Ask Alle: Breaking up is hard to do

Alle Malice has a B.A. in Psychology, which is basically a degree in seeing through other people’s bullshit. She also has a B.A. in English, but that’s not really relevant. Though she does not pretend to have it all figured out, she does have enough figured out to be helpful.

Hi everyone! According my inbox, ’tis the season for MOTHERFUCKING BREAKUPS. I’ve got so, so, SO many messages over the last six weeks on the subject of messy breakups–and really, are there any other kind?–that I thought I’d kill twenty three birds with one stone and write up one great big giant answer. Get the popcorn, ladies and gentlemen, because here we go.

Here are things it is totally okay to feel:

  • Relieved
  • Sad
  • Pissed off
  • Betrayed
  • Lost
  • Excited
  • Anxious
  • Lonely
  • Confused
  • Nothing at all
  • Any combination of the above

There is no right or wrong way to feel after a breakup, and whatever you’re feeling does NOT make you a bad person. Emotions in general don’t make you a better/worse individual than someone else, emotions being transient states and not ways of being or destinations. Don’t tell yourself to feel any other way than you do, even if you think it’s silly. Emotions may be silly, but they can still suck.

Good! Except at least one of those feelings is probably terrible. Yikes. You need First Aid. Call a friend, preferably the kind of friend who’ll come to your house with a big bottle of red wine, some cheese and two Joseph Gordon Levitt movies, or whatever your favourite things in life are. Talk about what’s happened. Get drunk and expansive. Laugh and cry your head off. Talk about how you’re better off without him or her. Make jokes at their expense (just this once). Find the sorest center of the bruise and poke it a little. Cry and laugh some more. Then drink a lot of water and pass out in your own bed because water and sleep are both good.

Now let’s talk about getting through the days and weeks following. I’ve found that the hardest thing about breaking up with a significant other is that you have to change your habits. Which is hard and it feels bad! But you really have to do it. For example, maybe you used to call your ex when you’d get out of work. And now you look at your phone and feel sad because, hello, you can’t do that anymore. So difficult! I’m afraid there are no shortcuts here. The only way to break old habits is to establish new ones, and that takes time. To use the previous example, instead of calling your ex, decide that every day,you’re going to call someone different and touch base. If you used to go to brunch on Saturday morning with your lover, decide to learn to make perfect pancakes at home instead. Change your habits. Do not find excuses to continue them.

NOOOOOOOOOOOO!

The big question is, how much contact should you have with your ex immediately after a split? My answer is NONE. Racing into being friends immediately after a relationship is a recipe for tears! You gotta cut the cord and go cold turkey. This doesn’t have to be permanent, but for at least six weeks there should be no calling, no texting, no emailing, no showing up at the other person’s house, no meeting at bars, nothing. Block them on facebook and twitter and whatever other social networks you’re on so as to prevent late night overanalysing. You need this time to collect yourselves and heal. It also helps provide perspective on where things went wrong, and figuring that stuff out is super important. So resist the urge to call them, especially when you’re drunk and feel like you absolutely MUST tell them what a dicksack they were to you. Don’t answer their texts. Change their name in your phone to “DICKSACK, DO NOT CALL OR ANSWER” if you need a reminder (and we all need a reminder sometimes).

(The exceptions to the No Contact rule are for financial and legal affairs, custody arrangements and real estate…stuff. These things need to be sorted out as quickly as possible, as they are integral parts of your lives that get exponentially more complicated the longer you leave them. If you need to close a joint account, close it NOW. If you need to move, do it as quickly as you can. And if you feel threatened or coerced in any way, document EVERYTHING and get the police involved. Okay? Okay.)

Here is thing about going forward: It’s going to be hard. You are going to want to call your support system every time you see something that reminds you of your ex, and that’s fine…for a while. You have four weeks to heavily lean on your friends and get teary over men wearing green t-shirts, all women with glasses or fluffy clouds that look like your lost love. After that, you gotta ease up. It’s okay to require a lot of attention for a little while, because we’ve all had broken hearts so we all know what it’s like. But there’s a difference between feeling the pain and deliberately inflicting it on yourself by wallowing. Every day will get a little bit better. You may not notice it because it happens in such small increments, but it does happen and you will get there eventually. Hold on tight to that thought.

I mentioned wallowing. You can do this for a while (3 to 4 weeks is the maximum), but anything after that is a no-no. You have to choose to feel better, but if you’re engaging with your ex in drama then you’re choosing to feel worse. Don’t do this! Think of recovering from a breakup as climbing a mountain. Occasionally you’re going to encounter obstacles, and while you can’t stop rocks from tumbling down at you, you can control how you react. The magic word here (with exes, not rocks) is IGNORE. Mature Alle says that this ensures you’re not participating in childish baloney and sends a clear message. Immature Alle says that ignoring people drives them crazier than anything you could ever say or do. Just passing along information.

