How To Talk Yourself Through A Breakup
January, they say, is the cruelest month, in part because it is when more relationships break up. Several theories are floated as to why this should be: some say it’s because of the holiday freeze—no one wants to add tumult and heartbreak to an already hectic Christmas season. Plus, gifts have already been bought, plane tickets purchased, and it’s somewhat easier to get away from someone than to address your own issues—many of which the holidays stoke. Dealing with family can throw a relationship into stark relief.
Solstice and the New Year prompt introspection and taking the long view, and something that’s not quite working may not survive this closer look. It can be a time to face hard truths, and to finally have the psychic energy to make a change.
Plus, people most like being single in spring, so if you want to be really clear of a breakup by May, you should by rights start in January or February at the latest. It gives you time to go through all the motions of loss (but perhaps that is too calculating? I’m an admitted pragmatist).
January is also my birthday month. I’ve had a tumultuous couple of years: two years ago on my birthday, I started off the evening with one guy who disappointed me, and I went to see another in the middle of the night. Exactly one year later I was nursing a breakup (three weeks in…almost through) and I went to a party and met a guy with whom I embarked on a short-lived but memorable affair.
The aftermath of that breakup was one of the most thought provoking, creative periods of my life. Several times I’ve tried to piece together what made it different…how it became almost transcendent. The only difference I ultimately saw was in my attitude. I didn’t downplay it…didn’t avoid. Instead, I let myself wallow. I had a mind-blowing sulk. I had really loved and lost, and…do you know what weeping is like? Well, it’s awesome.
Along the way, I learned a bit about doing things right the first time. If you want to get past it, you have to dig into it. In the absence of that, I’d be haunted for months, even years.
The benefit of greater experience, I suppose.
There are lots of ways to get over a break-up. People won’t even read an article like this until they admit defeat. The rest of ‘em—a sorry lot—are stuck in what online marketers charmingly call the “get him back” niche.
But when you’re ready, and you’ve let go enough to realize you’ve got to buck up, be on your own side, say to hell with him (or her) if he doesn’t get it, and to look more closely at what you were chasing, there are several non-screwed up and non-delusional ways to approach processing through a break-up.
The walls in the bathrooms of coffee shops echo friends’ reassurances with homespun wisdom and plucky attitude. “Risk everything for the one you love. If they leave…well, that’s their problem isn’t it?” Triteness aside, it can actually help to motivate yourself with quotes and reach into your reserves for bigger concepts (“Life is to be …”—Ralph Waldo Emerson). They can conjure creativity, resiliency, and courage: abstract concepts that we can apply in real life, and which we are only forced to do in difficult situations, when things fall apart. Creativity: to be ever adapting oneself to a new present, to go with the flow, and to try different things, different ways of being. Resiliency: the pliable strength that comes from putting yourself on the line again and again and still remaining open to life. Courage: to keep on choosing positive actions despite the overwhelming evidence that we have no clue what we’re doing.
“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”—Kris Kristofferson. That quote has always perplexed me, but when I was wallowing, I found my mind had cracked open enough to hold the meaning and feeling of it. Any perceived let down could actually be a great “f*** it!” moment, and cold comfort is sometimes the only kind we’ve got.
Giving Up the Ghost
When we end a relationship, there is an odd pairing of disillusionment and release. It hurts, but the pain feels rich…real. You feel deeply and the tears run on until you’re red and shining like a baby. The appetite is suppressed and the challenge of doing everyday activities can be an existential catalyst: Why are we so alone? Why is life so long and yet the end of it so scary?
Until, as if by magic, January winds carry off these messages and snow drifts bury them until spring comes and we get another burst of inspiration. But life is lived in between these times, when the only thing for it is not to know, but just to do, to go on resolutely (and with a bit of levity, if you can manage it).
Doing Things Differently
Now for the ones to avoid. All band-aid approaches involve some level of self-delusion. It is the caulk that temporarily covers cracks in ye olde facade.
Moving on is not about being free of anything, it’s just about being full of forward momentum. This is not something another tryst can give you, but people have always tried to get through breakups that way. Better not to seriously involve others in your shadowboxing.
So, besides rebound sex, bad approaches include:
• Self-medicating Eating, drinking, getting high are possibly inevitable on the journey, but best in moderation. After a few weeks you will feel worse and be no further along.
• Thinking too much about the breakup—note I said “thinking.” It’s the main way we avoid having to feel it—which is much harder.
• Reinitiating contact, probably just to rehash the same conversation you’ve driven into the ground.
• Reducing or dismissing the relationship altogether A fool’s errand in every way.
Maybe delusion and denial are necessary stages, but ultimately you don’t want to live there. Working through a breakup can be a powerful work on yourself. Owning up to your mistakes pushes you to grow. Most people do this as a natural course as they come to find that each relationship is exactly the same. Nothing changes until you examine your own well-worn behaviors and thought patterns and begin to see yourself and your life with a telescoping lens.
Eventually, you come to circumspection. You ask yourself, “How do I know this is a bad thing?” You can’t see how the past has brought you here or what it will lead to. In other words, it’s hard to tell where you are in the story. (Now that’s no excuse to keep pining. I mean, that whole relationship could have been a mere chapter in the novel of your life.)They say that, in fact, we impose a narrative on our lives. Well, maybe we are too quick to do this rather than see life as a narrative and watch it unfold. Because we have no idea what’s going to happen next.
That’s the fun part.