Breaking up is hard to do, whether your relationship lasted a month or two years; whether you’re 16 or 60 (spoiler alert: it doesn’t get easier as you get older). It’s messy, it’s complicated, it’s straight up miserable — and your first breakup can be the worst, as you’re bombarded with all of this for the very first time. So many feels! So, if you’re currently face-deep in a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and wearing your pajamas 24/7, no judgements here.
The good news: you will get over it. But yea, in the moment, it really sucks. You used to be part of a pair, now you feel totally alone. You used to have someone to lean on, now, when you’re at your lowest, you have to figure things out on your own. It can sort of feel like your world is ending. That might sound dramatic and over-the-top, but depression and loneliness can go hand-in-hand with a breakup. As much as you want to wallow, the key to moving on is confronting your feelings, accepting what happened and getting back to your supercool single self. Easier said than done, right? Not if you keep reading!
What are the stages of a breakup?
While a breakup can lead to what seems like a jumbled up mess of feelings, the aftermath usually plays out in a certain way, according to Dr. Ellen Braaten, an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School. “Stages of a breakup can seem a lot like the stages of grief that people tend to progress through,” she says. “It usually starts with shock (i.e., “How could he do this?” “Why is this happening to me?”), then denial and disbelief (i.e., “This can’t really be happening to me!”), anger (“That jerk! He didn’t deserve me after all!”), bargaining (“What if I called him…what if I lost weight…..what if I did what he asked me to do…..If I did it, would he love me?”), and ends with acceptance (“Ok, we broke up. I’m ready to move on”).
Getting over that first step can be the hardest, explains dating and relationship expert and blogger Jen Kirsch. “A lot of times, we stick on the why — like, ‘Was it another girl? What did I do wrong? Can I change their mind?’ Instead of accepting your circumstances, you’re making excuses for them.” But those excuses aren’t making anything better — what you’re really doing is preventing yourself from moving forward.
In this day and age of nonstop social media, it can be doubly hard to move forward (thanks, Facebook). So to keep yourself from dwelling on your ex, start removing triggers that remind you or him or her: de-friend them, unfollow them on Twitter and Instagram, whatever you need to do to avoid any potential pictures or posts of them that involve a new potential partner or remind you of the times you spent together. “Every time you see something they post, you’ll take it personally. And that’s going to bring you down, so you need to remove that,” advises Kirsch. “A breakup seems like an absolute loss of control, because you got dumped and it feels like there’s nothing you can do. Even though it doesn’t feel like it at the time, you can control every situation —what you can do is prevent yourself from feeling worse by removing those negative triggers.”
When do I start dating again?
There’s a saying, that it takes half as long as the duration of your relationship to get over someone. There’s another one that says the best way to get over someone is to get under someone new (uh, figuratively). The point is: It’s different for everyone. “It really depends on how long someone was with their ex and what the breakup was like,” says Dr. Braaten. “There are no hard and fast rules about this. If the breakup was mutual and not too heart-wrenching, a person might be ready to date more quickly than if the breakup was really traumatic.”
You really have to check in on your emotional status, and make a decision based on how you feel. Rushing into something isn’t a good idea, but dwelling just for the sake of dwelling is no good, either. “If you’re just going to sit around and wallow about a breakup, that’s not going to benefit you in any positive way,” says Kirsch. “So, if you happen to meet someone and you have a connection and want to start dating them, go for it! But if you catch yourself constantly talking about your ex and wondering what they’re up to and keeping tabs on them, you’re not in a healthy place to attract a healthy mate.”
There’s no prescribed amount of time you should wait. The key is to take your time, accept your circumstances, and figure out how you feel about dating again. If you’re not ready, no biggie! The worst thing you can do is get involved in a new relationship, and be sitting around wondering what your ex is doing, if you’re going to get back together, talking about them and so on. It’s not fair to you, and it’s definitely not fair to your new significant other. But once you have accepted your circumstances, get after it. “Don’t let someone’s response to that — whether it’s negative girls talking behind your back about how quickly you moved on or your ex talking behind your back about how you get around — control your actions,” says Kirsch.
Will hooking up with someone else help? Even a little?
