We’ve all been there. You’ve met a guy – whether through endless hours of swiping left until you found the perfect cutie to go to drinks with, or the boy next door that you’ve finally decided to give a chance – and it’s going well. Until it isn’t. As my mom likes to say, every relationship will only end one of two ways: you get married or you break up. And you’re not walking down the aisle.
So, here we are a la Elle Woods after Warner breaks up with her to go to law school in Legally Blonde: laying in bed, eating chocolate and wondering if the love of our life just managed to slip away. But breaking up doesn’t have to be this way! Here are some phases to help you move through the breakup process and come out on the other side feeling more confident than before.
(Disclaimer: all the following steps are based off my personal experiences with breakups and aren’t definitive, comprehensive, or chronological — if they were, I would be a millionaire by now. So, it’s okay to feel yourself cycling through these phases at your own pace or to even skip some of them entirely – only you know what’s best for you. But I hope these can help if you’re feeling a bit stuck).
So, let’s begin, shall we?
Let yourself feel everything…
No matter how long you knew the person you were seeing, it hurts to let people go or to be let go of. It’s perfectly normal to feel sad about losing someone, and it’s necessary to let yourself feel those feelings. We don’t always like sitting with our uncomfortable feelings, but trust me, it’s better to get them out in the beginning of the mourning process. You don’t want to still be hung up over someone years later because you didn’t let yourself feel sad at first.
So, this is where you put on the comfy pajamas, grab several boxes of tissues, scoop some ice cream, and put on the nearest rom-com to help you get out all the sadness. It’s okay to ugly cry about someone that’s not in your life anymore, even if you didn’t know them that long. Time is a commodity we don’t get back, and you invested time and emotional real-estate into this person. So, let it out. Eat that ice cream. Let yourself mourn for what could have been: the things you miss about that person, or the future that you don’t get to have anymore.
You might also feel angry right about now. Every breakup is different, but especially when a relationship has ended in hurt or betrayal, being angry towards the other person is totally normal, and even healthy. Anger is another one of those ugly emotions that feels uncomfortable to sit with, but trust me, if you don’t work through the anger at the beginning, it will come back for you at some point. Let it out; no feeling is too ugly right now.
When I broke up with my last boyfriend, I was convinced he was going to ask me to marry him, even though we had been dating for a relatively short period of time. So, when we broke up, I cried for weeks. I felt betrayed and lied to and like my whole world was falling apart. I also felt like an idiot because we hadn’t been dating for that long and I had let myself get so invested.
“Now, I obviously didn’t get over all my sadness in that first night – I spent weeks cycling through my hurt, sadness, anger, and loneliness.”
I still remember the night we broke up: I cried so hard I couldn’t say anything. I sobbed my way through 3 boxes of tissues that night. Now, I obviously didn’t get over all my sadness in that first night – I spent weeks cycling through my hurt, sadness, anger, and loneliness. And though I felt silly for needing so much space at the time, I’m glad I gave myself that space to feel everything, because then it freed up all that emotional energy for moving on.
Sometimes you can’t schedule when your emotions will show up, and you’ll find yourself remembering the relationship weeks or even months later. One of the most helpful things you can do when inconvenient feelings come up is to be patient with yourself. Give yourself space to feel all your emotions, accept them, and then breathe them out. Remind yourself that feelings – while painful, uncomfortable, and overwhelming – are not permanent.
Being angry and sad is not your new normal, so go ahead and let it out; no feeling lasts forever.
Now, this phase might seem counterintuitive to the previous one, but we all need distractions. You can’t be actively working through your emotions or your circumstances all the time – you would wear yourself out really quickly. You don’t want to add burnout to your already exhausting list of emotions, so find some ways to distract yourself occasionally. Remember the things that you enjoy doing by yourself: lose yourself in a good book, watch a new binge-able series on Netflix, discover some new hiking trails. It’s okay to remember all the ways that you can enjoy life without this relationship.
I used to feel like I wasn’t honoring the relationship I had if I wasn’t sad about it all the time, but being sad all the time is just miserable. Just because you’re not sad all the time doesn’t mean that relationship wasn’t important, it just means that you’re able to set boundaries with yourself and not increase your chances of becoming depressed. Sometimes our emotions are too overwhelming to work through all at once, so we need to take it in small doses. Small doses can give you much needed time and relaxation to begin to refocus on yourself and not get stuck in an endless cycle of sadness.
