I’ve been getting a lot of letters lately from folks who’ve just had their hearts stomped on. Maybe it’s just the season for it or there’s something in the air at the moment, but the number of “I’ve just gotten dumped, how do I get over it?” letters have skyrocketed lately, and everybody’s hoping I have the magic pill to make them feel better, get her back or at least figure out how to make her so insanely jealous that you can turn around and reject her.
There’s no getting around it – getting dumped sucks… but most people make it harder than it has to be. A lot of common coping strategies actually make you feel even worse about yourself and what happened. Nobody can take the pain away from being dumped, but you can learn to manage it, process it and, importantly, come through it even stronger than before.
Let Yourself Feel
It’s human nature to try to insulate yourself from pain – and make no mistake, being dumped hurts physically as well as emotionally. However, while it’s only natural that we try to protect ourselves from being hurt, trying to push the pain away or numb ourselves is actually one of the worst things we can do.
More often than not, one of the first things that you want to do after a break up is to find some way to make the pain go away. Some people go out and get absolutely hammered at a bar, trying to anesthetize themselves with the sweet embrace of alcohol. Other people get stoned, while still others try to find solace in comfort food and eat their emotions. Some throw themselves into mindless sex, others hole themselves away from the world. Everybody’s coping mechanism is different… but trying to force yourself not to feel only makes things worse. Yeah, you feel like shit. You just got your heart ripped out and a relationship has come to an end. That’s incredibly sad and deserves to be mourned. Trying to hide from the reality of the break-up only prolongs the pain because ultimately you’re trying to pretend that it didn’t happen. There’s a part of you that, irrationally, hopes that if you can just make the pain go away, then the triggering event will have never occurred and you’ll magically go back to being the person you were that morning/yesterday/last week/whatever.
You’re still going to have to confront that pain. All that numbing yourself is doing is ensuring that you’re going to tear the bandage off slowly, drawing it out and making it increasingly more painful in the long-run. Embrace the pain. Let it flow through you. Feel it, mourn what was lost and you’ll reach the other side – acceptance – that much faster.
Another common mistake is to try to repress all of the feelings that come with a breakup in a mistaken desire to “be a grown-up” or “be mature” about it.
This, in fact, was a mistake I made after the break-up that set me on the path to who I am today.
While it hurt worse than anything I’d known – at the time, I had thought it was the perfect relationship – ultimately, we broke up because my girlfriend legitimately didn’t want a serious relationship with anyone. No harm, no foul, right? There was nothing to rage against. I hadn’t been wronged, abused, lied to, or mistreated. In fact with time and perspective, I’d come to realize it was, in fact, mostly my own damn fault; I’d pushed and pushed for an exclusive relationship when she’d previously said that she didn’t want one. So clearly, while it was obviously sad, I had absolutely no cause to be angry or hurt. Getting upset wasn’t going to change anything. There was no point to getting angry. I was a grown-ass man and this is how grown-ass men handled things – with stoic nobility and graceful acceptance. I recovered quickly and moved on without bitterness or rancor.
No, of course I was fucking lying to myself. I was fucking furious at my ex for ripping out my heart, shattering my dreams and shredding my self-esteem and my soul for good measure.
But! I was determined to be “mature” about it and crammed all of that pain and anger away and tried to pretend I wasn’t feeling it. I repressed it as hard as I could and refused to even admit it was there. Small wonder that a relationship that lasted barely six months took me years to recover from and left some unpleasant scars to go with it.
I’ve seen this happen many times with other people as well – they’re determined to make some point about being mature or adult or reasonable and try to pretend that the obvious isn’t true.
Here’s the thing that can be hard to admit: it’s entirely reasonable to be angry when you’ve been dumped. Of course you’re mad! You’ve just been hurt deeply by someone you care about! Even when ultimately it’s nobody’s fault and nobody has been wronged, break ups hurt and we get angry at the people who hurt us. So accept it. Let yourself feel angry. Let yourself feel hurt. Trying to pretend that you’re not only makes the actual injury fester and rot, making you bitter and resentful later.
