How a Breakup Can Destroy Your Life (and Why That’s a Good Thing)

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“I can’t do this,” she said.

I swallowed a mouthful of burrito and looked at her. She was sitting in the passenger seat of my car, her face half-bathed in the purple glow of the Taco Bell sign. She kind of looks like Galactus right now, I thought. Somehow, that just made it worse.

She didn’t have to say it, because I already knew it was over. I knew from the long silences that had gradually crept into our conversations. I knew from the way she couldn’t make eye contact all night, or the way she insisted on paying for her own quesadilla.

But knowing didn’t soften the blow. I felt a deep sickness in my stomach that reached up to send splinters of pain through my whole body. It was too soon to be the effects of the burrito. No, this was Heartbreak, the most bitter burrito of all.

I maintained my composure. We talked about the good times, our memories of the past year. We reminisced about the early days of the relationship and laughed about our inside jokes. I tried to eat, but the over-spiced meat paste that filled my burrito just tasted like emptiness and despair. The Taco Bell parking lot, the graveyard of so many hopes and dreams, saw one more beautiful thing crushed that night.

When I dropped her off at her place, we sat in silence for a moment. I don’t think either of us knew exactly how to say goodbye. I pulled her in for one last kiss. She stepped out onto the curb, said, “Good luck,” and shut the car door.

*****

I hate breakups.

Who doesn’t? You’re cruising along, thinking things are going great, then BAM. A gaping hole is ripped into your life, and your world is thrown into chaos.

Everyone deals with the pain in different ways, all of them weird. Maybe you spend a night drinking cheap vodka and creeping on her Facebook profile. Or you gently cuddle with the hairbrush she left behind in your apartment. Or you just drive in circles around your block playing “White Horse” by Taylor Swift on repeat.

In any case, you definitely suck during this time.

Sadness, frustration, bitterness, even major depression can result from a particularly bad breakup. Without the proper processing, the negative emotional residue of a breakup can last for years. When I’m going through a breakup, I often wonder if it’d be better to just give up on relationships altogether rather than expose myself to that kind of pain.

But what if I told you that my worst breakups were also the best things that ever happened to me? It might sound ridiculous, but the truth is that I have bounced back from every breakup a stronger, happier and more complete human being than I was before.

A tough breakup is an opportunity to make powerful changes in your life. You can use the emotion of a breakup to motivate you to push yourself in the right direction. But first, you have to…

Cut Her Out

If you’re fresh out of a relationship, here’s the first step: delete her contact info. Right now. All of it. Delete her number, unfriend her from Facebook, stop reading her damn tweets.

It’ll be hard, but you’ll save yourself a lot of grief if you do this right off. If you don’t, you’ll be setting yourself up for trouble. Even if you don’t end up drunk texting her at three in the morning (you will), you’ll always have the temptation to contact her, which will hover over your life and prevent you from moving forward.

Even if you want to remain friends, you should still have a period of at least a month where you each do your own thing. You can reconnect after you’ve rebuilt your life on a stable foundation. If you can’t, you didn’t have very good friendship potential to begin with.

Now get ready, because it’s time to…

Cry It Out

Let it out, man. It’s okay. Throw yourself a little pity party, and give yourself permission to feel all of it. The sadness. The anger. The fear. The loneliness. Feel the waves of emotion and don’t fight them or shove them down. In fact, you probably still have lots of unresolved shit from past relationships that will come to the surface. Feel that too.

It’s okay to get angry at that shitty thing she said at the party two months ago. It’s okay to miss her and wish things had been different. It’s okay to feel lonely and scared of what life will be like without her. It’s NOT okay to pretend you’re fine and refuse to feel anything, until you inevitably have a breakdown in a bar a few weeks later. Or worse, drag all your unresolved baggage into your next relationship.

Take your time, feel what you need to feel, and then it’s time for the most important part…

Let Her Go

Your brain will rebel against this. You’ll find yourself imagining what you can do to win her back (or what you should have done to keep her). You’ll create elaborate scenarios in your head where you can rescue her, or get back at her, or do something to provoke an emotional response in her to show that she still cares about you.

A relationship has psychologically addictive qualities, and you’re jonesing for those sweet dopamine squirts you had when you were with her. But the longer you hold on to the fantasy of getting back together, the longer you’ll live in an emotional purgatory without any closure.

