When I was 17, I experienced an important rite of passage…my very first heartbreak. And it was more brutal and agonizing than anything I could ever have imagined. He was a boy I met at a party who stirred me in a way I can’t quite articulate.
I felt something that no one else had ever made me feel before, and no one has since.
We talked every day, hung out on weekends, and he had this way of just making me feel alive, of making me feel like everything was OK. It ended because I wanted things to be more serious and he was a freshman in college and wanted to be young, stupid, and free, not tied to a relationship.
I was absolutely devastated, crushed, gutted from the inside out.
I was interning at US Weekly magazine at the time and what I most remember from that period was replaying everything about our relationship on loop every morning as I took the train into the city, and every evening on my way back home. I couldn’t stop, no matter how much it hurt.
I didn’t properly deal with the pain and it followed me like a piece of toilet paper stuck to the bottom of a shoe. I always had a feeling of not being good enough, a fear that the guy wouldn’t want me the way I wanted him.
My next major heartbreak came a few years later when I was 21. This time was even worse because the relationship was a lot more serious, and a lot more toxic. The end was also much more devastating. He left me for someone else, and once again I didn’t process it properly; instead, I let it fester and eat away at me and I developed an even stronger complex about not being good enough, about not being worthy of getting the love I truly wanted.
These breakups both caused an insurmountable amount of pain but also brought a lot of good.
The end result? I ended up marrying the high-school ex, and I started this website with the college ex and get to write about relationships for a living. So I guess it’s true that all’s well that ends well!
But back to the matter at hand: How to get over a breakup. They say time heals, and in some ways this is true, but it takes more than time. You also have to process the situation, you need to digest, you need to feel, you need to make peace, you need to get in touch with your inner strength, and you need to move on as a better, stronger person than you were before. This is not how I handled either of those breakups.
What I did was obsess and replay everything that happened and what I wish I had done differently. Then I got lost in an endless array of distractions. I was going, going going, keeping myself busy so I wouldn’t have to feel anything. I took it all way too personally and these feelings of inadequacy bled into almost every relationship I had after.
Here is something to keep in mind about pain: it doesn’t go away just because it goes unacknowledged. The more you avoid it, the more it merges into your psyche and becomes a part of you. These faulty beliefs get wired in and will remain unless you challenge them.
But let’s get a little more concrete and talk about how to get over a breakup the right way.
1.Don’t Take it Personally
I know it feels personal, I know it feels like you weren’t good enough, that you should have done something else, been some other way. But it’s not. Sometimes the timing just isn’t right (as was the case with my high-school ex/current husband), or sometimes two people simply aren’t a match (as was the case with Eric, who is now my business partner). Maybe you made mistakes, maybe you wish you could have done something different, but chances are this isn’t the reason the relationship ended. (Unless you did something like cheat, in which case, it probably was something you did!)
It isn’t because you weren’t enough. I know this is how it might feel, but that is a destructive belief, and also a false one. Everyone has different things they want and need in a partner. There might be some things about you that one guy doesn’t want, and those qualities may end up being what the right guy loves more than anything about you.
2. Feel Your Feelings
This can be the hard part, but it has to be done. Whatever it is you’re feeling, feel it. Don’t bury it, don’t hide from it, don’t ignore it. Feel the awful, brutal feelings. Mourn the loss, because a breakup is a loss. It’s the loss of potential, the loss of what could have been.
In the beginning I’m sure you had grand visions of where this would go; that’s because the beginning is always a euphoric time. But things didn’t pan out the way you had hoped and you need to accept that.
Sometimes it can almost feel like a death when someone who was once so much a part of your life is now no longer in it, and that is very sad, even if you realize that this wasn’t the right relationship for you. Give yourself time to grieve and be kind and gentle to yourself. Don’t get mad at yourself for feeling what you’re feeling; accept it as a part of the process. But don’t let this drag on for too long. Life must go on and you’ll never move forward if you keep mourning this loss. I would say give yourself a week, max, to let it all out, and then try to pick up the pieces.
3. Write Him A Letter You Don’t Send
This can be a part of the grieving process, and while it may sound pointless, it is incredibly therapeutic and can assist in helping your feelings process.
