You cannot understand the pain of a breakup until you experience one, just like you cannot understand grief until you lose someone close to you. You can read every book, watch every film, hear your friend’s experiences and do all your research, but you will never understand what it feels like to wake up one day and no longer be part of a pair. To want to message someone so badly, a habit instilled so deeply, yet know that you can’t. The temptation to feel like the months or years were a waste of your time, yet know that you wouldn’t trade them for anything. Even once you've experienced a breakup, you can't understand someone else's, every situation is subjective.
Breakups are awful. Our human nature is to minimise any suffering, to avoid pain for our survival. So we try to run from the pain of a breakup, to jump into something new or cover the pain with alcohol, drugs, shopping, work or whatever your crutch of choice is
This little voice in the back of our head knows it’s wrong, and it tells us that we need to work through this break up and begin the healing process. But when do we ever listen to that voice? Not when it’s telling us that we don’t need another shot of tequila on a night out, not when it tells us that we should stop bingeing this show and go to sleep, not when it tells us we’ve eaten enough ice cream for one evening. We live in excess, we live for pleasure, and we certainly don’t live for the pain and rejection of a breakup.
On the final day of May, my relationship ended, and I was confronted with the temptation to slip into my self-sabotaging ways, to escape the agony of my broken heart and fractured trust and find ways to feel good. I would have done anything to stop feeling so terrible.
But in order to heal, we have to mourn our relationship. In order to move forward from heartbreak, we need to sit in our pain.
It is so tempting to run from the pain of a breakup. And right after the split, you might need to do this for a few days. You might need to throw yourself into your work or another distraction because the emotions are too overwhelming. But I urge you to try and resist this temptation to push away the feelings. When my father passed away three years ago, I ran from my grief; I covered it with easier emotions and waited two years to actually start processing the loss. It’s what I needed at the time, as twenty-one felt too young to handle this death. But I don’t want to ever repeat that experience, and in many ways, loss and breakups are similar.
You need to feel the pain of your breakup. It is going to hurt, it is going to hurt so damn much, but that pain is necessary. That pain strengthens you; it contributes to the vivid mosaic of who you are. You will have to deal with it at some point, so do it now and let it be something that builds you rather than tears you down.
Acknowledge the pain. It hurts because you once shared something good. It hurts because there was love, and without love, there is a hole to be filled, and that aches. It hurts because you had something worth losing. It hurts because you’re scared of the future.
Feel all of this. If you need help getting it out, watch something sad, listen to songs about heartbreak, read books about it. I really recommend journalling for this period, I wrote my ex a letter every day for the first month, and it helped greatly. I moved through sadness, confusion, anger, hurt, relief and more. I saw my emotions reflected on the page and finally began to comprehend them.
I’m not saying that you won’t get drunk with your friends, that you won’t do all of the typical breakup activities. These are a necessary part of the process too. I’m just saying that these are in addition to your pain; these are a part of your hurt rather than a plaster for them.
Everyone’s path through the pain is different. I started running longer distances as an attempt to work through the pain weighing me down. I ran until my feet bled and my arms chafed into open wounds. I screamed breakup songs over karaoke with my best friends. I got drunk on my own, I avoided food, and I indulged in food. I avoided anything with a breakup scene, and then I read books specifically about heartbreak. It doesn’t have to make sense to anyone but you. It doesn’t need to be consistent.
Just open yourself for the pain because it has to be dealt with for you ever to move forward. Release the pain so you don’t wear yourself down carrying it in silence. It can be so hard to discuss your loss with friends but try your best. It’s easy to feel like you have an allotted time for heartbreak before you’re expected to move on, but you can only move on your own timeline. Allow the days that hurt, and allow the days where it doesn’t, where you feel happy for no logical reason; your happiness doesn’t detract from your experience or love for them.
The end of a relationship involves many aspects of loss. You lose a person who was so integral to your life, you lose the security of unconditional love, and you lose the future plans you created. But it’s essential to move away from this loss and instead begin to gain. Gain new memories, adventures, friends, interests and jigsaw pieces to add to your identity. Move away from the person you were in the relationship by doing different things.
