A few months ago I opened my email in the middle of a workday to see an email from my girlfriend of four years with the subject line of: Please don’t read until after work. So naturally, I opened the email and almost immediately wished I hadn’t. There it was, in writing, the person who I considered the love of my life was ending our four-year relationship in an email. My heart sank as I re-read the words that were written in such a formal, corporate fashion “I’m choosing to end our relationship.” Ending it, like it was some sort of business deal. I sat in my car completely dumbfounded and just let the tears pour out in a full-on Julia Roberts ugly cry. I didn’t even know where to begin with processing what I just read, processing a breakup. All I knew was that I had to go back to work and pretend like everything was fine and that I didn’t want to curl up in a ball under my desk and die.
Breakups are the worst. It’s really that simple. Whether you were dumped or the one doing the dumping, they still suck. This was my first serious breakup, not for lack of relationships, but because this was the first relationship where I was truly, head-over-heels in love. As I moved through the aftermath of the breakup I got advice from friends and family on how to process and move on. And trust me, everyone has their own advice. But As I’ve gone through this journey I’ve figured out that there are a few allowances you need to afford yourself to really process, move through, and heal from a breakup.
1. Let yourself be shocked.
I was in shock for a solid month before it really began to sink in that the relationship was over. My brain went into self-preservation mode in order to protect my heart from feeling the heartbreak that was on the verge of setting in. Allow yourself time to be shocked. Disbelief is a very normal reaction. Just don’t sit in it for so long that it hinders your ability to keep moving on through the healing process.
For the first month, I told only a handful of people about the breakup. I left my relationship status on Facebook the same. I left all the pictures of me and my ex where they were. I was convinced that we were going to be able to work things out and get back together and live happily ever after. Only when the initial shock and denial wore off could the reality that the relationship was over finally set in. I was then able to move on to the next step and truly let myself feel sad about the breakup.
2. Let yourself be sad.
Feeling sad does not make you weak. I repeat, feeling sad does not make you weak.
I had a lot of people tell me to throw myself into new hobbies and activities. They thought I should make sure my days had a full schedule in order to put my sadness at bay. New hobbies are great, but totally ignoring the sadness doesn’t work. It’ll stay there and be much harder to deal with the longer you put off confronting it. Don’t make yourself too busy that you can’t let yourself be sad.
When the shock of my breakup finally passed, the waves of sadness crashed over me. They knocked me down and swept me off my feet. I went full-on cliche breakup girl: In bed, unwashed hair, no-makeup, snot waterfall running out of my nose, pints of Ben & Jerry’s everywhere. I didn’t want to move. I didn’t want to breathe. I didn’t want to wake up in the morning because at this point, the only time I wasn’t sobbing uncontrollably was when I was asleep. Each morning I would wake up, and for a split second, everything felt fine and normal until my reality set in.
Let yourself feel sad about the end of the relationship, but remember that it is also the start of something new. It’s the start of rediscovering and falling in love with yourself. It’s the start of the next chapter in the book of you. The future is there, just waiting for you to discover it. The sooner you allow yourself to feel the sadness, and I mean really feel it, the sooner you can come to terms with the end and begin to move forward.
3. Let yourself be angry
Anger. A very helpful and very real emotion that is very much so part of any breakup. It’s okay to feel angry. Doesn’t matter if you were the one who was broken up with or the one who did the breaking up. Just don’t let that anger bottle up.
Take a step back from the anger. Let it simmer. Address the why behind your anger. It wasn’t till this stage that I realized that I wasn’t so much angry at my ex (don’t get me wrong, I definitely was), but that my life plan had pretty much gone up in flames. Get those feelings out in a healthy way. When I gave myself the time to address my anger towards my ex I picked up journaling again. I wrote down every thought, every cuss, and every issue I had with the entire situation. And with each word I wrote, I could feel the anger transferring from my heart into my journal, into an inanimate object that could be closed and put away. Out of sight, out of mind.
4. Let yourself reflect on the breakup.
She told me she loved me. She told me I was the one, that I was special. But she still left me. A breakup puts everything into perspective. In those moments, the heartbreak can be crippling. The pain of looking back and thinking about everything we had been striving towards and working towards together can be overwhelming.
I was a good girlfriend. I definitely wasn’t perfect. I made my fair share of mistakes, but at the end of the day, I was a good girlfriend. The end of a relationship affords you the ability to take a step back and really reflect on things. We are so quick to lose ourselves in our relationships. We let them swallow us up and consume us. I put so much of my life on the back burner because I was so focused on someone else’s happiness rather than my own. We wrap our self-worth up in other people and forget that we are so so so worth it as an individual. No matter what, never stop believing that you are enough. Always.