I learned how to crochet when I was getting over my last breakup. I loved being able to lose myself in something intricate that occupied not just my thoughts, but also my hands, and I loved that there was a tangible product at the end. I told myself that I would make a blanket (I would not recommend this for beginning crocheters), and while it took me countless hours of counting stitches, taking out messed up rows, and several trips to the yarn store, it also got me through a lot of dark moments where my feelings threatened to overwhelm me. And while it isn’t even, the stitches are all different sizes, and I still haven’t woven all the ends in almost 2 years later, I still haven’t gotten rid of it.
It’s a reminder that I can get through hard things and make something out of them.
Spend time with friends…
When you’re feeling overwhelmed by a breakup, it’s easy to want to stay inside by yourself until you feel better. But, I don’t know about you, but being alone when I’m feeling down generally makes me feel worse. Maybe that’s because I’m an extrovert, but I think that all of us need some extra support sometimes, especially when we’re going through a rough time. Seeing friends can not only provide a distraction, but good friends can also give you perspective. They can help you see the things that maybe you couldn’t see when you were in the relationship, or they can remind you of all the things they love about you.
Friends can reflect a different reality back to us – the reality where we are unconditionally loved and supported, no matter how our romantic relationships are going. So let yourself get some love from your friends. Invite them in to your feelings and let them sit with you, comfort you, distract you, and remind you that you are completely lovable, just for being yourself.
I don’t know how I would have made it through my last breakup without my best friend. Luckily, we were living together at the time, so she was the one handing me tissues on that first long and tear-filled night. She was the one who went to the store the next day and bought 4 different flavors of dairy-free ice cream so we could binge watch Call the Midwife and not have to worry about intestinal distress in addition to the emotional distress. And she was the one who reminded me that this relationship didn’t define me – I defined myself, and she would always love me, no matter what.
Don’t forget about your friends, the good ones will be there to sit with you through it all.
Take some time to reflect…
Once you’ve cycled through all your feelings and have cleared some space inside yourself, really reflect on that relationship and what you learned. This is a valuable time to learn more about what you want and need. You are a unique person whose relationships aren’t going to look the same as the ones you might see on your Insta page.
“My identity hinged on being datable enough or good enough for that person…”
I used to see breakups as proof of how lovable I was. My identity hinged on being datable enough or good enough for that person: if a relationship ended with my getting married, then I was good enough, and if we broke up, then I was damaged goods and not worth anyone’s time. But I’ve found that dating shouldn’t be a litmus test of my worthiness – it should be about discovering someone to love well and to be loved by.
So, what did you learn about that relationship? Did you learn more about what you’re looking for in a partner? Maybe your core values crystallized into tangible qualities you want in a partner, or you learned that you really want something different than you thought you did. Maybe you saw some behaviors and attitudes in yourself that weren’t so great – we all have them – and with a little bit of space, can now see the direction you want to grow in.
Just because a relationship is over, doesn’t mean that you are unlovable. Reflecting on the relationship in a genuinely curious way is one of the best ways to move on from a breakup. Investigating the things you learned and the things you want to grow from is one of the most freeing ways to turn an indictment of identity into a path towards freedom.
When my last boyfriend and I broke up, I thought we would get back together once I got my shit together. I wanted to make things work – I was scared that I had just messed up the best thing that had ever happened to me. Luckily, he knew what he wanted, and it wasn’t me. Even though I had started closing the door, he was more than happy to continue pushing it shut. And thank goodness.
It wasn’t for weeks that I could admit what my best friend had been telling me for months – we weren’t happy together. I didn’t know how to communicate without feeling shame about how I saw the world, and conflict resolution looked an awful lot like me changing who I was to please him. And at first, I saw this as a flaw in myself. I saw this as something irreparable that communicated I wasn’t worthy to have a relationship.
I’m not gonna lie, it took a long time after that breakup to realize that my worth didn’t depend on this one boy loving me, but instead on how much I loved myself. This breakup was a perfect opportunity to see my own bad habits: my tendencies to give away my self-worth to the people I was with, to undermine myself to please others, and to down play my own needs and desires as silly and selfish.
. . . .
Friends, you are good enough, even if you’re going through a breakup. One of the toughest lessons I’ve learned through ended relationships is that they are opportunities to learn more about myself: about what I want and what I need in a relationship, and where my value comes from. Breakups are painful, and inconvenient, and no fun, but they can also be stepping stones towards the future where you unapologetically know who you are. And once you know who you are, you are free.
How have you dealt with breakups? What was the most valuable lesson you’ve learned from a breakup? We’d love to hear from you.
Rebecca is the second oldest of 6 daughters and loves all her sisters, even though she is mildly competitive as a result. She loves reading, writing, stepping on crunchy leaves, and literally any kind of gummy candy. And just to make sure she doesn’t sound too perfect, she’s slowly learning how to be compassionate and patient with herself.
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