Even if you don’t do everything with your partner, you do many things with them. I lived with my ex, so we would often watch shows together in the evening, particularly during the pandemic when we couldn’t go out. We’d try to find shows to watch together, and often I’d be compromising to what he wanted to watch. In many ways, that was great, as it introduced me to TV series I never would’ve tried but then adored, like Breaking Bad, Dexter and Bojack Horseman. But it also meant that there were many shows we didn’t watch, ones I’d intend to watch alone but not find the time for.
Now I’m watching those shows, and it’s a freeing experience. I get to spend an evening alone bingeing a show of my choice, with no need to compromise. I can rewatch a show or try something new. I get to dictate my time without any influence from someone else. I get to work out my own taste. I am existing only for myself.
When mourning your relationship, you should try to pave a new path so you don’t feel trapped by the memory of them. In the early stages, everything can feel like a reminder of them. For example, my partner always sent me new songs to enjoy, so all my Spotify playlists and favourite albums felt like a punch in the gut. So I tried to discover new artists and I listened to Spotify curated playlists, this helped me to avoid reminders of them and find my own taste in music.
I realised that a lot of my favourite outfits were things they once complimented. A lot of my style had been based on what I perceived as their taste. Now I’m trying different styles to work out what my own look could be. I have pink hair just because I can, just because it’s for me. I got another piercing in my ear because I wanted to no longer look like the version of myself that was his girlfriend. I bought chunky sneakers because I always admired them. I bought a pair of big hoop earrings because I never felt like I could pull them off. It’s true that a lot of this is probably retail therapy, but the effect remains the same.
It’s okay to try and fail. It’s okay to make mistakes. Do the things you could never do with them, cook the foods they didn’t like, go to places you’ve never seen, make new memories instead of fixating on the old.
Later in the mourning process, it’s important to gradually return to the things that you once shared with them. This allows you to own them for yourself again, to remove the trademark that person held over it. It’s a confronting process but one you must enter willingly and emotionally open. You can’t live in fear of nostalgia; you can’t run from the memories forever.
My ex introduced me to Marvel, another franchise I never would have glanced at without him. It was always our thing. We’d go to the films, count down until the series are released, discuss it all in detail and swap theories. After we broke up, I couldn’t bring myself to watch the new releases for a while, as it was such a stark reminder of him. But eventually, I went to watch ‘Black Widow’ in the cinema. Sitting in the darkened room as the ads played, I felt sad, and I had to acknowledge that this was something we would’ve done together; it felt like he should’ve been sitting in the empty seat beside me. But it felt like manageable sadness. I missed him; I missed having him next to me, I missed being able to discuss the film with him. But it was okay. This had been our thing, but it could also still be my own thing.
You’re allowed to take things from your relationship and bring them into your single life. All the tiny things that made up your relationship also make up who you are. So don’t run from them, don’t feel the need to give them all up; you’re allowed to move forward with them.
There’s a sadness that comes to doing the same things you once did with your partner. Allow yourself to feel this sadness and then see the joy in it too. You loved them and you learned from them.
It’s a cliche, but it’s one for a good reason. The biggest mistake that people make after a breakup is jumping into their next relationship. I get why, I really do. Breakups leaving you feeling so damn rejected, so unwanted. You just want to feel attractive again, you want to feel like someone worthy of love and not someone who just lost it. I get the temptation, I have given into the temptation too many times, but I’m going to be brutally honest.
It won’t work. It will never work. Firstly, because the actual hookup will not be that good as you’re in love with someone else and mourning that loss. Secondly, because as soon as it’s done, as soon as they’re gone, you’re still the same person you were before. You’re still the person who got dumped or ended their relationship. I’m sorry but it’s true. You don’t move forward, even if it feels like it for a single moment.
