Modern Austen’s Guide to Breakups
It’s one moment in your life. Now get over it.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that one or more of the romantic relationships we enter into in life are not meant to last, and we will inevitably have to endure a breakup.
Perhaps this isn’t everyone’s truth — the first person you fell in love with might have turned out to be the one or maybe you decided at an early age that you never want to be in a relationship — and how lovely it must be to have never had your heart broken. But most of us have gone through the painful experience of breaking up or being broken up with, be it a complicated friendship, a long-term relationship, an engagement, a marriage, or an imagined love affair.
Breakups are perfectly normal and eye-opening, even if they do not feel that way when you’re in the thick of misery. If you let it, a breakup can make you an even stronger modern heroine, one who knows what she does and does not want. In order to find this strength, you must first recover from the pain your breakup has caused.
This guide will help modern heroines like you get over lost love, embrace what you’ve learned about yourself, and re-open your heart.
Burn the gifts, letters, and trinkets that plague you
As Harriet Smith will tell you, almost anything your beloved touches can become a most precious treasure. Whether it’s a gift your lover once gave you or a small bit of court-plaister they used that you stole away in secret, we tend to imbue these things with an unhealthy amount of meaning and value. These treasures bring happiness when you’re together (or, in Harriet’s case, secretly and deliriously pining from afar), but they often make you wretched when you break up.
Burning these treasures that often come to symbolize our relationships (particularly if it was a bad relationship) can be cathartic and empowering after a breakup. Breakups trap you in a cage of self-loathing and self-doubt. The grieving period turns you into a foreign version of yourself — a woman who seems familiar but you don’t quite recognize. It is not the time to be holding onto court-plaister or pouring over old love letters like they are the very essence of the person who no longer belongs to you.
A fireplace would be convenient. If you do not have a fireplace, build a bonfire outside and invite some friends over. Make the burning ritualistic.
How long after a breakup you should incinerate your treasures is entirely up to you. An hour later might be too soon for some, and a day may be too long for others. Harriet could only part with the reminders she kept of Mr. Elton after enough time had passed (and after he so rudely threw her over at that ball) for her to see nothing she liked in him at all.
“It seems madness! I can see nothing at all extraordinary in him now,” she tells Emma. “I must get rid of every thing. There it goes, and there is an end, thank Heaven! Of Mr. Elton.”
Go away for a few months, preferably with a kindhearted aunt & uncle
When your ex-beloved makes so dramatic an exit from your life that they shut up their house and hastily leave town with their best friend and evil sisters, and the only word you hear of it is in a letter sent weeks later by one of the less-than-enchanting sisters, it’s time to get away for a few days—several months if you can.
I wouldn’t recommend visiting the same place you know your ex will be staying, unless you have some excellent relations to keep you occupied.
“Change of scene might be of service—and perhaps a little relief from home may be as useful as any thing,” says Mrs. Gardiner, regarding Jane’s sadness over Bingley in Pride and Prejudice.
And if it hadn’t been for the Gardiners of Gracechurch Street, poor Jane’s sorrow over not seeing Bingley and learning of Caroline’s duplicity while she was in London would have been more acute. For, of course, part of the appeal of staying in town, even if subconscious, was the hope of running into the Netherfield party again, and picking up where they left off.
It would be best to avoid temptation all together and ensure that your ex will not be anywhere near your lodgings for this trip. If it cannot be avoided, be sure your kindhearted aunt & uncle are at hand to distract you from the knowledge that you could run into your beloved at any moment
Surround yourself with loved ones to ease the disappointment
If your mother is not Mrs. Bennet, then spending more time with your parents and siblings could be just the salve for the sting of disappointed love.
When Catherine Morland was so brusquely ordered to leave Northanger Abbey by General Tilney without a servant to accompany her or any hope of seeing Henry again, the sight of her home made the weight of her journey and the memory of how she left the Tilneys a little less burdensome.
“All [her family] assembled at the door, to welcome her with affectionate eagerness, was a sight to awaken the best feelings of Catherine’s heart; and in the embrace of each, as she stepped from the carriage, she found herself soothed beyond anything that she had believed possible,” the narrator, Jane Austen, tells us.
Mrs. Morland even offers her daughter sensible advice for changing her pitiful disposition. While she isn’t fully acquainted with Catherine’s feelings about the Tilneys, and Henry in particular, Mrs. Morland sharply tells her daughter not to fret about trifles or start thinking she’s too big for her own home now that she’s experienced the comforts of Northanger.
Tough love and affection from your family can help you to see a breakup for what it really is: One moment in your life. Now get over it.
Remember: Circumstances are not always right for love
When Jane Austen’s heroines marry for love, they also make wise matches—matches suitable to their stations and spirits.
Jane, herself, never married, but she had a few short-lived romances and turned down a marriage proposal or two. As a young woman, she fell in love with a man named Tom Lefroy, who loved her in return. The circumstances were never right for their relationship; Tom’s family ended up sending him away to prevent him from risking his future on a penniless girl. He eventually married, fathered seven children, and became a successful member of Parliament.
While Jane most likely downplayed her feelings for Tom and the pain their separation caused her, this was a moment in her life that helped define Jane Austen, the writer. Following the breakup, she turned to her craft more and more.
You also have to wonder if Tom Lefroy was in the back of her mind when she wrote this observation in a letter to her niece:
There are such beings in the world perhaps, one in a Thousand, as the Creature You and I should think Perfection. Where Grace & Spirit are united in Worth, where the Manners are equal to the Heart & Understanding, but such a person may not come your way, or, if he does, he may not be the eldest son of a Man of Fortune, the near relation of your Particular friend & belonging to your own Country.