Here’s how to protect your heart after a bad breakup
Break ups are undeniably the worst. No matter how it shakes out, and regardless of your role in the breakup, you’re probably going to feel incredibly sad, conflicted, weird, and alone. The ‘alone’ part has always struck me as the strangest. Despite the fact that humans have been dealing with breakups since the dawn of time, there’s no real template out there for how to get through a split. Sure, people give you advice, but it can mostly be chalked up to ‘time heals all wounds.’
But what do you do when barely any time has passed, and the wound is still fresh? The first moments after a breakup can be a really scary and confusing time. But, I truly believe whatever you do immediately after a break up can help you heal for the better. How do I know this, you ask? I’ve been dumped, hardcore. Several times in fact. I’ve even done the dumping once or twice (once). A lot of times, I did not take it well. But throughout all these experiences I’ve found that while there’s no simple way to get over the actual heartache, there are definitely some concrete things that you can do which will put you in a good place. So here is some incredibly practical advice for getting through the immediate aftermath of a bad breakup and on your way to happily moving on:
1. Limit your communication
While some mythical creatures can be mature and handle contact with their ex right after a breakup, it’s definitely not for everyone. Breakers might feel mentally pressured to keep up communication when they don’t want to. Breakees might feel hurt by lack of contact, or by too much contact that is hurtful. And let’s be real, both sides definitely run the risk of stalking each other on social media. A lot of times it is better to have no contact at all for a little while.
To do this effectively, first go to your phone. Look up their number and delete it. While this might seem drastic, you can always get their number back if you need to, and you definitely don’t need to right now. If you feel like checking up on them constantly, turn off your phone when you don’t need it to be on, and keep it off. Now go to your social media pages. Unfriend, unfollow, or block your ex. If you can’t stand to block them, Facebook has all sorts of nifty privacy features that allow you to still be friends with someone, without them being able to see your posts, or you theirs. On their end it will just look like you haven’t been posting for a while, on your end you just won’t see their updates anymore.
While there’s definitely something to be said about being friendly or friends with exes, now is not the time for that. Your relationship status has changed. You shouldn’t be in contact like you once were, because you’re not dating anymore. You can always be friends with them later. Now is the time to make sure that you move on and your heart gets out of this in one piece.
2. Always have boundaries and always bring backup
It doesn’t matter who ended what with who, seeing each other one-on-one will bring up all sorts of weird feelings that are not good for your split. I once got back together with an ex who had broken up with me. We would have probably stayed broken up, had I not agreed to go over his house alone, two days after the breakup to ‘talk.’ By visiting and seeing someone who I still had feelings for so quickly after the breakup, it was much harder for me to say no when he asked to get back together, even though I had come to realize breaking up was probably a good idea. Because of that visit we dated for seven more months before we finally broke up for good. It was an awful seven months.
So spare yourself the seven months. Don’t see your ex for a while if you can help it. If you can’t help it (i.e. if you work together, or if you’re in the same friend group) make sure you always have a trusted friend or family member for backup. If you and your ex still have each other’s stuff and want it back, enlist a friend or family member to negotiate its return. My awesome dad got my stuff back in my last bad break up. He met up with my ex and steadfastly oversaw the return of everything from my bass guitar, clothes, and money I was owed. (Pro tip: if you owe someone money, please pay them back before you break up with them.) Working with a middle-man may feel more akin to enemy countries negotiating a treaty at the UN than two people who used to actually enjoy spending time together, but you need to respect the sacred rules of boundaries and backup if you want to move on.
3. Fill up your dance card, as they say
One of the first things you’re going to notice when you’re suddenly single is that you have a lot of free time and money. All that money you would have spent on movie tickets or dinner dates starts to magically pile up in your bank account. All that time spent traveling to your ex’s house, or watching Netflix on their couch is suddenly extra free time in your week. After a breakup you’re going to wake up every day and marvel at the boundless time and resources you have at your disposal.
While this is actually very exciting, it can seem daunting and lonely at first. So immediately after a breakup, go look at your calendar. Stare it right in face and make some plans. Even if you don’t feel like it, try to fill up every night for at least the first weekend. Go have long crazy hangouts with your friends. Stay out until 3 am and relish the feeling of having no one to text and explain where the crap you’ve been. Sign up for activities that are totally random and all about you. Watch all the movies and TV shows that you’ve been avoiding because your ex doesn’t like them. In short, go throw yourself into new adventures and make new memories.
4. Remind yourself that you are good and there is nothing wrong with you
It seems like a no brainer, but you need to remind yourself about what is good and true about you and your situation. My most embarrassing and yet most helpful affirmation in my last break up was a phrase I thought of and repeated to myself a lot. The phrase is: ‘Someone broke up with Jennifer Aniston.’ It was really helpful to me, because initially after the break up I was getting really down on myself. Even though I knew better I was starting to feel like if I had been cooler, smarter, or prettier, I wouldn’t have been broken up with.
Then one day I was walking down the aisle in a grocery store, and saw one of those tabloids discussing Jennifer’s Aniston way old news break up with Brad Pitt. That’s when it hit me. Jennifer Aniston is an awesome, beautiful, talented movie star. She is as cool as they come, and she has nothing but great things in her future. There was nothing wrong with Jennifer Aniston, and yet someone had left her. That’s when I realized by that logic, there was nothing wrong with me either. I couldn’t have been saved from being broken up with by changing anything about myself. Jennifer Aniston was and is someone at the height of beauty, talent, and intelligence and she still got dumped.
I realized then that no one was safe. There isn’t some special group of humans who never experience rejection. We all do. No one is exempt. Everyone gets rejected, and everyone rejects people. It has no bearing on you as a person, other than it meaning you are in fact a person.
5. Keep up with your responsibilities
One of the biggest symptoms I’ve experienced from breakups is they make me want to just lie down and it stop doing things. Regardless of what day it is or what’s going on, it’s very tempting to just melt into a puddle on my bed, binge-watch Netflix and eat ice cream. It can be very cathartic, especially if you want to be by yourself for a while. But it can’t happen at the expense of your real life.
Maybe you have a job. Maybe you have an internship. Maybe you are dog sitting your neighbor’s Chihuahua. All of those things still need to happen regardless of how sad and heartbroken you are. As much as it feels like the world has stopped spinning right now, I guarantee it hasn’t.
I learned this the hard way. I was at my summer internship, and had been broken up with for about a week. I was taking my lunch break in my car. And by lunch break, I mean crying alone in my car. All I wanted to do was be by myself, but I still had three hours left before the end of the day. In my crazy sad logic, I decided that going through a breakup was as good as being sick or injured, so I should just be straight up with my boss and tell her I’d like to take the rest of the day off.
Before I did that I called my mom to tell her that I was planning on coming home early. When she asked why and I explained my rationale to her, she freaked out. I may have been 21, but I was acting like a little kid, and she was not above yelling at me for it. Thank goodness she did. She helped me snap out of it and realize that I still needed to be responsible, even if I was heartbroken. An important part of moving on is realizing that it’s not the world’s responsibility to wait for you while you pick yourself up.
I won’t lie, even you follow all of this advice, getting over a break up will still be tough. Getting to know and fall in love with another person is a messy, unwieldy process. It only makes sense that breaking that bond would be just as, if not more, messy and unwieldy. Unfortunately there is no magic cure for the human condition. We will all give and receive heartbreak at some point, and even though it can feel awful to go through, it will only make us stronger individuals who will love more powerfully the next time.