This is the sixth rewrite of a myTake from a few years ago. I have a fresh perspective on this particular subject because I have been contemplating breaking up with my current girlfriend. I know it is the right thing to do but my heart simply does not want to let go of her. “I love her” always sounds like a lame excuse when somebody else says that is why they are still in a bad relationship, but . . . she is not a bad person and it is not a bad relationship; she just isn’t what I need and our relationship is very unbalanced. And I really, really, really hate breaking up. It sucks!
I know how bad break ups can be.
If my girlfriend and I had dated two or three times, it would not be a big deal, but this has been a serious relationship. We have spent almost every weekend together for the past 18 months. I thought that she was my future. I thought that the search was over . . . but it’s not. So, I know how traumatic a break up can be and, obviously, I am not looking forward to this.
Some people never get over a heartbreak and they join the merchant marine or the French Foreign Legion and nobody ever sees them again. They end up living alone in a house filled with 87 cats, and the local news has a video report on the 11 o'clock news.
Don’t worry; that won’t be me and it doesn't need to be you, either. If you don't want to turn into some tragically hip story about somebody who never got over being rejected, here is some advice on how to survive a breakup and start moving forward with your life.
1. Think about why your relationship didn't work. I'm not talking about what led up to the breakup. I'm telling you to think about why you two did not work as a couple. The answer is almost always the same: you did not meet each other's needs in a mutually satisfying way. This doesn't mean that somebody screwed up; it just means that you weren't right for her, or she wasn't right for you, or both.
You might be right for 10% of the opposite sex, but if your partner is in the other 90%, it doesn't matter how hard you try; you just aren't The One for her. Why would you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody knowing that you are not the right one for her? Wouldn't that be the really horrible tragedy? Just as important: why would you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody who isn't right for you?
Almost every breakup involves contributions or fault by both parties. If she cheated on you, that means you selected a partner who was not suited for a monogamous relationship. If he was an alcoholic or drug addict, that didn’t just HAPPEN to you; that's who YOU chose to be your partner. When all of the warning signs were there, you chose to ignore them.
Of course you are angry at your ex and, under these circumstances, feeling sorry for yourself can feel mighty good! But . . . if you don’t take any responsibility for your contribution to why it didn’t work, you won’t learn anything from the experience, and that makes it an even bigger tragedy. If you learn your lessons, you can use the breakup to make yourself a better person.
2. Don't romanticize this breakup in your head. Don't turn it into something even bigger than it already is. You are not the first person on the planet who ever fell in love "this deeply." Everybody falls in love "this deeply." You are not the first guy to catch your girl in bed with another guy.
Yes, it sucks, it's awful, it's horribly unfair, this isn't SUPPOSED to happen. But . . . this has happened to other people and they survived. They have some scars from the experience, but they survived. You will, too!
3. You don't "get over" an ex. You move on with your life. Some of these feelings will be with you for a long time, but the edges on the exposed nerves won't always be so sensitive. Don't expect to find peace and tranquility anytime soon, especially if this was your first love. I am 60 years old and I still have some feelings about the girl who rejected me in high school. Yes, I do! Things will fade . . . slowly . . . and one day, you'll realize that it doesn't feel like there's a huge hole in your torso.
So . . . don't sit around waiting to feel better. There is no healing power in eating tomato soup and bologna sandwiches, drinking cheap liquor, and watching reruns of the Andy Griffith Show. Get out and do something and you will feel better. It doesn't need to be a social activity. Get out and wash your car. Go to the gym, go for a jog. Go to the mall and look for someone who looks even more miserable than you. Or watch the kids playing in the mall play area.
4. You don't need to forget your ex. Idiots with good intentions will tell you that "you need to forget" your ex. They are idiots, of course, and they are wrong. (When they give you that advice and stand there with a look on their face like they just solved all of your problems, ask them how you can erase the memories in your head.)
You can't simply forget about people and there are many parts of the relationship that you SHOULD remember. There are nice parts that you want to remember; if they were a complete jerk, why were you dating them and why are you having a hard time getting over them? Plus, if you forget the bad parts, you will tend to make the same mistakes repeatedly, right? So, it is okay to hold on to your memories; that is not the same thing as trying to hold on to the person. Got it? Hold on to some of the memories, let go of the person.
5. There is no "normal" amount of time necessary to recover from having your heart ripped out.
Don't set a time line for how soon you should be in recovery. How long it takes depends on you, the relationship, the reasons for the breakup, and some other variables. Rushing your recovery may be as detrimental as taking an abnormally long time.
6. What you really miss is the good times. When you tell yourself how much you miss him or her, what you really mean is that you miss the good times that you had together. What you really want is to have your fantasy of the way you wish the relationship had been. You don't really miss all of the arguments and fights, the nights that you were alone, wondering if he was with someone else.
