There are at least three things that are more horrific than a one-sided breakup: 1) mass genocide, 2) the loss of a child and 3) getting shot in the face with a sawed-off shotgun…and surviving. There are probably a few more, but those are the only examples I can think of off the top of my head.
Being the eternally optimistic nut-job that I am (I like to pretend that I’m all dark and cynical, but I’m totally not), I’m generally pretty resilient. And because I have such a magnanimous and giving nature, I thought I’d share some of my breakup survival techniques for all you ladies out there who can’t afford therapy.
[Note: I’m writing from personal experience only! I don’t know anything about anything so take my advice at your peril. Also, I should note that, in speaking from personal experience, I’m writing from a distinctly female perspective. My experiences usually involve me getting ditched by a charismatic and fickle man-child who goes out and starts sleeping with someone else immediately after the breakup (assuming he wasn’t already) so you should know that my thoughts and opinions are colored by those experiences and filtered through that lens.]
[Addition to previous note: I’m not bitter or anything. Far from it, in fact. I actually stay friends with most of my exes. I count some of my ex-boyfriends among my best friends. Hell, I’ve even lived with two of them! I’ve spent my last three birthdays in the company of at least one of my exes (occasionally with their girlfriends in tow) and while that might sound horribly depressing, I assure you, it isn’t. I don’t stay friends with all of my former beaus, and I’m certainly not an expert on the subject, but overall I’d say that I kind of kick ass at breakups.]
If you’re anything like me, you know it’s coming. The calls become less frequent, the texts less flirty. Once companionable silences are suddenly awkward and filled with an inexplicable tension that wasn’t there yesterday. You’ve become a ball of anxiety because you’re dying to find out what’s really going on, but you’re too afraid to voice your concerns because you know that will open the door to a conversation you really don’t want to have. Sound familiar?
It sucks, but you have to do it. You have to have the conversation. Don’t wait. Don’t hope he’s just having a bad day (or twelve) and that if you patiently stick it out he’ll eventually go back to normal. He won’t.
The Main Event
Force the conversation if you must (and you probably will because most men are cowards when it comes to hurting the feelings of a woman they profess to care about), but you have to talk. Of course in-person conversations are preferable, if for no other reason than you can deal with the awkward business of getting your stuff back without scheduling a second trip, but if you’ve got to do it over the phone, better to have done with it, and quickly. (I could use a bandage-ripping analogy here but I won’t because we’re better than that.)
While we’re talking clichés, I’m also not going to tell you to buck up, get your hair cut and go shopping, even though I did all of those things. However, in my defense, I sometimes work as a hair model, so I got paid to cut my hair and most of my shopping trips were to Lowe’s and Home Depot to buy power tools and lumber so I think I deserve a pass.
[Note: That bit about collecting your belongings obviously doesn’t apply if you’re cohabitating with your man because there will likely be any number of complicated things to consider like pets and children and shared cell phone plans…and you’re probably going to have a lot more stuff to move so follow-up conversations will be an unfortunate necessity for you.]
Anyway, once the horrible feeling of being emotionally punched in the gut subsides, you will feel relieved – at least a little bit. One small fear, the fear of the unknown, will have gone and you’ll be able to focus on the hollow emptiness, unspeakable sadness, or if you’re very, very lucky, the anger that will soon take its place. (Naturally, I got stuck with unspeakable sadness. I’m just not an angry enough person I guess.)
Like any hostage or kidnapping situation, the first 48 hours of a breakup are crucial, so much so that I’ve written this section in outline form. (That is, I tried to, but because my blog is so stupid, simple bullet points are all it can manage.)
- Establish the No Contact Rule. I cannot stress the importance of the NCR enough! Simply explain to your ex (preferably during the breakup convo) that you’d prefer not to have any contact with him for the time being. Tell him that when and if you’re ready, you’ll call him. Then don’t.
- I repeat – DO NOT CALL HIM. For any reason. Ever. Say what you want to say during the breakup and leave it at that. Some people recommend removing your ex from your phone entirely, but I think it unnecessary if you have even a modicum of self-discipline. That way, if he does make an attempt to contact you, you won’t be surprised and you’ll be prepared to politely and firmly request that he refrain from contacting you in future.
[Again, if you’re married to, have children with or are living with your man, this obviously won’t be possible. But I’m writing about your garden-variety breakups so there are fewer complications.]
- Don’t be tempted to listen to that sweet voicemail he left you last Valentine’s Day over and over again ad nauseam. Delete it! Along with anything else from him that may be lurking on your mobile devices.
- If you’re not ready to remove all digital traces of him from your life (and I don’t blame you if you can’t – I never can), I recommend texting/calling/emailing a bunch of your friends to push his messages further down into your archives so at least you won’t have to see his name pop up every time you check your email. You certainly should not go back and re-read a whole relationship’s worth of text messages. Going back in time to try to pinpoint the moment things went wrong is not going to solve anything and will only make you feel worse. Trust.
- Unfollow/unfriend your ex on all social media outlets. You absolutely DO NOT want to read his tweets, view his latest Instagram photo or see where and with whom he has checked in on facebook. I know, I know, you think that not knowing will kill you. It won’t. Knowing where he is and what (or who) he’s doing is only going to distract you from all the important stuff you should be doing, like eating ice cream, going to the gym or hitting things with hammers. (For instance, my last breakup prompted a series of much-needed apartment renovations that I never would have had time to accomplish if I spent all my time scrolling through facebook, looking for traces of him in my newsfeed.)
- By the same token, do not post passive-aggressive and/or cryptic messages to your social media accounts. It’s juvenile, makes other people feel uncomfortable and makes you look like an asshole.
