We broke up. I had wanted to do it for a while, but I couldn’t release myself from the spell. Every morning I thought about what it would be like to be apart. Every evening I dreamed about the freedom I’d feel to be on my own again. Yet I would always be drawn back in. Some word, some phrase, would convince me that I couldn’t let go that easily. It was important to stay connected. I needed to be available to respond quickly to the questions and updates and hear the answers I still needed. But I never felt energized afterward. I was giving more than I was getting in return. Something had to change.
I finally broke it off cold turkey. It was wonderful—I felt relaxed again. I could do other things, since I wasn’t tied down anymore. I could think about what I wanted to do, instead of what I had to do. The shackles were off, and I had an unquenchable thirst to explore the world.
I didn’t check email for a whole week.
Instead of thumbing my BlackBerry on the chairlift, I looked up at the sky, the trees, the birds, the mountains. Instead of sneaking in a few emails while waiting for my husband to join me for lunch, I struck up a conversation with two people from Australia, who bought me a drink so we could toast our new president. Instead of feeling like a Tasmanian devil, always spinning and reacting to the things around me, I felt like Dora the Explorer, open to new adventures. Instead of checking my email inbox first thing in the morning, I meditated on the orange-and-gold meditation pillows that I had demoted to mere decorations due to lack of use.
What was the thing that I just couldn’t let go? Am I codependent? Am I avoiding something else? Am I addicted to old habits? Or just afraid of new ones?
Yes to all of the above. It’s easier to do what I’ve always done—it’s rewarding, validating, and safe. It’s also tedious, unfulfilling, and exhausting.
We are back together again, but we’re taking it slow. We’re not together all the time, like we used to be. When we’re apart, I’m able to think more creatively and respond more thoughtfully. I laugh more. I’ve set boundaries. The time together is scheduled and planned. I listen with anticipation. I share with intention.
Sometimes I want to be together more. I yearn for the old habits that I thought made me feel important and energized. Then I realize it was just ego and adrenaline. I think about doing a “quickie” when I’m sitting in a meeting or sitting down to do a big project that takes real thinking. Then I remember why I broke it off. “Can you repeat that?” I said to one of my team members in a meeting since I was busy reading an email about the latest acai berry miracle. “Sorry I’m late—running from an important meeting,” I said when I was really playing “whack an email” in my office. I was short with others and angry at myself. I woke up to email. I went to bed only after checking email. This was like the toxic relationship I read about in Cosmopolitan a few months ago.
It’s been two weeks since we’ve been back together in a different way. I’m seeing more color, experiencing more belly laughs, and feeling more natural highs. I meditate first thing in the morning and read Mary Oliver poems instead of email before I got to bed. I am in touch with that feeling again—that deep longing inside of me that wants to make a difference in the world. I’m diving into life instead of crashing into it. I’m carving out my path instead of dragging my feet on the one that just arrived in my inbox. This breakup was hard, but I know it was the right thing.
Make your relationship with email work:
1. Set Quality Time: Set certain times during the day to do email and schedule them on your calendar. Make sure to let your team, colleagues, family, and friends know these times. Someone asking if you got their email less than ten minutes before is no longer acceptable.
2. Be Present: Close Outlook or whatever email program you use when not doing email. You will be less tempted to check your email and more focused on the project at hand.
3. HVA First: Email will always be there, but you want to make sure you do at least three “high-value add” projects or actions that promote your goal before you start responding to email.