At some point, you have to realize that you both did your best, but now it’s over. It’s no one’s fault, necessarily. Your lives just have to go in different directions. And that’s okay.

Write her a letter telling her everything you’ve ever wanted to say. Everything. Read it over. Burn it. Accept that the relationship is gone, and that you’re going to have to build a new life on your own. It’s tough, but once you can accept the truth, you can move on to the fun part…

Relearn How to Be Happy

Being happy is a skill. Like all skills, it develops or atrophies depending on how often you practice it. During the relationship, you probably got really good at being happy with another person, while your ability to be happy on your own didn’t get much of a workout. So now here you are, an expert in a skill that is no longer useful to you and sorely lacking in a skill that you really need. If you had been in the relationship for a really long time, you might not even remember how to be happy at all.

But that’s okay, because you can teach yourself.

Get back to the activities you used to love doing before you got into the relationship, and try some new stuff as well. Go for a hike, take salsa lessons, read War and Peace, cook a steak, dress up for Comic Con, WHATEVER. Take some time to be purely selfish and relearn to have fun for its own sake. Anything you want to do. You’re free!

Try to do things that are PHYSICAL, to get those nice exercise endorphins going; and SOCIAL, to ensure you don’t spend too much time alone in your dark basement of despair. Call up old friends and go rock climbing or take a Krav Maga class. Reinitiate some friendships that may have fallen by the wayside during your time with your ex.

Once you’re feeling good and relatively stable, it’s time to take a step back and…

Get Honest About Your Life

Often when you’re in a relationship, the bliss of being “in love” can create a cloud of denial around other areas of your life, convincing you that everything is fine when it’s not. When the relationship is ripped away, it can shock you awake and force you to see your life how it really is.

Take a good long look at your present circumstances:

If your answer to any of these questions is “No,” (or even a hesitant “Yes, but…”), then you have work to do…

Change Your Circumstances

Without the security blanket of a relationship, you’ll be brought face to face with the areas of your life that you are unhappy with. You’re at an important crossroads and have to make a choice: do you keep living an unsatisfying existence, hoping to someday find someone who will fill the void of meaning in your life? Or do you take responsibility for yourself and take your happiness into your own hands?

Go ahead. Write that book. Go back to school. Volunteer for a cause that matters to you. Hell, seek out treatment if you can see that anxiety or depression is holding you back. Do whatever you need to do to bring your circumstances back into alignment with your life purpose.

When you’re fresh out of a breakup you have the emotional leverage necessary to make big changes, the kinds of changes you’ve wanted to make for a while, but were ignoring when you were in the relationship. And when you’ve got your life on the right track, it’s time to…

Get Back Out There

It’ll suck at first. You won’t remember how to be single. You’ll get frustrated with the shallowness of the dating scene. You’ll subconsciously compare every new woman you meet to your ex. You’ll get rejected…a lot.

But you can still try. Take your time, but realize that you’ll never feel fully ready. Go out, meet new people, and if you meet a woman you like, ask for her phone number. Don’t start out looking for a new relationship to replace your old one. Just keep it light and fun and don’t take anything too seriously (or personally).

Meanwhile, keep working on your real life goals. Keep learning how to grow happiness within yourself. You’ll become more magnetic and interesting. You’ll start attracting the kinds of people you want into your world. Over time, you will build a meaningful life that you can share with someone, instead of hoping that they’ll take care of your emotional needs for you.

So put down that sadness burrito, get back out there and have some fun again. I promise that you’ll be a richer and wiser person for the experience.

“Be in love with your life, every detail of it.” -Jack Kerouac

  • Kelly Marie Papcun

    wonderful article my friend

  • Kari Ross Suppnick

    Great article! ;)

  • K

    Thank you so much, this is truly brilliant !

  • JLH

    This advice is SPOT ON! Thank you!

  • Butch

    Good advice. More people need to learn to move on.

  • Jason

    thanks, you really helped me out of a dark spot

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  • MadMan1981

    I am stuck in the process where I get rejected a LOT :) I have never sucked this much with women, but on the bright side, the rejection does not hurt nearly as much as it used to do

    Having had my heartbroken felt at some point like someone was pouring acid on my heart, but in hindsight I realise me and her were just not meant to be. She behaved in an atrocious way by not being honest with me about her intentions and basically luring me into falling in love with her, but what can I say? Hurtful experience, but plenty of wisdom gained from it.