- Gather any and all photos, mementos, or junk he left at your place and put it in box. Label said box and put it away someplace where you don’t have to see it or trip over it every time you walk in the door. Or, if you’re not a terribly sentimental person, chuck it all out. Either way.
- Get the hell out of dodge! You’ve been dealt a terrible blow and it’s okay to check out for a little while if you need a few days to recuperate. I recommend visiting a place that has nothing to do with him and won’t remind you of him every time you turn around. For example, my uncle has a place in Maine where cell phone coverage is scarce; internet access is almost non-existent; and the odds of having contact with other humans is a maybe at best. I hid out there for a few days. Just me, a cuddly Shih Tzu named Meg and a stockpile of hilarious books and movies*. And no cell phone charger. [*You’ll have to pay attention to the types of media you are consuming after a breakup. I devote a whole section to this topic later.]
- Change your phone’s ring/text tones. In this age of instant communication, many of us have become inexorably attached to our mobile devices. I, for one, have developed an unhealthy Pavlovian response to my iPhone. Every time that little thing chirps, buzzes or lights up, I get a little jolt of excitement and happiness, especially if it’s a message from him. Un-conditioning those responses takes time, but it’ll be a little easier if you change the sound. Or just turn it off altogether.
All the other days after that
This time is all about you – enjoy it! (Christ, that sounded like the tag line for an adult diaper commercial – sorry.) You should focus on yourself though. You’re gonna be pretty emotionally depleted, so try to be kind to yourself and do the things that make you happy…or at least not totally miserable.
- Get by with a little help from your friends. While you shouldn’t broadcast to the entire interwebs how hurt, lonely and betrayed you’re feeling (which is definitely not what I’m doing right now in this very post *cough cough*) you most definitely should call on your closest friends and family to buck you up and carry you through. Mine have been beyond amazing.
- Get Drunk (if you must). But only once and with someone who loves you and will take care of you. There’s nothing sadder than a pathetic drunk girl who’s just been dumped. Don’t be that girl. No one likes her.
- Get a project. Load up your calendar with all the activities you’ve been dying to try, but haven’t yet because you’ve been too busy lying in bed for hours with a man who never really loved you anyway. Take a salsa dancing class! (Barf.) Start a blog! (As if they’re aren’t enough of those clogging up the cybernet.) Volunteer at your local animal shelter or veteran’s hospital. Who knows? You may wind up with a great dog or a wounded soldier with PTSD who’s even more fucked up than the last guy! (I’m kidding! Seriously though – love the troops.) I chose home improvement, but whatever. It doesn’t matter what you do – just get yourself a project.
Be careful what you read/watch/listen to!
Put your hands up and step away from the Love Actually DVD! (Or any movie starring Colin Firth for that matter.) You don’t need to see happy people in love. Not right now anyway.
In the weeks after my most recent breakup my Netflix cue looked something like this:
- Boondock Saints (I & II)
- Pulp Fiction
- Anything starring Bruce Willis
- Seasons 1-5 of The West Wing
- All of Firefly, followed by Serenity
- That BBC show Orphan Black (which isn’t technically on Netflix but never mind)
- And I finally got around to watching season 9 of The Office
If shoot ‘em up action flicks, workplace dramas or space cowboys aren’t your thing, that’s cool, but stay away from romantic comedies. Trust me on this one. They’ll only drive you to drink.
The same goes for music. I’m a musician and, consequently, I date a lot of musicians (which is inadvisable as a general rule) so music typically plays a pretty important role in my relationships.
Post break up, my iTunes library became a veritable minefield of painful memories. There were literally only two albums I could safely listen to without crying: Iggy Pop’s Raw Power and Engelbert Humperdink’s Hansel and Gretel. Seriously, that’s it.
For a solution, I turned to Pandora Internet radio. The first song that popped up was Ingrid Michaelson’s ‘December Baby.’ The chorus: ‘You have had your fill, your fill of me.’ Not helpful, Ingrid…not helpful.
So I switched to an upbeat 80s station where I was immediately treated to Rick Astley’s, ‘Never Gonna Give You Up.’ I literally got Rick-rolled by the universe. At any other time I would’ve found that hilarious, but hearing Rick declare that he would never make me cry, say goodbye, tell a lie or hurt me, made me want to punch him in the throat.
Eventually I settled on a 70s rock station that mostly didn’t make me want to kill myself. Mostly. (Except when ‘Landslide’ came on, but I listened to it anyway because I have a deep and abiding love for Stevie Nicks.)
Much like that little blonde twerp who gets caught committing a B&E in that story about those three negligent bears who were too stupid to put a lock on their door, my first station was too sad, the 80s station was too ironic, but the 70s were just right.
The point is, if listening to anything by The Civil Wars makes you cry right now, then don’t do that. Why torture yourself? The Civil Wars and all of your other favorite bands will be right there waiting for you when you’ve got your head back on straight.
Take this time as an opportunity to meet new people and discover new activities, music, books, TV shows…whatever. I’m not saying you need to change your personality or your excellent taste in all things media, but it’s important to stay open and not get so wrapped up in the pain of it that you miss out on all of the potentially wonderful opportunities and people who are out there waiting for you.
And it will happen. You will feel okay again. You’ll meet someone else. Someone better suited to you, someone who not only values and appreciates you, but who can’t imagine life without you.
And when that happens, you should take a moment to be grateful, not just for the amazing new person you’ve found and for the life you have together, but for all the struggles you had to go through to get there and for all the strength you acquired along the way.
It’s only a matter of time. How much time is entirely up to you.
Wishing you all love and joy,