“In a word, ‘NO,'” warns Dr. Braaten. “You are liable to regret your actions and perhaps feel worse.” Hooking up to feel wanted, or to get revenge, or for any other reason than because you like someone and want to, is not going to change how you feel if you haven’t dealt with the emotional fall-out from a breakup.
Casual hookups and rebound relationships can be fun, but only if you’re totally OK with what you’re doing. “Check in with your intentions. And if you’re intentions aren’t pure, then don’t act,” suggests Kirsch. “Ask yourself, am I just hooking up with someone to get back at my ex for breaking up with me? Am I just hooking up with someone because it will make me feel better about myself? If your intentions are negative, you’re not doing yourself any favors, and that’s when regret comes into play down the road.” But, she adds, “if your intentions are good, if you’re checking in and you’re like, ‘I’ve always wanted to hook up with this guy because I thought he was hot, and now I’m single and I have the freedom,’ that’s a good reason.”
If you are cool with just hooking up, make sure you’re honest with whoever you’re hooking up with. “A lot of times people put labels on other people’s behavior, unfortunately,” says Kirsch. “Be clear about your intentions — that it’s a rebound or just casual — with the other person that you’re partnering up with.” That way, you’ll avoid mixed signals or hurt feelings when it comes to whatever your relationship status might be. “The best thing is to always be authentic and honest with someone,” adds Kirsch. And that’s true in any relationship situation.
Can I still be friends with my ex?
Ah, “just friends.” Have there ever been two more loaded words in the English language? When you’ve swapped spit and shared romantic dates and cutesy inside jokes with someone, you’ve obviously shared serious chemistry. It can be really hard to go back to the friend zone after being so close. Again, it’s different for everyone. “If being friends with your ex is going to trigger anything negative, like if you’re going to be jealous or start putting down their new partner or whatever it is, then you shouldn’t be friends with him,” suggests Kirsch. “But, if it’s a mutual, respectful friendship, and it brings you both happiness and you genuinely want the other to be happy whether it’s with you or not, then of course, be friends.” The foundation of any relationship should be good friendship; just because you lose the romantic element of your relationship doesn’t mean you need to lose your whole friendship.
A friendship also depends on the reason behind the breakup. “If something happened like someone cheating, that can be very hard to get past. And if the breakup was because someone was inappropriate or abusive in their behavior, there is no need to remain friends. That person is not worth your time!” says Dr. Braaten.
If you do decide to make a go of it, just remember that episode of Sex & the City, when Carrie and Big try to be friends and she loses it when he mentions a new girl, knocking over a chair and storming out of the restaurant — embarrassing! “Be cool with each other and what your boundaries are,” says Kirsch. “If you don’t want to hear about his or her love life, let him know that. No one can read minds. You don’t want to be sending messages to them on Facebook every time they post a picture with someone new. If you want to be friends, be friends, but if it’s going to come with a cost, like you putting him down or you putting down his new partner or you trying to meddle in his life, then chances are, you should just part ways.”
There’s also a danger in the on-and-off-again game, à la Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez. “From everything I’ve seen, on-and-off relationships do not work out — there’s too much drama,” says Kirsch. “In the end, there’s just so much heated emotion.” Here’s the other thing about being on-and-off with someone — you’re basically giving them a free pass to go on dates or hook up with other people for a few days or weeks or even months, then letting them back into your life when they’re bored or they can’t find the connection you guys shared with someone else. “If you broke up, it probably happened for a reason, and if you go back to them, that reason isn’t going to change — unless it’s five years later, you’ve dated multiple people, and you’ve both grown on your own,” advises Kirsch. But the reality is, in middle school or high school or even college, someone doesn’t miraculously change like that.
“There’s no reason to stay with someone it didn’t work out with — on to the next one!” says Kirsch. “We teach people how to treat us with what we’re willing to put up with, so if you’re willing to put up with someone who breaks up and makes up and breaks up and makes up with you, they’re going to keep doing it to you. And it’s not going to feel good. So take control of your own situation by not standing for that off and on-ness. It’s crazy-making behavior.”
When will I stop thinking about him or her?