You Have To Let It Go
Here’s the seeming paradox of letting yourself feel all the feels – you have to be willing to let them go too. This can be a hard one, especially when you’re dealing with the fact that yeah, you’re pretty damn angry at your ex for dumping you.
But holding onto that pain and that anger doesn’t do you any good either. Neither does blaming your ex – or yourself, for that matter. Getting angry at being dumped can make you feel righteous – you’ve been wronged, nobody can possibly understand the pain you feel, you’ve had the scales lifted from your eyes and now you and you alone know what the world is really like – but holding onto it, nursing it or directing it at others doesn’t help anything. Because, frankly, what good is it going to do?
I see this a lot in people who feel that they’ve been wronged – that their significant other had somehow done them dirty. She or he’d cheated on them, betrayed them somehow, dumped them with callous disregard to their feelings, devoured their soul or otherwise played games with their heart and now, as the wronged party, they deserved satisfaction.
Usually what they want is, ultimately, vindication. They want acknowledgment from their ex that the dumpee had been wronged, that their ex was an uncaring bitch, a vampire, a whore and deserves to suffer from every STD known to man. They want their ex to hurt just as much as they do – if not more.
Only… what good does any of that do? Those visions of angrily confronting your ex with a list of their sins has its momentary appeal but ultimately it doesn’t do anything for you. Even if you have been wronged, confronting your ex isn’t going to accomplish anything. Either they’re upset about it already – in which case, you’ve accomplished nothing – or they don’t care, and now you just look like an impotent idiot.
Even trying to get some measure of revenge in the name of “justice” is counterproductive. Yeah, it feels righteous, like you’re correcting a karmic imbalance. Hell, the character destroying her ex’s car for revenge in “Before He Cheats” sounds awesome – it’s also the work of a crazy person. “Getting revenge on an ex” is practically a genre of its own on YouTube… and all of it is a great way to get your ass sued, thrown in jail, or both.
Vent if you have to; it’s healthy to let it all out. Just do in private, with a trusted friend. This means no vaguebooking1 about the ex and no long rants online either. We’ve all seen someone who blew up over an ex on social media and frankly, it’s embarrassing for everyone. All it does is make you look like someone who can’t get over a bad breakup and now you’re throwing a tantrum like a child who didn’t get a cookie.
(I’m especially guilty of this. There are some seriously wangsty LiveJournal posts in my distant past that I’m not proud of.)
One thing that helps is to recontextualize the pain. You aren’t hurt, you feel hurt. You aren’t angry with your ex, you feel angry with them. Yes, this sounds very woo-woo-New-Agey-feel-good bullshit, but language matters. Saying that you are something frames it as part of your being, while feeling it makes it a temporary situation. You feel hurt, but that hurt will go away. Feel your feels, mourn your loss and then be ready to move on.
Part of what helps process the pain of a break-up is channeling that pain, anger and frustration into something else. Pain, anger, regret… these can all be used to supercharge other aspects of your life. Let me tell you, there’s nothing like the aftermath of a break-up to send your workout into beast mode. Every breakup I’ve had usually results in my losing ten pounds in three weeks because I start hitting the gym like it owes me money. All of that anger and rage turns into energy, and I can’t sit still, so I end up running five miles before lifting weights with a fury that you don’t normally see outside of 80’s training montages.
But even if you don’t run out and start pounding on the heavy bag or taking up running as a way to try to escape your inner demons, that anger, pain and depression can fuel some of the most profound creativity of your life. Some of the best output in a creative person’s life comes from channelling that anger and frustration into their work; Chasing Amy, for example, was born out of Kevin Smith’s attempt to process his failed relationship with Joey Lauren Adams and remains his best movie… certainly the only one that really holds up over time. Facebook – or so the legend2 goes – was ultimately born out of Zuckerberg being drunk, angry and lonely.
Hell, Taylor Swift has based an entire career on getting dumped and singing about it.
