How do you get over the worst breakup of your life? The Good Men Project’s James has been there and he’s here to share a tip or two.
Having been through a number of relationships in my life, that line has come up more times than I care to remember, and has, I regret to admit, been tried more than once in my recovery attempts.
Guess what? It didn’t work.
Simply put, hopping into bed with a new person is no replacement for the intimacy and future you thought you had from a past relationship, and the more serious and lengthy the relationship, the less the effect of going out and hooking up. It’s rather like drinking saltwater after champagne—it’s just no substitute and does more harm than good.
When guys go through a bad breakup, the usual result is similar to the stages of dying: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance—and to try jumping into something new immediately is like lodging yourself in the denial stage and holding on tight. You are holding on to the desperate reality that the loss wasn’t as bad as you thought, that you are still appealing and worth something to your desired gender and that your life hasn’t changed as much.
After my first marriage ended abruptly, the first thing I did was rid myself of everything she had ever given me, disposing of every sign of her existence in my world and trying to act like she was never there. I went out, partied around and acted like nothing was wrong. I reasoned since she already had another guy afterward, it couldn’t have mattered that much, it couldn’t have been as important as I’d thought, right?
The trouble was, I had invested a great deal of time and energy, and not a little bit of hope, in that relationship. And, with every night, every party, whether I went home alone or not, I would wake up with the reality that things were not all right. I could forget, for a while, that what was supposed to be forever wasn’t there any more, and I was left waiting for the next thing to distract me from that emptiness. And it wasn’t even that I missed her—I had ended it, and good riddance!—it was just that the permanence wasn’t there.
What I had was a cheap filler.
Over the next few months, I spiraled down, until I didn’t even have the confidence to be an effective pick-up artist. I moved into a dorm where, on my floor alone, it was almost 4-1 women to men, and I still couldn’t get any action. I quit trying, and spent the next semester in a sort of depression, wondering what was to become of me, how I’d move on with my life and why things hadn’t gone right. I was good to her, I supported her, I was everything that society says a husband should be, and we’d dated for over two years prior to getting married; everything said that we should work, so why didn’t we? Would I ever find something that would work?
A day came—I remember it well—when I finally woke up and realized that life was moving on. I was recovering, albeit slowly, starting to branch out and get life moving forward. I was getting past the misery that had plagued me, and going on with my life, circa year 1 AD (after divorce). This was helped along by a temporary relationship wherein my significant other had made it clear that sex was off the table—I was forced to halt my general short-term solution and find myself again, learn who I was, who I’d become.
And life went on.
The lesson I learned: when you go through a bad breakup, regardless of whose fault it is, you are going to hurt, and no amount of booze or distraction sex is going to fill that void. And even if you did meet the perfect person for you during that time, you would not be in a condition to be the perfect person for them, and it would all be for nothing.
So I’ve made a checklist to go down in order to best recover from a breakup:
It’s all right to be sad.
- You’ve lost something into which you put time, effort and emotion. You’d have to be inhuman to not feel some amount of regret. Even if it’s not your fault, even if you ended it for perfectly valid reasons, even if your former partner turned out to be utterly worthless, you’ve still parted from something that was a major part of your life. Don’t try and tell yourself that it’s not that bad; it is, and denying it only makes it that much worse.
Understand what the sadness is.
- Too often, people associate sadness with the wrong things. No matter how it ended, and with whatever regrets you may carry, your sadness and regret are rooted in the fact that you lost something that was a part of you. But this does not mean you are starting over—you’ve become a new person from the one you were at the beginning, and that person has a whole list of new opportunities the other one didn’t.
Keep yourself occupied.
- Go to the gym. If you don’t belong to one, join. If you don’t have a gym nearby, find some way to engage in physical activity. One of the biggest dangers of depression after a breakup is letting yourself fall apart, physically and mentally, and physical exercise can greatly prevent both of these. Unlike the usual avoidance activities, working out can make you feel better about yourself, look better, be healthier, and ready for the next step in life. Just beware of doing it for the wrong reasons—“getting them back” or “making them regret losing you” takes away from the good energy and focuses on the bad.
Understand that every day is one more closer to recovery.
- There will come times when you feel like you’ve not made it anywhere; things will feel just the same as the day before, and the one before that. Guess what? It’s not. Just like taking steps on a hundred mile walk, you might think you haven’t really made progress, but there will come a day when you look up and realize that you’re so much farther along than you were. Just keep your head up and stay on course. And that leads to the final key to getting over a bad breakup:
- Imagine you’ve been asleep for a length of time equivalent to the time your relationship lasted. Whether a few months or a few years, if you woke up after that kind of rest, you’d be in a bad way if you thought you could just get up and start living as though nothing happened. Things would’ve changed, life would be different and it would take a good length of time to settle things back into a workable routine. That’s how your emotions are after the breakup; you need to get your footing back and become a completely emotionally healthy person. Don’t rush it—it’s worth taking the time to get it right. Just like putting a quick fix on a car won’t correct the overall problem, and will eventually require total repair, trying to find the easy way out will just leave you with the same problem; you’ll eventually have to fix it all.
Remember, no matter how good things were during the relationship, and no matter how bad it was at the end, you are still a complete and whole person, and that means you should allow yourself to feel, to think.
And to heal.
Vic on flickr]