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We’ve had a lot of love lately. Will brought us the merits of the Hibernation Girlfriend. Madoff espoused the practical and sentimental merits of romantic courthouse weddings (which was particularly special to me because I took that route).
But as we approach the terminus of a relationship, it may be time to look at love’s dark anxiety-inducing underbelly: the break-up.
As we approach the holidays, already painful experiences can be magnified as you’re asked by relatives about what happened to “so-and-so.” You may choose to say that he or she fell off a cliff and is dead. If it was hiking misstep or more of an “O’Doyle Rules”-style drive-off is completely up to you. You may also choose to say nothing and continue to numb with cake bread and pumpkin pie.
What you have no choice over, sadly, is how fucking awful you feel. I’ve found there is a lot of shitty, fluffy, overly emotional, esoteric and didactic advice out there on getting through this time. Having been there (and badly so — more than once), I’d like to try to correct that with your permission.
Below are some tips I hope will make your life suck less during the difficult time. I’m here for you.
1. Don’t play injured.
You don’t have to have exceeded athletically beyond participation ribbons to know what this is about. In the 26 or so years I could comprehend my father’s speech, this is by far among the best advice I have ever received from him. I was being an overly dramatic 19-year-old devastated by the breakup of my first love. It was sudden; I was stunned and I wanted my piece heard even though my ex had really given his finale edict on the situation.
But what kind of shape are we in when we’re newly broken up with? Bad, bad, bad. Rough, emotional, desperate, angry, and probably pretty drunk. Even if we were the dumper, all those things may rightly apply too (and guilt also makes us do insane things).
When you play injured — just as in sports — you don’t perform well, you look stupid, you set yourself back, you don’t score, and most importantly, you get more hurt. By trying to get in touch with or by seeing your ex, you now have an even bigger injury to deal with and have given yourself more turmoil and “material” to react of off.
When I was 24, I was dumped via voicemail the day before New Year’s Eve after a six-month relationship. I wanted to drive to his house and talk it out. Instead, my ever brilliant roommate and friend did the equivalent of benching me. She gave me a Xanax and I waited it the fuck out. Best decision ever.
Do not call, write, email, or fax (or SnapChat for the youngins) until you feel you are back to baseline. And be strict with yourself here. Do not risk re-injury.
I realize this is harder to do if you’re living together. Much harder, but try to keep conversations and interactions to “what is necessary” levels.
2. Do not use the “Stuff Exchange” as a cheap reason to try to see your ex.
Unless they have your Monet, collection of Faberge eggs, or Hakeem Olajuwan signed basketball… YOU DO NOT FUCKING NEED IT RIGHT NOW.
(Side note: why did you bring that stuff outside your house?)
See reason #1. Now is not the time to see the ex. Wait. It is hard, but you will thank yourself. The stuff play is a highly transparent desperate grab for makeup sex/attention. It will not turn out as you hoped, and you will be more sad.
3. Find something new to do.
This may sound cheesy, but I promise it works. Relationships take up A LOT of time. What could you do with those free evenings and weekends? Anything YOU want. I took up yoga after a break-up and today I am an instructor with a pretty bitchin practice. A new hobby helps channel your energy and also builds toward creating an identity that is independent of your ex’s significant other. Also, it’s fun, and if you want, it can be a great way to meet new people. Additionally, right now your mind will probably by thankful for ANY thing that is a distraction. Make it a productive one that serves YOU.
There is a world full of sports, foreign languages, musical instruments, art, etc. out there. I bet you’d be really good at any of them.
4. Find someone new to do.
Maybe this is an overstatement (but I am a sucker for parallel construction). I am NOT suggesting a drunken barroom shag rampage that will have you ending up with a clinger, whiny group text exchange, shame, in comparison mode to your ex, or in tears. Also, give yourself some time before approaching this one.
Do you have someone who’s been in the wings? Someone you know and have always been attracted to? Someone you could keep in chill with — a distraction without the obligation, but with fulfillment because of always kind having had a thing for them? (And minus the regrettable-ness, risk, and weirdness of a complete rando).
