Sep 11 • 17M

Anatomy of a Breakup

Buckle up, friend, this is a biggie.

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Atoosa Rubenstein
When your life gets bat sh*t crazy, I can help. The podcast of the Atoosa Unedited newsletters!
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So grateful for this man, the journey and the treasure I found at the end of our beautiful rainbow. Now starts the sacred process of letting go.


Let’s dissect my latest breakup like a frog in 7th grade, shall we?

I know I might sound as cold as the aforementioned frog, but believe me, a few days ago, I was gutted. Absolutely gutted. But not gutted in a why-me kind of way. You know, that’s not my style. But rather in an I’ve-tapped-into-something-very-primal-and-now-I-need-a-nap kind of way. So…I spent two hours in bed on Thursday totally lost and sobbing, letting my grief flow through me like a river leading me down into my deepest depths.

At 50, I’ve learned that tough moments are almost always attached to treasure if I allow myself to sink deep enough to claim it. For so much of my life, like many people, I veered and shape shifted to avoid the depths of discomfort…I mean, most people do, right? And by the way, I almost did it this time: The breakup happened August 19. I was literally out with another man on August 20. And not just a random date to get my mind off things. It was someone very special with whom I had a par-baked relationship ready to go. But I caught myself within two weeks and ended it to avoid this man becoming collateral damage because as Charlie Puth so correctly sang, “Don’t give your heart to a girl whose still got a broken one.” He may have wanted to give his heart to me, but I know better and did better.


Let’s breakdown this break up, shall we?

A Prologue:

This guy was absolutely gob smacked by me on our first date. “You’re the first girl who looks even better than her pictures!”  Now on that same first date, this man (who I still consider wonderful btw – you know you’ll never get an angry breakup story from me) also told me that he regularly blocks his mother’s phone calls. Like literally blocks her on his phone. I had never blocked anyone in my life at that point and I remember thinking, Okay…I can help him with that. See how I swiftly I whitewash red flags? My psychological Clorox comes out the moment a man puts me on a pedestal. And so high was the pedestal he put me on that you could see it from the outer boroughs of New York City: Atoosa, the beautiful, stylish, brilliant career woman who left it all to do brave introspective work and raise this army of powerful and spirited children. Through his eyes, anyone would be deeply impressed with me. Just days before it ended, he used words like “partner,” “forever,” “I want to be the father to your children.” (Oh, and just to be clear, my children don’t even think of me and dating in a one sentence. I’m merely their full-time chef and sherpa. They have never been introduced to a significant other and I suspect I won’t do that until I’m officially divorced. I’m kinda just playing the field and learning – and sharing with YOU - until those papers are signed!)

Anyway…spoiler alert:

After the breakup, the dude fucking BLOCKED ME. I’ve never been blocked in my entire life! I didn’t do any of the things people do to get blocked. (I block dick pic senders and name callers) But alas, the man who wanted to spend the rest of his life with me has vanished from Instagram and I suspect he has only vanished to me…and perhaps, his mother.

A theory: Was I too controlling? He said I edited him like a magazine.

If I didn’t demand he quit smoking weed, would we have made it?

Listen, no judgment if you smoke weed but I don’t use substances recreationally and I no longer date people who do, either. I get that it’s legal, but as a psychological explorer, I love growing by walking through the emotional fires that relationships and life can present us with. Anesthetizing with weed to keep uncomfortable feelings at bay (and a relationship status quo), for me, is like sitting in a boat that’s up on blocks in the boatyard and pretending to go on a journey. I want to go to on the actual journey. I want to see the horizon. I want to experience the storm. I want to wonder if we will make it. I want to barf over the side if I must. I want to feel the sun on my skin when it comes back out. I want the full experience. I don’t just want a nice picture of me on a boat.

So, I’m going to answer my own question. No, we wouldn’t have made it if I didn’t make my weed boundary clear because then I wouldn’t have been authentic. And I’m committed to being authentic before I’m committed to any particular relationship. But it was a sign, wasn’t it? A sign that he was not comfortable being uncomfortable. And the fact that I moved forward with someone I had to convince to quit weed is further proof I’m an expert at bleaching red flags. That damn pedestal is so seductive to me.

A Brief Synopsis:

I was reluctant to get involved with him from the get-go. Not necessarily because of the mom blocking or the weed. I mean…perhaps it should have been for those reasons. But I was reluctant because I had just had another breakup days earlier (🐻) and I was still technically married. I simply wasn’t ready to be in a relationship. And I was upfront right off the bat. He maintained I was being short-sighted, but was respectful of my boundaries and we ultimately built a beautiful friendship. I enjoyed and respected him immensely as a person. Although we didn’t have a physical relationship, we enjoyed a lot of emotional intimacy. Honestly? He became one of my closest friends. And after several months of this closeness, we had one of those moments. You know what I’m talking about, too. It was very Ross and Rachel. Where I realize the man I’ve been waiting for is the same guy I’ve been confiding in about other guys and after months of a platonic relationship, we pivoted into something more.




And sometimes it was challenging. But what was magnificent, defies description. I will leave it at that. I may never touch this level of magnificence again and that’s okay. I touched it. It’s kind of like seeing a double rainbow over the Grand Canyon after the most perfect day of your life. You can have and cherish that moment without needing to experience it every day thereafter. Buddhists say the root of suffering is attachment. I can release what was wonderful, so I can be grateful for its splendor and not bemoan its loss forever.

But this isn’t about what was wonderful, is it?

