Lessons in Breakups
It’s been a long old while since my last ‘Lessons’ post and when I put out an insta story a while ago about what I should write about to get back into them, a lot of you guys suggested this topic through private messages on instagram. And given I’ve been through two of them in the last 18 months and a handful more over the last fifteen years, I feel like I might be pretty well equipped to write just that.
Breakups are the worst. They are a form of grief and while someone hasn’t died, it can feel like a piece of you has. I’ve broken up with boys I love but I’m not in love with, I’ve been left by someone I love and I’ve experienced that kind of mutual, sad break-up when you both know it’s for the best. I’ve hurt people and I’ve been hurt. But, I like to think I’ve learnt a hell of a lot and without going into my current relationship status right now, I’ll say I’m happier now than I’ve been in a long, long time and know myself and how to love others better than ever. Now I’m in my early 30s, I’ve had so many friends go through long term break-ups of late and each and every one of them are happier now than they were a year ago. Seriously.
So without further ado, this is what I’ve learnt about break-ups thus far. And this my friends, is dedicated to anyone and everyone out there currently going through that dismal period of time post-relationship. I’ve been there and it f*cking sucks. But, I promise you, there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
Sometimes You Have To Go Back
Some people are incredibly dismissive of going back to an ex. ‘Never go back!’ friends will cry, ‘what’s really changed?’ they’ll ask. Well sometimes you need to go back. Unfinished business, problems that you want to work on, a love that won’t die… All good reasons to try again if that’s what both of you want. And it can work. I know so many friends who have broken up with a boyfriend and gone on to get back together and get married. Sometimes you need space and time to figure out priorities and be kinder to each other. It really does happen so live in the moment, don’t try and control the future or go back and if you’re meant to give it another go you will. Failing that, going back really let’s you know if it’s meant to be or not. Giving it that final go and it still not working, no matter how hard it is to accept, is often your answer. Living with regret or ‘what ifs’ isn’t always easy. In fact it’s incredibly painful. So being able to try and fail again can sometimes make getting over each other for good that bit easier. Just don’t get into that toxic make-up, break-up dance. Once or twice is doable, anymore than that and you really need to take a cold hard look in the mirror.
On the flipside, my friend Serena has a great phrase I love; “Never go back to a lit firework, an injured ninja or an ex boyfriend”. Sometimes you can give so much of yourself to save a relationship you lose yourself and nothing is worth that. No, not even Him.
Only People That Have Gone Through What You Have Will Really Get It
I have some amazing, beautiful, successful friends who have experienced countless break-ups and others who married their first love, hiccup free. I love the latter so very much and they can be amazingly supportive and wise, but they will not get the pain of a long-term break up. They won’t really get that you need them to physically come round to your house and drag you to the pub even though you say you don’t want to go. They won’t really get how much a text message a day means. They won’t know that crying daily can go on for months not weeks. Don’t hold it against them and if you go through it yourself, reach out to those who are going through it now.
Treat Yourself Like a Sick Person
A friend once told me that her mum had always said to treat yourself like you’re ill when going through a break up. And it’s advice that really stuck with me. It’s tempting to go out and drink and smoke and make bad decisions after some break ups, but really a little downtime, a little chicken soup, a little reflection will get you back to yourself faster. I mean, going out and getting drunk is fun sure, but it’s not so fun when the next day you feel extra depressed and lonely and are missing your ex more than ever. Limit your drinking, eat well (smoothies and soup if you lose your appetite) and do wholesome shit with your friends like weekend walks, movie nights and cosy dinners. By all means have fun and try to forget, just go easy on yourself. Your body is already going through trauma enough already. Anyone who’s really been there will tell you this stuff can physically hurt as well as emotionally.
Ask Yourself The Tough Questions
Human instinct often wants to cling to what we know. The unknown can be scary at first. So even a bad, unhealthy relationship can be more tempting than no relationship at all. But if you find yourself at the precipice of a break-up, initiated by you or them, ask yourself those hard questions. Do you really feel supported? Do you really want the same things? Do you really want to be with this person or do you just not what them to have anyone else? Do you really feel loved? Are you bringing out the best in each other? Are you happy? Answering ‘No’ to any one of these doesn’t have to mean curtains; it can just mean room for improvement. Answering no to a lot of them… Well, why would you really want to feel like that?
Watch Sex and The City
A lot. Just try not to get depressed if you’re rapidly nearing the same age as them after first watching it when you were seventeen… I know.
