In the wake of my most recent breakup (last Sunday night, woo!) I realized I have a lot of experience with breakups. In fact, I could put up a website proclaiming myself a breakup expert and not feel like a complete fraud. Not only have I experienced a range of breakups myself, but I have watched many other people’s breakups. And not even only on TV!
So of course I thought, the way you do when you’re me, I should blog about the post-breakup experience.
I took the breakup with the first guy I was in love with really hard. We were together six months, and he worked all the time (not that I’m magnetically attracted to workaholics or anything), and I was going to be moving to the UK and he still had two years to go at university, so, you know, not the most practical relationship ever.
But I was so devastated when we broke up. Common knowledge had told me that after a breakup, I would need closure, so I went to have a closure conversation with him a few weeks afterwards. This taught me something about breakups: You don’t need to have a long closure conversation. You don’t need closure, full stop. What is closure, anyway? I have no idea, but I’d say ninety percent of the time, once the relationship is over, you can work things out on your own.
And then I heard this rule that has stuck with me ever since. It’s a stupid rule. It’s not true. But I’m going to share it anyway: It takes half the length of the relationship to get over the relationship. At the time I found this rule deeply depressing because it meant I’d feel terrible for three months, which seemed like a very long time to feel terrible. But lo and behold! By the time three months rolled around, I was only a few weeks away from feeling terrible about an entirely different relationship. Hmm. Maybe Past Self missed the point on that one.
Here’s what I think is true: getting over a relationship takes the time it takes, and it always takes longer than you want because who wants to feel terrible? So when I felt like a flattened pancake on Monday morning, I reminded myself this was a process and time would help. And then I worked on my novel and wrote a certain blog post and I wasn’t really thinking about the breakup anymore and I totally felt better. So, you know. Time. And distraction. Distraction can be good too.
After going through enough breakups, you also begin to get a sense of the normal phases you go through.
First I feel kind of numb, and everything seems very quiet. Maybe things don’t seem completely real, or maybe I feel a sense of relief. Or both.
Then I feel completely wretched, like my insides are collapsing while at the same time I am obviously completely hollow and empty and don’t even have any insides. I know, it makes no sense, but that’s how it feels. This tends to be when I start to cry. This also tends to be when I phone someone up. If I’m going through a bad breakup, this step might repeat a bunch, in which case I can’t call someone up every time. But for a minor breakup, it will probably only happen once or twice, in which case calling someone is pretty much always the right thing to do.
Then, in no particular order, the following things might or might not happen: I feel mopey. I eat ice cream. I don’t sleep well. Or I sleep a lot because breaking up is exhausting. I spend a lot of time thinking, and I have all the emotions. I feel like I’ll never find anyone to date again. I feel like I never want to date anyone again. I feel like I have to start dating immediately. I think that maybe someday I’ll get back together with the person. I realize I never want to get back together with the person. I get bored thinking about it all.
It’s become pretty predictable, so I’m sitting there going, “Oh yeah, now I’m at the part where I’m pretending we might get back together, and I know that’s total bullshit so can we move on to the next thing already?”
Other things that make me feel better after a breakup:
Thinking about the bad things. I read this in an article once, that people recover from breakups more quickly when they focus on the bad parts of the relationship. Maybe because they pass over a bunch of the phases more quickly this way? It’s hard to think too seriously about getting back together with someone when you immediately remind yourself of why you were unhappy.
I mean, you all know I’m a positive person, but I am a big believer in focusing on what wasn’t working. I look at it this way. I will spend the rest of my life being broken up with this person, so I have plenty of time to think kind and charitable thoughts about them. So I can damn well spend a little bit of time being irritated first, while thinking of all the things that are no longer my problem.
Plus this way I learn what’s important to me and what I want, and that’s pretty much the point of dating in the first place. I mean, if you’re not going to be beautifully and madly and happily in love. That would be another point.
Friends. I always think people who neglect their friends while they’re dating are incredibly short-sighted. Or, um, maybe just really optimistic?
So last week I was upset because a hurtful thing happened with the guy I was dating and I knew it was bullshit behavior, so I texted my friend, and he brought me a chocolate milkshake from In N’ Out. He brought it to me. And then we’re sitting there and I’m being upset, but there I am with one of my favorite people in the world, drinking a chocolate milkshake, and then we just start to crack up about all my ridiculous dating stories from the past couple of years. Because they kind of suck, but they’re also pretty funny, and how can I be super miserable when my friend just brought me a milkshake? I just can’t maintain the woe.
Especially because the next night another friend feeds me chocolate popsicles and cheese and strokes my head and tells me funny stories. And then on the weekend there are awesome people and cookies and sushi and shopping and movies and the best pancakes ever. And then on Monday night I’m swinging an inflatable sword around shouting “Inconceivable!” and smacking myself on the forehead with yet another wonderful friend.
And then of course there’s the friend I called in tears on Sunday night who told me I could call any time.
Now that is love.
Self care. Metta meditation. Long walks and good books. Hot baths. Little dogs. Eating. Sleeping. Blah blah blah. You know the drill.
Looking fabulous. You know the stereotype of someone who feels miserable and slouches around all day wearing saggy sweatpants and a T-shirt that’s falling apart? When I feel bad, I usually dress UP. I want to look amazing. It’s harder to feel woe when you look amazing. Plus you can make tragic faces at yourself in the mirror, and that’s pretty fun.
Being fabulous. It turns out all that self-esteem work really pays off come breakup time. As does all the work to make your life as amazing as possible. Sure, maybe the self-esteem needs a little shoring up, but when you already know how to do that, then you can just do it instead of floundering around for long periods of time practicing self-flagellation. And dating is just one part of your life. It may be an important part, but even so, it’s still JUST ONE. Having other things in your life that matter to you makes all the difference.
I cannot end this blog post without addressing the elephant that’s hanging out in the corner over there. You kind, wonderful people, I know some of you will be concerned after reading this post. I know you’ll be thinking, “Oh no, Amy broke up with someone? On top of everything else? Is she okay?”
So allow me to reassure you. It was early days, which tends to make things a lot easier, and I am fine. If I were not fine, I would not have written this piece because I’d be too busy being curled up in an oozing puddle of misery and self-pity. But that is not what is happening.
My blog stats tell me that you really like it when I talk about dating. So here is some truth for you. When you’re dating, breaking up is fairly inevitable. Not everyone finds someone they’re super compatible with right off the bat. Is this unfortunate? For sure.
But being too afraid of breaking up is the true tragedy. And breaking up is no longer my chief fear. When I was hanging out with my milkshake friend, after some laughter had made the truth more easily accessible, I told him, “I’m afraid I’m letting myself down.”
He gave me a knowing look.
So know this, friends. I am no longer afraid I am letting myself down. And that is what matters the most.