Breaking up with someone, if you have any semblance of a soul, is not a pleasant experience. How do you do it? Do you really need to meet in a public place and look them in the eye when you break their heart? How honest do you need to be for them to get the idea that you never, ever want to sleep with them again? It's questions like these that making ghosting so tempting. But you don't need to go through this experience alone, you can take your problems to a professional.
Natalia Juarez is a former elementary school teacher turned certified dating coach. But in the last few years, she's seen the demand increase for helping people find their way out of love. As a professional breakup coach, she can help you firm up resolve to (gracefully) dump your partner—or she can help you work through a painful split. "I like helping people through the messy part," she says. "Healing, recovery, then getting back out there."
VICE: How'd you get into this?
Natalia Juarez: I had pretty tumultuous relationships in my 20s. They were amazing men, but we weren't good matches. Then when my engagement ended just before I turned 30, I got into therapy. I started reading every book I could. I was really concerned about my mate selection—am I addicted to drama? I didn't have it in me to do this again.
When I started this, a lot of my friends were getting married. In my family, there's not a lot of divorce. So I really felt like I didn't have anybody to help. Bit by bit, different resources have helped. I think attachment theory is incredible to help us understand why we love the people that we do. I really did this to help myself, then I started becoming a resource to my friends who were going through big breakups, they started referring me to their friends.
What I love now is, I get to be the kind of person I really wish I'd had in my life at the time. Someone who can validate my experience and be comfortable enough to witness my pain and not try to rush me for it. And to offer up these great resources. Because at the time, I really felt there was something wrong with me.
What do you need to do this job well?
Experience is my greatest asset—I've been cheated on, I've been in triangles, I think I went on 80 dates in those five years after my ended engagement. So experience. And [you need] compassion. Because it makes you more open-minded. Less judgmental. Unless you're in a complicated, messy situation you don't know who you will be.
Who are your typical clients?
It's 50/50 men and women. A lot of men in their 40s and 50s. Many have had a long relationship in their thirties and they're looking to end it and start again. Or post-divorce—that's a good chunk of my practice.
And then women in their 30s who had a vision of what their life should be like at 30 or 35. So this concept of starting over—which is what I did when I turned 30. Now I'm 35. They're also just clinging to this relationship because of how they thought their life should be. So for some of these women, in their mid to late 30's—especially if they want kids—the strategy becomes a lot more aggressive. For those people, it's a combination of going into recovery but actually implementing some dating strategies as well. Just to start meeting people—because it needs to be accelerated.
What percentage of clients are looking for an "exit plan"?
I help people through the beginning, middle, and end. When I got into it, I thought it was going to be mainly on the recovery end. But people were really debating whether to make a big change in their life. So that's become more of a focus. People will come to me and do a consultation, and I have a pretty great assessment tool where we just really lay it out. Every relationship has positive and negative aspects, it's not black and white. But we weigh it out against their personal values and vision for what they want. Then I leave that with them—and I either hear from them, or I don't. I would say in at least 70 percent of cases, it will play out into a breakup or divorce.
Is it better to be the dumper or dumpee?
It's so painful when you're trying to decide whether or not to leave. But I'm working with a handful of clients right now whose partners basically just left them. They just disappeared, really abruptly left. Those breakups tend to be more traumatic.
Are you seeing more ghosting ?
In dating, it's a thing. To a certain degree, it's kind of OK. If someone is not contacting you, they kind of want you to get the message. But in a relationship—I'm working with people who, from one day to the next, their life totally changed. And these are relationships that lasted from three to five years.
Why is breaking up so hard to do?
It can be so uncomfortable to hold someone else's pain and be responsible for it. It's like they've lost track of the fact that—if you let someone go, as painful as it is—if you let them go, they'll recover and meet someone else. It's like they're trying to protect themselves, but they're also holding back the other person. Once I'm able to help them wrap their head around that, they can move forward.
You mention a social media strategy on your website. What does that entail?
Social media is making the breakup experience more difficult. Before, when you broke up, you wouldn't have to see that person. Now, you can obsess—always checking people's accounts. Then they start creating stories around ' what does that mean.'
I'm working with someone pretty aggressively on the social media side. Because she's looking up her ex boyfriend on Instagram and she's able to see who he's liking, and who he's following. So she's obsessing; who is this person, how did he meet this person? She's also doing things like creating fake accounts—to get closer to him or keep an eye on him. Because she knows he's blocked her. Social media is making it easier to cheat. So it's making it easier to connect and disconnect from others.
What was your weirdest experience as a breakup coach?
I work with a lot of people who are going through infidelity. This man was having an affair, it had been going on for about a year. He was trying to decide if he should leave his wife to pursue a relationship with this other woman. We sat down and laid it all out. He came to realize that he didn't want to leave his wife. He was trading one set of challenges for another. So that was it. Then, a couple months later, he contacted me to ask if I could coach the woman who had been his mistress, because she was having a hard time with the breakup.
It was fascinating to me because I got to see the other side. He also had this investment—because his wife had found out, and they were rebuilding—he thought, if I don't get this other woman under control, she will start contacting me and stirring up things. I was able to work with her on that. A lot of it had to do with the rejection of it all. And just wanting to win. The one thing I was able to help her see that this actually wasn't what she wanted. He was a lot older, had kids. Once she was able to see it wasn't what she wanted, it was a lot easier to let go.
Also, there was another guy who I met in an Uber pool, who contacted me a few months later to ask me if I could help him cheat on his wife. I was like, no, that's not what I do.
Why aren't breakups are given the same weight as divorce?
Although breakups can more definitely be just as emotionally painful as a divorce, I believe they are not given the same gravity because of the legal, financial and social complexity of marriage. The fact that marriage has a sense of permanence and is often seen as the ultimate end goal of a relationship positions unmarried couples as "less committed," and thus less emotionally invested. Also, someone can literally walk away after a breakup without having to engage in a legal separation, a process that can get very messy and often take years. That said, it is important to note that the fact that someone can just walk away and abruptly "abandon" a relationship is one of the most common reasons many of my "breakup" clients feel devastated. Many of them had no idea their partner had been contemplating leaving them, and then bam, from one day to the next their life totally changed. Not having a transition period is traumatic in its own way.
I would also say that the length of time is another [factor that gives weight]. I worked with a client who had been with someone for a couple of months. They were surprised that it was discredited among their social circle because they were saying; 'oh you've only been dating for two months.' But there was something about that particular relationship that just brought up a lot. Length of time is irrelevant. There's no mathematical equation for heartache.
So, say I've just been dumped. What do I do?
Besides seeing me? [laughs] It's self-care. Really protecting yourself. It can seem selfish, but you really have to create an environment around yourself that really supports you throughout that initial process. There may be certain friends you're not able to see right away. Spend a bit of time alone. But hopefully a good friend will come over with some food and wine and just be with you. Have some compassion for yourself, and let yourself express it. Especially through that first week of shock. We are so fixated on happiness and it can be very uncomfortable for other people if we are unhappy. Just allow yourself the full expression of your humanity. Balance working through the emotional challenges and logistics of rebuilding your life with experiences that bring you happiness.
What has this taught you about relationships?
There is so much helping people to get into love. But there's very little on how to leave a relationship. Relationships are work, it takes work to maintain that connection. How do you exit lovingly, where both people are intact? We're not really taught that. We don't really know how to grieve.
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