While you’re moving from relationship to relationship, working on finding the person with whom you’ll stay long-term, you’ll have to cope with not just one but often a string of losses and heartbreaks. The repetitiveness can begin to create a learned helplessness: it just seems like your heart always gets broken, you never find the right person, or nobody is quite good enough for you. But this is just a temporary thing.
Chances are, you will spend the rest of your life with someone whom you are happily coupled. You are not meant to be stuck in this back and forth. You are not designed to forge a beautiful connection with someone and then have it severed. You are not supposed to build foundations and then have someone crack them in half. This is why it feels so wrong, so foreign, and so awful: this is not how you’re supposed to experience life, and it won’t be how you experience life for the majority of your life.
Right now, the pain is making you feel like just because someone will be out of your life forever that the hurt will last forever too. But all you can see is what you’ve lost. You have yet to see what you’re going to gain.
What is there to gain from heartbreak?
As it turns out, a lot.
Right now, life is offering you a second chance. It’s telling you that the person you’re hung up on is not the person you should be spending every day of your life with. Your life partner is someone who shapes you irrevocably. Their influence in your life will do a great deal in making you who you become. Is the person you are mourning the kind of person you want to be? Would you want to have kids just like them? If the answer is in any way no, you do not want to be with that person. In a few years, you’ll look at them and want to fall to your knees with gratitude that you were rerouted.
Not that you feel that way right now.
Right now, you are so focused on what you think you have lost that you’re not realizing the fertile ground that is in front of you. The earth shifts when our hearts break. When we are forced out of comfort, we transform. Right now, you have a choice: you can put all of your energy into throwing a hissy fit about not getting what you want, or you can take all of the energy that you were previously spending loving, caring, worrying, spending time with and thinking about this person, and you can put it into yourself.
Do you know what you can do when your energy is wholly your own? Anything. Everything. You can start a side hustle and work until it becomes your main gig, and by this time next year, you could be self-employed doing what you love every day. You can take a trip to St. Tropez and sit on the beach alone. You can spend your nights reading and retaining knowledge that will literally change the entire quality of your life for decades to come. You can spend the money you were wasting on drinks and food and accommodations and start paying off your debts so you have fewer responsibilities and more freedom.
You can become exactly who you want and are meant to be. You have the rest of your life to be in love. You have right now to change yourself.
You’re mourning the loss of an idea.
It is normal and healthy to grieve the loss of someone with whom you used to have a deep or intimate relationship.
But when it becomes obsessive to the point of being devastated and completely incapable of moving on, it is no longer the person you are mourning, it is an idea you had about your future life.
When you break up with someone and mourn the loss of their presence in your lives, it’s normal to feel lonely, for emotions to come in waves, to cry, to want to avoid them or start over or take some time for yourself. But when you break up with someone on whom you were in some way relying on to give you a sense of certainty, direction or security for the future, the reaction will be much more manic. You’ll be obsessive, convinced that it’s not the end, desperately looking for “signs,” doing anything to make them believe you are still meant to be together.
That kind of reaction is not the reaction of someone who has loved and lost a person they care about. That is the kind of reaction of someone who has lost a feeling of safety about the future and will go to any length to get it back… even just believing in their own minds that it’s “not over.” In that, you are giving yourself that feeling again.
Here’s a litmus test for you: what was going on in your life when you first got together with this person? Before you were in this relationship, did you know where your life was going? Were you confident in who you were, what you wanted, and how you were planning to proceed with the next few years of your life? Were you at all worried, stressed or anxious that you hadn’t found a relationship by the “right time,” or that you’d hit some milestone and be alone? Were you feeling lost in your career, stressed about money, or tense about your family?
The circumstances that existed when the relationship began can tell you so much about the relationship itself. This is why people preach from the gospel of “Love Yourself First” so often: when two people who are happy, well adjusted and pursuing their own individual goals get together, the relationship lasts. When two people who need self-work to do get together, they use one another as a band-aid, and then it falls apart because ultimately, they realize: another person is not a solution.
If you are anxious about the future, you need to be the one to make a plan. If you feel unsure about what you want, you need to sit down and brainstorm until you come up with some ideas. If you don’t know who you are, you need to do some soul-searching. If you feel unfulfilled, you need to work somewhere new. If you feel stressed, you need to manage your time, money or relationships better.
This is what you needed to do then, and it is what you are getting a chance to do now.
You’re not going to forget about this person. You’re going to have to get distracted.
There’s a quote about ancient stoic wisdom that goes something like this: “You are standing in the ruins instead of building the new city.”