Wash Your Hair and Get Out of Bed
It can feel like you physically can’t get out of bed and my God, it’s tempting to wallow under the duvet as much as humanly possible. But trust me, it ain’t going to help. Get up, wash your hair, put on half-decent clothes and book a wax/pedicure/hair appointment/ ear piercing or whatever kind of self-care ritual you feel like. Anything to make you feel like a fully functioning woman of the world rather than a gremlin.
Tell Your Boss
Break-ups can have a significant impact on your work for a period of time. I’m not condoning crying all day with your colleagues but confiding in your boss or a co-worker can sometimes really help. Everyone’s been through a break-up at some point and any normal, emotionally intelligent person understands you might be feeling a bit lacklustre and sad for a while. There’s no shame in admitting what you’re going through.
Feel It All
You won’t always want to be happy. Sometimes the idea of feeling happy means letting go of a person and quite frankly you would rather stay sad and live in hope of reconciling than try and be happy solo. Yep, been there. Your friends will talk about moving on and you’ll want to be sick. Don’t they know that all you need in life is a time machine?! If someone’s been a real dick to you it’s actually easier to pull yourself out of the funk and throw yourself into the ‘get over it’ phase. If it’s the painful kind of ‘we love each other but it’s not working’ break up, this is a whole lot harder. Sadly, all you can do is feel it. It’s like wading through tar at times but the only way is forward. And the truth is, some people just don’t work for a reason.
Listen to Banks’ album The Altar
Seriously. This woman preaches things that really resonated with me. Listen to Weaker Girl and feel stronger.
There Are No Rules
People love to dole out rules after a break up. You need to be single. It will take you half as long as you were together to get over them. Don’t contact him under any circumstances. Delete his number. All of these rules are definitely applicable at times but not necessarily to you. Listen to your gut, be sensible and don’t hold yourself accountable to others rules. Sometimes, you surprise yourself and feel better quicker than you thought and even find yourself falling for someone else when in the first week you felt sure you’d be alone forever. Not necessarily a rebound. Sometimes you’ll get drunk or just be sad and call or text each other. Not necessarily an awful, heinous mistake. It’s important to protect your heart and theirs but everyone’s situation is different. Listen to your friends but don’t let other’s rules dictate your actions.
The Body Has No Memory For Pain
Someone said this to me in my break-up 18 months ago and it’s very true. Why do you think women go on to have a second baby despite a traumatic birth? The body cannot recall pain after it’s happened. It passes and the chemicals in your body will want to love again and get back out there. Yes you’ll carry some scars but what you’re feeling in the midst of anguish, you won’t be able to bring these feelings to mind months later. In fact, you will look back and see a different person to the one you will be, a person you want to go back, hug and tell them everything is going to be ok because it is.
Talk To Your Friends
Sounding out a relationship with friends is key. I’ve spent so much time obsessing over minute details, weighing things up and figuring things out with friends, both about my relationships and theirs. Talking to friends really helps clarify things in your mind. Talking to my male friends massively helped too. You might leave a relationship believing you’d been a needy she-devil or questioning if you’ve made the right decision leaving a guy who seems pretty much perfect on paper. Friends help you find your way back to yourself.
Talk To Someone Else
Some relationships mess you up, fact. They get under your skin, they’re toxic or they bring out the worst in you, or indeed all three. If you feel the worst of the worst post-break-up, I’m talking worthless, hopeless and hateful of yourself, you’ve most likely just exited a pretty toxic relationship. If you feel yourself slipping into a bit of a dark hole, don’t be afraid or judge yourself for needing to talk to a professional to unpick what happened. Sometimes talking to someone you like and trust who is totally removed from friends helps unravel the mess going on in your head and means your friends get a break from hearing the same obsessive thoughts. You’re not crazy, you just need someone to help you see the wood from the trees.
Sweat It Out
Ugh, the worst piece of break-up advice there ever was. I used to get so bored when people told me to join a gym or go to yoga. Go away, I just want to watch TV and eat potato. But after my last break-up, I quickly started seeing a PT and I’m now 100% a convert. A PT is great if you can afford it because you’re really put through your paces and get one hour of a blissful, uninterrupted mind plus increased serotonin levels that helps you feel happy. And of course, you’re on your way to having a banging body which never hurt post break-up…
It Isn’t All Your Fault
This is the worst phase of a break-up in my mind. The bit when you tell yourself over and over how terrible you are and how it’s all your fault. If only you’d never said that, if only you’d never done that.., Well, the truth is we all say and do dumb shit at times and all we can ever do is say sorry. Ultimately, break-ups are not because of one thing (unless someone cheated and then yeah, that one thing might do it), they’re because of multiple things and it takes two people and their individual characters to reach that point. Look at the happy couples around you that you admire. I bet neither of them are perfect by any means, but they still get to be happy. You don’t have to be a saint with zero annoying habits or a zen-like disposition to get a happy ending. It takes two to make a relationship work so don’t carry the weight of a failed relationship all by yourself.
