Sex + Love

How to Say Goodbye

Sorry, but your first breakup is gonna hurt like hell. Here’s how to avoid prolonging the pain—for both of you.

Collage by Kelly.

Collage by Kelly.

Pretty much all it took for us to get together was one kiss. I was 16 and he was 19 when we met accidentally through mutual friends. I was hanging out at my friends’ apartment when one of their roommates arrived with his brother, who was spending the night. The brother, Luke, was the cutest thing I’d EVER SEEN. We both crashed in my friends’ living room that night, on couches on opposite sides of the room, and though we didn’t talk much, I spent the next month or so telling everyone we both knew that I had a thing for him, hoping the message would reach him eventually. When it did, it turned out he thought I was cute TOO, and we spent a few weeks frantically Myspace-messaging each other several times a day. Eventually this led to a movie date, which led to that kiss, which coincidentally took place in the same living room where we met. We broke up three years later, over the phone.

Luke had had serious relationships before, but this was my first, and it was like something out of the movies: that “can’t-eat, can’t-sleep, reach-for-the-stars, over-the-fence, World Series kind of love” that the Olsen twins talk about in It Takes Two. I remember getting literally breathless when I thought about him, bewildered by the sheer force of all these new true-love pheromones that were suddenly clogging up my brain (and my lungs, apparently). I lost my V-card to Luke, I told him all my secrets and kept all of his, and we agreed that we were going to be together forever. We talked endlessly about our wedding, our kids, where we’d have vacation houses, and hanging out as old wrinklies—the works. Everyone around us seemed to agree that we were made for each other, and I spent a long time calmly convinced that THIS WAS IT, delighted and relieved at the idea that I happened to find my soulmate in my very first proper boyfriend, which meant that I could just happily coast along on a little love-cloud for the rest of my life and never have to worry about finding True Love again.

Looking back, I guess our relationship deteriorated in stages. After about six months together—and just as we were at the height of our honeymoon period, having spent the summer ingraining ourselves in each other’s lives and blowing off EVERYTHING in favor of spending every night just watching TV together, so strong was our mutual infatuation—Luke went away for college. He came home virtually every weekend to see me, but the two-hour distance drove me crazy because I couldn’t drive and the train was expensive. I hated the thought of him living a “grown-up” college life surrounded by sorority girls while I was stuck in the 11th grade.

Then, that winter, I got pregnant. I was confident in my decision to get an abortion, and Luke totally supported me through the experience, but it was undeniably hard on both of us—we were scared and sad and it tripped me into a period of depression, which was hard for him to handle. And while I had a support network of family and friends I could talk to, he didn’t tell anyone, which meant he was struggling with his own feelings pretty much alone, while trying to take care of me. I took breaks from wallowing in my own misery to try to tend to him as best I could, but unlike me, when he was upset he had a tendency to withdraw from those around him.

We started fighting more and more, and being less and less honest with each other about how we were feeling. We still spent almost every night on the couch together in front of the TV, but instead of the cuddles and cooing, it was mostly me crying and him trying (and failing) to figure out how to make me feel better. It stayed like this for TWO YEARS. I think we were both too scared and/or too passive to cut ourselves loose from what had become quite a sad, dark relationship. I don’t know if it was because I had spent three formative years of my life with him and most of my important recent experiences were tied up in that relationship, or if I felt I owed it to my 16-year-old self to make good on all that true-love-forever stuff I had been so sure about at the beginning, but breaking up with Luke just wasn’t a conceivable alternative until the very last hours of our relationship. To admit failure, to me, would mean having to reshape my entire life plan and admit that I had been WRONG about everything.

We finally broke up in January 2010, just after Christmas break. I hadn’t seen him since before I went to France to visit my family for the holidays, and the final straw came when he told me he had to go back to school early instead of coming to see me for the first time in two weeks. All day, we exchanged angry texts, which led to an extremely long, shouty, sobbing phone call where we simultaneously decided that we just couldn’t do this anymore.

I didn’t see him and barely talked to him until four months later, when he came by on his Easter break to pick up a bunch of shit he’d left under my bed. By that time, I was pretty much over the breakup, but it was still hella emotional: I cried a lot watching him gather up the dregs of our life together and cart them off once and for all.

Finding myself all alone after three years of coupledom was a gut-punch shock to my system. Breaking up with your first love is pretty much the worst, because the pain of the loss is probably equal to the intensity of the joy you felt at the beginning of the relationship. It hurts like a bitch, but if I survived to write this article, you are definitely going to survive too. There are no rules about how long it should take to heal (I know people who took years to get over their first loves, while the wounds of this particular breakup of mine were scabbed over within a few weeks), but rest assured that you WILL, SOMEHOW, eventually get over it. There’s something particularly intense about breakups of long-term relationships in your late teens, maybe because you go through so many changes over that period of time. A lot of my friends whose first loves came during high school tell me theirs felt just as life-or-death as mine and Luke’s—including my buddies Imani and Gabriel, who helped me come up with some guidelines to getting you through your first cataclysmic breakup.


