Getting used to being single is like moving to Denmark. It's a weird fucking place and acclimatization takes time. You'll spend the first month wondering, Where am I? Who are these people I keep drinking with? And constantly at night, I just want to go home. That first month will be drenched in tears and weird cocktails, and you'll hate it but also kind of love it. That first month will deliver tragedy and self-indulgence on a cinematic scale, and you'll feel entitled to whatever meltdowns you get a taste for.
But time moves on. Months trickle past, and eventually, you'll be less entitled to boring your friends with sad stories. Eventually, you'll finish saying something about your ex that you thought was funny—meant as funny—and someone will lean over and whisper in your ear, "Hey, I know it's been hard, but it's also been like… a year."
And your friend is right. A year is the limit to your pining, but it's also about the length of time it takes to get used to being single. A year is what it takes to totally recalibrate and get comfortable, with maybe a few stepping-stones along the way.
Here are what those stones look like.
The First Month: The Breakup
These things aren't usually a surprise. They make total sense when you analyze how your paths shifted months earlier, like train tracks switching in the fog, and how neither of you addressed that fact. You spent all your time fighting about who last bought the groceries, or pretending you were fine when you'd spent the night crying. Neither of you said what you'd truly feared, and so you blew the boilers because you were both too proud and lazy.
So you move to your friend's couch, and you wake up every morning with a taste in your mouth like socks and roses. You don't regret much, you just wonder who you are now. If you're a guy, you'll try answering that question with a beard. If you're a girl, the answer might be bangs. Or bleaching your hair peroxide blond. And regardless of gender, you'll get constantly drunk until one night, maybe a fortnight later, you'll have unprotected sex with someone you dislike and this person's body will feel weird: What is that ? And why's this bit so squishy? And what the fuck is up with the back of your neck?
The first month is explosive and surreal, but in the end, you don't learn anything. Only that Tinder sucks and that you're bad at it.
The Second Month: Breakup Sex
Grown-up life contains only four true and genuine pleasures. They are, in no particular order: grilled cheese, napping on Christmas, rain on a tin roof at night, and breakup sex. Now some people are of the opinion that breakup sex leads to nothing but trouble, and they're right. But also those people haven't lived. And breakup sex is delicious.
It usually starts two months after the actual breakup. You catch up for a coffee to, you know, catch up, and then someone gets a bit teary (it'll be you), and you'll admit that you're finding it quite hard. "I really miss you," you'll say. There will be a pause while your ex weighs up the options. To admit they feel the same shows weakness, but now your eyes have now taken on a blubbery sheen like jellyfish, so they know there's nothing to lose. "Come on back home," they'll say. "You need to get your DVDs."
So you go and ravage each other. Maybe there's kissing, maybe there's not, but it'll be like stepping into your old teenage bedroom, and then fucking the shit out of it. All the decorations will be just as you left them. All the things that were yours and you loved. The memories. The familiarity. The overwhelming meld of sadness and forbidden fruit. You thrust and yell stuff at the ceiling fan because your heart hurts, but your genitals sing. And, for the first time in a month, everything will be great. No, better than great—things will be better than they ever were.
Illustration by Ashley Goodall
The Third Month: The Second Breakup
The problem with breakup sex is that it ends in one of two ways. Either you get back together, or it destroys you. And while the second option can manifest itself in a number of ways, it basically comes down to one thing. That is: One person always moves on first.
Maybe it'll be you who moves on first. If so, congratulations! You can opt out of this thing and go read my follow up article: "How Good Is Falling in Love!!!!" But if it's not you, then stick around pal. Because someday you'll get told, or receive a text, or find out via Instagram that your ex has found someone else, and you'll realize that they're driving away from you to someplace nice in a very fast car, and not watching as you shrink to a dot in the rear-view mirror.
The Sixth Month: You'll Swear You're Doing Great But… Are You?
Your hair has grown back after your haircut, and you've been on a few really fun dates. You tell people you're doing fine, but you stare at them unblinking, and they get the sense that maybe you're not. But you are fine. And then, one Friday night, you have three champagnes and spend the next four hours stalking your ex on social media. This is an itch that you've wanted to scratch. You get scratching and it feels goooooood, but then the skin starts to come off, and you keep scratching. There are photos of your ex and the new partner smiling, swimming, playing with a dog—THEY GOT A FUCKING DOG?—and your scratching gets frantic. The Facebook posts are saccharine and grotesque. Friends—good people who you knew and trusted—are liking this garbage and writing "CUTE!!" under the photos, and the scratching turns to a frenzy. There's blood all over your hands now, and you really should stop, but you can't. It's been six months now. You really should be over this, but you're not. You're not over this at all.
Illustration by Ben Thomson
The Ninth Month: Actually, Maybe You Are Over This
By now, you'll now have a favorite date shirt and lots of opinions about Tinder. If you're into guys, you'll have learned to hate photos of guys holding fish. If you're into girls, you'll have learned to hate photos of girls pushing fake Harry Potter baggage through a wall at some sort of platform 9 and 3/4 installation thing. You won't know where that installation is, but every single girl on Tinder has been there. It's weird.
Life will have now taken on a comfortable rhythm. No longer will you invent hypothetical conversations in which you gather up all the truth in the universe and condense it to a single diamond point to hurl at your ex. You'll have moved on from that, and you'll be happy.
Except on Sundays. You're never happy on Sundays, and that's because single life is life with the volume turned up: The highs are high; the lows are bottomless. And after a big Saturday night, there is no time lonelier and more hug-less than a Sunday afternoon.
The 12th Month: Now What?
So now you really are over it. You've been this new single person for so long that you can't remember what it was like to be in a relationship. You call your friend Steve: "Hey, Steve, want to get a beer Friday?" And Steve is all like, "Yeah, cool! I'll check with Brenda." And you're like, "Check with… What? Hold on… Brenda… Brenda isn't invited."
And you get off the phone thinking Steve's gone wrong. Because as a single person, relationships look completely insane. Shit, you're so single that sometimes you wonder if it's even possible to fall in love again. Has Tinder and cynicism ruined your ability to be impressed enough by another human to ever want to smoosh lives? To live life like Steve and Brenda? To post Instagram photos of your partner eating creamy pasta? Who would want to do that?
But you want to do that, and one day, you will. You'll fall in love again and eat 12 serves of creamy pasta with garlic bread while thinking you're looking at the most beautiful person in the world. And then you'll lay back with that person on a couch and feel sick, but complete—and so very happy.