Five ways you can actually “win” the breakup

The first time I heard the phrase “winning the breakup” was in Cazzie David’s web series, 86-ed. David (who is the daughter of Seinfeld’s and Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Larry David), shares her father’s dry, self-deprecating humor—which is particularly entertaining as we watch her navigate a gnarly breakup. In one episode, David’s character, Remi, lies in tear-soaked sheets, fervently scrolling through her ex’s Instagram while venting to her best friends. She claims she has to be the one to move on quicker to make her ex believe she no longer cares about the relationship. Doing so means her ex comes crawling back and Remi thus “wins the breakup.”

I later heard the same expression when a girlfriend called me to complain that her ex was—according to social media—happily in another relationship. 

“Do you want to get back together with him?” I asked. 

“Of course not,” she wailed. “But I wanted to win the breakup.”

For Remi and my friend (and certainly myself on a few occasions), breakups can trigger the need for control, and winning seems like an opportunity to re-grasp the reigns. We may feel immense pressure to make our lives look awesome, especially if we’re on the receiving end of the breakup. Upon googling the phrase, I learned that there is a lot of information out there for those looking to win their breakups. It doesn’t necessarily mean moving on romantically—getting a better job, losing weight (problematic for its own reasons), or simply looking happy on Instagram are all examples of going home with the breakup gold medal. 

These scenarios all share the same subtext: I do not need you to be happy. When a person has a hot new beau, a fancy job with a plump salary, a rocking bod, or a glamorous social media presence, it seems to illustrate that they no longer care about the relationship, that they’re doing well, and that they’ve moved on. Whoever has clear evidence that they are the first one to be ambivalent toward the past relationship is “the winner.” 

In the episode, Remi goes to great lengths to control what her ex-boyfriend does and does not see on social media, saying that she’s “trying to curate an image of not caring” in an effort to get him back. It ends up not working. Her friends, while their intentions are good, end up capturing her misery on Snapchat and Facebook. And since Remi is miserable and misses her ex, she is presumably “the loser.” 

But what if breakups weren’t contests? After all, there doesn’t seem to be any specific formula to recovery.

How we process our breakups depends on who we are and where we are in our lives. What’s healing for one person (actively hitting the dating scene), might not work for someone else. To say that someone is “winning a breakup” implies that someone is the loser, simply because they’re processing their emotions in an alternative, sometimes slower way. 

While painful, breakups are often good things—they happen for a reason and create space for reflection, growth, and transformation. To say that there is a “winner” or a “loser” in a breakup implies that only one person can deserves to experience these things, and that’s simply not the case. 

Think about what you usually learn in a relationship: Different communication styles, what you like, what you value, what sort of things you’re attracted to, how you handle conflict, how you process jealousy, how you express your needs—I could go on and on. Now think about the things you learn when a relationship ends: How to take care of yourself, how to enjoy alone time, how to process grief, how to heal. Again, I could go on. 

Perhaps, then, “winning the breakup” is less about making your life look awesome or appearing to not care, and more about going inward and using the lessons from your last relationship to make your next one better. It’s about using this time of transition as one of transformation. It’s about trying something new, focusing on your interests, and dancing to “Thank U, Next” before a night out with your girlfriends. It’s knowing that it’s okay to feel your feelings, while simultaneously learning that grief and pain won’t always be the norm. 

Regardless of how your recent relationship ended, below are some ways that you can “win” your breakup. 

Feel your emotions.

Even if you were the one to end the relationship, the experience can still be incredibly painful, especially if you were still in love with the person. Letting yourself feel the full range of emotions allows you to process them, which means you won’t be carrying resentment, anger, or fear into your future relationships. Cry, listen to Joni Mitchell, eat pizza with your friends, sage your bedroom, binge-watch Gilmore Girls. It’s okay to be sad or stuck on your ex. It doesn’t make you a loser—it makes you human. 

Make a list of what you’ve learned.

Making a list of what you learned is helpful for two reasons: One, it’s practical. Listing the lessons you’ve gleaned from the past relationship allows you to develop more self-awareness about what you need and what you have to offer going forward. Two, thinking about what you learned, rather than what you or the other person did wrong, is positive and forward-thinking. This will help you to focus on the future, instead of lingering in the past.

Distract yourself.

While this might seem counter-intuitive to “feeling your emotions,” there will be times when it’s okay to remove yourself from the pain, especially if it’s debilitating or preventing you from living your life. Healthy forms of distraction include spending time with friends, reading a book, traveling, or picking up a new hobby. Dating can be fun, too—just make sure you’re moving at a pace that feels authentic to your journey. 

Date yourself.

And I mean literally. Pick out your favorite restaurant, cafe, museum, or park and take yourself there for a date. While it may feel weird being alone at first, spending one-on-one time with yourself creates the opportunity for you to cultivate more self-love and confidence. Because once you begin to show yourself love, you’ll begin to see how you want to be treated in your next relationship.

Ditch comparison.

It’s tempting to compare yourself to the other person, whether that’s through social media or in real life, but try your hardest not to do this. Social media isn’t reflective of the truth, and it can lead a fragile, post-breakup brain to weave together all sorts of false stories. And even if your ex is doing great—and that makes you feel like crap—know that you’re on your path toward healing, and it’s okay if it looks different from their personal journey.

There’s no one way to experience a breakup. Allow yourself to experience the full range of emotions, focus on yourself, and know there’s only growth and transformation on the other side.

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