You can never really know what a breakup is like until you go through one. And even then, you can never know someone else’s breakup because each one is so unique. Breakups are like snowflakes, but instead of being fragile and beautiful, they’re painful and confusing and lonely.
We each have our own way of navigating a breakup, and our own ways of running from one. Yet somehow, the same myths drift to the surface time after time, as everyone tells us how to handle it. As we’re told to go on dates, dye our hair and take tequila shots, and then everything will be better, right?
I went through my first proper breakup this year, and it was a whopper of one. Instead of starting with a starter teenage breakup after two months or so, I went all-in and got a four-year relationship, where we lived together and where he immediately moved on to someone new.
So here are my biggest lessons about breakups:
There is no timeline to healing after a breakup. I’ve heard many estimates about how long it takes to get over someone, some say a few months, others say half the time of the relationship - does that mean I’m doomed to feel this way for two years?
The truth is that you can’t predict how long you’ll feel sad/angry/confused/lonely/wistful. You also don’t have to. Your feelings are valid. The length of time spent mourning the relationship does not equate to how good or bad your relationship was, or the duration of it. You feel however you feel. You might feel really good for a day or week and then struggle again. However you feel is how you feel, and no one is entitled to an opinion.
My relationship needed to end, we both knew that, but they had the courage to say it. I am still mourning my relationship, but I don’t want it back. I don’t want to be with them now. I’m just sad over what we did share. I remember the love, the hate, the arguments, the trips, the memories. I am processing what happened in those four years because it affected me deeply. They hurt me in many ways, and I need to work past that before trusting someone again.
You can be sad about your breakup even if you initiated it. You can be sad about it even if you don’t want to be with them. You can be sad about it even if it was an amicable breakup. Mourning your relationship doesn’t mean you’d go back in time or get back together; it just means that for a period of time, they were a crucial person in your life, and now they’re not anymore. There’s a gap remaining, and it takes time to fill it.
I respect that everyone processes in their own way, and that this can work for a lot of people, but we need to stop assuming it works for everyone. The whole “get over someone by getting under someone” can be a really toxic narrative. Firstly, it means you’re using a person as an emotional bandaid. It makes the hookup about distraction rather than pleasure or attraction. You also don’t work through your emotions or pain. Instead, you just ignore them. If you jump into a new relationship, you don’t work through everything that happened, the good and bad; you just distract yourself and pretend you’re not the problem.
I think it’s important to be alone. I think we learn so much on our own. We learn who we are without the influence of another. We learn how to command our own self-worth. We discover what we like, and we get the chance to do those things uninterrupted, whether that’s travel, parties or nights on the sofa with a good book.
In relationships, it’s possible not to love the same amount, that one person unfortunately cares more than the other does. It’s an indescribable pain. If that is the case, then it makes sense that breakups can be an uneven break as well, where more is chipped off you than the other person.
You might be struggling more than your ex. And maybe in a few months, they’ll struggle more than you do. Breakups aren’t even. And the most painful fact is that it doesn’t matter how much they’re hurting, it doesn’t say anything about your relationship or your worth, as there are so many factors involved: some people have thicker skin, some people hide their emotions, some people distract themselves with someone new and so much more.
Focus on how you’re feeling and don’t think about them, as that’s out of your control. Don’t try to hurt them or make them jealous, as it will never feel as good as you think it would.
There is no shame in hurting after a breakup. There is no shame in hurting after an unofficial breakup. There is never shame in pain or caring. You’re allowed to be sad, even six months later like I am. You’re allowed to process what happened, to feel anger or sadness or any other emotion. You don’t have to bottle that up, as you’ll never work through it all that way. Try to avoid acting in revenge, but be open when you want to be.
Closure is a myth. It’s some goal post miles away in the mist that you can’t reach. There is nothing you can do to get closure. Talking to them again and making them apologise for cheating or hurting you won’t really help. Making them feel jealous by looking amazing and dating someone new won’t help. Trashing their name, house or car, won’t actually help you. Because you need to work through your emotions and memories, and there is no way to speed up that process. Anger is still a strong emotion, it is still an intentional link to them, and I think we often hold onto anger to feel still connected to them.
Don’t look for closure; let it find you one day, when you turn around and realise you don’t care about them.
Like I said, anger means you still feel something for them, and that’s okay whilst you’re mourning, but it won’t help you in the long run. You don’t have to hate someone to be over them, as whilst you hate, you’re still focused. You have to not care about them. That doesn’t mean forgiving them, as you don’t owe anyone your forgiveness; it means not giving them room in your heart or mind. It means that you don’t want to punish or make them feel bad, because they’re not a part of your pain; your pain is yours alone.
I think we all have a tendency to hurt ourselves when it really comes down to it. There is a twisted pleasure to pain, and so in our sadness, we seek pain. We scroll through our camera rolls to relive when it was good, knowing that the photos won’t capture the moments it was so awful. We look through the messages of when they once loved us and said so eagerly. We play memories as if watching a grainy film we can’t believe was ever our life. We torture ourselves with what was and what could have been.
But there is no could have been, there is only the present. Dolly Alderton described it best:
“You know, that life isn’t happening elsewhere,” I said. “It doesn’t exist in another realm. Your relationship with that man was seven years long. That was it, that’s what it was.”— ‘Everything I Know About Love’ by Dolly Alderton*
Your relationship existed for the length it was meant to; there is no alternate universe where it keeps going. Living in the past and future restricts you from living in the present, from actually working through it. We play this game of pretend because we’re scared to acknowledge that it wasn’t actually good, that we’re so sad about something that wasn’t good for us, as why would a rational person mourn something that made them unhappy? Because we’re only human, and we thrive off the hope it would get better, and it didn’t.
There is no world where it worked out.
Maybe breakups are beautiful in their own way. Because for there to be pain, there was once love, and that is something beautiful in this world. They are beautiful because they are raw and honest. They are beautiful because they remind you how many people are here for you, ready to trash your ex or pick up the ice cream.
There is no blueprint to breakups - if there was, please send me a copy ASAP! There is no right way to go through a breakup; you just have to go through it however feels right to you. But make yourself an oath to be true to how you feel, no matter how hard it is. If that leads you to drink cheap wine with friends or cry as you sing yet another Olivia Rodrigo song on karaoke, then do that. But don’t run from your pain; as scary as it is, embrace it as your pain is a part of you. Your pain has to be dealt with at some point, like an overflowing laundry hamper. You can push it out of view, wear the same sweater over and over to avoid it, but it is still there. It’s not going anywhere. You can do your emotional laundry now, or you can do it in a few weeks, but it won’t go anywhere.
You are stronger than you think, and even when it doesn’t feel that way, you will be okay.
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Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
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