In the immediate aftermath of my breakup conversation with Luke, I felt not sadness but overwhelming CONFUSION: What the fuck am I supposed to do now? I wondered. So, for anyone who’s recently gone through their first breakup, here’s what the fuck you’re supposed to do now:
1. Feel the pain, and do what you gotta do to get through it.
My friend Imani had a three-year relationship that started when she was 16—incidentally with MY YOUNGER BROTHER. She wasn’t shocked when he broke up with her, she says, but it still hurt. “I had known for a while that he wasn’t in love with me anymore, so it wasn’t out of the blue.” And when it happened, she says, “I thought I was pretty OK. Until the morning after, when I woke up and realized that I didn’t have a boyfriend anymore. Then I had a very long shower and shouted and cried.”
Breakups hurt really bad, especially first ones, and your life is going to suck for a while after yours. But I find that trying to bury your dark emotions only makes them grow bigger, stronger, and more terrifying for their inevitable comeback, when they will basically DEVOUR YOU LIKE THE BLOB. To avoid such a fate, right after a breakup, take a tip from Imani and allow yourself to feel the full force of the change—don’t hide from it or distract yourself from it just yet. The pain won’t last forever, but it might last longer if you keep trying to put it off. Instead, indulge in your sadness and mourn your breakup properly: Turn off your phone, cry under the covers, watch movies with your mom and let her stroke your hair, eat cookies, write angry poems to your ex (DO NOT SEND), whatever.
My buddy Gabriel’s first love also started when he was 16. Two years later, he was dumped. “Breaking up with Louis felt like being sick in the heart,” he remembers. “And for about two years my whole body ached with the weight of losing him, when I let it. This sounds cheesy, but the only thing that truly helped was getting older—but for dealing with anguish in the short term, I’m a fan of hot baths. Like, so hot you have to inch your body into and out of them. Something about the steam and the heat condenses all my messy feelings into linear thought and makes them easier to deal with.”
2. Don’t torture yourself with mind tricks.
Something I’m not exactly proud of is the way I yelled, “I WISH I’D NEVER EVEN MET YOU!” into the phone the night Luke and I broke up. As soon as we hung up, I was filled with regret-feels: It seemed like the entire relationship had been nothing but a waste of three years of everybody’s lives, and I told myself that I would have been better off not bothering from the start. This, I think, was a trick played on me by my grieving, newly single mind. Of course it hadn’t been for nothing, because the conclusion of a relationship doesn’t erase all the wonderful, meaningful, worthwhile parts of the relationship itself. Even though I felt horrible at the time, I came to realize that I would definitely not have been better off never having known Luke. The relationship caused both of us a lot of grief, but when it was good I was happier than I had ever been in my life, and he showed me what it was to truly love someone and be loved by them in return. Relationships are important for lots of reasons, but a big one is that they teach you about yourself and your reactions to those around you. As Imani says, “All relationships are worthwhile if you learned stuff about another person and—more important—about yourself. Your current sadness isn’t meaningless, but neither was the relationship. Most of all, though, your happiness was YOURS, so you’ll find it again within yourself. And anyway, if all else fails, at least you have all them sweet ass-memories of the good times you had together.”
3. Avoid abusing your ex—or contacting them at all!
After we broke up, I changed Luke’s name in my phone to DO NOT CONTACT and wrote myself a note that said “DO NOT CALL LUKE UNDER ANY CIRUCMSTANCES, DUMMY” and made that the phone’s background. These were precautionary measures, because I knew I would WANT to call him, partly out of a desperate need to tell him how sad I was, and partly out of anger at him for getting me into this boring mess in the first place. But I also knew that I SHOULDN’T call him, because this was something I was going to have to figure out on my own. It’s tricky to go through a hard time because of the person you’re used to leaning on during hard times—my instinct was to call Luke and tell him how sad I was, but to preserve my sanity and to be a decent human being, I had to make a clean break and stop relying on him to make me feel better. I resolved to stay away until I was sure I could talk to him without a hidden personal agenda. In the meantime, my basic rule was that every time I felt like contacting him, I didn’t.
A clean break also allows you and your ex some breathing room so you can think things through clearly, without either of you confusing the other with all yr feeeeelingz. So, no matter what, DO NOT CALL THEM to cry about how badly they’ve hurt you, because even if they broke your heart, it probably wasn’t easy for them and they probably don’t deserve to be guilt-tripped, and also, they are not the one who’s gonna help you right now. Your friends are gonna help you. You are gonna help you. If things get hard to bear, a counselor of some sort is hopefully gonna help you.