For Valentine’s Day, we’re celebrating the breakups that shaped us, in all their messy glory. Because love is just as much about heartbreak as it is about romance. Read all the stories from our Love Bites series here.
Breakups can mean more than just pain, heartbreak, and a bunch of ill-advised 2-AM-texts. In the best case scenario, they offer the chance for a total do-over—an opportunity to lean into the anguish, learn from it, and emerge a better person at the other end.
A glow-up doesn't just mean looking or dressing better (although both of those may help if you're planning to tactically run into your ex while looking like a million bucks, in which case, please refer to our photo essay on revenge dresses). In some cases, the glow-up is internal as well as external; it's a change in outlook as much as it is a change in appearance. And unlike a new outfit or a drastic hair dye job, these glow-ups tend to stick around.
For our Love Bites coverage this Valentine's Day, we asked some people who were recently and not-so-recently heartbroken to share their pre- and post-glow-up stories with us. If you've just split up with your partner, we hope you take some inspiration (and comfort) from their words.
Rosamund, 19, writer
What was your old relationship like? Why did it end?
My relationship was one I was in when I was 16 or 17. It was a first ever relationship sort of thing, it was very sweet—most of the time—and very naive and just fun. A classic adolescent summer relationship. We broke up because we ended up just growing apart and I didn’t really feel like it was where I wanted to be. I also realised that I wanted to be with women, so that was it.
Did you consciously decide to glow up or was it more a natural byproduct of the breakup?
I think I made a very conscious decision that I wanted to change a lot about myself, and change the way that I operated in my friendships and my relationships. A lot of our friendships were with the same people, but my life had started changing. I joined a few feminist groups in London and I’d encountered people with similar politics to me for the first time and had similar world views. I really wanted to work on those friendships and welcome those new relationships because they validated me and who I was. I was also seeing a really great therapist and I made a really conscious effort to talk with her about the kind of relationships that I wanted in the future and looking at how I wanted to change, and what I wanted my boundaries to look like.
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And I cut my hair. I used to have really long hair down to my shoulders and I was done. I started dating someone else a few months after and I was ready for the chop. In retrospect, it was probably a bit of a crap haircut but it made me feel really great at the time, and that’s what mattered.
How would you describe how you've changed since the breakup? I’ve changed to the point where I almost feel unrecognisable. Like if I looked back at myself three years ago, I’d be like, “Wow, you’re such a baby. You think you’re so old.” I think I’m more sensible now in a lot of ways—I did a lot of stupid stuff that I wouldn’t do any more. I think I’m much more in touch with myself, much more comfortable in myself than I’ve ever been.
I’m much happier—like a thousand times happier—and I think I’m more conscious of the type of relationships that I want to have in the future. I actually read Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin after my breakup and that was a really formative thing for me. I’d never seen somebody write about queer love before. It was just so passionate and so honest, and not for the consumption of straight people. It really changed my perspective on how I wanted to be in a relationships.
What does it feel like to think back on the relationship?
I look back with a lot of happiness in my heart. It was a sweet relationship, but it took me a while to get to a point where I felt I could think about it like that. I was angry for a while at how things ended and that was partly with myself. I didn't make an effort to have a firm close; I sort of just walked away. But I’ve made my peace with that.
Nadine, 30, DJ
Talk us through the relationship that ended. What happened?
I was 18, he was 12 years older than me, and it was a whole mess of cheating and emotional and physical abuse that ended because he left me for someone else.
How would you describe your glow-up?
It looked like I had glowed up to everyone else around me because I looked cute and was doing cute things. But internally, I didn't glow up until about five years ago where I made the decision to start working on accepting myself.
How did you grow from the breakup?
I know my worth now, even though it took me a long time to get there. Because of that, I don't let anyone treat me even a fraction of how he treated me. I grew to love all the parts of myself I used to hate, like being brown and queer, as well as believing that I do deserve good things. Which is so cool because back then I thought I didn't deserve anything.
How do you feel looking back on the relationship now?
Looking back now is complicated because thinking about what I went through can be upsetting and I hate that it's normalised for womxn to go through some form of abuse in romantic relationships. At the same time, I have accepted that it was part of my journey and that experience taught me a lot about myself. It can also be quite funny looking back at how much I idolized him—whereas he was then, now and always will be quite pathetic.
Flo, 26, illustrator and writer
Tell me a little bit about the relationship that ended. Why did you guys break up?
We were together for three and a half years and we lived together for 18 months. We were very happy, monogamous, and most of it was brilliant. I think we broke up because… It sounds like a cliche, but because we took each other for granted. We didn’t make an effort anymore. For me, I really thought it was going to be forever. I was single for four years before I got with my ex, and I really thought that to be happy I needed to find someone to have babies with before I was 25, so I could be married at 30. That was a kind of “life plan” and I think when I found her I thought that was going to be it. I relaxed and probably didn’t make an effort. I think that she was unhappy and broke up with me, probably for many many reasons, some to do with me, some not my fault at all.