Hands down, the worst part of a breakup is the non-stop thinking about your ex. As soon as the relationship is over, it’s like they occupy every. single. thought. in your head — and not in the happy, feel-good way they did when you were together. “When something traumatic happens, it’s normal that you’d fixate on it,” says Kirsch. “It’s totally natural! Don’t think there’s anything wrong with you for still thinking about this person, even though you’re not together, even though it ended bad, whatever the case is,” she explains. “It’s OK to think about them, but again, try to remove the triggers that make you think about them on top of the times when you can’t control your thoughts.”
This might sound cliché, but “the best advice is to know that time really does help and that with time things will start to feel better,” says Dr. Braaten. “It might be hard to think that you won’t feel bad about this person forever, but it’s really the truth.” As long as you focus on school, or going out with friends or hitting the gym regularly, whatever, you’re going to progress and move forward. How will you know you’re finally over your ex? “When you stop the incessant, post-breakup thinking!” ays Dr. Braaten. “You know you’re getting over the breakup when you start to look forward instead of backward. One day, you’re just going to stop thinking about them. It’s going to come naturally,” adds Kirsch. “But in order to get there, you need to keep yourself busy and your mind busy with other things, so you’re not putting all your effort and energy into thinking about this one person.”
What do I do when I see my ex for the first time?
Actually, there might be a tie for the worst part of a breakup — the non-stop thoughts about them, and the inevitable first run-in. To prepare, start working on your poker face. Seriously. “Don’t let your emotions show. Smile, nod, if you feel like you can say hi how are you, say it, if you don’t care how he is, don’t say it,” advises Kirsch. “Say hi as you’re walking away, so you know you won’t get engaged in any conversation.”
It’s all about appearances: “Have your shoulders up and put a smile on your face, and you might even convince yourself you’re OK,” says Kirsch. “But turning around or avoiding him, or having that eye contact where you see him and do the quick look-away, that shows that you’re hurt, that shows that he’s affecting you, that makes him in control of how you feel. Walk confident and tall, and, in your head, feel confident. Almost tell yourself in your head, ‘this is what you want’ — as you have that thought going through your head, it will show in your eyes and on your face.”
What should I do if none of my friends get how bad I feel?
Friends usually have the best of intentions, but sometimes, even they just might not get it. If they haven’t gone through a breakup, or they were the ones who did the dumping, or if they ended things on good terms with an ex, they might not understand where you’re coming from. In that case, don’t be afraid to talk to your parents. “We might think they’re old and not cool, but they were there too at one point or another,” says Kirsch. “The good thing about parents, too, is that they’re not going to be gossiping or spreading rumors — which even your best friends might do, unintentionally.” There are also a ton of online resources where you can get a sense of understanding about what happened and feel like you’re not alone. And don’t be afraid to check out the self-help book section! “My favorite book is It’s Called A Breakup Because It’s Broken — it’s just such a great way for you to get your head in the right mind frame.”
How do I know if what I’m feeling is normal sadness or depression?
Look, I said it before and I’ll say it again — there is nothing abnormal about being so bummed about a breakup, you feel a little bit like your world imploded. “If you’re feeling a sense of loss, if you’re just feeling like you miss the person, you miss the company, you’re feeling a bit lonely, those are really normal feelings,” says Kirsch. “They’re very healthy to experience in order to grow.” But keep an eye on those feelings.
“Normal sadness is transient, while real depression doesn’t go away,” adds Dr. Braaten. “Real depression includes symptoms such as a loss of interest or pleasure in things you used to enjoy, problems eating or sleeping, sad mood most of the time and difficulty concentrating and performing at school. If these symptoms last more than a couple of weeks, it could be a sign of depression.”
How do I know if I should get a professional to help me deal?
If you have any of the depression symptoms above, you should definitely talk to someone. “Start by talking to a trusted adult — a teacher, school counselor, or relative,” suggests Dr. Braaten. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. “There is nothing wrong with talking to someone professional!” says Kirsch. “I actually encourage it — I think it’s really helpful to talk to someone who’s unbiased about the situation.” If it’s something you’re interested in trying, check in with your parents or ask your family doctor for a recommendation. There are also a lot of online resources. “Once you talk, you’ll have such a weight off your shoulders,” adds Kirsh. “And then you’ll be able to attract a more healthy boyfriend or girlfriend.” Get it, girl!
Have you been through a tough breakup? How did you deal? Have any more questions about getting through it? Let us know in the comments!