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.

Easier said than done, I know. “You just have to constantly remind yourself that calling them will not make you feel better, and that your loyalties to each other have changed,” says Imani. “Hooking up with them or talking to them or even hanging out with them again will be really tempting, but none of these things is likely to make you feel better in the end.” In the wake of her breakup with MY BROTHER FOR GODSAKE, Imani wrote a lot of letters to him that she didn’t send. This is a good technique! Her letters were “full of the stuff I wanted to say. Instead of sending them, I ripped them up and threw them into the sea or out the window. One time I threw them out my dorm-room window when it was snowing, and when the snow melted you could see millions of tiny pieces of paper (and my UNDYING LOVE) strewn across the roof of my dorm. Oh, dear.”

Gabriel has an opposing (and ~CONTROVERSIAL~) view: “On the other hand, one way not to be toxic and fucked up after a breakup is to get it out of your system, via breakup sex or the occasional ‘Why don’t you love meeee?’ banshee phone call,” he says. Although this wasn’t and isn’t my personal approach, I see the logic in it: Keeping your distance is one way to heal yourself, but if you have demons that need to be exorcised, exorcise ’em, already! Sometimes, Gabriel says, “a descent into dysfunction will decide the situation one way or the other: You’ll either get back together or get over each other.”

However, it’s very possible that neither of these things will happen, and that you will instead dig yourself deeper into the heartbreak. Several months after our breakup, when Luke and I had both started dating other people, I ran into him at a few parties, and there were a couple of instances when I came very close to dipping a toe back into the pond, so to speak. Thankfully, nothing ever came of these moments of ill-considered flirtation, and each time it happened I wanted to smack myself the next morning for even considering it. I was still drawn to him like a steel to a magnet, but in the light of day I realized that hooking up again would have reignited a whole heap of emotions that I had just managed to get under control. If that’s true for you, says Gabriel, “you should probably take a more spartan approach and ban yourself from contacting your ex—which may mean dropping your iPhone down the toilet on purpose, like I did!”

4. Once you’ve wallowed for a bit, start scheming.

Grieving properly is the first stage of getting through a breakup, but it’s only a stage—a step on your way to “over it.” You can’t spend your life there. Once you’ve cried a river of tears and eaten your weight in ice cream, it’s time to think about what to do next.

After lying around in bed for about three weeks post-breakup, I started to get antsy. I decided that it was time to do something with my life—or at least get out of the house. I can’t overstate how TERRIFYING this was, nor how totally MYSTIFIED I was about how to rebuild my life without the guy I had considered “my other half.” I had spent three years neglecting all my friends (not OK, by the way) and was very daunted by the prospect of throwing myself back into my old social circles. But it was what I needed to get better on my own.

It’s like jumping off a high dive: It’s terrifying to make the jump, but once you’re swimming, you can’t imagine what you were so afraid of. I knew if I just kept my head down and didn’t hang around on the end of the diving board, squirming and whining about how scared I was, I’d soon be swimming too. So get yourself back out into the world: Spend more time with your friends, do something you’ve always wanted to do, and face the future head-on.

Gabriel’s recovery tools were “rom-coms, white wine, Christmas films even though it was the middle of summer, cheese boards, desserts, and taking quick nervous trips out of the house where my hands shivered and it felt like I’d never seen sunlight before. Once that’s all out of the way, the best recovery method is to do something totally rad. Start a cool project you’ve been wanting to do for ages but couldn’t because your ex was always around. Take a trip somewhere—and maybe never come back. Use your sadness and grief as a catalyst to propel you into a future of your own design.”

“Yeah,” says Imani, “definitely get out of the house and stay busy. It’s scary, but you have to try and find a future happiness, one that’s not based on romantic love.”

5. Don’t forget: This will not last forever.

This might be the most important tip in this breakup rundown. It comes from a piece of advice my father gave me when I was about 14, long before my breakup with Luke. I was crying about being scorned by my Big Crush at the time (who, btw, I got over in about three days) while my dad was walking me to school, and he just looked at me and said, “I can say nothing to help you other than: This too shall pass.” I now apply this wisdom to most of the problems in my life, but it has never helped more than when I was dealing with my breakup. It taught me that although it’s painful and pain blows, it will NOT LAST FOREVER. Most adult humans have had their hearts broken at least once, and in general these people have gone on to lead happy lives and experience an unpredictable number of great loves after losing their first one.

Here’s Imani again: “Your first heartbreak is basically the most intensely sad and hopeless state it’s possible to be in. You will be irrational and delusional, you will bore yourself, you will bore everyone else. You will be selfish and ridiculous. Don’t try to ‘get over it’—get INTO it, and you might just learn to accept it.”

And here’s Gabriel: “Heartbreak seems to give you stamina and help you discover personal strength that you might not have noticed before. The best thing about it is that it makes you face with your own dysfunctions and work your way through them. Because—huge cliché but its TRUE—the most important relationship you’ll ever have is one with yourself.”

So, oh heartbroken one, while you may be going through the worst pain in the world, you can definitely recover, and probably even grow stronger and better for it. Have courage—we’re right here with 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 :)