But whether you start burning that energy by working out or scribbling angry manic poetry or inventing the core of what ultimately becomes a world-dominating social networking platform, you want to find a channel and productive output for all of that energy. It helps you process your pain faster and, ultimately, is healthier than sitting around stewing in your own resentment or eating your feelings instead.
And if you want to be completely selfish, channeling that anger is a good way of making your life more awesome while you’re recovering from the breakup.
You Make Your Own Closure
This is one that trips a lot of people up.
One of the things that I hear over and over again from folks who’ve just gotten dumped is that they want closure. They want some final meeting of the minds with their newly minted ex in order to hash out just what happened, tie off any loose ends and sort out regrets before dropping the match on the Viking funeral that is the old relationship.
Except… that’s not going to happen. In fact, more often than not, that desire for “closure” comes down to one of two issues.
A) The person seeking closure wants neat and tidy answers to why they’re breaking up
B) The person seeking closure (almost always the dump-ee… the dumper got closure when they dropped the hammer on the relationship) is hoping to make a last-ditch saving throw vs. failed relationships.
Neither of which is going to happen. You’re not owed an explanation for why things went wrong. Really,the only thing you’re owed is a hostage exchange of all the stuff you’ve loaned each other over the course of the relationship.
The fact of the matter is, no answer is going to satisfy you. There isn’t anything your ex can say that’s going to make you say “Well, fair do’s then.” There will always be some point that you feel is unfair, misunderstood or otherwise just wrong… but you you can’t debate your way out of a breakup. Most of the time, the reasons aren’t even clear-cut; not every break-up is caused by a single triggering incident or has an obvious cause. Even if there is a single triggering incident – somebody cheated on somebody else, for example – it’s rarely a one-off that suddenly caused your ex to hit the self-destruct button. More often than not, it’s a culmination of issues of fundamental incompatibility that lead to eventually making the decision to break up.
It’s important to understand your own role in why things ended, but you have to figure that out on your own.
So rather than hurting yourself more by dragging out the healing process by holding out for “closure”, you need to give yourself closure. Accept that things ended, that there will always be messy, untidy threads left after a break-up and move on.
If you absolutely have to have some final airing of grievances, regrets and reminiscing before you can sleep at night, write a physical letter. Not an e-mail. Something this important deserves putting actual pen to paper. Pour your heart out in this letter. Take as many pages as you need to explain exactly how you feel and how she’s a bitch for hurting you, how things between you and him were so good and you can’t understand what’s going on… everything.
Got it? Cool. Now seal that in an envelope, write your ex’s name on it, then throw it in the fireplace and burn it. I’m not being metaphorical here; take that mother and set it on fire. This isn’t about getting your ex to admit that you’re the wronged party here, this is about venting your feelings without making things even more awkward than they already are. Let the fire take it all away and let yourself move on.
(Incidentally, part of the reason for writing a physical letter is so you can have the catharsis of burning it. The other reason is that it’s really easy to “accidentally” send that email you “never meant” for other people to read. There are reasons why I advocate the nuclear option immediately post break-up…)
Forgive Your Ex… And Yourself
Break ups suck. They’re messy, they’re ugly and they leave a trail of heartbreak and pain in their wake. However, as much as you may feel like the victim, nobody is entirely in the right or in the wrong when a relationship ends. More often than not, you’ve both made mistakes and poor choices along the way. It’s easy to harbor resentment for the person who just dumped you – God knows I did – but you have to be willing to look at what happened with dispassionate and objective eyes. It’s incredibly rare for break-ups to be a one-sided affair. Everybody makes mistakes, even when they have the best of intentions and the best thing you can do is recognize this and learn from them. Acknowledge that things weren’t as perfect as you would have liked. Examine all the ways you could have been a better partner in your relationship. Take ownership of your own mistakes and understand that your ex wasn’t the perfect villain either.
Be willing to forgive your ex – they’re hurting too. And – importantly – forgive yourself. It sucks that things ended this way. Learn from your mistakes now, and you’ll be better prepared for your next relationship.