This is about what wasn’t.

So our relationship was marked by a certain amount of Atoosa worship. The pedestal I mentioned earlier. Sounds great, right? To be honest, every relationship I’ve had has had this quality to it. Have you ever read the New York Times Vows column about my wedding, for goodness sakes? People have often talked about how lucky I was to have such a cute and great guy just adore me the way my husband did. But the pattern doesn’t stop at Atoosa worship. Each relationship also ends with Atoosa hatred and banishment. Bestie David and I have talked ad nauseum about WTF I may be doing or missing that leads these guys who are obsessed with me to then abandon me. David has had his theories. And I listen, I really do listen. (I suspect David is mouthing, “No she does not!” to you as he is reading this.) But none of his theories were landing perfectly. And yet, I knew I wasn’t destined to follow this pattern for the rest of my life. I knew because I’m committed to growth.

This optimism served me well because I had a break in the case!

I was looking at the wrong part of the pattern. I kept trying to find the moment things went sideways.


And oh my gosh, this is huge.

Things went sideways before they even started!

I had a faulty green light!

In other words, my “go” sign? What gave me the feeling that told me YES this is the guy for me was fucking flawed!!!! My “go” light was the pedestal. Listen, we all meet lots of romantic prospects. But I would move forward with the guy that worshipped me the most. This is how I was taught love.

A Little Atoosa History:

My mom totally worshipped me. I was an “ooops!” baby. My siblings were 9, 15, and 17 years old when I was born. I was physically an exact replica of my mother. She showered me with tons of love and attention – almost the way a grandmother does her beloved first grandchild. She doted on me beyond measure. So of course, this was my blueprint for love. But there was a dark side to her pedestal, and I’ve written about it before. When I showed my humanness…by being a normal kid who maybe misbehaves or makes a mistake – she would banish me. She wouldn’t speak to or look at me for days. I was like a piece of trash. From treasure to trash in the blink of an eye. (I’m not going to psychoanalyze her because ultimately it doesn’t matter. For the most part, she was a great and super loving mother and did the absolute best she could.)

But me? I’ve been following this pattern in all my relationships. Like the child who wondered what she did wrong to make Mommy not love her, I’ve always despairingly wondered what I had done to incur this type of banishment in my breakups. Do you remember how broken I was about The Bear? And even those few hours I spent in bed just gutted about this latest break up. It has the distinct quality of a little girl just devastated that her Mommy has abandoned her. I mean this guy who I shared so much intimacy with BLOCKED ME for fuck’s sake. But he didn’t block me because I was harassing him. He blocked me because that’s what he does when he is uncomfortable. He blocks his own mother! You see where I am going, right? This is the modern-day equivalent of what my own mother would do when I made her uncomfortable. And this also taps into the reason I bleach every red flag white before I even see a glimpse of red. Growing up, my appropriately self-protective psyche wouldn’t allow me to see any signs of my mother’s flaws. She was my champion. She was my protector. She was my everything. I grew up with a lovely but very infirm father who died when I was a teenager. My mother was The One. I wasn’t going to ruminate on her red flags. The pills she took for her anxiety. Her inability to cope with difficult feelings instead just focusing on what was beautiful about life. No way! I just shape shifted myself over the years into the kind of person that would keep her happy and create a more consistently beautiful life for her to enjoy. Enter Atoosa the Media Wonder Kid who would be glamorously smiling back at my mother from her newspapers and television set. I know how to work a pedestal, friend. I know how to work a pedestal.

And that’s what I’ve done in my relationships. I become the man’s dream woman and climb right up on that pedestal. But then what happens when my humanity comes out? When I make a mistake or am having a hard time or act in any way different than this dream woman we collaboratively concocted “should” act? Banishment. I’m out.

And then of course, I can feel, like new, the abandonment of my mother and the little girl inside me can grieve this primal loss. They’re right when they say children are resilient. They are. But that doesn’t mean they’re immune. There will be a day of reckoning…it’s just going to be many years down the line when the child is grown and feels safe enough to reexperience the feeling and then said child (me, in this case) will manifest the buried feeling over and over again until we figure it out. It’s gut-wrenching and yet amazing at the same time. Both things are true. But I am my mother’s daughter after all, so I focus on the positive. It is amazing.

I think this is the missing puzzle piece to help me understand my life-long pattern.

The breakups weren’t my fault.

I was picking the wrong guys from the get-go. I was picking my mother. When someone immediately falls in love with me and puts me on a pedestal? That doesn’t mean I met my perfect love match! It means I’ve met someone with an Atoosa-sized hole inside them. They’re unconsciously using me to feel better about themselves and if I don’t consistently make good on that promise, I’m not of use to them. For my purposes going forward, the abandonment doesn’t really matter. I just need to look out for the pedestal cue. But considering it’s the only mating call I’ve ever known, I don’t expect for it to be easy.

To that end, I’m taking a 3-month sabbatical away from romance. No dates, no dating apps, no flirting, no connection with men I’ve dated from my past (that’s my signature move – I always have at least one person on ice waiting in the wings to put me on that pedestal I crave so much). I don’t feel upset. I actually feel tremendous peace and ease with this decision. I need to reprogram this pattern, and this is just what feels right. Tbd, sister, tbd. This weekly letter is about to get really boring or really interesting. Let’s see…

xo atoosa

Next week’s Unedited: Why I think sex with this particular man was so fucking next-level-magnificent. (And, yes, I believe you can use this advice.)

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