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. ♦