Break up is a little bit like war. I can hear you all groan. I know, it sounds a lot like a platitude. “Love is a battlefield” and even if you put your heart back together it’s never the same and all that nonsense. Just hear me out.
It’s something a lot of political science majors learn in introductory classes. In each war strategists begin fighting using tactics learned from previous wars– sometimes with little regard for how ill-suited they are to the current one.
Stage One: The bad analogies, similes and metaphors stage
I remember the day we broke up; I cut my toe in the shower. It bled way more than it had any right to, given it was such a tiny little thing. The whole thing was made worse by the fact that previous to the shower I am pretty sure we were going to–well, anyway, a couple of days later it formed a scab because that’s the body’s response to being attacked in that way.
I remember looking down at it and thinking “I am like that scab. I am like this clumsy shower cut. Sure it hurts now, but I’ll heal and soon I’ll barely be able to see the scar at all.” You see, it’s all a healing process.
Looking back I question those thoughts. Did I find them reassuring or did I think this in some sort of mopey-haze? Really Leah, really. You’re like a cut? You can do better.
You see that’s why I needed a makeover. I wasn’t just cutting my hair, I was transforming myself. I was becoming a new person. The post-breakup makeover is classic. Everyone’s done it because we believe we can fool ourselves into thinking we’re a new, better version of ourselves with a swishy dress and a dramatic haircut. This way you can look in the mirror and avoid your sad, sleep-deprived eyes and remember that change is coming. It might take a little longer and it’ll probably be more painful than a haircut, but it’s possible. It’s possible to feel whole without this person.
Stage Two: Do everything (which is really the culmination of stage one)
I hate moping. I hate it. I feel pathetic and the day just seems to lengthen into a dully, pixelated infinity. The day after we broke up a friend came from Taipei and we did all the conventional emergency-recovery things: ate pizza, watched movies, painted nails, re-hashed the break-up too many times at too many different angles.
Then, after I spent my moping-allowance, I threw myself into every activity I could think of. Rock climbing? Sure. Try this new food? Absolutely. Hike a mountain? I’d love to. Attend art events, write a play in 24 hours– all while working– yes to all of these things.
If you wanted a study buddy or someone to be scarily enthusiastic about your idea to visit a cat cafe, I was your girl. No idea was too silly, too scary or too intensive for me. I need to make up for lost time, after all! Time I spent at home or time I spent thinking about a boy who could just toss me to the side. It was my time now– time for the cliched independent woman speeches, time for the indignant dismissals of my ex, time for dreams and ideas and way too many energy drinks. Oh yes, I was motivated, fierce and exhausted.
Oh man was I tired– no number of “you can do this” playlists could remedy the exhaustion. Of course this stage of the break up I was also gifted with super endurance and super focus, something I’d be thankful to have now, so I didn’t seem to notice the exhaustion until stage three.
Stage 3: Reality
The first two stages are great coping mechanisms, but eventually you have to contend with, well, reality. Sure you cut your hair and, sure, you climbed to the top of the rockclimbing wall despite being terrified but those things only temporarily alleviate the pain.
I found myself desperately scrabbling for something to keep my mind off of it and I discovered that some of the coping strategies I used just didn’t fit. I listened to strong songs about recovering from a cheating ex– but, while they helped immeasurably during my first break up, they felt strangely hollow this time. This break up wasn’t the result of cheating. I didn’t feel the same righteous anger. I inspected our relationship and I couldn’t find the flaws I found in the first relationship. I was fighting using my old strategies and this, well, this was a different war.
No matter how hard I tried to maintain my anger (much of it borrowed from friends), my enthusiasm (also borrowed) or my rallying calls for change, the reality is change doesn’t happen that quickly. There isn’t a panacea for break-ups. There are no shortcuts; the only way is through.
So don’t criticize yourself for not getting over it fast enough. Don’t worry if your last break-up routine just doesn’t seem to help. Maybe last time you went out every night, but this time you don’t have the energy. Maybe last time you met one-hundred thousand people, but this time you don’t really feel the need to socialize. That’s OK.
Ultimately, what helped the most was taking everything at my own pace and acknowledging that the break-up activities that helped last time might not be as helpful this time. In the end, it wasn’t the haircut or the thousands of hobbies or the angry soapbox speeches that helped so much as freeing myself to just feel sad for a while. So, I did it. I changed my strategy and I moped. I moped, I moped, I moped. I wallowed in my own pathetic feelings. Then when I got tired of moping, I stopped. I stopped and reflected.
I’m not going to lie and say that I discovered everything in my life was perfect without him. I’m not going to claim I felt instantly healed, but since then I’ve slowly started engaging again. I’ve dedicated myself to a few activities I feel passionate about. I’ve made a small circle of friends I can rely on. Most of all I reminded myself that everything was truly going to be ok– and that is one way break ups are nothing at all like war.