Welcome to Megan Barton-Hanson’s new VICE UK column, covering all things to do with sex, relationships and self-love during one of the strangest eras of the 21st century. Read the previous column here.
Break-ups can be horrible. And I’ve been there a couple times now.
When you hit your late-twenties, I’ve found there is some external pressure from traditional society - like there must be something wrong with you for being single. In the past, I’ve had trolls message me, taunting me by saying ‘you can’t even hold down a relationship, no wonder so-and-so left you,’ but I’ve always believed that being in a toxic relationship is worse than being on your own.
When I was a bit younger, I often found myself thinking about my past relationships, wondering if I put in enough effort or tried my hardest to make it work. Perhaps it is an age thing – I’m 27 now – but I now know I’ve definitely ignored red flags when I’ve been determined to make a relationship work.
Being on reality TV, I’ve found there is so much scrutiny and judgement from the public about your love life. There’s a degree of investment in all public relationships, especially with celebrity couples, but if you’ve been on Made In Chelsea or TOWIE or Love Island there’s this added element of doubt regarding your intentions. Some will say the relationship is forced or fake, and a way to build your profile and be more famous.
As a result of this pressure, I’ve definitely let relationships carry on longer than I would have if I wasn’t in the public eye. My relationship with my ex from Love Island for example – I truly did love him, and it was such an intense relationship given the way we met. But I did ignore certain red flags in terms of our compatibility because I truly wanted it to work. That was probably one of the hardest break-ups of my life because the pressure was so high and everyone seemed to have an opinion.
Even with recent relationships, I’ve found myself continuing to argue on things we're never going to agree on. Some people are just not compatible and it doesn’t mean you don’t like or care for the person. The longer you spend in a relationship that simply isn’t right for you, the more time you're wasting - instead you should be healing, working on yourself, and meeting someone who’s actually right for you.
Obviously that can be hard to believe when you’re a tub of ice cream deep on the sofa crying to Jeff Buckley, but in the long run that’s way less exhausting than breaking up and getting back together, and breaking up and getting back together, and breaking up and....
STEP ONE: MAKE A SOCIAL MEDIA GAME PLAN
You know that meme where it’s a woman on a chat show and she’s like ‘BLOCK, BLOCK, BLOCK’ – that’s literally me. It sounds like a lot, but for me it helps to remove all good memories from my phone. I’d suggest blocking them on everything, or even going to the extent of deleting photos from your cameral roll – back them up somewhere else, but get them out of immediate view.
Also try not to stalk them on social media. Obviously it’s tempting to have a little snoop, but I think you need to be strict. They're either going to be acting up and posting pictures to make out that they're the happiest person in the world, or they’ll be going on dates. You won’t find anything you want to see there!
STEP TWO: GIVE YOURSELF TWO WEEKS TO MOVE MAD
I like to give myself a little window – maybe the first two weeks, when it’s raw – to be a bit messy. Go out with friends, blow off some steam, have a little cry, watch back-to-back episodes of The Real Housewives of New York. Just allow yourself to wallow for a little bit if you want to.
If you don’t give yourself time to feel shit about things, it’ll only catch up with you much later on. So allow yourself that time to sit with how you’re feeling and do whatever you need. Let yourself have a minute, then reign it in - it is not good for your mental health to not move on.
STEP THREE: START TO MAKE SOME CHANGES
Changing up your environment is a really great way to reset and get rid of old memories. I like to move my house around. Whilst me and my ex from a while ago were on and off, they would come round and be like ‘oh this has moved’ since last time. It became an ongoing joke where whenever they came back to mine all the furniture had changed.
If you had a cute little snuggle spot on the sofa, buy some new cushions or re-arrange the room. Get rid of sentimental things. You don’t have to set fire to any of it or anything, just put it in a box under the bed to look back on in a few years. The key is just to get it out of the way for now so you can be at home without it feeling like a trip to the museum of past relationships!
