account.” “I need your signature for this.” “I wondered if you wanted to keep this gadget?” – so very very proud of myself for being a measured grown-up.
As he starts to get frustrated (because obviously, he’s busy) his coworkers crowd round to listen to what’s going on. With a sense of ugly dread, I feel the next part coming, like vomit lurching up till it reaches your throat. And I try to stop myself from giving it to it. Try to hold it down, to swallow and smile, but I can’t hold back: I get angry.
Yelling at him about why he has to do this now, he owes me, he’s being cruel. Perhaps it’s one of the worst break-up nightmares because in it I’m being a bitch.
Anyway. There usually comes a point when I drop my arguments and appeal, instead, to emotion. By which I mean: BAM! Begging’s back!
“But you loved me once, can you help me now? I love you. I love you. I love you. Don’t you love me? Please love me!”
I think you can probably guess the answer.
1 Not actually a nightmare but totally a break-up nightmare
When I drafted this post there were only three break-up nightmares in it, but a shiny new one appeared last week and blew every single other out of the water. After such an incredible last minute addition to the misery-club film festival that my brain is putting on (again, please don’t pity me – they’re fun to analyse and I’ll be absolutely fine and sadness makes very good content) is one which doesn’t technically count as a nightmare at all.
I’m lying on my side on the sofa in a tiny flat. It’s vaguely reminiscent of the one I had before I met him, but smaller and more cluttered with piles upon piles of weird stuff. I’m watching TV: listless and warm and confused and frightened. Somewhere in my head there’s an echo of a fight, and my heart hammers with knowledge that I can’t quite put my finger on: I know he is angry with me, but I cannot remember why.
Then he walks in.
And weirdly there are no traces of the nerves I would have if that happened in real life: the awkward worry that I’d say something wrong or make the wrong face or accidentally fall to my literal knees and say ‘I miss you I miss you oh God fuck I miss you please just hold me.‘ In real life I am strong and powerful and full of resolve, and I can literally walk away from him if I need to.
In my dream, though, when he tells me…
“We’re just gonna forget this for tonight. Can I cuddle you?”
… I say ‘yes,’ because dream-me can. He climbs onto the sofa, spoons up behind me, puts his big arms around my chest and grabs my wrists and holds me tight. He strokes me and whispers that it’s OK, and he loves me, and for now we’re allowed to just lie here like this. Pretend that nothing happened, for an hour.
When I woke up I was stroking one of my own arms, crying like the tears might make a difference, remembering the weight of him round my shoulders and trying to conjure memories of his scent.
The nightmare this time isn’t the sleeping bit, but the hours spent afterwards: awake and haunted and afraid.
No begging, though, so that’s a win.
Feel free to share your own break-up nightmares in the comments. And honestly, truly, genuinely, I did not write this to try and summon pity. I am fine, and I will be fine, but it’s my literal job to write blog posts, and I enjoy writing the ones which tackle tricky emotions just as much as I like writing the fucklust. Writing is good, talking is good. Final and most important point: my ex is not responsible for the things my brain spits out when I’m sad, please don’t be mean about him in the comments.