It’s unavoidable: you will have your heart broken in your lifetime, one way or another. It’s an inescapable part of human existence, but that doesn’t mean it has to be all bad.
I’ve been through 4 1/2 breakups. What you’re about to read is years of breakup experience distilled into lessons.
A big part of the process is slowing down and processing your emotions in a healthy way. I hope the lessons here help you as much as they have me.
Disclaimer: there are obviously some demographics that my advice isn’t the best fit for, such as including divorced couples with kids.
Part 1: Suffer fully
The first thing I’m going to tell you is a bit unconventional. If the breakup just happened… You should be sad.
Go head and cry, feel lonely and in general feel like shit.
Wait, is this real advice? Yes – it’s what healthy humans do. It doesn’t mean that you should drown yourself in tubs of ice cream and accept depression as a new way of life. The important part is that breakups – just like relationships – are a process. And the beginning of that process is ESPECIALLY shitty. There are no shortcuts around it.
The only real shortcut is to embrace feeling shitty. Because what’s worse than feeling shitty is denying your feelings. Ignoring your feelings is a dangerous thing to do, because it hinders growth and self-awareness (we’ll explore this shortly).
So go ahead. Wallow. Bitch, moan and whine to your friends (you did the same for them, right?) Go run a mile in the rain. Listen to all the sad songs because they’re singing JUST ABOUT YOU. What you might not realize is that it’s actually helping you process your feelings. Invest the time to do this at the beginning of the breakup, because you can’t stay in this suspended reality of sadness forever.
Part 2: Don’t just cut off contact. Amputate it.
If there’s ONE TRUTH to getting over a breakup, it’s to completely and ruthlessly cut off contact. If it helps, first tell the ex what you intend to do and it’s no hard feelings (or maybe it is), but you need to cut off all contact to properly heal. In the meantime, you’ll also:
- Delete their number and all texts associated with number.
- Unfriend them on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat…all social media
- Don’t see each other. Don’t go to each others’ houses or show up to the same parties. If you can, just avoid being in the same fuckin’ space.
“Don’t talk to your ex,” seems like obvious advice. But no one – including myself – follows that advice because they’re missing the “why.”
Why is cutting off contact with the ex such a good idea? A better way to think of it might be the opposite: why is staying in contact with my ex a bad idea?
It’s because of a thing called Hope. The sick kind of hope that doesn’t make you feel good, but makes spin your mental wheels giving you the POSSIBILITY that maaaybe things will work out and maaaybe you guys can get together again. Hope can be the most crushing, damaging thing, because we put our egos and self-worth completely on the line, in hopes for a second chance.
Comfort is Hope’s sidekick. Because of comfort, you end up inviting your ex over for an innocent dinner “as friends,” then somehow end up in the bedroom, clothes off, it feels so right…and end up in an even more confusing and unhealthy place than before.
That’s the danger of comfort, because it leads to more hope.
Let’s get it straight: breakups are not supposed to be comfortable. Prepare to be very, very fuckin’ uncomfortable and hating your life for at least a few weeks. Just consider it an emotional bootcamp.
If it’s anything to cause damage to feelings of self-worth, it’s the shitty brothers Hope and Comfort. By completely removing contact from your ex, you leave little room for more unnecessary agony.
Important note: You are not responsible for your ex.
After a breakup, neither party is emotionally responsible for each other. This is hard because the gravity of comfort gets in the way. There’s just too many goddamn convenient excuses to “fall back” into acting like a boyfriend/girlfriend after a breakup because you feel “bad” for them:
- He needs me around because his family’s going through tough times…
- But I promised her I’d take her on that trip…
- We have too many mutual friends, it’ll be awkward…
All of the above seem reasonable enough. Until you do this thought experiment (let’s say boy breaks up with girl):
Boy: Hey… just wanted to check if you’re ok.
Girl: Yeah I’m fine, thanks…
Boy: Umm..ok. Let me know if you need anything.
