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.
The breakup that ended my first, proper adult relationship was a catalyst for a long spell of restless (sometimes wine-filled) nights, trying to curb the impulse to desperately text the one person on my mind. I had always been fine with being alone. Now something I once cherished had become a terrifying prospect.
Breakups are alienating in the way that no two are the same—the uniqueness of the situation can render people’s well-meant affirmations and pep talks useless. But a wave of self-care apps created with newly-single people in mind promise to offer a small way of soothing the sting of loneliness.
Mend CEO and founder Elle Huerta had recently moved to San Francisco and was living alone when she went through the breakup that inspired her app. “I was fairly new to a big city, and I had my work friends, but in a lot of ways, I felt isolated,” she told Broadly. “I started seeing a therapist which was incredibly helpful, but then I would struggle through the periods of time in between each session. Heartbreak is 24/7.”
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Huerta wanted Mend to be like a “best friend who also has great advice” and provide comfort during those first few days that are particularly sore. It encourages prioritizing your relationship with yourself through journalling, logging daily self-care activities, or listening to audio trainings from mental health and wellness experts.
Elle isn’t alone. In 2015, Stila Cosmetics founder Jeanine Lobell and therapist Jane Reardon came up with Rx Breakup, a "30-day, three-step program” that provides tools to help you compartmentalize your thoughts and feelings through analytical writing exercises, and aims to help you replace unhealthy coping mechanisms with positive change. The app is meant to tailor your user experience in a way that is completely personal to you. “We saw a need and thought we could fill it,” Reardon told Vogue. “I’ve read hundreds of self-help books and I find them so redundant and repetitive.”
There’s also Break-Up Boss, created in 2017 by Australian author and relationship columnist Zoë Foster Blake, an app designed to virtually smack your hand away when you’re about to cave and contact your ex. Illustrations serve to remind you of all the best bits about being single (always getting to pick what’s on TV, being able to move to a different country), and hitting an SOS button produces motivational quotes and advice on how to let your breakup positively shape you. Its most impressive feature lets you vent your feelings in a fake text to your ex, so you don’t have to deal with the looming realization that you’ve sent an undignified 2AM message the next morning.
“The ‘no send’ letters and journaling I have seen in these apps are all traditional psychotherapeutic methods of releasing pent up emotions,” says Counselling Directory member and certified therapist Beverley Hills. “However, there is no room for face-to-face feedback or discussion where several perspectives and history of patterns of behaviour are explored, therefore the personal journey a client takes with one of these apps could be very one dimensional.
“Of course, all of my clients have complete autonomy as to how they live their lives outside of the counselling room, however, I would advocate caution in that there might be some conflict, especially if the apps are not looking at past relationship dynamics.”
"The app won’t be offended if you don’t take its advice."
Some broken-hearted singles see using an app as a more accessible alternative to therapy. “I have used face-to-face counselling before and I wanted that a lot but couldn’t afford it, so this was the next best thing,” says Verity, a 24-year-old Mend user and journalist from London. “I was constantly calling my friends and family but I didn’t want to keep bothering them. This way you aren’t waking anyone up in the middle of the night and the app won’t be offended if you don’t take its advice.”
“I think there's still a lot of stigma around heartbreak; [it’s seen as] something you should just be able to ‘get over,’” says Huerta. “So many people are dismissive of breakups, but anyone who has been through a breakup or divorce knows just how debilitating one can be.”
The wake of these apps is well-timed, with self care becoming increasingly a part of millennial culture and technology allowing us to be almost instantly available to each other—they offer a convenient way to facilitate the moving on process in your own time and without being limited to the confines of a doctor’s room. “A digital pocket coach for your traumatised, fragile, gorgeous little heart” is how Zoë Foster Blake described her app to Who magazine.
“After all,” she added, “why should breakups be the boss of your life, mood, personality, diet, social life, sleep patterns, and (now ravenous and atrocious) drinking habits? Fuck that.”
Hills advises that users enter any data-sharing set-up with personal development apps with their eyes wide open. She maintains that one-to-one interaction is still very important, given that there is ultimately no such thing as guaranteed privacy when talking about conducting anything online. “[It’s] why face-to-face therapy is a more effective method,” she explains. “We are sworn to confidentiality by our ethical framework to which we adhere our practice.”
Verity’s internet searches were already “pretty heartbreak heavy,” so she says privacy was less of a concern to her. But the very nature of heartbreak means that apps like Mend might end up being the victims of their own success: The more effective they are, the less likely their users will end up needing them.
“I would tend to use it most when I was alone in the evenings, especially if I was drunk. I rated my mood as being the worst possible every time I used it,” Verity explains. “By the time I got to the point where I would have started rating my mood higher, I got rid of the app because I’d pretty much forgotten about it—which was a good sign.”