I’ve been reading some breakup self help books as I go through one that feels particularly heartbreaking and sad. Not as much one for watching sad chick flicks and eating pints of ice cream, I find these sorts of situations leave me navel gazing and obsessively checking and double checking my behaviour to figure out what I did wrong and what I should do better next time. During a breakup I am a creature of pain and regret and determination and evolution, and I like to reach out to as many sources as possible to figure out what steps to take next on my journey of self-discovery and learning how to heal my various traumas.
I had no idea how fucking toxic so many self help books are when it comes to breakups. Holy shit, people. I noticed books on this topic rarely acknowledge that you, the consumer, assumed female and heterosexual, may have initiated the breakup. I can attest that you can initiate a breakup, be very sure it was the right thing to do, have confirmation it was the right thing to do, and still have a lot of fucked up mixed up feelings about it.
There were a fair number of books I encountered that I felt crossed the line from a bit of playful angry fantasy to straight up joking about doing stuff that’s actively harmful. One suggested you make sure to talk to your ex’s family about the breakup first to “get them on your side so you can use them as spies”. Seriously? This is really not good advice (and how did they get a book deal while I’m still waiting? SIGH)
So I’m going to challenge of the most common advice things I uncovered, from my experience as someone who has both broken up with and been broken up with, and is friends with most of my exes. Not to say I’m perfect at breakups- far from it, I have been vengeful, self-destructive, depressed for months, carelessly promiscuous, all over the board. The fact that so many of my exes still talk to me I think is a reflection not only of my ability to take ownership but their ability to take the love we shared and adapt to something new. I’m really writing this to remind myself of this shit, and so I stop reading these damn books that sound a lot more like self harm than self help.
Do Not Set Your Ex’s House on Fire.
You would think this is really obvious, but I have read a lot of advice, in print, suggesting that you should somehow “get even” with your ex by acting out and destroying their stuff, their friendships, or their lives. This is intensely unhelpful. I’m all for women getting in touch with their anger, as I feel we’re so often told to silence and stifle it, but I do not feel that reacting to a hurtful situation by being abusive is appropriate, including when I have done it myself in moments of weakness and pain. Anger is not a root emotion, it is almost always a hard shell protecting us from fear or hurt. I think that rather than demonizing your ex and then spend all your energy summoning him over and over just to tell him off, it’s better to focus on yourself and your needs.
It’s OK To Grieve. And It Might Take A While.
I’ve read suggestions that you can only cry for 24 hours, or 48 hours, or maybe, MAYBE a week, but then you need to pick yourself up and drag yourself out. The death of a relationship and the heartache that follows is a real pain (one you can apparently take aspirin for, who knew) and it’s perfectly fine to give that time to heal. Pushing yourself to push those feelings away because the incredibly short amount of time is up can lead to more unhealthy and unreflective behaviour down the line. I feel like this suggestion of containing your grief is in line with a culture that doesn’t like people to take sick days, resents paid vacations and medicates in any way possible to continue to be a successful worker bee. Your pain will likely come in waves, and it’s ok to take some time out to hold space for it- in fact I feel like if you do make space for it, you’ll be better able to wipe your eyes and move on with your day than if you try to bury it.
Exes *Can* Be Friends.
I’ve read a lot of well-meaning advice that you can’t be friends with an ex. I can understand it. I’ve had lovers that, when the intimacy of sex was gone, accessing any other type of intimacy felt awkward, painful, less shiny. Breakups are often messy and feelings get hurt and you have to know your boundaries and be able to communicate really well in order to transition from being partners to being friends. But I also don’t understand the edict that you must banish an ex from your life, no matter what, that the only way to move on is to wipe all memories. When I’m close to someone, even when there’s been a lot of hurt, I still hold a desire to heal that hurt and retain some sense of community. I don’t let many people that close to me. I have personally often found that it’s worth the investment to keep the people I do let into my inner sanctum close, and that the pain of renegotiating our relationship is ultimately less painful than losing them forever in my life. Your mileage may vary, and it totally depends on the ex, why you broke up, whether everyone involved can own their shit. It’s possible though, and I just don’t believe it means you’re inevitably trying to win them back or at the very least fuck them again.
Staying Busy is Good, But Avoidance Isn’t.
One thing that a lot of people suggest you do is stay busy, and in some ways it makes a lot of sense. I know that sitting around dwelling overmuch on what could’ve gone differently isn’t usually helpful, so keeping your hands and mind busy is a good idea. However, I think that it can also be tempting to “stay busy” by becoming a workaholic, overexercising, going on nights out as a way of avoiding any real reflection on yourself or your needs. I think this is especially true for femmes, where relationship expectations often rely on our emotional labour for someone else. When the relationship is gone, we throw our time and energy into some other project, not giving ourselves a chance to mend, to breathe, to take up space. Self care is important. Sitting with your feelings? Also important. Don’t burn yourself out in an attempt to sidestep personal growth… and also remember that while sometimes personal growth is useful, sometimes it’s a form of self abuse. It’s ok to take some time out for indulgence and rest, too.
Don’t Use Other People- Get Informed Consent.
Finally, a piece of advice I came across multiple times suggested getting over one person by getting under someone else. While that’s absolutely useful for some folks, I also think it’s important to remember that the person you’re banging to get over your ex is a person, with their own needs, wants, dealbreakers. You really shouldn’t just use them as a stepping stone to your personal growth, not just for their sake, but for your own. At least, I would say don’t do this without informed consent. Some folks, if you tell them you’re looking for a rebound, and the expected parameters of that for you, will be happy to oblige, and great! But I don’t think it’s really ethical to heal your broken heart by breaking someone else’s. Don’t be mean, respect their boundaries and needs, even when it’s a one night stand.
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