STEP FOUR: LEARN HOW TO DO THINGS ON YOUR OWN
My biggest fear about not being in a relationship is that I'll miss out on things, like going for nice dinners or going on holiday. Before going on Love Island, I broke up with a guy I was supposed to go travelling with after he cheated on me. Out of sheer stubbornness, I went anyway. I didn’t go all around Italy like we’d planned, but I did go to Spain for a week by myself.
When you go away with someone else you always have to factor them into your decision making and often you have to compromise. I was surprised how much I enjoyed this opportunity to be selfish and do exactly what I wanted to do. There was no ‘do you want to go to this restaurant or that restaurant’, I just did exactly what I wanted: went exploring, went to the beach, took myself out for food. It can feel intimidating doing things alone, especially as a woman! But if you were a man sitting in a restaurant and smoking a cigarette with your sunglasses on nobody would say shit. That’s the energy you need to bring. Obviously you don’t need to get on a plane to do this, either. Try going out for brunch or a nice breakfast by yourself. Take yourself out for dates!
It is hard to take that first step – especially after a break-up when you’re feeling vulnerable, or maybe you suffer from anxiety like I do – but you don't grow as a person unless you push yourself out of your comfort zone. It might be daunting, and you might be sitting there visibly sweating while trying to order a wine and some chips, but once you get used to it you’ll have so much more confidence. It’s all about teaching yourself that you can enjoy your own company, then you won’t feel like you need a relationship.
This can be so freeing and can actually help you into a new relationship with a better headspace. You shouldn’t need to be with someone, you should want to be. These are two very different things.
STEP FIVE: FILL YOUR DIARY, NOT THE VOID
It’s human nature to reflect on things, but don’t give yourself too much time to look back - this could make you prone to over-analysing, which is never useful. After a break-up I try to say yes to everything my friends ask me to do. I feel like the main thing I tend to miss about relationships isn’t the person themselves, it’s the human connection and companionship. It’s waking up to a text from someone asking how you are – all that communication and the feeling that someone cares about you and wants to know about your life. But that’s what friends and family can provide as well.
I think it’s why people, myself included, end up going back to exes. It’s so easy to slip into feeling like no one cares about you, or that you had a bad day, but they do. You have friends and family and other people who love and care about you, so don’t settle or jump back into dating just to get that feeling. Don’t go looking for someone to fill the void. Fill your diary instead.
STEP SIX: GETTING BACK INTO DATING
There’s no set amount of time for how long it takes to get over someone. With some relationships you could be deeper in love and with others, things might be a lot easier. Sometimes it can take months, sometimes you’re over it in a few days, and sometimes there’ll be stuff you never really let go of at all.
I think there's a pressure to be savage with your feelings, like, ‘right, that's done, moving on’, especially if your ex seems to be moving on, but don’t rush yourself. Deep down they might still be thinking about you and it's just a facade they’re putting out there, which is often the case with social media.
Some people enjoy hitting the dating apps immediately and having a few casual flings – nothing wrong with that! But I’d recommend not actively looking for anything serious until you’re fully healed. When you’re in a better, clearer headspace and realise that you’re not thinking about your ex on a weekly or daily basis, that’s probably a good indicator that you’re ready to start moving on.
STEP SEVEN: WRITE A MESSAGE TO THEM AND NEVER SEND IT
Sometimes a relationship can end and you feel like you've got so much to say to the person, in which case it helps to type out a text or an email with everything you want to say to them. Don’t send it, but do keep it on your phone. That way you’ve always got it to hand, so when you've had a few glasses of wine or a few months have passed and you’re with your friends and you're feeling lonely and tempted to text the ex, you can look back on that message and remember all the reasons why you broke up.
It’s easy to glamorise a relationship and remember all the good parts, especially in moments of weakness when you’re feeling a bit lonely or horny! I’m good mates with most exes now, and it turns out that I really romanticised the relationships after the breakup. It's good to keep these reminders from when you were really pissed off and hurting so you have something to look back on before making that 11PM booty call and ending up back at square one!