There is nothing not awful about the end of a serious relationship. Even if you’re the person who ended the relationship; even if there were parts of the relationship that weren’t all that healthy; even, sometimes especially, if the end should have come long before it did or if the two of you would prefer the relationship didn’t have to end at all. No matter what your time together was like, there is no circumstance that can make a breakup into an unsullied super happy fun time.
To use some lingo from John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines, I have been both the “dumper” and the “dumpee”: I have ended relationships and been surprised when partners ended them. Despite popular opinion, neither position has an emotional advantage over the other. Of course, being the dumpee is no fun. In addition to suddenly being alone, in some cases there’s the added rank stench of the element of surprise. However, planning the big “It’s Not You, It’s Me” and dealing with the attendant guilt and waffling can be just as hellish as receiving a romantic pink slip.
I’m not terminating any emotional bonds at the moment. Odds are you might be, though, and if that’s the case, I’m so sorry. Early winter is one of the most difficult times to break up. Not only is cuddle season is in full swing, but everything from mistletoe to the first stroke of midnight on the New Year to that weird holiday everyone celebrates before Discount Candy Day on February 15th seems to scream “YOU SHOULD BE IN A RELATIONSHIP”.
The good news is, you’re not alone. (Okay, romantically, yes, you are, but not emotionally. Shhh.) People have been breaking up since the beginning of time, and you know what? Humans are still around. You can get through the aftermath of a breakup relatively unscathed, and maybe even a little better off. For now, here’s your guide to navigating the suck.
What is not sucking? Not sucking is defined in the realm of severing ties as dealing with the end of a romantic partnership in such a way that leaves the least emotional scarring possible on both parties.
1. If you’re the dumper, make it quick, respectful and permanent. I’ve learned from experience that nothing is more painful than flip-flopping for days over whether you’re going to stay or go, except maybe waiting for someone else to make that decision. Taking a while to make a weighty decision in your own head is commendable, but leaving someone else dangling is just cruel. Talk to your soon-to-be ex in person (over the phone, maybe, if the two of you live more than three hours’ drive apart). Give your reasons calmly. Have an escape plan. (Pro tip: If you live separately, don’t break up with someone in your own home. “So, yeah, it’s over… time for you to go now.”) And for the love of all that is good, do not, repeat, do not make the person you are breaking up with think that there is any chance that the two of you could get back together in the future. This is one situation in which it’s a lot less painful to have no hope at all than even a little.
2. If you’re the dumpee, do not call back. In fact, no matter who you are, do not call back. Put the phone down. Delete your ex from your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine and Myspace (if you’re in a time loop from 2004). If you write them a letter, do not send it. Get rid of your ex’s number if you have to—if you’ve memorized it, have a friend switch your ex’s phone number to a randomly selected other number in your phone. There is a reason that the two of you broke up. Impulsively getting back together is not going to fix your problems, nor is leaving fourteen apologetic/angry/drunken voicemails. Eventually, I’ve heard that some people can be friends with their exes, but give it at least a solid month of no contact before establishing that kind of thing.
3. Wallow for a little bit. The best breakup advice I ever got was from Lorelai Gilmore, of the TV show Gilmore Girls. After her daughter, Rory, broke up with her first boyfriend, Lorelai offered this sage bit of wisdom:
“I think what you really need to do today is wallow… Get back in your pajamas, go to bed, eat nothing but gallons of ice cream and tons of pizza. Don’t take a shower or shave your legs or put on any kind of makeup at all. And just sit in the dark and watch a really sad movie and have a good long cry and just wallow. You need to wallow… Your first love is intense and your first breakup is even more intense. Shoving it away and ignoring it… is not going to help.”
When done in small doses, wallowing isn’t self-pitying; it’s mourning, and it’s necessary. Take a day (or up to a week, depending on the length and seriousness of your relationship) and just hibernate and be sad. Sad is okay. Feelings are okay. Remember that.
4. Become a joiner. All mourning periods end, and when yours does, you might look around and realize you’ve got a lot of time on your hands. In your couple days, between date nights, hanging out with other couple friends, daily communication like texting and even just watching movies on the couch when you didn’t feel like going out, you had a guaranteed social life. Now you don’t, and it’s time to work on that. Remember that club you saw flyers for on campus a month ago? Remember how you thought you didn’t have time to go to the meetings? Better go sign up! Remember that hobby you dabbled in before you and your old sweetie became an item? Jump into it with both feet. Remember your friends—not the couple ones, but the single people you appreciated for their individual qualities and may have spent less time with during your relationship? Call ‘em up. If they’re mature humans, they’ll understand that relationships take time and effort and be happy that now you have more time to spend with them. If not, make an effort to go out and meet some new people.
5. Learn who you are by yourself. Now that you’re single, you can do whatever you want whenever you want, within reasonable legal, ethical and health-related bounds. Nobody else’s opinion, preference or plan has to interfere with your Tuesday night bubble bath/monster truck rally/[insert your favorite activity here]. No idea what you even like to do? These journal prompts are a good place to start figuring that out.
6. Stay single for a while. While you’re out and about being fabulous by yourself, you may run across a well-meaning person who says to you, “The best way to get over someone is to get under someone else.” If you do, laugh and put a lollipop in that person’s mouth so they cannot continue talking to you. The best way to not get over someone is to convince yourself that you need to be in a relationship all the time and consequently date and/or hook up with lots of people who are wrong for you. There’s nothing wrong with playing the field, but there is a lot wrong with using others to get over your emotional issues.
7. Don’t impose deadlines. Remember how I said you should limit your wallowing period to a week, max? Just because you’re not lying in bed eating pizza and watching The Notebook by yourself doesn’t mean you don’t get to be sad. You can be sad or angry or nostalgic or whatever about your breakup for as long as you need to be. Don’t dwell on it too much; don’t try to use other people to get over it; if you feel like you need to, go talk to a therapist. Still, though, within those boundaries, give yourself permission to feel bad and don’t try to fake being okay. If you’re honest with yourself, eventually, you’ll get there for real. I promise.
I’d initiate a group hug, readers, but unfortunately this is the Internet. I can’t offer you a shoulder to cry on, but I can offer you a comments box to type in, a Facebook page to like and post on, and a Twitter handle (@hownottosuckblg) to tweet at. Much love to you all!