I got dumped recently. But as horrible and earth shattering as that was, there was one thing that was almost worse: The Breakup Conciliation.
If the last decade of dating has taught me anything, it is this: people suck at dealing with breakups. I am referring of course, partially to their own breakups, but more importantly, to other people's dramatic splits.
We've all been there. You think things are going swimmingly, when out of the blue, your significant other wants out. It may come as a shock or it may have been foreshadowed by a long, slow buildup of dread. All you know is that you feel like the floor just dropped out from beneath you and your organs have suddenly turned into soup. At a certain point, everyone has had to go through this particular type of scorched earth devastation, where you quite seriously feel like you'll never get over it, ever, ever. But we all do. And there has been a lot of ink spilled on how to get over a break up. But even with all that out there, talking about breakups is tough, and often results in some truly horrible advice from the most well-meaning people.
It doesn't help that we've developed a kind of breakup formula through constantly replaying the same tropes in romantic comedies and chick flicks. In this narrative, the brokenhearted girl spends time eating Haagen-Dazs while listening to mournful love songs (or, alternatively, "I Will Survive"). But soon, usually with the help of a sassy sidekick, she snaps out of it, gets a makeover, some new outfits, and an upbeat theme song. This is what I like to call the Bridget Jones Method. And while the BJM may be great for some - especially those who inhabit the wonderful world of television - in the real world, ice cream and Gloria Gaynor just don't cut it.
So, while I can't give you five easy steps for getting over a heartbreak (I'm still working on that myself) I can tell you what not to say to someone who is going through a rough patch. These are all things I heard in the days following my breakup and the subsequent move-out (to the friends who told me this stuff: I'm sorry, I know you meant well, but really? Sleeping with his brother? Come on).
"Now is the time to go through a complete life change."
Sometimes breakups can act as a catalyst for complete and total change. However, a couple of weeks ago when a friend of mine first told me this, I wanted to reach through the phone and strangle him. Too often it seems like something is expected of you when you go through a rough patch. And you know what sucks? Acting like a big giant bleeding wound is actually some sort of boon, a golden opportunity for renewal. It might end up being just that, but let's not pretend that you should be thinking about a happy future while your still smarting from the event itself.
"You should do something empowering – like shave your head."
I suppose I should come out right now and admit that I am anti-makeover. I don't understand exactly why hair-or lack thereof-has become such a symbol of female empowerment. But it has. Unfortunately, "shaving your head" is seen two different ways: Crazy woman (example: Britney Spears) or survivor woman (example: Bianca from ANTM Cycle 13). Both of these standards are problematic, but my biggest issue with the shaved-head (or dyed-hair, or even hair-cut) route is that it assumes changing something as superficial as your looks will help you get over something as real as a broken heart.
"Whatever you do, don't lose your dignity."
Okay, I know this seems like decent advice, but it's the last thing you want to hear when you've just spent the night sleeping on the bathroom floor cradling an empty bottle of Stoli blueberry like it's your long lost child only to wake up and realize that your eyes are literally crusted over from crying and your hair has started to look an awful lot like this because even though you've been spending an inordinate amount of time in the bathroom, you haven't made it into the shower quite yet (not that I'd know what that's like, mind you). Dignity is one of the first things to go in a breakup. One of the most helpful things I heard in the week immediately after my own split was this: "Don't feel bad, everyone begs."
"Go out and have revenge sex."
Are you kidding? This tactic may be familiar - and often featured in movies and novels - but I doubt that any good has ever come from following this particular piece of advice. There are those of us who get extremely angry and vindictive following a harsh breakup, but acting on these emotions is never a good idea. There are plenty of great reasons to have sex, but revenge ranks pretty low on my list. To make things even more interesting, my friend suggested that I seduce one of his closest friends-or better yet, his brother. Again: Just say no.
"Take time off, give yourself space."
This almost seems like the flipside of the revenge-sex coin, but there is actually a happy medium to be found between fucking-for-revenge and sequestering yourself away from the dating scene. However, I am not advocating you suddenly jump into another relationship, or that you go out and cheetah (or puma or cougar or whatever large feline is popular right now) some man (or woman) into bed. But don't discount the effectiveness of a well-executed rebound either. And "taking time off" can sometimes be code for "hiding under the covers," something that is particularly easy to do when you work from home and don't really ever need to leave your bed. While I don't want to start handing out my own misconceived advice, I have noticed that spending significant amounts of time with other, non-ex-boyfriend people can be very healing. Plus, it's a good way to keep yourself from dwelling to the point of obsession (and it helps keep the post-breakup drinking in check, too).
Although I have found most of the above advice particularly unhelpful, I realize that, as with everything, your mileage may vary. And while talking about breakups can be uncomfortable and awkward, every person I spoke to had some sort of advice, some bit of wisdom they learned from their own painful experience. Some seemed to recall a Kübler-Ross type of period, a series of stages that they needed to pass through in order to grieve. Others focused on distraction, keeping the mind busy until the initial pain had subsided. Removed from the immediate messiness of the personal story, the get-over-it advice was an easy way to relate and commiserate. But these tactics - along with the chick-flick, rom-com method - simply don't work for me. Some of these well-intentioned suggestions served simply to infuriate me, but looking back, it's much easier to see my reaction as what it was: displaced anger. As for what does work, I'll leave that up to others to decide.