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The Anti-Valentine: Death Bear to the Rescue! February 14, 2010

Posted by Onely in Food for Thought, single and happy, We like. . ., Your Responses Requested!.
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One issue that we rarely discuss here on Onely is the fact that, no matter how single-and-happy we are today, there was probably once a time when we were coupled. And then there was that time when we broke up.

And no matter how self-confident and happy you are, in or outside of a relationship, breakups inevitably suck.

But for many of us (myself included), it’s breakups that lead us Onelers to draw in our first (or second, or third) breaths of the fresh air of being single — and happy!

But moving from coupled-to-single status inevitably means experiencing pain and loss, and to ignore or deny that fact would be naive at best, and inhumane at worst. Enter Death Bear, who was recently featured on MSNBC. His real name is Nate Hill, and he’s a performance artist in Brooklyn who created Death Bear to collect and carry away people’s memories of the past, which manifest themselves as physical objects and elicit pain and loss in unexpected and sometimes debilitating ways. In his words:

Death Bear will take things from you that trigger painful memories and stow them away in his cave where they will remain forever allowing you to move on with your life.

In my mind, not only does Death Bear’s costume ROCK (Christina thinks he’s hot!), he is doing incredibly important, honest, pro-Onely work. He’s helping people confront the past while enabling them to move forward with their hopefully happy-and-single lives.

There are three breakups in my past that projected me meaningfully toward my current single-and-happy state: The first marked the end of a six-year relationship, and to be completely honest, it crushed me. That was when I started drinking my coffee black because I ran out of creamer and couldn’t bring myself to go to the grocery store. That was when I found all the break-up movies I could find and watched them, one by one, to remind me every day that it could be worse (watching Michael Douglas hang from a chandelier during a nasty domestic fight in War of the Roses really helped me put things into perspective), and sometimes that it would get better (I find Thelma and Louise inspiring – right up until the very end!). And that breakup prompted me a few months later to move out of my apartment and embark on a solo cross-country road trip from St. Louis to San Francisco, which turned out to be one of the best things I’ve ever done.

The pain from that loss was unlike anything else I have felt before or since, and although I’ve gotten rid of most of the physical reminders, I can’t bring myself to get rid of the pictures. Yes, it’s true — I’m hanging on to a box full of pictures from a good portion of six years of my life, and I wouldn’t let Death Bear have them. I couldn’t, and wouldn’t want to, pretend that those six years didn’t happen. We went to Thailand (twice!); we visited cities all over the country; we saw U2 in the front row… Even though the pain still lingers — and maybe because of it — I own those six years: they were mine, and always will be.

More recently, after I moved to Louisville (and before Onely), I dated someone for about six months. I broke up with him the day before Valentine’s Day (though that isn’t why I broke up with him when I did… No, it just needed to be done, and as quickly as possible). Everything was off in that relationship – by the time I ended it, almost everything he did and said had the possibility of annoying the s*** out of me. Being with him made me feel terrible about myself because I constantly felt bothered, and he wasn’t doing anything wrong. I broke his heart (as they say), and it drove him a little crazy (which is another story, one which I wish I could have foreseen). But I remember being home afterward, feeling completely peaceful and elated. I made a special dinner that night and went to a movie alone – and being with only myself again felt completely right.

That breakup unfortunately turned into a sour mess that I actually regret (and I am not the type to regret anything). When he cursed at me and angrily gave me back all the things I had given him, I wish I had had Death Bear. I wanted to get rid of all the anger and pain and resentment that grew out of the experience. And even though I made use of the things that were valuable (I had given him an expensive, hand-made ceramic plate, and I wasn’t about to throw that out), it would have been nice to have had someone who would just take it all away and put it in a cave, far away from me.

I wrote about my most recent relationship here several times last summer, and I credit my Onely mindset for telling me when it should end, and ending it with care – for him and for me. Even though I knew it was the right thing to do, it still made me sad because we had a lot of fun and I was worried that breaking up with him meant I was losing a potential friend who is smart as hell and always makes me laugh. We kept our distance for a while, but I’ve seen him several times recently (we have friends in common) and we seem to be becoming friends again. Luckily I had no need for Death Bear in this case — we hadn’t been dating long or intensely enough for us to have exchanged … errr, physical objects.