It is normal to miss the relationship. You had lots of good times and now you are sitting at home alone on a Saturday night, thinking that Saturday nights used to be fun. Remember that missing all of the good parts, the companionship, the affection, the sharing . . . that doesn't mean that you are still in love with your partner. Loneliness is not a reason to try to return to a failed relationship. Don’t allow yourself to remember the good parts without reminding yourself of the bad parts. Turn to your friends for some activities to keep yourself busy and to avoid that awful empty feeling.
7. What made the "magic" in the relationship?
You don’t want to hear this but . . . there is someone else out there who is capable of making you happy. Really! Your ex really wasn't a magician.
Think about why you were able to have those good times with your ex. Was it because they had a special talent? The place where they lived? Things they know? Common interests? Their education and goals? Her cute little foreign accent? It wasn't really "magic," it was something that you should be able to identify. What was it?
Ask yourself whether there are other people in the world (the world, not just the people you already know) who could possibly have the necessary ingredients for you to find the "magic" with someone else. Is it possible that anyone else in the world could fulfill that niche and help you find good times again? Yes, you can find another girlfriend from the Ukraine and she will probably have that same cute little accent that drives you crazy. You can find another guy who likes rodeos. There are other girls who also have a degree in psychology.
You don't want to accept the idea that anyone else could ever make you happy, but it can happen, and if you allow it to happen, it will.
8. Protect yourself. If things turn too bleak for you, promise yourself and one other trusted friend or family member the following: if you feel yourself succumbing to depression and you start considering life-ending alternatives, you will alert your friend or family member and follow their recommendation on what action you should take. There is a crisis center or suicide prevention hotline almost everywhere in the US. You do not need to be alone in your crisis!
9. Don't forget the bad stuff. Remind yourself why you or your partner broke up the relationship and the various ways in which your partner mistreated you and otherwise acted like a selfish idiot.
Make a list and read it once or twice a day. When you get tired of reading the list, you're making progress.
10. Go total no contact. You want to see your ex again. You drive by her house, hoping that maybe she just arrived home and you'll see her getting out of her car, or maybe she will be sitting on her front porch. Maybe you hang out way too much at the coffee shop she frequents or the grocery store where she shops. You're smiling because you know exactly what I'm talking about.
What is your fantasy? She will look up and see you, your eyes will meet, she will feel the electricity in the moment, and she will run into your waiting arms. Wake up, dude, you're dreaming!
While she’s breaking up with you . . . you are rehearsing the speech about how you two started as friends and you don’t want to lose a friend and a girlfriend at the same time. “If I just maintain some contact and show her what a nice guy I am,” you think to yourself, “she’ll realize what a horrible mistake this is and she’ll come running back to me.” Dude! She won’t!
Girl, you think he's going to forget about that 18 year old blonde cheerleader-type he's been banging almost 24/7 since one month before your breakup? When he forgets her, he'll move on to the next flavor-of-the-month, not you. That's what cheaters do.
If you did get back together, you would have the same problems that you had previously and it would come to an end once again, but much sooner this time, for the same reasons. If you think something like, "Oh, we're different from other couples and I would work so hard that it couldn't fail," well, then . . . join the club. That's what everyone thinks when they reconcile a failed relationship and the result is almost always the same. Yes, you are different, but you aren’t THAT much different! Don’t drag this out and make it last even longer! Any attempt at reconciling will just prolong the breakup and all the awful feelings. Are you enjoying all of this pain?
The shortest distance between you and a future is going no contact. Really, what are you going to do when you hear that she is going out with the guy who you thought was your friend? Why torture yourself?
11. Your duty of loyalty has ended. Quite frequently, family and friends will think they are doing you a favor by openly bashing the selfish idiot that just stomped on your heart. That is understandable. But there is also an urge to defend the person that we chose, even though the relationship is over. And, if we haven't yet accepted that it's really over, we feel that instinct even stronger; it's similar to a mother defending an errant child.
Stop telling yourself that you need to make apologies for your ex. Start being honest with yourself about their shortcomings and stop defending them when others start the criticism. If you feel a need to defend your ex when you hear criticisms, tell others that their criticisms of that ignorant gutter slut are not helping you and ask them to please stop the talk about setting her on fire, at least in your presence.
12. Start dating as soon as you feel ready. What's the advice for what to do when you fall off a horse? Get right back on. As soon as you are ready, start dating. Tell yourself - repeatedly - that you have no expectations for the first date other than having fun. Don't wear your heart on your sleeve, don't tell your date about your awful breakup, but don't deceive them if any questions come up about your status, availability, etc.
When you have the first kiss with someone new, you will be amazed at how good it feels. Someone else finds you desirable! Don't make the mistake of having sex on the first date. Of course you are attracted to your date (I hope!), but wanting to prove that someone else desires you in that way is not a good reason for your date to have sex with you and you would be "using" your date. Be very mindful of your motivations with the new person and make sure that whatever you do is not motivated by a desire to address a question that is left over from your previous relationship.
These 12 points do not guarantee a speedy recovery but they should help to shorten the process for you. Good luck!