Listen To Your Gut
We can all have changes of heart or make mistakes, but if your gut was nudging you to break up with someone, it was probably doing so for a reason. If you get an uneasy feeling when friends ask you if he’s ‘the one’ or feel yourself lying when you tell people things are great between the two of you… HONEY, that isn’t right. I’ve been there and feels brutal living a lie. Suddenly it’s over and you wonder if you imagined all those feelings and doubts and maybe there’s something wrong with you. Even if it’s just a timing thing, it’s worth listening to. It’s natural to have doubts and get cold feet from time to time, but nagging, clawing doubts that linger for years? Trust your gut and get out, for them as much as for you.
Be a Yes Person
One of the best things about a break-up is reconnecting with friends and getting to say yes to whatever you want. It can take a little while to get here but when you do, it feels so good. Book a holiday, reach out to a friend you really like but haven’t seen in ages, say yes to that invite you’d normally ignore… Doing stuff can feel like the last thing you want to do but keeping busy really is the best way to heal, mostly because it doing stuff normally involves laughing and laughter really is the best medicine. Rediscovering what you like to do, rather than what the two of you liked to do, is so important and there’s no better way to do just that than putting yourself out there more.
Don’t Let Them Rose-Tinted Glasses Fool You
Break-ups have a rear view mirror syndrome. Things appear closer and better than they actually were. Your were growing apart for ages and then, poof, post break-up all you can remember is the honeymoon period seven years ago. Don’t let the rose-tinted glasses fool you.
It Shouldn’t Be So Hard
Yes relationships are hard. They’re work. Even people that love each other totally and completely and madly will have problems to figure out. But it shouldn’t be so hard. If you’re crying regularly, having blazing rows several times a week, going to bed feeling lonely or changing who you are to suit someone else, I have news for you; it shouldn’t be that hard. My sister said to me once when I was doubting a relationship, whatever problems were in a relationship now, will only get worse. We were young, didn’t have a mortgage, we didn’t have kids and yet things still felt really hard going and draining… I struggled on and thought I knew different, but really it’s true. If you’re struggling to make it work, imagine even more real life being thrown in the mix. I’ve also realised that the kind of love that makes you cry and scream and be sad isn’t real, lifelong love. It can feel romantic in a Shakespearean kind of way, but really, it’s a toxic kind of love that’s more likely to implode than last for years.
Sometimes It’s O.K To Fight For Them Back
There is no shame in fighting for what you want. But do it respectfully and only after you’ve had space and time to heal a little. It’s not ok to call them hundreds of times a day or stalk them on their way to work (hell no), but if you love someone and want it to work, it’s ok to put your heart on the line to do that. You don’t always need to be the cool, proud one you know.
But Never, Ever Fight for Someone Who Doesn’t Want You.
End of. Why would you want to get someone back who chose to walk away?
Read Rupi Kaur’s The Sun and her Flowers
Her words will resonate and move you. She’s been there and writes it with such clarity. There’s something amazing about knowing you’re not the first or last person to feel this stuff. You’ll read the parts about finding love after love and feel numb. And then one day when you start getting all the feels for someone new you’ll remember the poems you thought previously didn’t apply to you and smile.
You Will Love Again
This is the hardest thing to know when you are deep in those dark waters of a break up. Myself and so many girls I know have been so determined in the past to believe we would never love or fancy anyone again, but guess what? We did. Even if you messed up in the worst way possible (or so you think) and believe you will never be happy again, you will be. One day, you’ll stop crying, feel better, laugh a tonne and meet someone you spark with and suddenly feel grateful for your break-up as it made you stronger, happier and made room for this new person that rocks your world. Trust me on that. And if you don’t for a while? That’s cool too. Don’t rush out to find a replacement; I’m a big believer in meeting someone when the timings right for both of you. I know that sounds cheesy but these things tend to happen when you’re not expecting it. Even if the person you learn to love again is yourself for a while, well, that sounds just peachy to me.
Ph. via Tumblr, Pinterest, 4th and Bleeker