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.

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.

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20 Comments

  • 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: exhaleprovoice.org. 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

    http://www.lexilikes.com/

  • 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 :)