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So you’ve been dumped. Fucking sucks, right? Chances are you’ve spent the last 400 hours or so crying, mainlining cheese, crying some more, and watching TED Talks called “How to Fix a Broken Heart” while texts from your friends saying they’ve “always known he was a wrong’un” roll in.
That’s what I’ve been doing, at any rate. A few weeks ago, my boyfriend of five years – the person I thought I wanted to marry – broke up with me. Mere hours after we had danced together to my Discover Weekly playlist and watched a meme compilation in bed, he told me he needed to be on his own to figure out his life. Did you know you could simultaneously choke on your own snot while hyperventilating? I didn’t! In the weeks since, I've had to figure out how to survive in an alien world where I'm not his girlfriend – I had absolutely no idea how to be me, minus him. But many, many others have also gone through this gut-wrenching period of mourning, grieving over a future they thought they and their partner shared. Eventually, we all start to move on and start living our new lives. I spoke to relationship experts and some of the formerly heartbroken to find out how best to get over a bad breakup.
It’s not me, it’s you. I just can’t do this anymore. I’m in love with someone else. All explanations and reasons that, at some point, you may have heard come out of their mouth.The important thing to know is whatever they’re saying right now – unless they’re a super-enlightened Esther Perel type – may not actually be the actual reason behind this dumping. They might just be figuring it out, like you are, and pressed the eject button before understanding that it isn’t your tendency to overload the dishwasher that’s driving him away – it’s actually their aversion to mess due to their chaotic upbringing. (Or something.)
Understanding the reasons behind a sudden breakup
Either way, your job is not to play counsellor. You can’t psychoanalyse your way out of a breakup if someone’s got their heart set on it. And while getting to grips with the reasons behind their decision may ultimately bring closure, the worst thing you can do is dwell on it too much. Right now, you’ve got to look after yourself.
“My breakup was a total surprise at the time, at least, to me it was. I had been with my boyfriend for years and I honestly thought he was the one I would stay with forever,” says Charlotte van Ginsbergen, a 36-year-old teacher from Antwerp, Belgium. “I felt like we were growing apart a little bit, but it didn't even cross my mind to break up. I thought it was a phase and we would be able to work on it.”“He told me [via Facebook Messenger] he had had the feeling for a while that 'we had been over' – he had cheated on me while abroad.”If you’re faced with the sudden demise of your relationship, be kind to yourself. It’s the oldest cliche in the book, but pain is natural. It might feel like you’ve swallowed a scorching ball of lava the second you wake up and remember what happened, but it’s part of the grieving process – you’re just mourning someone who’s still alive.“Embracing things that don’t make us feel good is hard,” says psychotherapist Laurie Singer. “But acceptance of the situation, and reminding ourselves that it’s ok to be sad, is a positive, first step towards healing.”
Coping with grief after an unexpected breakup
It’s a huge adjustment for a person to go from someone you talk to near-constantly – the one whose mind you can read just from spotting the twitch of an eyebrow across the room – to a complete stranger. You might feel the urge to send them a post you saw on Instagram that made you think of them, but don’t. “It’s proven that when a breakup occurs, there is activity in the basic brain region linked with addiction,” says Dr. Helen Fisher, biological anthropologist and chief scientific advisor for dating app Match.“A person who’s recovering from alcoholism wouldn’t keep a bottle of liquor on their desk. Get rid of the pictures, cards, and letters. Don’t write, don’t call, don’t show up, don’t inquire about their lives through mutual friends or social media. There’s somebody camping in your head, and you have to get them out.”
The importance of no contact after a breakup
Trashy online articles titled things like “How to Get Your Ex Back” usually tout the idea that a so-called “no-contact rule” of 30 days – at minimum – will make your ex realise their mistake and come rushing back to you, John Hughes movie-style, boombox in hand. This is a harsh truth, but they’re not coming back. Stop waiting. You’re more than a dog who lingers by a window for someone who decided to shove you out of their life. I know you still love them; love yourself more.
Accept and respect their decision
I see you scrolling through their tagged photo tab on Instagram! I see you trying to figure out who they’re with based on the reflection in their sunglasses!! I see you checking if they’re in the background of your mutual friends’ BeReal!!! Stop it.“I think the least helpful thing was not blocking him on Facebook,” says Sasha Main, a 22-year-old student from Wiltshire whose partner broke up with her suddenly three years ago. Trying to know what they’re up to is natural, of course, but it’s not going to make you feel good, regardless of what you find. Just listen to Sasha: “After we broke up,” she recalls, “he moved on very quickly and after we went into lockdown I was constantly checking his Facebook and really upsetting myself by looking at all of the pictures of him and his new girlfriend.”Jessica Alderson, a relationship expert and co-founder of dating app So Syncd, agrees. “Nothing good comes from stalking your ex’s social media. If you find yourself wanting to do this, think about what you want to know and whether it will make you happy. Besides, there’s very little you can tell from social media about how someone is truly feeling.
Why unfollowing your ex is a healthy step forward
Now is the time where you can be the most selfish person in the world. Do anything and everything you want to. Eat that stinky Roquefort your ex hated, get that nose piercing they said wouldn’t suit you. Spend hours learning to cook your favourite dessert. Memorise all the capital cities in the world. Fuck it, move to Berlin this weekend, just because you can. Exploring what makes you happy will fill that hole they left in your heart. You can make yourself just as happy – even more so – than they did.
Shifting focus to self-care and personal growth
“Least helpful [to getting over him were] too many 'what if' scenario's in my head,” says Charlotte. “I could think about those kind of things for hours and days, but these thoughts don't get you anywhere. They just made me blame myself or him for different things.”“Years and years I had this feeling in my stomach that he was the best match I would ever find. This really held me back. Because of that I also didn't really take the time to actually be angry at him and set boundaries in the relationship.”
Sure, everyone says you have to get under someone to get over someone, but does that necessarily hold up? Getting some hot, full-body attention from another warm body may help you feel those butterflies again, but don’t dive straight into someone else’s life to muffle the pain of the breakup. It’s not fair on either of you.“Rushing into another relationship should be avoided,” Singer advises. “It’s important to give ourselves the time to heal. It’s also a good time to ask ourselves if we want to be in a relationship or if we need to be in a relationship. They’re different.”
Prepare yourself to move on, too
I’m so sorry, but they’re going to sleep with other people now. They’re going to take them to that restaurant you used to go to, and kiss them on their temple like they used to with you. The pain of that fact will fade with time, but you need to be ready for it or it will snap you in half when it happens.“When you start to think of your ex with a new partner you may ask why they’ve chosen someone else, it’s easy to feel ‘less than’,” says Singer. “We need to remind ourselves that the relationship we had was unhealthy and we’re moving on and learning from the experience.”
Preparing for the reality of your ex moving on
“I do think that the way things were going was not the way to continue the relationship,” says Charlotte. “There was not enough communication between us and we were both prioritising work/studies too much at the time. We were each other’s first long, more adult relationship and we didn't really know how to work on a relationship. We had simply never done it. We were a great couple and very in love and each other’s best friends until we weren't and we didn't know how to fix it.”“I think in the end we both learned a lot from each other and our relationship. We kind of became adults together and lost each other in the growing pains of that process. But we did some more growing and now we are what we were when we first met: friends. And that feels good.”One day, maybe soon, maybe years from now, you’ll realise that the relationship wasn’t your whole world; it was just nice to share your world with that person for a little while. Until then, go out with your mates, cry as much as you need, and, of course, get yourself a sex toy.@thomsonjessicThis article was updated for clarity. It was originally published in October 2022.