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  • ungrula December 26th, 2013 8:34 PM

    Oh my gosh everything like this I read on here makes me wish I had known all these terribly wise things before getting myself into (and out of) a relationship a year ago that was a really bad idea. Basically I was lonely and a sweet, older guy (I was a freshman, he was a senior) was interested in me. So I pursued it and quickly found out he was awkward and made me uncomfortable. I ended it via letter asap, which ended up right before Valentine’s Day. Not my first relationship, but the first I ended, and I was depressive at the least afterwards for a few months until finally I started talking to a psychiatrist (I think? Some sort of mental health professional with the title “Dr.”)
    I just wish now I’d had someone to advise me other than the school counselor (she did an excellent job, but I missed class too much)
    Ok there life story done
    tl;dr keep posting advice stuff like this y’all rock

  • Pandabun1 December 26th, 2013 11:26 PM

    I needed this…. thank you

  • lastmay December 26th, 2013 11:32 PM

    This is a great article, I’m still not over a really bad breakup that happened a year ago. Esme, you mentioned your pregnancy/abortion during your relationship, and it’s something that occasionally I get really scared of but it’s still in that “that can’t ever happen to ME” realm. I’ve never spoken to or heard anyone’s story about a teen abortion but I would really like to. Do you think you’ll ever maybe write an article on it and publish it? I know it’s a very personal topic. Thank you for the fantastic writing!

    • Johann7 December 27th, 2013 8:50 PM

      My friend Natalia is one of the 2013 exhale Pro Voice fellows and has been spending the year going to various speaking events talking about her experience ending a pregnancy as a teenager. She was also previously a guest for an MTV special about women who had abortions as teens, and the exhale tour this past year is the subject of an upcoming documentary as well (slated for a 2015 release). I strongly suggest checking out exhale’s website if you’re interested in women talking about their experiences with abortion: They have stories from women from many different backgrounds and political ideologies – it’s a really interesting project.

      • lastmay January 2nd, 2014 3:26 AM

        I’ll check it out, thank you so much! xx

  • sophiebops December 27th, 2013 12:03 AM

    Cool now I’m crying! You really have no idea how much I needed to hear this though, thank you.

  • julalondon December 27th, 2013 12:13 AM

    This is a very good and helpful article. It’s true that the break-up with your first Love is the worst. I broke up with my then-boyfriend a bit over a year ago and sometimes I still miss him…

  • December 27th, 2013 2:24 AM

    I’m going through my first real big breakup right now and may god bless your soul thank you so much I don’t think you realize how much this helps me this is all I honestly needed right now I can not thank you enough

  • thisisaflag December 27th, 2013 2:59 AM

    I have never needed a Rookie article so badly, and this came at just the right time. I am trying so hard to be brave but my heart is so broken it physically hurts. My situation is too messy for most of this to apply but I just need some wisdom. Thank you <3

  • noClearMind December 27th, 2013 9:44 AM

    I broke up with my first boyfriend in February. We were together 3 years. He went to college 300km from our hometown. We managed to keep in touch and have a quite normal relationship for first year. I don’t think distance was the problem. I felt like he loved me less. He didn’t call as often as he used to and lost interest in my life. He was jealous and adored me but something changed. By the end of the year my grandmother had some serious health problems and died after weeks of pain. It was the hardest time in my life and he wasn’t there for me. I didn’t called him and he didn’t even text me to find out what was wrong. He thought I didn’t call him on purpose. I decided to break up with him. I think I did it to show him that he hurt me and it’s his fault that we don’t get on well. We kind of got back together later. But I didn’t consider it as a relationship. I wanted him to know that I need more attention and more talking to each other. He just avoided serious talks. He still does. A month ago his best friend tried to convince me to get back to him. But he acts weird. Like he was scared that I could reject him. Now he is home for xmas. He just texts me about stupid things and checks if I don’t want to talk about us. I am quite miserable. I thought he would call and meet me. I tried to get over him but it comes back constantly.

    uh, I guess I don’t want to bother my friends so I wrote it all here. Just want you to know that this article was published in a right time. Thank you.

  • moonsicle December 27th, 2013 11:24 AM

    Just gonna hop on that train and say thank you for posting this right when I needed it.. Its hard not to fall back into old habits when you’re home for the holidays

    “The pain of the loss is probably equal to the intensity of the joy”
    ^^^chillz man

    Is the title a Magnetic Fields reference?

  • speakthroughvision December 27th, 2013 12:33 PM

    Your story sounds all too much like mine. I’m 15 and hes 18 and we’ve been together for 3 months. Next year hes off to college while I’m stuck in 11th. I’v sort of accepted that one day I will break up (It will be my first) and that we won’t stay together forever, but when we do, I’ll turn to my bookmarks and find this. :) I’m really happy with everything right now though though last night I was crying because I saw Blue is The Warmest Color. I was sort of imagining what it would be like to go through that pain in advance through the movie.
    Stopping myself, I realized I should just be happy for what I have now and save the pain for later.
    On Christmas day, he told me he loved me for the first time and I said I do too even though I’v known it for much longer.