The above has only achieved the following: remind the heartbroken girl of the boy’s existence. She was having an okay day and now he just reminded her of their shitty breakup, and the fact that she got dumped.
If you broke up with someone, and have the urge to contact your ex, is it really for them, or is it for you?
I’ll go ahead and answer that – it’s for you. It’s you who feels bad for dumping them, but it does nothing for them. They feel worse. You just reminded them that you exist.
I was such a selfish mofo before. Don’t be like me.
You’re no longer responsible for each other, so don’t feel guilty, and don’t make the other person feel guilty. Whatever has happened is in the past, and now you are two single people trying to live in the present.
Part 3: How to Not Waste Your Breakup
For me, breakups were always something like a wake up call. One moment you’re in the dream of a relationship, the next moment you wake up in bed alone. This is a confusing time and some questions might run through your brain, as they have mine:
Was I not good enough?
Maybe I shouldn’t have told her _____
How long will I be alone for?
I wonder if she’s going to end up dating that guy she keeps talking about
Maybe if I do this one thing, that’ll change her mind?
Maybe I’ll try online dating [link]
If it’s one thing that breakups for us, it’s to make us look hard at ourselves in the mirror.
Invariably, self-defeating thoughts creep into the post-breakup psyche. But I think this period of pensiveness can also lead to honest reflection…and potentially the most emotional growth of your life.
Want to maximize your self-reflection time? Spill your guts out in writing.
Write everything. Write how you feel. Write why you think your relationship ended. Write your side of the story, then write your ex’s side of the story.
If you’re ridiculous enough like me, ask for a letter from your ex.
The exercise above will serve you in two ways. The first is catharsis. To sort out feelings, clarify thoughts and help you process the breakup. The second is to learn, and to hopefully incorporate lessons learned into future relationships.
Look, relationships are one of the most important things in life but it’s never taught in school. So take this time to do some real homework. Breakups are actually an amazing opportunity to learn about yourself and get life figured out.
So don’t waste your breakup. Learn from it.
A great way to waste your breakup is to jump into another relationship. Doing so is like having an open wound and repeatedly ripping off the scabs, preventing you from healing properly.
Special note: due to amount of interest they receive, attractive women are especially prone to not getting enough alone time to fully process their breakup. Yes, there can be a downside to being really really good looking.
Don’t try to win the breakup by racing to be the first person to start dating again. That’s playing a losing game. You don’t want to jump from one trap into another. Resist the breakup-validation cycle.
Trust me, the allure of rebounds will be great. Rebounds are a great way to deny your own feelings and waste someone else’s time. Not to say that rebounds can’t turn into healthy relationships. There are just too many gray areas to cover in one article.
My recommendation is to let a season pass. For emotionally significant relationships, I think at least a few months is healthy. But what will you do with that free time?
Part 4: Moving On
In World War Z, Brad Pitt’s character finds temporary safety in the apartment of a Latino family. Knowing that the apartment will soon be overridden with zombies, Brad Pitt tries to move everyone to the rooftop, in hopes of catching a helicopter.
The family won’t leave their apartment, fearing that they’ll get eaten alive upon stepping outside. To which Brad Pitt says: “Movimiento es vida.”
Movement is life. Those 3 words pack so much truth. At a molecular level, if you don’t move, you’s dead! Your heart needs to beat. Electrical impulses need to be sent. In the same fashion, you literally need to move to get on with your life.
Sign up for a class. Go get that beer after work with coworkers. Do a zombie run. Build a social community around you, however small. The common denominator is that you are doing SOMETHING.
Don’t like where you are? Move. You are not a tree.
In the wake of my last breakup, moving literally and figuratively did wonders for my happiness. I moved to LA and shortened my daily commute to 30 minutes a day (round trip, BOOYA). I started practicing Spanish and found a weekly group to converse with. I signed up for salsa classes and ended up really enjoying them. Every couple of weeks, new students pop up in class. I make an extra effort to be friendly to them. Who knows, maybe they’re trying to move on from something too.
