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The only real way to deal with a breakup

Published on Tuesday, 05 September, 2023

I probably should have written this up sooner, but alas motivation is a fickle thing.

The backstory - a little over an year ago I broke up with my long-term girlfriend. Well, in honesty, it was her that left me. And even though we did separate on relatively good terms, the event did sting. It stung a lot. Now, 400 days later, after numerous events, both good and bad, took place in my life I finally can summarize the whole experience and maybe provide some solace for anyone reading this and finding him or herself in a similar situation.

Let's get this started.

First, I'm 29, pushing 30 in a few days. This, I've come to realize, is important. I've never been the one to wallow in my misery after a break up. Technically, this was my third long-term relationship. I thought I've got the post-break up depression thing already practiced. But I didn't. Ending things hits different when you're older. At almost thirty, I'm not really 'young' per se. The dreadful feeling that you've wasted time, opportunities and an enormous amount of energy can be overwhelming. The only thing you can do is to internalize the separation between past you and present you. Past you made decisions based on his or hers current situation. Now, the times have changed and current you has to adjust. Never, ever, allow yourself and your mind to drift into the treacherous sea of 'what if's. It's extremely counterproductive.

Don't try to win him/her back. It's not going to happen. This, at least, I had covered. Early in my life I've made it a personal rule to never date the same person twice. If things didn't work out the first time...well what hope is there for them to work on the second? People don't change, not really. Unless there was some herculean effort from one of the parties to change a lot then the whole thing is pointless. You got dumped, treat it like it's final.

Now comes the question - do you keep in contact? Do you see each other from time to time? Do you call/text to see if the other person is OK? Do you help them when they move out if you were living together? Here, the answer is not that straight-forward. First of all - be cordial. If they need help, help them, but don't expect help in return. If you have the need to talk to them, or meet up and they're up for it - do it once. If it makes you even more distraught, don't do it again. Treat it as an minimization problem - keep as much contact that makes you feel comfortable. If you ever feel that that level of contact causes you distress then cut contact by half. Hopefully, in a couple of weeks you would have found the sweet spot. As a "pro tip", most of the times keeping very limited interactions works best.

Now, if you were living together, find a new place. It's an additional burden, I know, but it pays in troves in the long run. This is way easier if you were renting together and might not be applicable if you owned the place, but still. Finding a new place is a priority. If you have the funds, take your time - you don't want to rent the first dumpster that's available. Set a date, preferably no further than a few weeks in the future and start looking.

Although I subscribe to the stoic philosophy and way of life, do give yourself some time to be emotional. Do it in the privacy of your home, or with a close friend, in person. Stay away from social media and keep your mouth shut in group gatherings with a lot of people. You might say something stupid and you will regret that. That being said, it's important to not make misery your way of life. Don't stay too late, don't make yourself a martyr, don't throw blame at the Universe for making it hard for you.

Now, going back to the 'interaction' stuff. Don't, under any circumstance, look at your ex's social media posts. You're sad now, you got dumped. On the other hand they're probably way happier - they finally ended a relationship that wasn't working for them. Seeing a picture of them being happy surrounded by friends and possibly a new partner, whilst you're staying at home drinking your 37th beer for the day if just a recipe for disaster. Don't do it.

Alcohol is never your friend although in moderation it could be a useful tool in situations such as these. Going back to the 'let yourself be emotional' part - it's cathartic to get hammered and listen to depressing post-punk whilst strolling downtown at night. If you feel you have the need to do that, do it. But don't make that your identity. It's a role you play to let the negative emotions pass through you. It should be only that and nothing more.

I remember that soon after I got dumped, being filled with resentment and the feeling of being cheated and mistreated, a friend told me something that really resonated with me:

Nobody owns you to be with you

You got dumped and it hurts, and maybe they have a new partner now and you feel inadequate. But they were never responsible for your happiness. The don't own you an explanation, a second chance, or anything else. If they show compassion, that's great, more power to them, but don't expect it.

Second to last come the dating apps. I've only had experience with Tinder, so that's what I'm going to focus on. Tinder is a double-edged sword. On one hand, if things work out and you get a lot of matches it could be a great morale booster. On the other hand, if it doesn't it could bring you down even more. In my case it was the former, I got acquainted to a lot of interesting people, went on a number of great dates and though nothing lasting came out of that it still proved to be a boon for my confidence, rather than a detriment. Use with caution!

And, lastly, the thing that everyone says and that's the only real answer to the question...give it time. Now that you're single you'll find that you have more time than ever. Fill it up with hobbies, projects, catching up with old friends and everything you felt that you didn't have time before. The whole thing sucks for now, but it's going to get better. It might take a few weeks or a few months, but it will pass. For me, the few months I spent being down ended with an unexpected re-acquaintance that blossomed into beautiful love. A year later after the break up, a week before turning thirty and I've never been happier.

Shit happens and we have to deal with it. Just don't make shit-dealing your personality.

P.S. I've written this in one go and it's probably very rambly. Sorry about that. I just decided it's better to have it out rather than trying to structure my thoughts and then edit them heavily. It is what it is.