in: Dating & Relationships

How to Know If It’s a Breakup or a Fake-Up

Thinking about reconnecting with your ex? Before you dive back in, consider if you’re entertaining a breakup of a “fake-up.” HINT: one’s a terrible idea.


Is it a breakup or a fake-up?

“Hey, didn’t you guys break up? Are you still texting? And did you spend the night over there last week? What’s up with that?”

Breakups are tough. They hurt. The more we cared about the person we were dating, the more painful the breakup. We feel parts deep inside getting ripped apart. Internally, we feel ourselves separating from another human being who was a part of us, our ‘other,’ and the tearing of the bond doesn’t feel good. In the exact same places we experienced something wonderful when the bond formed, we now feel pain along with the numbness of grief.

It doesn’t matter if you’re the ‘breaker-upper’ or the ‘broken-up with’—it still hurts. (I don’t like the term “dumped” because it sounds like garbage, so I’m going with “broken-up with.” Words matter.) Those of you who think the person who has been broken-up with has the pain market cornered, think again. The breaker-upper has the pain of loss coupled with the pain of hurting someone they care about; the broken-up with does get anger with the pain, but it all still sucks for everyone.

Our memories hurt. Smells hurt. Any and all reminders hurt.

All the futures that won’t happen hurt. That trip to the ________ (fill in the blank) is out now. Growing old together… also not going to happen. You see something that reminds you of your ex, and the pain starts fresh all over again; the wound that started to heal breaks open and starts bleeding, even though it’s been days/weeks/months. And to top it off, for some reason your brain* seems only to remember the good times after the initial break up. It seems so unfair! 

What would you do to lessen the pain of a breakup? Would you do what it takes to scratch that itch or dull that ache?

You could stay “friends” or innocently glance at (read: obsessively check) their social media accounts, I mean who would be the wiser? You could keep tabs on them, just to make sure they’re OK. And you could still post cute pictures with hidden meanings on Instagram, because that’s one way you both you used to communicate. Or Facebook. Or Pinterest. Or whatever. Who would know your real intent? Your brain, that’s who. Because you aren’t a Love Spy, and you don’t need to know every detail of what’s happening in your ex’s life anymore.

Of course it would be so easy—almost too easy—to keep parts of the connection with your ex. You could have an imaginary relationship without the commitment or agreement parts. And that relationship could keep going, and going…  as a fantasy.

Welcome to a Fake-Up.

The Faux Break Up Zone: a place where you continue to interact with your ex in your head and in your life in a way that keeps them in your system. It keeps them present in your relationship, even though the relationship is over and their involvement isn’t real. And it keeps you from moving forward. News flash: you’re in a #FakeUp.

It’s an imaginary relationship. At the time, it seems like a good idea—but so did Pop Rocks. A Fake-Up or Faux Break Up will certainly dull some of the pain of losing your ex if you keep up the comms: texting, emailing, talking, or meeting in person. It’s like a little hit of Love Crack. But the buzz wears off fast; and eventually you will crash and burn, because you can’t sustain a Fake-Up—and it’s not healthy to try.

You can even do things in the guise of meeting to get your “stuff” back; getting “closure” (is that even a real thing?); “checking in” to make sure your ex—or you—are OK; let them know you’re struggling (vulnerability is a good thing, right?) or you can call it what it is: a way to avoid or at least lessen the pain of facing the feelings induced by a real breakup. You can even call them or text them just to make sure they are the ones “doing OK.”

Don’t scoff, you know it happens.

There are healthy ways to break up (and to get over a breakup—I write about that in “Six Healthy Ways to Recover From a Breakup“), that involve a clear and clean break with respect. You can even agree to check in with each other after a bit of time has passed, or keep in contact for a while to ease the pain of losing your ex from your life. Or you can agree to try to build (or more accurately, rebuild) a friendship. (Note: this strategy is only recommended in healthy relationships with healthy endings. This is not recommended for toxic, dramatic, or consistently on/off relationships. Those relationships are confusing enough as is.)

The Fake-Up isn’t a healthy way to end it; you’re actually prolonging your pain.

A Fake-Up is one thing done under the guise of something else, and that’s never a good idea. Clarity is always better. Truth and honesty are always a better way to set agreements. The Fake-Up is a way of holding on to something that one or both people decided was better left released. Breaking up means letting go.

A Fake-Up means you keep connecting. Maybe it means hooking up. Or texting. Maybe it means staying in close contact or communicating. One or both of you will get hurt, and you are riding the roller coaster of emotions. Each call, night, talk, hookup, or email is a little bit of that Love Crack! You get something out of it temporarily, but it will cause pain when you are forced to (once again) break things off. So you hurt once, then hurt twice… maybe even hurt 15 times.

*Your brain on breakups:

I mentioned our brains earlier, and here’s where the Fake-Up or Faux Break Up is almost hardwired. A few years ago, I started working on a book about the hardwiring of love and found some fascinating facts.

Biologically, we are driven to connect and attach; our species wants to reproduce. It’s a natural imperative. When we couple, we found our Plus One. Our partner. Our man/woman. Our brains like it and give us the reward of oxytocin (and other fun happy chemicals) when we are with them. We like oxytocin, it makes us feel good all over.

After a breakup, it takes six weeks for our brains to get the smell of our partner’s pheromones out of our system so we aren’t triggered by them immediately into a state of connection/desire/love/arousal or an inherent drive to partner up again. Every time you see your ex (or smell your ex), it re-ignites the love sensors in your brain that make you want to re-partner, and that clock starts over every time you smell them. I also believe that if you like the sound of their voice, you are neurally programmed to release oxytocin when you hear them speak, to a lesser degree. The same would be true with our visual reward system, if you see pictures of them or see them you are re-presencing the memory systems in your brain that make it incredibly difficult to disconnect!

So when I said that reconnection was like Love Crack, to your brain it can be! In Psych101 we watched rats that chose to keep getting the reward centers of their brain fed, rather than choosing actual food. Other rats, we’ll call Urban Rats, chose cocaine over food, as cocaine lit up the pleasure centers as well. I’m thinking it’s a good thing those rats didn’t have Call To Duty back then.

Actively participating in a Fake-Up isn’t going to help you “get over” your breakup or put yourself back together, in fact it can stunt your healing process, even though it may feel so good. If you do choose to get involved with your ex, just know ahead of time what you’re in for: a delay in healing. And go in with your eyes wide open. Think about what’s healthiest for you in the long run, what will help you grow and help you move forward powerfully. That’s all I ask.

**For further information, here are some great resources on chemicals/attachment theory in love: 

This article was originally published with the Good Men Project; republished with the kindest permission. 


About the Author

Theresa Byrne is a natural born protector and power expert that loves seeing people find their own innate power. She knows what it’s like not to feel powerful and have a place to turn, so she’s dedicated to being a power guide for others that want one. Her background includes a B.A. in Communication (concentration in Psych/Social Work/Crisis Intervention and Business/Marketing); a C.M.T focused in sports, kinesiology and healing, and a certified fitness professional since 1999.

A nationally recognized defense expert she has appeared on several national and local television shows teaching her unusual mindset and methodology, Theresa holds a 4th degree Master Black Belt Instructor certification and is the owner of a martial arts and fitness center in Denver. www.TheresaByrne.com www.UMAC.us

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