First of all, if you’ve ever been totally destroyed by a breakup, you’re not alone.
After I got dumped a few years back (one of the many times), I remember thinking, “No one could possibly understand how horrible this is” (I know, I know… a little self-indulgent).
In fact the opposite it true. Dealing with the end of a relationship is probably one of the most universal experiences of life. I would challenge you to find ONE person who has not had a shitty breakup. So no matter how bad you feel, at least you’re in good company.
To get over a break up you need to honor the relationship you had but also realize there was something dysfunctional about it (or else it wouldn’t have ended). Then you need to take concrete steps to move on.
Feel All the Pain as Quickly as Possible
I liken breaking up to ripping of a bandaid. You can do quickly or slowly, but either way that sucker is coming off.
I know because I’ve done it both ways. I dated this guy in college who broke up with me. I was wildly in denial about it and tried to sooth my hurt by hanging on to the small hope we might get back together. I never sat and let myself feel all of the pain that was boiling underneath. It took me years before I really moved on and let go.
In comparison, after my last break up I let the pain hit me like a ton of bricks. I was in bad shape, and people around me were really worried. I cried all the time, stopped eating, and looked and felt like a shell of my former self. I thought I would feel that way forever. But you know what? After three months I felt… better. And then not just better, but hopeful. Because I let myself process how I felt, the mourning period was much quicker.
There is a discrete amount of pain that comes with a break up. If you try to ignore it, the same amount of pain will last a lot longer. So if you feel devastated and horrible and broken, let yourself feel those emotions. Break ups suck! There is no way around it. Let yourself feel the totality of the pain that you are no longer with this person that you loved and cared about. The sooner you process it, the sooner you will be able to let go.
Cut Off All Contact
Did you just break up? Don’t even think about staying in contact with your ex, at least for now. I’m not saying it’s impossible to be friends down the line. I just saying that EVERY EXCUSE I’VE EVER HEARD FOR WANTING TO STAY IN CONTACT WITH AN EX WAS REALLY A FORM OF REFUSING TO LET GO OF THE END OF THE RELATIONSHIP.
Did you hear that? Let me rephrase and repeat. If you want “stay friends” with your ex right after a breakup, I’m 99% sure what you’re really hoping for is to get back together. Or, if you were the dumper, that you want to assuage your guilt for hurting him or her. Both of which are totally understandable, but completely counterproductive to moving on.
After my last breakup, I thought I could still be friends with my ex. I probably would have tried to if he hadn’t done something so completely egregious and douchey that it completely precluded me from ever talking to him again. In retrospect this was a really fortunate thing because it gave me the emotional space to come to terms with the fact that things had ended and I needed to move on.
This is a step a lot of people have trouble with. Maybe you work with your ex or have friends in common. That being said, no matter your specific circumstance I can almost guarantee that when you do move on, you will see all the time and energy you spent continuing to pine after someone who no longer wanted to be with you (or someone you no longer wanted to be with) as wasted.
[Oh, and whatever you do – don’t keep sleeping with your ex. Or do, but know that you’re only dragging out the inevitable conclusion that things are over. I know it’s easy because the person knows you so well, but it almost always creates way more pain and confusion than it’s worth.]
Do you want to keep devoting so much energy to a relationship that, while important to your experience and growth, is no longer right? The decision is up to you.
Accept the Cycle of Emotions, But Don’t Listen to the Narrative
After a break up, you will undoubtedly go through a cycle of emotions. I wrote an extensive post before about my experience with these emotions, but I’d like to revisit them here. They usually include:
The emotions aren’t the problem (they’re pretty much unavoidable). The problem is that each emotions will make you tell yourself a story that, while completely ridiculous to any outside person, will seem totally true (and discouraging) to you.
- When you’re sad you’ll tell yourself the breakup was all your fault. You’ll tell yourself there must be something wrong with you, and therefore you’ll never meet someone who will really love you.
- When you’re angry you’ll tell yourself that everything is your ex’s fault. While anger may be relief from the sadness, it still eats away at you, discouraging you from trying to date again.
- When you’re afraid you’ll worry that you’ll be alone forever. You’ll tell yourself that you missed your chance and now are relegated to a destiny of being a spinster or perma-bachelor. It’s amazing how common this narrative is. I told it to myself after my ex broke up with me. My brother told it to himself when his girlfriend broke up with him. Literally, my 26-year-old and full-of-promise brother told me he figured he should just give up on marriage and children because he was “too old” to meet someone. It’s crazy right? But after a break up you will probably tell yourself some version of the same story.
- Longing is the most insidious of all these emotions. It comes up when you’re just starting to feel a little bit better, and disguises itself as hope that maybe you and your ex will get back together. It feels good because after so much discouragement any amount of hope is good, but it’s actually a step in the wrong direction.
So how do you deal with all these emotions? First, you understand that you can’t make them go away. You will probably experience every emotional flavor of suckiness on your path to moving on. You may cycle through all the emotions or get stuck on one of two. BUT, at the same time you are processing the emotions you need to take conscious action to ignore the destructive narratives that your mind is trying to trick you into believing.
Even if it doesn’t feel like it, everything it going to turn out okay. After cycling through these emotions about a gazillion times I finally started to accept that things were over, and even more important, realized that this was the best thing for me. Remember that there was something dysfunctional about your relationship – or else it wouldn’t have ended. Great relationships usually don’t end. There is someone out there who is better for you, and once you’re ready it will be time to start finding them.
As I was writing this post I realized I have a lot to say about the subject, so to save you from having to read another insanely long post I’m going to stop now and wait until my next post to talk about how I got back into dating after my break up. I’ll talk about the 2nd half of the equation of getting over a break up – how to reintroduce yourself to dating to find a happier and better relationship.
Photo by Franck Mahon