Use the reflection time as a period to really examine the past.
What worked about the relationship, what didn’t? What can you take away from it? Use it as a learning experience for what you want and need from your next relationship. But also use this time to take a closer look at you. It takes two people to have a relationship. It also takes two people to break one. Look at the moments where you made mistakes (we’re all human, no one is ever perfect mistakes and bad decisions are always made on both ends of a relationship). What could you have done differently? Take responsibility for your actions. It’ll make you a better person in the long run.
5. Let yourself focus on you.
You’re single. Accept it. It’s not the end of the world. (But talk to me like 5 months ago and I totally would have told you it was indeed, the literal end of the world, so I got you!) I’ve found that there are two directions you can take post-break-up. The first is to immediately start dating someone again or the second, which is to really take the time to be single and to focus on yourself.
Post being dumped, I really wanted to jump into a new relationship because that’s what I was used to. That’s where I was comfortable. I was scared to step out of my comfort zone and the identity I had created for myself of being 1/2 of a couple. So I did what I thought was best, I tried to jump right into something new and it backfired spectacularly. Like fireworks on the 4th of July spectacularly. I wanted to just pour myself into another person because I didn’t want to confront the things about myself that may have played a role at the end of my previous relationship. Let me lay this out nice and simple.
Trying to date a person when you’re still very much so in love with someone else is a terrible idea.It’s not fair to the other person, and it’s definitely not fair to you. It just ends up being double the heartbreak. You need to give your heart time to really get over the other person, and as much as we want it to happen overnight, chances are, it won’t.
Get comfortable in your own skin and stop looking for someone else to make you happy. Instead, be someone who makes you happy.
Take the weeks, months or even years following a breakup to let yourself really take the time to focus on you, your needs, your wants, and your desires. Do things that make you feel fulfilled. Discover new passions or rediscover old ones. Figure out how to fill the gaps in your life that were previously filled by another person. Date yourself! If Ann Perkins can do it, so can you. Try new things. Go on new adventures. Travel, see a play, take yourself out to dinner.
6. Let yourself go a little wild.
I’m a low-key person, a self-identified introvert, and a true INFJ. That being said, post-breakup I was determined to be the most social, outgoing, extroverted person you have ever met. And to be honest, it was fun for a little bit. I was going out to the bars Friday and Saturday nights and attending marathon brunches on Sundays. I would kiss any girl because I wanted to and because I could. When I first stepped back into dating I went on 10 dates in 10 days! (I don’t recommend the last one). I had been with the same girl for four years. I had only thought about her and spending my life and having my happy ever after with her. But with my new found singleness I realized there was a whole wide world out there that I hadn’t really had a chance to explore.
I never really had a crazy phase in college, partially because I was still in the closet until my senior year, the same year that I started dating my ex. So this was really the first time that I had the freedom to let loose a little bit. But like I said before, it was fun… but also terribly exhausting for me. Treat this phase as a good chance to learn (or re-learn) your limits. What is fun for you? What do you enjoy? Remember this:
This is your life, your world, your moment. You don’t have to do anything that doesn’t make you happy. The most important thing is that you’re doing you.
This was a crucial healing step for me. I got out there. I danced like no one was watching. Took tequila shots like I was still 21 and had a liver that could handle it. I met tons of people, some of which actually turned out to be alright and others who turned out to be extremely fake and shallow. I put my trust in some of the wrong people and fell for girls who could never like me back the way I wanted to be liked. I learned a lot about myself and the things I like and the type of people I want to surround myself with.
Bouncing back is hard. It’s okay to get a little wild in the process. It’s okay to try new things or to do things that are usually out of character for you. You might just end up learning a thing or two about yourself in the process. The wild phase gave me a whole dose of clarity, one that I hadn’t yet received but so desperately needed.
7. Let yourself embrace your singleness.
Once you’ve settled down from your wild adventures (or maybe even before that phase), it’s time to date yourself á la Ann Perkins style. Once you’ve been a part of a couple for a substantial piece of time it’s possible that you might have lost bits and pieces of yourself along the way.
Get reacquainted with yourself, and fall in love with yourself again. Take time to regain your confidence. Do things you enjoy doing. Take long walks after a rainstorm. Try that new restaurant you’ve been meaning to try or visit that art gallery that has been on your radar. But most importantly, take time for you.
