Spend time apart. Like, a lot of time. Don’t do that weird, awful thing where you extend the breakup into 17 mini-breakups and keep cutting each other in the exact same places, just because you like to see it bleed. Mute them on your social media and take them out of your phone, cut yourself off from every chance you have to see them and feel jealousy, or resentment, or nostalgia, or anything at all. Don’t leave yourself open to those things, because they only end up in the exact same place: their apartment. Resist the temptation to keep some curse-like hold over their life just because you can, because you don’t actually want them but don’t want to let anyone else have them, either. Let them go.
Accept that the only time it’s truly safe to bring them back into your digital life is when you no longer have any urge to reach out to them, when their name is just one of many that used to mean something to you, but which now elicits no pang in your heart. No matter how long this takes, wait for it. You never need to bring them back in, if you don’t want to.
Don’t worry about what they’re doing — don’t ask, don’t take news every time you see a mutual friend, cushioned by innocent questions about exactly three other people so as to not seem desperate. Learn to tell the difference between actually caring about someone and feeling some weird, lingering ownership of them, because this is definitely the latter. Let news actually surprise you for once, months after it happened, because you were way too busy living your own life to notice. “Oh, they got engaged? That’s so great.” Really mean it. Really be pleased for them in a light way, as you would be for a distant family member.
Fall in love, too. With a new person, with a job, with a new city. Do things just for you, and grow without any thought as to who might be jealous or how it might look on your social media. Don’t do things for the spectacle, or to prove that you’re the one who “won” the breakup. (Realize that “winning” a breakup is a pretty dumb concept, anyway, and feel a little embarrassed that it was ever important to you.) Just enjoy things, and realize that you don’t have to define every big change in your life as “Before Them” and “After Them,” because you’re plenty important by yourself. Know that you don’t owe them your consideration, and that the feeling you got from appearing to have moved on is not nearly as satisfying as the feeling you get from actually having moved on.
Be in the same town as them, years later. Maybe two, maybe ten, it depends on how long you needed it to be (first, because you had to remove them from your emotional life, and then, because it took a while to be in the same place at the same time). Reach out to them, or let them reach out to you. It doesn’t matter who starts it, only that this bridge has finally been crossed and you no longer have to worry if it’s “weird” to say something. Exchange messages like, “Do you want to grab a drink or something?” and “It’s been forever! I’m so excited to hear about [their new spouse, their new job, their new life entirely without you]!” Be genuinely excited to meet up with them because, freed from your torturous need to control what they do and to not allow them to be a single percentage point happier or more successful, you actually really like them. Remember why you loved them in the first place, but in an entirely platonic way. They make you laugh, and that’s a great quality for a friend. They’re a good listener, and that’s a friend you want in your life. They have a lot of the same memories as you, which is great for when you want to catch up and reminisce. Realize that loving someone for objectively great qualities doesn’t mean they have to be the person for you, or that it disqualifies all of the things that didn’t work between you. It doesn’t have to be one or the other – you can love them as a friend.
Spend an evening or afternoon with them, catching up, laughing, having a drink. Maybe invite mutual friends, maybe don’t. But most importantly, leave at the end of it with a warm hug and no desire for anything more than that, and no need from them to hold onto you just a little too long. Release the last bits of their ghost that lingered with you, and be happy knowing that there is now someone in the world who holds a piece of your history with them, but who doesn’t need to be a part of your future in the same way. Look at them as a new kind of friend, the kind you will always be able to catch up with when you’re both in town. Realize that you really like this new kind of friend, maybe even more than you liked being with them in the first place.