  • thekatleesi December 27th, 2013 2:01 PM

    I know nobody wants to read these long comments but I just want to share this since it seems to be slightly relevant. So it has been almost nine months since my first love broke up with me, and it still hurts an awful lot. We were together for roughly three years, same as yours. She’s 16, I’m 18. I’m still stuck on the grieving part, I can’t seem to get out. I’ve pretty much done everything to forget- but I really seem to be having a hard time doing so. I’m getting over her, but in a really slow pace. What’s helping me heal my broken heart are articles like these that enlighten and boost my spirits up. I’m so glad to have stumbled upon this.

    in a nutshell, all I want to say is thank you for writing this. I’m so thankful for rookie and its wonderful array of helpful and kick-ass writers and contributors.

    thank you.

  • lexilikes December 27th, 2013 3:41 PM

    I used a similar method of writing everything I wanted to say to a guy I was trying to get over on a note on my phone. It was really long and I was goddamn proud of it by the end. But the beauty of this method, is that when you are ready to delete that note, or burn that letter, you know you are free and you finally have closure. <3

  • mikaelathegreat December 27th, 2013 3:59 PM

    I love this article. I broke up with my bf this morning. We’ve been together for over a year and i love him but he wasn’t treating me the way I needed to be treated. He treated me like a doormat. He basically was selfish and I realized that he was treating me like shit. I still love him. Omg .its hard. I didn’t want this but I know I needed to be treated with respect. This is really hard but i guess I have to keep my head up. I just love him so much. I guess it takes time to start my life without him.

  • miamia January 5th, 2014 1:37 AM

    I got dumped by my first serious relationship a little over 2 months ago. My problem is I can’t get him out of my head because I see him everyday at school. I also see him flirting with the girl who hurt me the most while we were friends. Seeing them together makes me so sad. I don’t have any friends in my school I can hang out with. Only friends I talk to in class. I’m so lonely. While he’s having so much fun I’m feeling so abandoned and hurt. I feel so ugly compared to that girl i hate that he’s talking to. I still love him. We tried to be friends the first month after our break up but it wasn’t working out. The next month he completely ignored me even when I tried talking to him. But 2 weeks ago we talked and now we are quite casual, like friendly acquaintances, but I can’t move on from him. I just don’t think I’m pretty or thin enough like the girls he talks to now. They’re all so different than me but he seems so much happier with them. The thought of him kissing or even having sex with another girl makes me want to throw up. Any help please? Im begging you

    • Berries January 29th, 2014 7:07 AM

      Hey Miamia,

      What worked for me was as much distance as possible. Although that meant that I avoided him for about a year, a year and a half. It worked. I needed quite some time to get over him.

      I know how it feels when other girls are prettier and thinner, but I also know that everyone has their awesome qualities. I know it sounds easy but in the end comparing yourself to others in this respect won’t do any good. I still compare myself fysically to other girls, though, but I try to let it go as much as possible. I also admire myself in the mirror from time to time, and think about which body parts I like (for me, it’s my broad shoulders, hands and belly) and how glad I am that my body works properly.

      My advice to you is to treat yourself well – think about what you need/want and do that. It is also a good idea to continue with your regular things -school, work, exercise, etc.

  • badger January 7th, 2014 1:01 AM

    Man, this is good. As someone who only recently came out of that bone-crushing first-heartbreak place (later than most – I’m 22), I found myself nodding in agreement through pretty much this whole thing. Reassuring to know that the worst is over, breakup-wise. And the notion that you can and will be as happy again as you once were with that other person, because that happiness came from YOU – damn. I never would have thought to put it that way, and I wish someone had been able to convey that to me when I was in the worst of it, because it’s totally true. Thanks for writing this and for existing.

  • lelelikeukulele January 16th, 2014 12:44 PM

    Ah man. I wish I had had this article a couple years ago (!!!) when I got dumped by my long-distance boyfriend during freshman year of college. It was that really dramatic kind of first love, and the relationship is still like kind of a cool story to tell, but DAMN that was a hard break up. Totally one-sided, and I did a lot of stupid things afterwards like going through with an already booked flight to see him a week after the breakup (which entailed staying at his college in the middle of nowhere for a week where I knew no one except for him), writing a super long letter and sending it to him a month after (why why why did I send that), giving him back his sweatshirt (i still regret that to this day, that was a damn nice sweatshirt), and a large amount of social media blockage. BUT. Even though it took months and maybe even almost a year, I got through it. And that’s mega important to remember that you will, too. And whatever stupid thing you did after the breakup, I guarantee you at least one of your friends has done something stupider.

  • kellbell January 26th, 2014 12:26 AM

    I was just dumped 2 days ago, and it was totally unexpected and I was completely blindsided and confused and hurt. It’s my first real breakup. Reading this helped me realize that everything I’m feeling is completely normal, and that eventually the emotional and physical pain will end. Thank you Rookie :)