“It is possible…to want to love someone so much that you just don’t even see anything.” This quote, from the 1986 movie Heartburn, is written in my notes app in a document titled “Recently.” It’s filled with quotes and observations following a breakup I went through in the first week of August. Scrolling through it now, I catch glimpses of what it felt like to be that sad.
The breakup happened very quickly. I had been seeing this guy for almost five months and even though the relationship was never totally stable, I wanted to be in love so badly that I tried, against better judgment, to squeeze out love like toothpaste. After returning home from a two-week trip, he told me that the time away made him realize how much he missed me. The following week was one of the best weeks of our entire relationship. It felt, for the first time in four months, like love was on the horizon; I was close enough to know it was beginning, but too far away to see it fully. One evening, things felt off. We went for a walk and he wouldn’t hold my hand. We went back to his place and he could barely look at me. I sat on his bed and he started cleaning his room. When I asked him what was wrong, he put the pair of socks in his hand down, sat next to me, and said that he had fallen in love with someone else. It was a girl he had spent time with on his trip. I don’t remember much of what I said in response, but I do remember melodramatically quoting, word for word, the rose-colored-glasses line from Bojack Horseman.
I woke up the next morning and threw up. When I went to work, I cried in every corner of my store. I didn’t eat for almost a full day. I was both deeply saddened and in awe of how physically my body reacted. This wasn’t my first heartbreak, but it was the first time I realized that being open to love wasn’t enough, that love didn’t want to be squeezed, that it could only live in an environment where both people wanted it to grow.
Breakups are tough at any age, but they seem especially tough when you’re young. Part of this comes from the fact that they have the tendency to destabilize what you think to be true. Yesterday, you were this kind of person dating that kind of person. Today, you’re existing in a strange limbo. How much of who you were with them continues to exist after the relationship is over? Relationships have this weird melding effect where they fuse seasons, smells, music, and even outfits, until it seems like there was, for a period of time, a very specific, aestheticized version of you. When the romance is over, the part of you that wore those outfits, listened to those songs, and thought those things is also gone, too.
If you are going through a breakup: I’m sorry. These are tough times. One of the strangest things about breakups is that they reveal both the fragility and resiliency of the human spirit. Yes, time heals all wounds, but until then, here are some tips- chosen with love- to help you get through the first month of heartbreak.
Let this be a public pain.
One of the observations I have written down in my document is that I “told people about my breakup like it was my birthday.” Heartbreak doesn’t have to be a private pain. And actually, I think it’s one of the most public pains in existence. The very nature of it begs to be seen. I’m not saying you need to stare longingly out the window on public transit and cry, but do your best to acknowledge the fact that most people 1) have already gone through what you’re going through and 2) have valuable insights to share. One of the best things I did for myself, after the initial shock of the breakup, was messaging friends that I was hurting and needed help. People will take care of you if you let them. Coworkers, acquaintances, and my friends’ parents all had incredibly poignant advice about love and heartbreak. A couple weeks ago, one of my friends going through a breakup said she received so much support and attention that it felt like it was her birthday. There is something universally accepted about a broken heart. And since heartbreak is a strange combination of being both a universal and unusual experience, let your friends and family come to your side. Besides, who knows how many heartbreaks you’re going to have in your life? This is something that is special. This is something that doesn’t have to be done alone.
Create your own space.
This is one of the most commonly ignored pieces of breakup advice. Yes, it’s tough to cut off communication with someone you talked to every day, but trust me, it’s so necessary. A common self-care phrase is “to do whatever makes you happy.” But sometimes, doing what’s best for you and doing what will make you happy are not the same thing at all. Your friends and family can only have your back so much; you have to have your own back, too. This means making choices that in the moment may be painful, but the future-version of you will be so grateful for. This is not a debate about whether exes can be friends; this is about giving yourself space to heal away from the person who caused you pain. As soon as the breakup happened, I unfollowed, blocked, and unfriended him within the first couple of days. This was an action that made me feel like I had power and agency. Breakups- especially when they’re not entirely mutual- can leave you with a sense of powerlessness. Realizing that I had an opportunity to exercise choice, have preferences, and filter my spaces (even online ones) with content that I wanted to see, helped me get through the first couple of weeks when I was at my most vulnerable. Resist the urge to call or text your ex. It seems like SUCH a good idea, until they’ve either not responded or, responded in a less-than-ideal way and you feel worse than before. Tip: whenever you get the urge to text them, type out whatever you want to say and then send it to a friend- that way you’re still expressing your feelings with the added bonus of not facing any consequences. Be aware of where they spend their time. If you have mutual friends or live in a small city, chances are there are going to be inevitable run-ins- and that’s OK! But if you can, do your best to avoid purposefully running into them, they deserve to have space, too!