Spend time really evaluating what you want out of life. What do you want from yourself? Where do you want to be in the next month? Three months? Six months? For the last year of my relationship, I had been debating applying for grad school. I had been looking at a program that would take me to the other side of the country. So with my new found singleness I seized my opportunity and applied to the program. And I got in. I realized that there was literally nothing holding me back anymore and I knew I would end up kicking myself later if I didn’t even try.
8. Let yourself be sad (again).
Yay, you! You’re on your way to healing and happiness! But just because you’re on this magical journey doesn’t mean you will magically stop feeling sad about the end of your previous relationship. Sorry if that seems harsh, but it’s true. It took one phone call with my ex to send me back into the sad spiral. As soon as I got off the phone with her, I called my best friend crying. When I heard my ex’s voice all those feelings that I had shoved deep down came rushing up to the surface. I sat there on the phone with my friend and just cried. I felt all my damn feelings all at once all over again. But here is that part that really showed me that all the work I had put in over the past 6 months was actually paying off: I was only sad for a moment, and then it passed. A few months prior, I wouldn’t have gotten out of bed for days, but this time around I bounced back within 20 minutes.
It’s natural to feel sad about the end of a relationship even if it’s been months since it has ended. As you heal and mourn and move on, those waves of sadness will get smaller and smaller and further apart until they are gone altogether. I’ve never understood the people who just wipe someone they loved completely from their radar. Like that person never existed. I find that those people are very much so still stuck in the anger phase of the post-breakup healing. The best way I know how to put this is with a quote. “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” Chances are, your relationship wasn’t all bad. Remember the good times, process the bad, and remember that it ended for a reason because the universe (or your spiritual being of choice) had something else in store for you.
9. Let yourself get back out there.
Girl, you are one hell of a BAMF! Find that outfit that makes you feel like a total rockstar and get back out there.
And I’m not talking about half ass tinder hookups (unless that it is what you want and in that case, you go girl!), I’m talking about real, grown-up dating. Go on coffee dates with cute girls (or guys). Talk about your favorite movies and your favorite foods. Shamelessly flirt over dinner. Feel those butterflies in your stomach when they reach out told hold your hand. Get lost in someone’s eyes and the way the light up when they talk about something that they are passionate about. Tell that story of that funny night in college but also remember to be a good listener. Date all types of people. Expand your horizons. When you open yourself up to the unknown and the uncomfortable you might just find yourself pleasantly surprised.
If you’re interested in someone ask them out on a date. It’s 2018 if you like someone and want to get to know them better go ahead and find out when they are free. Same goes for that second date. Feel it out. Be honest about how you feel about a person. If you like spending time with them, tell them! If you really weren’t feeling it, that’s okay too. The best thing you can be is honest and open. You’ll both appreciate it the long run. On the flipside, just because someone asks you out doesn’t mean you’re obligated to go out with them. You can say no! Trust your gut and your intuition.
10. Let yourself be vulnerable.
Opening yourself up to someone can be difficult, especially if you’ve been burned in the past. It may seem like the easiest thing to keep everyone at an arm’s length and keep those conversations surface level. But what is that really doing for you? Sure it’s nice to learn someone’s favorite color or that they prefer reality TV over crime shows. But that’s not really getting to know someone is it? Now I’m not saying jump right into the deep end and tell the first person you really like your innermost deepest, darkest, secret. No. Start off slow with small nuggets of depth and build off of that.
Vulnerability is not a weakness. Everyone has been through their own level of shit. And when you find that person that you’re comfortable enough with to open up to you’re giving yourself the permission to be open to love. Being vulnerable is a gamble of high risk but also high reward. You’re essentially giving someone pieces of yourself and hoping against all odds that they don’t destroy you.
Being aware of the things that make you feel the most vulnerable means that you have a pretty clear understanding of yourself as a person. You know your weak spots and know that you are not an indestructible superhuman. You have flaws. So does everyone else. It is the acknowledgment of our flaws that allows us to evolve and grow.
11. Let yourself move on.
Take a step back and realize that the end is not the end. This end is actually your new beginning and that letting go of this person, of this relationship, has actually saved you from a life full of hurt and pain that would have come if you stayed with the wrong person. When moving on, consider these wise words from Jay Shetty, “Even at your best, you’ll never be right for the wrong person.” I made the mistake of putting a lot of my self-worth on to what the wrong person thought of me. So much so that slowly over our time together my self-worth diminished and almost completely vanished. This doesn’t make my ex a bad person, it just made her the wrong person for me because when you’re at your worst, the right person will remind you of your worth.
So get out there. Feel your feels. Dance like no one is watching. Fall in love with yourself again. And one day when you least expect it that right person for is going to reveal themselves.