The next thing to think about is getting rid of stuff, and for this you need two boxes. The first is for all the things that belong to your ex, because you will be giving this back to them (as opposed to setting it on fire, because one must respect personal property). The second is for everything that reminds you of your ex, and you will be sealing this up and getting it the hell OUT of your house. Give it to your best friend, a family member, a storage facility, whatever. Out of sight, out of mind. You won’t feel better if you’re staring at a framed photo of the two of you in happier times, or a giant stuffed unicorn he won you, or wearing the bathrobe she gave you for your birthday. Eventually, these things will just be things again, rather than physical reminders of your broken heart.

Keep treating yourself well through this shitty time. I’m not going to suggest you go to the gym if you’re sobbing your eyes out, and if you need a pizza night, order away. But sitting around eating icecream isn’t going to make you feel any better in the long run, emotionally or physically. Eat the foods your body needs, which are by and large HEALTHY ones. Move a little each day. You’re establishing new habits, remember? Make sure they’re good ones.

Everyone knows that relationships take work. Do you also know that NOT being in a relationship takes work? Because it totally does, and here is when you have to do the heavy lifting. Think, really think, about the relationship that just ended. As yourself questions like this:

  • If I could go back in time, what would I do differently?
  • What can I take responsibility for here?
  • What can I improve in myself?
  • What traits in my ex did I love, and which were bad news?
  • Does this relationship fit a “pattern” in my life?
  • What am I looking for in a relationship next time?
  • What red flags have I learned to avoid?

Write the answers down if you need to. There will be a test (not really, unless you consider life a test? I guess it is sometimes).

Many people will tell you to keep busy after a breakup. While that’s important, it’s also important to spend time on your own. You need to learn to love alone time. Not to get too bleak on you, but the human condition is essentially being alone. We can be around other people, but we’re essentially hermetically sealed fleshbags. Get used to being on your own, because you are going to be your own company for a long time. Live it, love it.

Finally, the most pertinent advice I can give is that time heals all wounds. There are no shortcuts, only little tricks to make it suck a bit less while you wait it out. It will get better. And then, once the stuff is exchanged and you can think about them without making a face, you’re faced with the void of single life. Trust me when I say that being single can be scary, but it can also be really exciting. The possibilities are endless! Choose to be happy!

Oh, and also: Rebounds. When done properly, they are gifts from the gods. Just don’t go nuts and jump straight into another relationship.

What about you, lovely readers? Have I missed anything? What’s your best breakup advice?

10 thoughts on “Ask Alle: Breaking up is hard to do

  1. I feel proud for having been able to end an almost 8yo relationship holding on to my pride/self-worth. I crushed completely. Could not stop crying for 3 days, which made me seek a psychologist.

    1. I concentrated on reminding me to stop thinking about him every time I noticed I was
    2. I focused on taking it one day at a time. “the day is almost over, I will make it. Oh, I did it!”
    3. Rationalized that I was worth a lot and didn’t deserved to be hurt. Therefore, I should not accept any comiunication because that was defeating my pride
    4. Avoided romantic music and movies
    5. Get surrounded by people that care

    My breakup was extremely devastating, and I was initially the loser since he got a new gf right away while I was shit and he enjoyed making sure I knew. But the saying, “He who laughs last, laughs best” fits into my story. Took me 3yrs to heal but feel so proud for having had the bravery to defend my pride & determination of rejecting all his attempts to reach me. I know today his perfect woman turned into “the woman that breaks my balls” as he says.

    PS- the no contact rule includes not listening to his voicemails or reading texts

    1. Patty, I feel like a lot of people think of themselves as “the breakup losers” because their ex gets a new boyfriend or girlfriend quicker than they do. Well done for not feeding into that. Jumping into a new relationship right away, as you’ve observed, is bad bad bad. You need time to heal, and if it takes three years, it takes three years. Congratulations on getting through with your dignity intact, you’re a hell of a woman. xo

  2. Wow! It is the month of break-ups – I’ve just broken up (within the last 24 hours), but it wasn’t messy. Just a little sad, and very necessary. I’m still smiling.

    Alle! Your advice rocks. You rock. I love all of this. It’s so true. And although I think most people know most of this, it sure goes straight out the window the second you’re actually in that place, so it’s great to have it here, written down (with wit and humour).

    My piece of advice? If you’re feeling a bit wobbly, find the best hugger in your life (we all have one, whether it’s a friend or a sibling or an aunt or an over-friendly colleague, haha… okay, maybe not that one) and just request a good, amicable squeeze. It’s invigorating.

    Oh, and if you’re the kind of person who likes children/is around children, enjoy their smiles. They are magical.

    OH – and if you’re distressed but you ain’t crying, make yourself cry; (certain music does it for me). It’s a release. And it’s necessary.

    1. GIRL, you are right about the hugs. I don’t love physical contact, but when I’m upset nothing beats a hug from my friend Dan. Unfortunately when he’s not stationed in the Middle east he’s in North Carolina, but sometimes just thinking about his rib-crushing hugs can cheer me up.

  3. Appreciating the reminders — it’s been 5 weeks, the stuff was just exchanged. It’s over, over, now.

    Feeling needy and allowing myself to feel needy was the hardest.

    1. The entire process is hard, isn’t it? Letting yourself feel needy, then letting yourself STOP being needy, letting yourself be sad, letting yourself stop being sad…it seems like such an uphill battle. But healing up scars and being able to move on is so worth it. One day at a time. xo

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