Going back to the idea that doing what makes you happy ≠ what’s best for you, it’s important to set boundaries for yourself. Asides from the aforementioned act of creating space away from your ex, it’s also a good idea to avoid drinking, drugs, and hookups for however long you feel necessary. A week after the breakup happened, I thought that I was over the whole thing and went out with a group of friends to a house show. I had some ~alcohol~ and sure enough, went home sobbing at 2 AM to call my best friend and let her know that I was, in fact, not over the whole thing. Every time I went out after that, I severely limited my intake of alcohol. Boundary-setting involves being aware of your feelings and current state of mind. Check in with yourself; if you’re having a bad day, drinking or smoking weed can exacerbate the negative feelings. In the same vein, hookups may seem like a good idea, but unless you’re confident that you’re going to feel OK when you’re back at your place- alone- it may be better to steer clear of them.
When people talk about breakups, they talk about how they’re an opportunity to treat yourself with love and compassion. While this is absolutely true, healing a broken heart also means having discipline and self-control. Look out for yourself! Be strict with the things that you want to do, but may not be the best for you. Discipline is rarely seen as a self-care quality, but it is, in my opinion, one of the most valuable traits to have- especially during periods of instability.
Find content that makes you feel understood.
This isn’t as much of a tip as it is a truth; we are naturally drawn towards art that reflects back to us the very ~essence~ of what we feel. We discover people, songs, movies, and phrases that verbalize what we can’t explain, that rally for ideas that we believe in, that stand with us in solidarity. In a lot of ways, this is one of the most exciting parts of a breakup; the opportunity to connect with content you never could before. Breakups are a time to exercise creativity and to write/paint/sing about whatever you feel, regardless of the ‘quality’ of the outcome. But they’re also a time to become a fan. I found myself mixing mediums until I had, for lack of a better metaphor, a collage of everything that made me feel understood. From essays to playlists, to videos, to interviews with Jenny Slate, I was able to compile pieces of words and music, until I was excited to go through this, rather than around it.
A couple days after telling a friend about my breakup, the book, The Wisdom of a Broken Heart, was left in my mailbox. In one of the first chapters, Susan Piver suggests the reader ask themselves the question, “of the songwriters, painters, saints, and revolutionaries I know of, which ones experienced what I am experiencing now and returned to teach about it?” Discover the answer! Make your playlists! Watch your movies! Read your books! There is something almost divine about being so porous that sentences and songs can heal you.
Believe in love.
This is, once again, less of a tip than it is a declaration. The hard part of my breakup wasn’t the first couple of weeks, but rather, the month after when my emotions stabled and I felt disillusioned by love as a whole. Heartbreak- like falling in love- has such a vivid coloration that when it’s over, the lack of vibrancy can lead to dreariness. When I was at my most cynical, I started seeing a counselor. One of the things that she told me was that this feeling, just like the feeling of heartbreak, would be impermanent. Sure enough, after another couple of months, I felt better. Yes, grey-emotions are a part of the ~process~, but they don’t have to dictate your beliefs. You can pick yourself up! Love exists (warning: corniness) all around us! Look for it and you’ll see! Thomas Merton, a famous monk and activist, wrote that “love is not just something that happens to you: It is a certain special way of being alive.” Open yourself up to the idea that romantic love is not, as commonly thought, the most important. There are friends, family members, animals, books, songs, and sunsets to love, not as a way to pass the time until romance comes again, but because those things are fulfilling all on their own.
You’re going to be OK. I know; how can I know that!?!?! Well, I do, because time passes and things get a little bit easier, and then they get harder, and then they get easier, and this cycle continues for the rest of our lives. You can’t control what happens to you, but you can control your reaction to it. So make things a little easier for yourself: tell your friends that you need them, create your own space (away from your ex), set boundaries, find content you identify with, and, while doing all these things, keep believing in love. Show up every day. Be here to be here. ♦