It was my third year of university and I was sat on my bed, bathed in the warm glow of the Christmas fairy lights that I still hadn't taken down from six months earlier. "Stronger" by Christina Aguilera played at full blast, while my friend held up a pair of her ex's sweatpants, scissors poised.
Chunks of fabric fell to the ground to XTina sassily bleating, "But uh uh, oh no, you're wrong," and I cheered her on because, well, she was my friend. Later she had an outdoor bonfire to burn all the stuff this guy had left in her room. It was a little bit crazy, but I guess that's what breakups do: make us crazy.
"Human relationships are strange," Charles Bukowski once said. "I mean, you are with one person a while, eating and sleeping and living with them, loving them, talking to them, going places together, and then it stops." It's that sudden, stomach-churning stop that can throw some of us flying, so that heartbreak isn't just the cliché tubs of ice cream and dying your hair blue, but spending $10,000 on a new set of teeth, or arranging to meet the person your ex cheated with just to chuck hot coffee over their top.
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As someone who has only ever been through one brief and extremely tame split, in which I mostly just tried to unsuccessfully crack his Facebook password, I was curious about the more extreme ways in which others have reacted to heartache.
What I didn't anticipate was how hard it would be to persuade people to tell me their stories. Heather* had a heartbreak threesome with two married (not to each other) men that she met at a house party — the house of which didn't actually belong to any of her friends. I asked for more information: radio silence.
But I persevered. Sid* went out with his first girlfriend throughout middle school, meaning their relationship had that special kind of intensity that comes with the crazed hormones of adolescence. When they split, she sent him a picture with another dude's dick in her mouth in the hopes of tormenting him. "I screenshot it, then sent it on to her very religious mom. It was bye-bye summer vacation, hello church camp for her."
While there was no chance of him rekindling things with his ex, at least it didn't ruin things with her mother. "She thanked me and apologized on behalf of her daughter. It was the standard; "I didn't raise her like this yada-yada. She was a sweet woman who I still run into from time to time."
Harriet* did a similar thing after her first boyfriend cheated six months into their relationship. "I texted his mom telling her he smoked weed and took drugs. I'd only found this out when we broke up. He got bollocked by his parents."
They haven't spoken since. I asked if she felt bad. "He shouldn't have cheated on me, the bastard. I also burnt all his belongings and text him a photo. I was young and immature."
I have arranged a few 'guess who's single' orgies and gangbangs.
Most of the embarrassing breakup stories I heard came from those that had been 15 to 18 at the time, when every emotion is intensified and only the most extreme ways of getting over things will do—like moving country.
Zak* was just 15 when he convinced his mum to relocate from a small town in Spain to India after his girlfriend cheated on him. "She was 16 going on 17, and we were together for just over four months. She broke up with me over MSN Messenger and then I found out she'd cheated through Teen Open Diary (her blog)."
He was so sad that moving to India, where they had family, was the only way he felt he could get over it all. " It messed me up so much. I just couldn't face being in Spain anymore."
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Did it actually help him move on? "No."
Even those that choose to deal with a breakup through more traditional mourning methods aren't exempt from experiencing such extremes—especially when the other partner turns out to be a scumbag. Milly* met her ex at a local bar, with no clue what a monster he'd turn out to be.
"After a few months there were rumors of him seeing other girls, frequent lying, and him often not turning up to planned dates without warning. He also ran away without me realizing and left me on my own for a day in an eastern European city when we were supposed to be on a holiday that was intended to see if we could get any love back."
After a lengthy breakup that involved two years of crying, screaming, and fleeting reconciliations, Milly finally moved on. Her ex, however, didn't. "I couldn't escape him. There was a constant barrage of messages, written like you would if you were still with someone."
"It hit the lowest point when he broke into my house one night and watched me sleeping for I don't know how long until I woke up and kicked him out," she adds. Instead of going to the police, she let it go, convincing herself he'd been such a disgusting creep because he loved her so much and had to see her. "I feel absolutely pathetic saying that now." She only gets a message from him every few months now.
Not all breakups lead to emotional distress and obsessive stalkers. Rachel* told me, "I have arranged a few 'guess who's single' orgies and gangbangs, I don't think it was crazy or regrettable though. Mostly, I think it was awesome."
While I didn't have a rebound romp or send 60 sad-eyed selfies to my ex, I did eat a lot of mini Mars Bars and drink an entire bottle of cheap white wine and get kicked out of a bowling alley. However you deal with having your heart broken, it's never likely to be a moment you'll look back on with pride. As Neil Sedaka sang, "Breakin' up is hard to do."
* Names have been changed