It means that for all the time that you are spending focusing on what’s gone, lost and failed, you are offering more and more of your energy to tearing apart the ruins. The city is already collapsed. You’re standing in heaps of rubble kicking at it and wondering why it’s not magically reverting back to the mecca you once knew it to be. If you want to change your life and really get over this person, you will have to start building the new city, so to say. You will have to start offering your energy not to what’s passed, but to what’s to come.
“Forgetting” about someone is impossible. The more you try not to think about them, the more you will. Carrying on with your days like nothing has changed is not what it’s going to take to “move on” with your life. The normal that you once knew is gone. If you keep trying to live as though this person is still around, you will be orbiting around empty spaces. It will be impossible to not think of them and mourn for them constantly. You will sit in the room you used to sit in together and cry. You’ll visit the store you use to shop in together and feel defeated. You’ll see the friends you used to hang out with and sense embarrassment because in a very public way, you failed.
You need to get up, you need to start over, and you need to begin anew. You need new places, people, and routines. You need new adventures and goals and plans.
This is how you get over anything: you fill your life with so many powerful, world-altering things that slowly, over time, you begin to think about them less and less. Not because you’re trying to, but because you have so many other things to think about now. You have so many places to go, things to hope for, and passions to keep your mind consumed.
As time goes on, you’ll think about that person less and less and less. Not because you magically stopped caring about them one day, but because you started filling your life with things you cared about more.
That, right there, is the magic of heartbreak: it forces you to be a different person. Unless you want to mourn forever, you have to change. And if you do it right, you’ll work on becoming the person you always wanted to be. You’ll look back on this moment as the pinnacle, the turning point, the unanswered prayer that was the answer itself. It will be the greatest thing that ever happened to you because instead of a lukewarm relationship that wasn’t working anyway, you got the life of your dreams… and you were the one who gave it to yourself.
How do you know when someone is right for you
The tricky thing about relationships is that they almost never end with certainty. It’s not obvious that you should or shouldn’t be with this person. For every issue that you have, you could list off all of their redeeming qualities. For every argument, you could rattle off all the great times you had together, all the signs and signals and ways you’re positive that you’re just “meant to be.”
The opposite of knowing someone is right for you isn’t being sure someone is wrong for you. The opposite of knowing someone is right for you is being uncertain.
When someone is clearly and overwhelmingly “wrong” for you, your relationship won’t get that far. You won’t be able to develop and foster any kind of significant connection. You’d realize that you are fundamentally incompatible long before you could form any kind of attachment. This is not how heartbreak happens. It is not the product of being mismatched with someone who is fundamentally “wrong.”
It is being matched with someone who in many ways could be “right,” but raises just as many doubts. Realizing that someone is wrong for you happens in tiny gestures. It is not posting a lot of photos online, because somewhere deep down, you know the relationship isn’t going to last. It’s avoiding introducing them to your parents, because you know they aren’t going to react as well as you’d hope. It’s thinking to yourself in quiet moments, “But what if there’s something else?” It’s daydreaming about the possibilities that life could hold if you weren’t with that person.
It’s going back and forth wondering if this is the person you could spend your life with, rather than just being in the moment each day and actually spending your life with them.
Heartbreak doesn’t happen with people who are wholly wrong for you. You aren’t able to get close enough to let it hurt. It happens with people who are just right enough to make you hope, but just wrong enough to prevent you from getting closer, or making it official.
That’s why you don’t have to watch out for the people who reject you as much as you do the people who leave you hanging, the people who keep wanting to see you without making a commitment, the people who say it’s “just not the right time” or that they “aren’t looking for anything serious.” The truth is that nobody is looking for anything serious until someone comes along who they seriously love. It is never the right time until it is the right person.
The opposite of “just knowing” someone is right for you isn’t “just knowing” they are wrong for you. It’s doubt. Being very uncertain means you know the answer… you are just too attached to admit it.
How do you “let go” when you can’t stop thinking about someone?
In the wake of your breakup, everyone around you is going to be counseling you to just “let go” of the past, move on, and start anew. They’ll tell you to go out drinking, start dating, and revel in your newfound freedom. This will be annoying at best, and absolutely maddening at worst. There’s nothing more frustrating than someone who seems to believe that a shot of tequila and a random Saturday hookup will be a salve for the life-shattering heartbreak you’re experiencing right now. The future as you thought it would be has changed. The present as you’re used to it has, too. You do not need anymore uncertainties right now. You do not need to try to force yourself into a new life when you’re already panicked about what’s going to happen next.
The harder you try to “let go” and “move on,” the more your brain is going to latch onto reasons why you should think about it more, try again, or keep hoping.