My whole point in writing about these breakups is simply to acknowledge that even the most independent and happy of us still experience pain when we lose someone we love. And I think that having a Onely mindset means owning up to the fact that even when we move on, we don’t necessarily forget — and perhaps an important part of being Onely means facing the past in order to more fully experience the present.

Copious Readers, do you have breakups that helped you get to your current single-and-happy present? And/or items or memories that you wish Death Bear would come and carry away?

— Lisa


1. Daisy-Boo - February 15, 2010

The breakup that propelled me to find peace in my single status was my most recent relationship (that ended nearly two years ago). I discovered that the man I loved (and thought I would marry) was a con man and a psychopath. That’s a real romance killer, I promise you.

In a strange way, I benefited from all the pain and trauma of that relationship. I realised that the happiest times in my life are usually when I’m alone. I took the time examine my relationships, romantic and otherwise. I’m now at a point where I’m in no hurry to get a new partner and I’m content to remain as I am. If someone good should come along I’ll consider the possibility of a relationship but I’m just as happy to remain single. Being me is enough. 🙂

Onely - February 18, 2010

Wow, that is a real romance killer, Daisy-Boo. Glad you came out of the experience happier with yourself.

— L

2. Sixty and Single in Seattle - February 16, 2010

Lisa: This is a thought-provoking post. And it comes down to, you’re your own death bear. Only you can know what to keep, what to lose. The existence of the death bear concept is more important than the death bear. Maybe we need the things the DB would take away to help us make peace with those chunks of our lives. Maybe we need altars.

Onely - February 18, 2010

Mary — ooh, that’s a great point (and helps me justify why I’m unapologetic about keeping all those photos). The Death Bear concept might be flexible, depending on the person you are and the person or people you were with — I completely agree.

— L

Onely - February 20, 2010

WAHAHAHA I love it! “You’re your own death bear.” Yet another great phrase I can mutter to myself while walking down the street. Thanks S&S!

3. autonomous - February 16, 2010

Interesting timing this piece- I didn’t know how to articulate it, but I believe it’s THE ONELY MINDSET working on me. For the past couple of weeks I’ve been missing the confidence and contentment I knew before starting to date this guy again. I say again because we dated years ago. Looking back it was a timing thing and it needed to happen, but way back then it was a brutal break-up for me, one of the top 3 doozies, and I’m wondering if I’m really wanting to pursue a relationship with this guy, or any guy, because I really don’t like that kind of pain. So, while I’ve kept balance in my life as pertains to friends and activities etc., I’m not feeling it emotionally and really miss the absence of drama in my own head that is a benefit of being autonomous. I’m wondering if I can have my head back and still date.

Onely - February 18, 2010

Autonomous — that’s a good question, and I hope for your sake that you’re able to find a satisfying balance, whatever relationship status you find yourself in.

And — AHHHHH! THE ONELY MINDSET! (sorry, that’s what the all-caps made me think of 🙂 )

— L

autonomous - February 19, 2010

After more thought, I believe it’s a decision we make. After all, we decide to be content with our lives, or not, regardless, don’t we? I can retain autonomy without being unfeeling. I don’t need an SO to validate me now any more than I did 6 months ago. That’s a component of the Onely Mindset. 🙂

Onely - February 19, 2010

Yes, that makes sense — and your enjoyment of being in a relationship should be greatly enriched by having a Onely Mindset! (and if it doesn’t feel enriched, then that may be your Onely Mindset telling you it’s wrong, which is also empowering)

— L

4. specialkphd - February 21, 2010

When it is love, you never can truly “move on” from y our life. Love marks us permanently, like a tattoo, which even after surgical removal, leaves a bit of an impression. And part of live is about a faithful remembering of those experiences, in a way that allows you to progress by embracing them as part of your story. Serious exaggerated comparison is genocide or war. We don’t forgive and forget, we forgive and remembr. So keep those pictures. And love what you loved about the love. You are stronger than you know!

Hey, sorry it’s been so long!

5. Singles: Spread the Love this Valentine’s Day « Onely: Single and Happy - February 12, 2011

[…] we’ve critiqued couples events, renamed the holiday (LGTOWAQAP Day for short), featured the quintessential anti-valentine, Death Bear, and even polled our readers for what we should do about this small annoyance. But this year, […]

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