My little brother got dumped last week. His girlfriend found someone else. She was his first serious love. They dated for a year. Now he’s trying to find the worth in himself. Everyone feels worthless after a breakup. At least for a little while. Especially if it wasn’t your idea.
A killer breakup feels just like that. A murder. Someone you loved deeply has killed a piece of you. Now that piece is lying on the floor. And you’re the detective, trying to figure out why.
You want answers, reasons, a reckoning. Sometimes, they don’t exist.
My fiance couldn’t explain why he broke things off after two years. Even when I begged, he just sputtered, “Because I don’t love you anymore.”
Of course, I countered: “You think I’m fat, don’t you?”
He said, “No. You’re beautiful.”
“So, you think I’m stupid?”
“No, Jess. I don’t.”
We played logic by elimination. Was I mean? No. Not to him, anyway. Negligent? No. Did he think I was a dork, cheesy, nagging? All no’s.
Maybe he was lying. So after our breakup, I called all my friends and asked the same questions. Did they think I was fat, stupid, dorky, boring? They all said no. I knew they were telling me the truth, because my best friend finally snapped at me. “Jess, I’m sorry you got dumped. But you’re really pissing me off. Go eat some fucking Ben & Jerry’s and deal with it. Okay?”
I’ve got such great friends.
How do you deal with a breakup? I’ve mapped some steps.
You owe yourself some time alone. After all, someone you loved just turned into a monster and devoured your heart. You’re in shock. You need time to process your feelings. Don’t involve your friends at this point.
That part was hard for me. Because my breakup happened in two stages. (The conversation came later.) First, my fiance sent me an email — one hour before I planned to drive up to see him. On Valentine’s Day weekend. I was having coffee with some friends when the message hit my inbox. I’d just been telling everyone about how happy I was.
We were long distance by that point. We’d dated for a year, and then he went to law school in another state.
So I had to extricate myself from coffee with grace. I went for a long walk. Those are the best ways to sulk. You burn so many calories.
At some point, you’ll start to remember all the times your lover acted like an ass. Now you’re ready to involve your friends. They want to hear all the dirt on your relationship. They want to get you drunk and hear about how glad you are you’re not dating that loser anymore.
Sure, last weekend you cried your eyes out. But now it’s time to drink and tell embarrassing stories about your ex.
Drink as much as you possibly can. Because you’re not paying. Didn’t I tell you? After a bad breakup, your alcohol is free. Your friends will practically fight over who covers your tab. The bartender will give you generous pours on liquor, too.
It’s a huge bonus.
Why? Because they don’t want you to think too much. If you think, you’ll start sulking again. And they can’t stand that.
Rush into romance.
You’ll never quite know when to jump back into the dating pool. By the way, the pool is a strange metaphor for dating. All kinds of things happen in pools that I don’t want associated with my love life. Shit. Piss. Bleach. Life guards. All right, I’m thinking too much. But someone else on here should do some research into dating metaphors.
Back to my recovery. So, two weeks after my breakup, I met someone at a teacher’s job fair.
We felt sparks right away. Suddenly, having my CV spat on by a dozen recruiters didn’t matter so much. By 6 pm, my new friend and I were kissing in the parking deck. We’d met six hours ago, but I felt like I’d known him for years. Cue the ironic Lionel Richie reference.
Like me, the new guy was also raw from a breakup. That might explain the sudden attraction. We were comforting each other. My best friend described us as “two sticks of dynamite rubbing together.”
My new romance and I lived in different states. But we conspired to meet up three more times that month. The problem? I felt my life spiraling out of control. My emotions slipped and slid all over the place.
Finally, I admitted to myself that I wasn’t ready for a relationship. And this one was getting serious fast. So I canceled our fourth date. Via text. Yeah, somewhat cowardly. He never responded. Sometimes I wonder what might’ve been. But you can’t go through the maze of second guesses.
Learn to be alone again.
That’s the hardest part. For months, I kept trying to date people, only to learn that I needed time to focus on myself. At the end of my master’s degree, I had no idea what to do next. Keep trying to freelance? Travel? Work for a magazine? A high school? A technical college?
I didn’t even know if I wanted to keep writing. Everything had felt so certain with my old fiance. I was going to work on my novel, freelance, and teach. He was going to become a lawyer and support us, until I became famous. So simple.
But now I was alone. That left me with a lot more free time than I’d ever imagined. Instead of spending it in the pursuit of my next mate, I finally started investing it in myself. Some people spend too much time alone. Others, not enough.
In my 20s, I fell into the “not enough” category. For the past five years, I’d gone out with friends almost every night. I had three interlocking social groups. I could walk into any coffee shop or bar at anytime of day and run into at least two or three friends. That’s an immense social cushion.
But that cushion was starting to smother me. If I was going to find my path, I had to start spending some nights at my computer. Drinking coffee instead of wine. For months, I re-balanced my priorities. Stopped treating my TA job as a temporary paycheck. Committed myself to teaching. Applied to PhD programs. Learned how to use my stove.
That killer breakup turned into one of the best things that ever happened to me. It forced me to reconfigure my life. The changes I made during that year ricocheted until I became almost an entirely new person.
About a year later, a friend stopped me at a cafe. We chatted. She said she hadn’t seen me out in a while. I told her I was still out, just not like I used to be. We caught up. I told her I’d just been accepted into a PhD program. Had a summer teaching job lined up. Also a couple of publications.
She squinted at me. “Wow, you’ve really gotten your shit together.” After an awkward pause she added, “I mean, you had the shit. It was good. But now it’s like…together. You know?”
Yeah, I knew.
This part takes the longest. But you can’t keep harboring ill feelings toward old flames. It’s taken me years to release my resentment toward my old fiance. Even a few months ago, I still found myself rolling my eyes sometimes. Seriously, an email breakup? Lame.
Let’s be honest, though. The format of your breakup doesn’t matter.
My fiance was going to dump me one way or the other. In person. Over text message. By email. The method might sound cowardly, but that’s their problem. Yours is gathering up the shards of your heart.
The decisions you make, the person you become, that no longer has anything to do with who you used to love. Nothing at all.
They don’t define you anymore. If they ever did.
Sure, every person you love leaves a footprint. But that’s all. An impression. An influence. An echo.
My old fiance still echoes in me. I remember mistakes I made with him. Things I did and said that hurt our relationship. Things I’ve worked on. I also remember the ways he doubted my talent, my perseverance. Obviously, he’s given me some great material for my blog. So how can I stay angry?
He’s emailed me a few times over the years. Harmless congratulations on my tenure track job. My marriage. My house. I always respond with an equally harmless thanks. If we ever meet up in person, we’ll be pleasant with each other. Bed friends turned acquaintances. You can’t ask for anything more.