Dealing with heartbreak is never easy. Here, Stylist readers share the best advice they’ve ever received on how to deal with a breakup.
What’s particularly terrifying about breakups is there’s often no warning as to how you’ll feel when it happens. Some are quick and painless, others are heart shattering and utterly crippling. Sometimes it’s the relationships that only lasted a few months which hurt the most, and even when the end was inevitable, you saw it coming; hey, maybe you even instigated it – they can still really sting.
Yet, despite how unique every breakup is, there’s also something strangely unifying about them. Speaking from experience, there’s a high probability you’ll get into horoscopes for a bit, invest in some rose quartz and develop some brilliant new talents, like the ability to bring all conversations (no matter the topic) back to your ex, or losing hours at a time down a gaping virtual hole of WhatsApp messages (meditation eat your heart out).
The thing is, love is a powerful drug and no matter how amicable a breakup is, it’s still an ending. To put it bluntly, you’re essentially grieving while going cold turkey, so it’s no surprise how thoroughly destabilising they can feel. But with popular culture feeding us stories of spooning Ben and Jerry’s out of the tub or experiencing some form of spiritual enlightenment, what really are the best ways to recover and move on?
Here, women share the most important piece of advice they have on getting over a breakup based on their own experiences with heartbreak.
Take the time to work through it
When I was 24, I broke up with the guy I was seeing. It was an unhealthy on-off relationship that didn’t last long, and at the time I quickly brushed it off – how could I be upset about something that was never really a relationship? It was only when I had a panic attack about it eight years later that I realised how much it had affected me. Through therapy, I’ve realised just how important it is to acknowledge how you’re feeling at the time and take the time to process it. Remember, your feelings are valid and you’re allowed time to grieve.
Leila, 33, Brighton
Time does heal
In the aftermath of a breakup with another guy I thought was The One, those half-awake yearnings and the scenarios I played out in my mind were excruciating. I just couldn’t break the last-thought-at-night, first-thought-in-the-morning cycle.
People always say time heals, which I thought was a bit of a cop-out. But turns out it really does. Eventually, it was mid-morning before I realised I’d not thought about him. And then a whole day, then a week, then a month. With time, you’ll slowly fill the hours with new people and experiences without even realising that the space and significance your ex once occupied no longer exists.
Catherine, 34, Manchester
Mute, unfollow and block
After a long-term relationship ended, I became social media obsessed, spending hours trawling through not only my ex’s account but also those of his friends and family too. I clung onto abstract clues, building stories in my head about what he was doing or who he was with. It took an honest (and brutal) conversation with my best friend for me to realise how unhealthy this obsession had become. Unfollowing both him, and anyone associated with him, across all social media sites, was the kindest thing I’d ever done for myself.
Tamsin, 29, London
Take it as an opportunity to grow
After each breakup, I try to do something to improve myself and grow. Whether it’s learning a new language or travelling more, it’s a chance to invest in finding what makes me happy again and distract myself in healthy ways. It means I’ll hopefully come out the other side with a new accomplishment or hobby. Actually, perhaps I can attribute every breakup as to why I’m so amazing now!
Eve, 31, Kent
Rebuild yourself esteem
After one particularly bruising breakup, I started blaming myself, questioning what I’d done wrong, and if I’d ever find love again. As someone who’s usually fairly confident, my self-esteem was down and out. One evening, my housemates sat me down and started listing all the reasons why they loved me. Although it was excruciating at the time, it made me acknowledge all the positive qualities within me that I was overlooking and that fulfilling love exists in my life in so many ways already.
Rachel, 34, London
Learn to be happy on your own
I think it’s important to really ask yourself if you’re upset about not being with your partner or not being in a relationship. My fixation on needing to be in a relationship often made me ignore red flags; once I realised the alternative of being on my own wasn’t the horrific option I’d framed it to be in my mind, I was able to evaluate things more clearly and walk away more easily when I knew things weren’t right. As cheesy as it sounds, learning to be happy on your own post breakup is so important.
Alisha, 28, Cambridge
Let go of the need for closure
It shouldn’t have come as a surprise when the guy I was seeing, who I now realise was never really interested in me, broke it off via text… but it did. I was absolutely shattered and desperate for one last talk, telling myself it was absolutely vital I understood in order to get closure. It actually took a light bulb moment from reading a clichéd self-help book that made me realise I was never going to get the exact response I was looking for, and ultimately, the closure I needed had to come from me in accepting it was over. Once I’d made peace with that, I could start the healing.
Natasha, 33, Leeds
Learn what you will and won’t tolerate
In my early 20s, I had a series of long-term boyfriends who tried to control and change me; from where I went to how I looked and what I wore. One even openly admitted they wouldn’t have dated me if they’d known I suffered from anxiety and depression. After each one ended, I learned a little more about what I would and wouldn’t accept in future relationships, and perhaps most importantly, how I wanted to feel in them. It was in learning more about myself and my boundaries that led me to my fiancé, who accepts and loves me for who I am – something I now know I deserve.
Fay, 27, London
In some shape or other, all these pieces of advice remind me of a line from one of my favourite books, A Little Life, which, for me, perfectly sums up the beauty in the breakdown: “… things get broken, and sometimes they get repaired, and in most cases, you realise that no matter what gets damaged, life rearranges itself to compensate for your loss, sometimes wonderfully.”
Because, time and time again, we somehow get through the pain and often find something spectacular on the other side; whether that’s the strength we found to heal, a fun new hobby, or eventually, the faith to risk it all and love again.