The thing about “letting go” is that it’s less an active choice as it is accepting that something is already gone. It’s not really that you actually dismiss someone from your life, it’s that you come to terms with the fact that they are already gone. In that, you can find a semblance of peace: you aren’t toying with whether or not you should unclasp your hand and release something, you only have to realize that you are already living without this person. They are already gone. You have, essentially, already let go.
People feel uncertainty because it’s the unknown. But uncertainty is also an incredible blessing, because it means that for the first time, you are detached from what happened in the past and what you think you want to happen in the future. When you are uncertain, you are open to making choices that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible, because you were too comfortable with what you were used to. Uncertainty is a breeding ground for life’s greatest moments and most epic possibilities.
Most people hang onto what they’ve known and what they think they want because they are too afraid of feeling the discomfort of not knowing. People who are willing to brave that tension are the ones who truly free themselves.
The ground rules for moving on from a relationship:
When you’re hurt and uncomfortable and desperately wanting to retrace your steps, figure out what went wrong or even try to mend things again, you’re going to be in a place in which you are not thinking clearly. Call it a crime of passion, but people are most apt to completely embarrass themselves and make detrimental decisions for their long-term wellbeing when they’re most in emotional pain. That’s why if you’re going through a split, you should follow these guidelines:
1. Follow a no contact policy, unless the relationship wasn’t that serious and you’re comfortable being friends again. Exes don’t hang out alone, go out for drinks, or talk to each other regularly… and they certainly don’t hook up.
2. Find a trustworthy friend to whom you can vent, and do so privately. Airing your dirty laundry all over social media doesn’t make your ex look bad, it makes you look desperate.
3. If you can’t help but feel the urge to check in on them, to view their photos or to see what they’re doing online, unfriend or block them. If you feel bad doing that, explain kindly that it’s a step for you to gain closure and to help you move on, and that you wish them well.
4. Switch up your routine. You cannot hang out with the same people, visit the same places, and otherwise continue to circle in orbit around them and not expect to miss them every minute of the day. When you go through a breakup, your whole life changes… that’s the magic of it.
5. Don’t do anything permanent. Don’t do anything you cannot undo in a matter of days.
6. The sooner you can try to start casually dating again, the better. No, it’s not fair to enter a new relationship hung up on someone else. But if you are never really going to forget your old relationship until you have a new, better one to take its place and remind you that everything happens for a reason.
7. Write down everything that you wanted and needed this person to be for you. Most likely, you’re scared because without them, your future could be lonely, financially harder, or you might just feel like a total screw up. Those are all issues that you need to work on mending for yourself. A relationship is not a bandaid. Treating it like one is what landed you with the wrong person in the first place.
8. Stop blaming them. Maybe it didn’t end well. Maybe you actually were a victim. Maybe they cheated. Maybe it wasn’t fair. Maybe they promised you forever and then took it back. Maybe they were not the person you thought they were. It sucks, but it happens to everyone. The longer you hold a torch of anger for them, the longer you give them power over you.
9. The only thing you are losing is one idea you had about what your future might have been. That’s it.
10. The other thing you are losing is the life you are comfortable with now, but if your relationship is ending, chances are it wasn’t all that great in the first place… at the very least, it wasn’t good as it could be, and one or both of you knew that.
How “past self” and “future self” work can help you heal:
When you’re in therapy, a technique that is often used to help heal limiting patterns and beliefs is “inner child work.” Basically, it’s about tracing your issues back to their origin – your early life – and reawakening your inner child either by teaching them that there’s nothing to be scared, or proving to them that they are loved and save. Inner child work can do wonders in helping you release the limiting beliefs of the past, and to stop re-creating the painful relationships of your childhood because you don’t realize you’re confusing “love” for “comfort.” But what’s even more significant to help you through this time of transition is future self work.
Future self work is a process of visualizing yourself many years down the line. When you sit down to do it, make sure you’re in a quiet and calm place, and have a pen and paper handy. Close your eyes and visualize the highest and best version of your future self. It doesn’t matter what age you are. Know that it is common to first see scary things (like being dead or hurt or in pain when you’re older) and know that it is just your fear of what could happen that you’re seeing.
Once that subsides and you can finally see what you’re going to be like in the future, start asking that person questions, and see what they say in your mind. Know that this is all entirely a projection of who you already are and where you already know you’re meant to be heading… it’s just a process of making you aware of that fact.
Often, visualizing yourself happy and single or happy and coupled with someone new in the future is just what you need to let go of someone. Your future self could also advise you on what to do in the moment, or whether or not you really need to let a relationship go. You are basically tapping into the counsel of the highest and wisest part of yourself (future self = older, which means, better developed) and as long as what you write down feels real, true and helpful, you should trust it.
The reality is that you already are that best version of yourself. Everything that’s happening around you right now is helping you to realize that once and for all.