I’m not saying you can’t hook up with anyone as we’re only human, we have urges, we have temptations. I’m saying that you shouldn’t go into anything emotional for a while, I’m saying that you need to be alone.
Being alone is terrifying. My mental illness leads me to place all of my worth in others, I live to be desired by someone, I fixate on my romantic interest to distract from myself. It’s something I’m working on and whilst I have grown a lot from this habit, it’s still buried deep within me.
When my relationship ended, I didn’t feel like a whole person anymore, because so much of myself had been built to fit them. I felt like I had these gaping holes to be filled. I had gone from the identity of girlfriend to the identity of being dumped. I felt empty and I desperately searched for a way to fill it. I wanted to fill the hole with someone else, not even a relationship as I knew that I had to be single, but a fling, a hookup, a moment. I just wanted to stop feeling so untethered and broken. I didn’t want to be Fleurine the ex-girlfriend, I wanted to wear a different costume for just a night.
As tempting as it is, sex won’t fix this heartache, no amount of attention will fill this gaping hole. I have to be alone, not just in my relationship status, but in my life. I have to fall in love with myself again. I have to heal so that one day I could possibly trust someone again. I have to live in the quiet.
It feels so difficult but it also feels so great. I’m going to the cinema weekly and I love every moment of it. I love sitting alone in the dark room, gazing around at the people around me, munching on whatever snack I want. I love walking home afterwards with only my thoughts for company. I love discovering new things and not feeling the urge to share them with anyone else. I love staying in and watching shows that were always on my list. Taking the time to explore this new city with only my perspective and opinions. I am reading more than I ever have before and it feels incredible. I am writing as much as I can and actually enjoying it again. I am attempting to find the new version of me because I am excited to meet her.
I am alone and it is terrifying but also exhilarating. I am alone and that’s what I need to be.
When relationships end, there isn’t room for the love that was once shared. That love feels too painful, like a cactus you prick yourself on each time you think of them. Instead, we settle for the smaller and more manageable emotions. We focus on anger and sadness, because they fit more neatly in the hole in our heart. We fuel ourselves with regrets, jealousy, contempt and more, because it’s the only way to keep getting up in the morning. It lets us forget that we’re lonely, it covers the time and space that was spent messaging them, thinking about them, planning for a future with them.
And that’s okay, it’s okay to live without the love at first because it’s a coping mechanism. I won’t claim it’s the healthiest, and I certainly won’t claim that I was any different. I had to hate him just to feel like I could ever move on from him, to feel like this was the right decision. Because deep down, I knew this was the right decision, I knew the love had simmered away and there was no future that fits the both of us comfortably. But there is knowing, and then there is actually acting on this knowledge, ensuring you don’t message them in moments of weakness, stopping yourself from scrolling through that endless camera roll that acts as a time capsule to when you were loved and in love.
Remove the love whilst you heal, but don’t throw it out entirely. Because before you can move forward correctly, you need to sit in that love. You need to take it out of the box, dust it off, and welcome it back. Because you don’t need to stop loving them to move forward, you just need to have a place for that love that once was everything. You need to find a spot on the shelf and treasure it there. You will fall in love again, and this love will be the precedence, but it doesn’t have to steal from your past in order to grow. You can love your ex because they once were everything, whilst also being in love with your future. You can love your ex whilst being deeply in love with yourself because they’re a part of who you are, they contributed to the finished project, even though the pride of it is all yours.
Moving forward from a relationship is accepting the love that was, that is, that will be.
There is no blueprint for breakups; I wish there were as it could shed some light on something so difficult. But it’s also a good thing, as that allows you to listen to yourself and adapt to how you’re feeling. Only you know what you need, no matter how well your friends’ or family’s intentions are. Some days are easier than others; sometimes the pain comes later or returns again. But the biggest favour you can do for yourself is to mourn the relationship, to give it the time, energy and space it deserves. You loved someone and now you’re without them, so grieve this as you begin to explore who you are once removed from the shadow of them.
Take the time to meet this new version of yourself, as I guarantee they’re pretty great.
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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