After a breakup, your emotions will probably start spiraling all over the place. Rage, sadness, longing, anger, nostalgia, emptiness – you could feel it all in the span of just 30 minutes. No matter what state you’re in, write a letter with all the things you want to say to him, whether you’re feeling fury and want to let him have it, or you’re feeling nostalgic and want to reflect upon the happier times.
Whenever you feel an urge to reach out to him, or to speak to him, or even if you start thinking about things you wish you had said, just write it out in a letter. (I still have a bunch of mine and it’s so wild looking at them all these years later!)
4. Surround Yourself With Love
The loss of someone who you shared a relationship with will inevitably leave a void that can make you feel empty and more alone than ever before. The best way to combat this feeling is to fill the hole with more love, either from family or friends. Don’t isolate yourself from the world, get out there and rebuild some of those relationships that may have been neglected due to your relationship. Spend as much time as you can around people who truly love you and care about your happiness and wellbeing.
You should also immerse yourself in some self-love. Do some things just for you. Get a massage, a facial, buy a pair of amazing shoes. Give yourself a self-indulgent treat for no other reason than you love yourself and want to treat yourself kindly.
5. Do A Self-Check
Everything that happens in life, especially when it comes to breakups, has the potential to tear us down or take us to a higher place. As brutal as breakups are, they are a great time to do some reflection and inner work. Rather than stewing in feelings of hurt and pain, try to find a way to come out of this better than you were before. Here are a few good questions to ask yourself:
- What did I learn from this relationship that I can use in my next relationship?
- What did I do in this relationship that I won’t ever do again in another relationship?
- What qualities do I truly need in a partner? (Think of qualities your ex had that you appreciated, as well as areas where he was lacking that you realized you need.)
- Why did I stay even though the relationship wasn’t working?
- What did I learn about myself through my time with him?
6. Get Excited About Your Next Relationship
Once you have felt your feelings, found ways to love yourself, and learned the lessons that will help you be an even better person, get excited to use these newly acquired tools to have an even better relationship with a man who is even more suited for you.
I know how daunting it can feel to dive back into the dating pool, but don’t focus on the annoying sides of dating, think of the exciting parts. Think about how thrilling a new relationship can be…that first date, the first kiss, the excitement that comes with the unlimited potential that lies ahead. Think about how amazing it will be to start clean with someone new – a blank slate, a new beginning. Think about what it will be like to be with a man who truly gets you, who appreciates you for the sum of all your parts, who cherishes you and would do anything to make you happy.
He exists; he’s out there. You’ll just have to have faith on that one because until he shows up, it can feel like you’ll never find it, and then when you do, you’ll wonder how you ever could have been worried about not finding it because what you have is just so right and it’s so clear.
Finding the right guy entails two things. First, you must make yourself a vessel to receive love. You will never recognize the right guy when he comes along if you’re still stuck on thoughts of the wrong guys. And you have to get over whatever issues are holding you back from receiving love. The next stage is to put yourself out there. Go out and date, get on the dating sites, download the dating apps. Most people think that this is the most important step, but it’s not; this comes secondary to making yourself a vessel.
Trust me, I know how hard it is. I know how lonely it can feel. Heartbreak can be an isolating experience; it feels like this pain is yours and yours alone. Remember that you will get through it, just as many before you have.
You will heal, you will feel again, and you will find love, the right kind of love that will make you wonder how you ever mistook the wrong kind for the real thing.
While it can feel like fate has dealt you a brutal hand and life just isn’t fair, try not to panic in the middle of the sentence because you truly have no idea how your story will unfold. Take my story as exhibit A, I never ever in my wildest dreams could have predicted I would marry the first guy who ever broke my heart and become business partners with an ex who hurt me so bad I felt like I had been gutted, but such is the story of my life!
Just because a relationship didn’t work out doesn’t mean it was a waste of time or it wasn’t meant to be. Some people are meant to be in your life, you just won’t and can’t immediately know if they are meant to be in your life forever, or for a short period of time to teach you some sort of life lesson.
Rather than looking back on your former relationships with pain and regret, try to be grateful that you had the experience and recognize that it gave you something you needed, you might realize what it is now or maybe you’ll see it later in life.
And above all, remember that you will get through this and you will be OK.