I rose like Lazarus from the dead after the aforementioned New Year’s break-up after a dry-humping-on-Oscar-night-2011 by a fun and hot friend of a friend.
We didn’t go too far so there wasn’t a lot to ponder and turn over in my drained state, it was kind of so silly, it was fun, I liked him, and I knew him (so effort was minimal aka less than going on a date with a stranger). And, it left room for more (if I wanted it), or I could pack it up just as easily. We went on to go out a couple times doing fun, silly stuff like go to a dark lounge on a Monday night and make out, or housesit for his aunt and uncle at their amazing house for a weekend.
Once again, I felt attractive, fun, and was enjoying physical contact and company. Having spent two months living like a ghost, it was pretty rad. The point here is not to mentally “stick it your ex” but to take back energy and enjoyment for YOURSELF.
Jesus rose Lazarus. A dry hump rose me.
5. Get work on your side.
One of my break ups coincided with a terrible family tragedy (rock on!). I wasn’t so into the guy, but the combo clotheslined me pretty badly. Fortunately, my work was aware of my family situation, and I was able to tuck the break up in with it.
I sure produced some POS models and valuations during that time, but my honesty and vulnerability with my employer saved my skin come bonus and review time.
Your employer likely really values you; it’s ok to tell them you are not yourself right now. Break-ups of especially long relationships can be nearly divorce-level trauma; it’s okay to speak up. It’s not okay to let your work product slide and not bother to take accountability or explain (even very generally) what could be up. Your employer could be left thinking you’re plotting an exit.
Post-break-up is also a great time for mind-numbing work activities to quiet your “what ifs” (filing, contact sorting, training webinars, etc). You may also want to look into attending more networking events (if you’re up for it) on your now free-ed up evening to further yourself.
6. Get some perspective.
Another one of my father’s gems during that college break-up where I was home in Connecticut inconsolable was “Well, did he die?”
No, he had not died.
Don’t hold out false hope, but reconciling after a break-up is sometimes a strong possibility (and you will likely have an inkling when it is). All the more reason to follow the above advice. Having “no chill” here could sabotage you quickly.
Also, there are 7.3 billion people in the world. Most of us hope to find one.
7. Get away.
I peaced out to Stowe in early 2011 with a crew of my college friends right after a break-up. Couldn’t get back to DC even if I wanted to. No cell service was an added bonus.
Consider your ex unavailable to you immediately after a break-up. Mentally put sticks, rocks, cows, or whatever you need in front of them so you cannot get to them. I know that is difficult, so a trip can REALLY help.
And please, do something other than just booze and chase tail (see above). It’s okay to be sad, even for a long time, but don’t waste your precious PTO putting yourself back down a rung.
8. Get help
Friends and family are great to have during break-ups. Solid support networks should be there for you in good times and in bad, but not 24/7. Do not strain your good relationships with the energy of the ones that went bad.
Your friends and family, though they may know you and your ex really well, are not in the best position to help you heal. They are not objective observers, and mutual ties may be putting them in a really awkward position. Furthermore, they are not professionals in helping clean up and guide you through this process.
There may be more at play in why you are feeling so badly. Going to a professional (even once) can help you get A LOT of clarity.
This list is about practical, actionable ways to begin to take back control and empowerment for yourself after you feel the rug has been pulled out from under you. Whether you did the dumping or not, it is a big, difficult, sad, adjustment to make.
I spent the first couple months of 2011 coming in the door from work and drinking dinner until I passed out. I lost twenty pounds and my weight dipped into the 80s. I had zero energy to do anything. I was a hermit. I sucked at work. I was a bony, sad, shell of a person. It did not have to be that way.
Break-ups will always be sad. Losing a person you share so much with is a chunk of your identity gone. In my experience, coaching others (note: I am not a therapist, but have encountered this in clients), I have found the pain of break-ups stems mostly from the perceived loss of control and feeling devalued.
Remember you are still here, you are still in control, and no matter what happens on the outside or with others, you have to keep on keepin’ on. Everyone’s situation is different, but I hope at least of these tips make it a little easier.
Happy dry humping. .
Image via Unsplash