Remember when Forrest Gump just takes off running across America non-stop for three years? Crazy mofo. I watched that movie so long ago that I forgot why, but the power of Google makes it known: no, it wasn’t because Forrest’s mother died. It’s because his love Jenny just took off one day. It was the worst kind of breakup, the disappearing kind. So Forrest decided to move. He ran and ran and ran and literally started a national movement.
You don’t have to run across the country, but you need to start moving.
Moving on, mentally.
Let me make it clear right now – I don’t like the “just think positive and the world will come to you” advice as advertised in gimmicks like “The Secret.” I actually regret telling you about it and giving that facile work even more attention. But positive thinking can have a very constructive role in helping you move on mentally.
Imagine the difference between how two individuals can handle a breakup: one thinks of the event as 100% negative / 0% positive. He has a victim mentality and begins to make unsavory assumptions about every other female in the world. Without coincidence, this mentality only serves to distance others from him.
The same breakup can happen to another individual, who manages to see the silver lining. He’s not giddy after being dumped. But he sees this as an opportunity to reflect, to grow, and improve himself. Even if he can eek out a 51% positive / 49% negative experience ratio from this breakup, that’s a win. Ultimately, it’s up to you to tweak that ratio yourself.
Breakups can seen as a totally bad thing. Or you can see it as a good learning experience. There’s literally NO upside to the former and only upside to the latter. Positive thinking is a choice and responsibility. Some people say that perception is reality. I tend to agree that life really is in how you frame events, You’re already winning if you can manage to focus on the good.
It’s not 3014, so the memory-wiping technology of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is not available yet. But guess what – you can make new memories. According to the primacy effect, human memory (obviously) discriminates favorably towards newer, more recent experiences. Leverage this and allow new experiences to occupy space in your mind. We can’t delete memories, but we can choose to have new ones that surely become just as, if not important than our old ones. If that’s not the case, then starting a new relationship will be impossible.
So with that, allow me to impart with you what I’ve found in the past several years to be the healthiest, most helpful frame of thinking one can adopt after heartbreak:
Part 5: Realize you were part of their process, and they were part of yours.
Experiencing a relationship means that you and your ex were part of each other’s process in finding love, compatibility, shared values…all the intangibles that make life great. For some couples, that process comes to an end when at least one half of the couple has learned that the relationship is not what he/she wants.
Two people who hit it off when they were 15 and end up married for 30 years are experiencing their own process. That doesn’t mean it needs to be yours.
It’s like graduating from college and expecting to land your dream job that you’ll be passionate about for the rest of your life. (Again, it’s possible, just not probable).
The reality looks more like this: you start in an okay job but you know it’s not where you want to go. But it gives you enough experience and skills to take on the next job. And then the next job. You keep learning. You’re pleasantly surprised that some of the skills you learned in old jobs become useful, and uniquely advantageous in your new job.
It’s not a perfect parallel, but just as different jobs can be stepping stones in your career, each relationship helps you grow and learn to hopefully make the next relationship better.
I’ll end with this scene from To Those Nights (WongFu video). It’s a bit cheesy, but I think this part is gold:
Boy: I wish we never ended the way we did, I just wanted you to know that
Girl: You’re learning about yourself, and who you ultimately want as your companion. I was part of that process, and you were part of mine. You don’t need to feel sorry anymore.
Boy: I’d be better now if I had another chance
Girl: I know you would. But you’d be better for someone new. Don’t waste all of the pain we’ve already endured on trying to mend the past. Use it to learn, and grow for the future. Even if I’m not part of it.
- Suffer Fully
- Amputate Contact. Eliminate Unnecessary Hope.
- Reflect. Write. Capture your lessons learned – don’t waste your breakup.
- Start Moving, Physically and Mentally.
- Know that It’s All Part of the Process. Really move on.
What are your experiences and lessons learned from heartbreak?
Let me know, and be well.