I used to have a boyfriend. And then we broke up.
After three years, we arrived at the decision that we didn’t want to spend our lives together. It was that simple, and it was that complicated. I will refrain from sharing any further details (until some distant day when they inevitably manifest as essays).
The truth is, I’m notoriously bad at saying good-bye. I can barely part with leftovers or recycle old magazines. Severing ties with people? Don’t get me started…
There’s the denial period, where you bolt awake at 3 AM and suddenly realize they’re gone, followed by weekends that stretch on endlessly. “You’re better off!” everyone swears, and intellectually you agree, but you don’t feel better off. You feel way worse, which is why there’s snot running down your face.
“You didn’t do anything wrong!” friends counsel, like a gaggle of well-meaning defense attorneys. But your righteousness can’t accompany you on Saturday morning coffee runs or bicker needlessly over which Netflix movie to choose. You miss that. You grow nostalgic for the time your partner forgot to put the seat down and you fell into the toilet in the middle of the night. Everything looks bleak.
Since wallowing in a tub of ice cream is only fun for about an hour, here are seven things I’ve learned, including tried-and-true advice from people wiser than me. I hope it may bring you some comfort, too (if and when you need it).
1. Listen to your friends. But don’t ONLY listen to them.
Your friends know you and why you’re amazing. Lean on them. But unless they’re licensed therapists or the Dalai Lama, resist the urge to take their words for gospel. Some friends would have you rebound immediately, while others insist on months of dating detox. Only you know what feels right for you. Seek the advice of a therapist, if it helps, or even the words of a seasoned advice columnist. I’m especially partial to Ask Polly, whose tough-love answer to this question is one of the best things I’ve read (*on the internet, at least).
2. Remember: You are not alone.
Countless people have felt just as bad as you do. Whenever I’m in a funk (and frankly, even when I’m not) I love to turn to the brilliant archives of Modern Love, where there’s an essay to match almost any situation. It’s weirdly comforting to know that smart, sane, kind people have gone through horrible divorces, cheating scandals, and massive relationship anxiety. Not in a misery-loves-company way, but in an inspirational they-came-out-the-other-side-and-so-will-I sort of way.
3. Connect with something bigger.
…and suddenly, the relationship seems small. If you’re spiritual or religious, go to temple or church or synagogue. Find a meditation group. Seek out a feel-good guru. It can be anyone from an energy healer to a masseuse to a yoga teacher to a free online talk, like this one. If reflection feels painful, sign up for a class. The important thing is to connect in a way that makes you feel restored, refreshed, and part of a greater whole.
4. Take two aspirin, feel better in the morning.
The most startling (and useful) discovery of all: Can taking two aspirin actually ease the pain of heartbreak? Turns out the answer is YES. No prescription necessary.
5. Cut yourself some slack.
Forgive yourself for the choices you’ve made and forgive your partner for theirs. Take stock of what you contributed and what you’ve learned. Anger and resentment are unproductive emotions, and the sooner you can own your actions, the faster you’ll be on your way to feeling as good as new. It’s fine to make mistakes. Apparently everyone ignores dating dealbreakers, anyway.
6. Read something.
Namely, this book. I read it over the course of two days and it CHANGED MY LIFE. Sometimes you’re on your way to a breakthrough and something gives you the little push that finally makes it happen. This book did that for me, and I’d highly recommend it.
7. Then go hug something.
Anything but your ex. In the wise words of Oprah, Knower of All Things:
“Romantic love is not the only love worth seeking. I’ve met so many people longing to be in love with somebody, to be rescued from their daily lives and swept into romantic bliss, when all around there are children, neighbors, friends, and strangers also yearning for someone to connect with. Look around and notice—possibility is everywhere.”
One morning you wake up and the sun looks a little brighter. Your leg wanders over to the other side of the bed and instead of missing a presence there, you think “OMG YES I HAVE SPACE.” The world, which had contracted so painfully, feels huge and full of possibilities. And holy crap, they might be even better than before.
There is always tomorrow. Thank goodness for that.
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