How would you describe your glow-up?
I think my glow-up is that I’m just more fun. The huge difference I noticed when I was with my ex—and this isn’t her fault—was that for three and a half years, every decision I made I thought, “How does this affect her?” I noticed instantly like in the week after [our breakup], I had this weight lifted off me where I was like, “Oh my god I can do whatever I want. I can stay out and get drunk until 5 AM and not tell anyone where I am and that’s fine, or I can stay in and be a loner and not go to the party,” and both options are fine and they only affect me.
I’m also bisexual and I hadn’t slept with a man, obviously, for the whole of mine and my ex’s relationship. I have just discovered sleeping with men again and I love it! Turns out men have learnt a lot in three and a half years and I am really enjoying feeling so actively desired again. I feel really sexually attractive and I just love the attention… and the boners.
How would you describe how you've changed since the breakup? How did you grow from it?
I think I’ve become less mature. I think I was really in the phase of my life where I was like, “I am an adult now, and I am ready to have a baby and a full time job and settle down,” “I get up at the same time every day and I do exercise,” and all of that. Now I can make breakfast decisions that have a negative impact on my life because I don’t have any dependants!
How do you feel looking back on the relationship now?
I feel like I learned. I mean, it’s tempting to be like, If it had been a year shorter would that have been a better thing because I would be having this fun for longer. But actually, I learned so much about myself and about relationships in those three and a half years. Seeing that and knowing that’s not exactly what I want, I wouldn’t change anything about it. Also, we had the best time for most of it. I think I needed those three and a half years of security to have the confidence that I have now.
Georgie, 28, restaurant marketer
What was your past relationship like and why did you guys split?
I was with him for four years—we lived together for one. The majority of the relationship was good, but then possibly drawn out for the last 12 months. In the end, he couldn’t handle my depression and which is why we ended it.
Did your glow-up happen naturally or did you make a conscious decision to go for it?
I think it happened naturally. As the relationship really deteriorated, I went into therapy and I’ve been told that I have to think about what I want more than anything else. That means getting myself to the gym, worrying about what I want to eat, not worrying about what we’re going to eat, and those sorts of things. I’ve ended up losing a stone in the last couple of months, cut off all my terrible hair extensions, and I got a puppy. I just sort of brought myself back to feeling like me.
How have you changed since the breakup?
Well, it’s only been a few weeks but I am growing from it, definitely. I now know where I’ve been going wrong so I can learn from the mistake of choosing who I choose to spend my time with [laughs] and not letting myself become someone else because that’s what they want, rather than what I want.
How do you feel looking back on it?
I don’t regret anything. I don’t think you should regret. As long as we learn from it, then everything can be turned into a positive.
Mercedes, 18, music student
What was the relationship like and why did you end up splitting?
It’s probably maybe my first serious proper relationship. We went on holiday together, then he moved in with me, and basically after about six months I asked him if I was his girlfriend and how serious we were. Two weeks later, he just broke up with me. He didn’t really see a future [together], unfortunately.
Did your glow-up happen naturally or did you actively decide to pursue one?
I think it happened naturally. I think my glow-up is the way I act now, because I took a lot from him and that relationship, like how to talk to people and how to control my emotions. I’m quite an emotional person—I can burst out sometimes and it gets really bad. But he taught me how to remove myself from the situation and just take deep breaths. Although I knew all the basics, he kind of solidified them for me.
Since breaking up I’ve really thrown myself into my music and college work. It was just kind of a hobby and a side thing before. Now that’s all I want to do and that’s all I spend my time trying to do. After our breakup I wrote a really good song, so I was really happy. But yeah, it definitely has pushed me to do more music stuff.
How have you changed since the breakup? Did you grow from it?
I can’t lie, I think I dress a bit better. I’m definitely more responsible than I was before. I eat better, I’m healthier, and I’m not stuck inside as much. That can happen a lot of the time when you meet someone that you like—you just want to stay indoors and can’t be bothered to go anywhere. We were like that at the beginning but I started getting sick of that but he didn’t. That’s when I think I realized that it just wasn’t really a perfect match.
How do you feel looking back on it now?
At first I was really confused. I didn’t understand how he could do everything for me, say lots of stuff, make lots of grand gestures, and then in the end not like me enough. But now I understand that he felt bad that we got in a relationship really quickly and it was unexpected. But I know that he is a good person and I know he was just trying not to hurt my feelings by dragging it out so much… To be honest I think I’m just a better person now because I’m stronger and I’m more careful about who I give my feelings to.