Dear god I hope the person I’m dating now doesn’t read this. For clarity: It has been two and a half years since I went through my last break up (my third). It was such a successful break up that I have not seriously considered dating anyone since. After my second break-up, age 19, I realised break-ups could be as positive as they are negative. It’s not a pleasant thing to go through, but it’s the sort of life-altering emotional trauma that you can really grow through without too much damage. Even when all feels lost and you’re filled with despair, even when it’s the opposite of how you thought your relationship (and maybe your life) was going to go, you can always find a silver lining in your break up. Here’s my guide on how:
A successful break-up is one where, at the end of the day you feel confident and comfortable alone on your own two feet again. You don’t feel like there’s something missing. You don’t feel like you’ve forgotten something, or that something (or someone) has forgotten you. Essentially, you become self-absorbed again (wahoo!). You stop spending your time thinking about that person, and you start re-investing the time and energy you spent on them into yourself. It’s not all “me, me, me” (but a good part is), but you’ll find once you’re in a better place internally, you end up sharing all that love and attention with the people around you as well!
Step one is simple: recognise thought patterns. Catch yourself every time you think of them and redirect that thought. If you pick up an old shirt that you love and think “oh I can’t wear this, I wore this the first time x happened” catch yourself. Catch yourself every time you’re holding back from something you love because of this person, because of this breakup, and then don’t let it hold you back. Wash the shirt, and when it’s clean: Kon-Mari fold that shit, thank that shirt for being a cute shirt, and put it on … or put it into the drawer until you feel ready to put it on and not let it constantly remind you of them. Bottom line: we are not getting rid of perfectly good things that we love just because we’ve taken that goodness and put it into the hands of someone who turned it sour. We are taking that energy back.
Anytime you’re out having a lovely day, a common habit when you’re in love is to think “oh what would we be doing if we were here together”, or “I can’t wait to tell them about this later.” They’re sweet thoughts, until you’ve gone through a break-up. Afterwards, they’re a constant reminder, a grey, cloudy shadow of heartbreak looming over you. Recognise it when you have those thoughts and make a conscious effort to let them go and be more present. Focus on the physical things around you, take them in, take a mental photograph of all of the loveliness that is existing around you without that person. There are beautiful, good things that can be found in solitude. Plus, finding a sense of peacefulness and joy in a moment of alone time is so powerful. You’ll come away from it with more confidence in your independence.
Next step: start reinvesting in yourself. Not necessarily taking treat yo-self to the next level. Sure, buying something nice for yourself is always nice, but I mostly mean taking up new hobbies. Make moves to try new things and reinvent yourself into the person you want to be in your head. Start to physically spend the time, money, and energy you used to spend on that person on yourself. Start to do the things you didn’t do before because you were spending your energy elsewhere. Do the things that you see others do on Instagram or Youtube and you always think “that looks like so much fun, I should try that.” You might end up hating it, but it’s a new experience to have alone in your independence, and you’ll come away from it knowing more about yourself, and hopefully feeling better about yourself.
I distinctly remember the boy I dated many years ago telling me I ‘had no hobbies’, so after we broke up I started running again, and I took up pottery, and I made moves to ask people to hang out with me and go to events and do new things. It was the best. I loved pottery. Running and pottery both were great forms of meditation and great for my mental health. Meeting up with new friends taught me that I could easily make new friends, and I would have people to do new things with whether or not I had a romantic partner. Did I start doing it out of spite? Kind of. But I also wanted to be that person who didn’t let a break up break them, I wanted to prove that the hurt just motivated me to do better, and that the loss wasn’t really a loss at all. I was determined to thrive, so I did.
Step three is to take your emotional spring cleaning beyond romance. Break ups are another great time to spend some time reassessing your friendships. So many people ditch their friends for their partner over a long-term relationship; it’s a tale as old as time. The first relationship I had, I was so incredibly guilty of having neglected my friends. I came out of it realising I had only one friend, my now-former boyfriend. The break-up brought exceptional solitude. If you find yourself in this position: fear not, it is never, ever too late to recognize your wrongs and right them. Apologies are good, people! And if you owe someone an apology, you should give it, whether or not you intend (or they intend) to continue on being friends! If you don’t find yourself in this position, a break-up is still a good time to reassess a friendship.
Break-ups are so difficult for so many people (duh), but they really bring out the true colours of a lot of friends. You need to be careful of asking too much of your friends — seriously. They weren’t a part of your relationship, and your friendship shouldn’t now become about the break-up, or the former relationship. You should be spending time with people who hear you out, but who also make you happy! You should be able to be talking about other things and having a good time in a safe and understanding environment. You should also put yourself out there to make new friends with people who don’t know the you of the ‘you and them.’
I maintain that the best friends are those who know when to hold your hand, and when to push you to learn how to handle things on your own. No one should be holding your hand entirely through a break up, and you shouldn’t expect them to. They should be there when you need them, but ideally, you won’t need them constantly. It’s time to learn how to be on your own again, you shouldn’t be trying to replace your partner with a friend.
It’s come to my attention recently that there are loads of people out there that I should have been better friends with. We have common interests, we do similar things, we get along well when we see each other, but I’ve always felt like I shouldn’t try to make someone my friend. What else are you supposed to do though?! There’s no shame in asking someone to do something. It’s like friendship dating. There’s no pressure to become best friends right away, it’s just about taking your mind off of things for a bit to have a good time! And you might just find a new lifelong friend in the process.
It’s really just a lot of thinking, and a lot of growing. The real gist of having a successful break up is becoming more self-aware. Whether you keep a journal, or write a blog that you never publish (or do), do what you can to get some clarity on the situation. Get to a point where you don’t want to go back, because if you’re still half hearted about your decision to be alone, it’s hard to fully throw yourself into independence. Every relationship is different, so every break-up is different, but I personally have never, ever regretted cutting off from someone who decided they didn’t want me anymore, or cutting off from a relationship that wasn’t healthy anymore.
It sounds harsh, and it’s a process of learning about yourself, and pushing yourself to grow into new and better versions. Find things that you love about yourself and things you wish you had done differently, then take them and assess how to become a better version of you! It’s a constant, everlasting process, and it’s not one that should start and end at a breakup, because it’s a process that makes us better people. It just so happens that we think a lot when we’re going through a break-up, so it’s a great time to implement positive changes in your life!
It was only once I was okay doing things alone that I became fully confident in myself and my ability to function as an independent adult woman. I know what boundaries I have between my independence and my need to have a support system. I’m not looking for attention in a relationship because I don’t find I need it. I’m not looking for someone to swoon over me, I’m looking for someone that I will swoon over. Back in ye olde days I’d swoon over the wave of confidence that they give off, or over the attention they pay me, or … because I’m bored and I’m lonely and I’m finding signs from the stars that are telling me we’re soulmates. Today, instead of all of that baloney, I’m swooning over how they make me feel safe and affectionate, how their independent life compliments mine, how our independent interests overlap and intersect, how we’re different in a lot of meaningless ways that just keep life interesting. And also. If I’m honest. I’m swooning because he’s handsome. I might not be as mature as I pretend to be.
*All these beautiful pictures (of me) were taken by my friend Abbi. She is incredibly talented and kind and wonderful, find her and show her some love here: @woollyjumperweather.