“Rest,” he says, and the pain stops. “You get 15 seconds, and then we’re going again.”
The speaker is a trim, bearded fitness instructor at a studio in Hell’s Kitchen. The puddle accumulating below me isn’t tears; it's sweat. I’m three-fourths of the way through a class called TRX 30/30, and it's the third class I've attended via ClassPass, the popular fitness membership program designed to encourage people to try a range of exercise classes. As the sweat drips down my body, I say a curse and a blessing. I momentarily hate Beardy McFit, yet I'm full of gratitude for both him and my new fitness regimen — a.k.a. my breakup recovery tool.
As anyone who has experienced the dissolution of a long-term relationship knows, it's a bit like being reborn. Not in the twirling around, “hills-are-alive” kind of way — more like an actual birth. It can feel as if you’re slipping out of a warm, comfortable place into the harsh open air, assaulted by foreign sounds and faces.
Four weeks A.D. (After Dissolution), I had already exhausted a number of coping mechanisms: I had listened to the new Adele album, binge-watched Jessica Jones, and eaten cookies for dinner. But since my breakup, which happened to occur the day after I ran the New York City Marathon, the one self-care action I hadn’t been taking was working out.
I was driven by a search for the strong, independent version of myself — the me I had lost track of while trying and failing to make a relationship work.
Enter my friend Anna, a ClassPass devotee who had recently endured her own A.D. era and was determined to convert me. Scrolling through the app on her phone, I was floored by the sheer breadth of options: strength training, belly dancing…long sword? The most obvious boon of ClassPass, for the recently single, is that it offers structure — whether you’re planning in advance for those newly free weekday evenings or trying to fix a last-minute bout of Sunday-afternoon blues. It also incentivises accountability; when you register for a class, you must either go or face a fee.
While structure and exercise are surface benefits that are significant on their own, my foray into ClassPass also helped me reach unexpected insights — the first of which was the power of focusing on the present. I’ve heard that the heartbroken are often loneliest at night. But for me, mornings are hardest. Every day that dawns socks me in the chest with a fistful of memories and anxieties about the future. Fleeing from this morning feeling, I hauled myself out of bed and across town to a Kundalini yoga class, where I discovered a pleasant truth: Precious little can fill your mind when you’re panting like a dog.
Each class required patient focus on the task at hand, and the byproduct of that focus was an almost spiritual union of mind and body in the present. Relationship memories might creep up on me later, but during my hip hop dance class, I had one goal and one goal only: Drop that booty.
Relationship memories might creep up on me later, but during my hip hop dance class, I had one goal and one goal only: Drop that booty.
Yet I discovered that there’s nothing more joyful and rewarding than allowing yourself to look like a complete and utter fool. When you start at zero, you have everything to gain. Somewhere around my fifth hard-driving set at my first RowHouse class, I shed my defences of irony, indifference, and skepticism, and I began leaning hard into my own ignorance. As a result, I began to feel, not exactly happy about, but less debilitated by my newfound singlehood.
The most powerful insight was presented to me during the first class I ever attended through ClassPass. It was Kung Fu — an experience as humbling as it was fortifying. I’m sure I looked as utterly out of place as I felt, since I was the tallest person in the group and the only one not wearing a plain, black uniform. As we assumed positions, I bobbed along, red-faced and half a step behind.
Toward the end of class, the instructor interrupted our roundhouse kicks with a question: "What must you let go of if you wish to succeed?" After being met with silence, he prodded, "It starts with an 'E.'"
I knew the answer. It was the thing that had been screaming at me throughout this experience. It was the thing that I could never quite let go of in my relationship, and it had followed me like a shadow, baring its nasty teeth.
"Ego," I said, relieved to name it aloud.
The instructor glanced over. "Exactly."
I’ll probably never be able to fully let go of my ego, and it may be years before I make enough peace with it to try and inflict it upon someone new. For now, I’m learning. And if nothing else, at least I have a curriculum.