Conventional wisdom usually instructs jilted lovers to do anything but fixate on their ex: Get busy, volunteer, sleep around, move to Finland. But what if instead you were encouraged to (anonymously) dive deep into the rabbit hole of your pain and — get this — stay as long as it takes? Now you can.
That final resting place for your unresolved, now-unrequited love is Exaholics.com, a repository for grade-A piners of every iteration: the freshly dumped, the pining-for-decades, and everything in between. The site is not just a dumping ground for regret: Like some kind of AA for breakups, it asks that you admit you're an "exaholic" and proceed through 12 steps of recovery — and could you also log in and post every day, at least once? Because you'll feel better? People recount their stories. They offer support to others in the throes of their own breakup minutiae. They live-chat about it. And overall, they tend to do what pining types do best: Linger. Mope. Meditate. Ruminate. Hope. And commiserate.
How you feel about a site such as this may come down to the simple question of whether you're a get-busy-doing person or get-busy-complaining person. I, of course, am the latter. That is to say, I'm on record as taking breakups and their fallout very seriously. I haven't been broken up with a lot but hoo-boy I have made up for that by being terrible at it when it happens. Hell, it's terrible no matter who ends it. There is no good way to get dumped, for starters, so I feel every last one of you. I don't even know what it really means to get over someone, so long as you can ever remember why you cared. I have commiserated and defended the very real and true feelings that come with nursing heartbreak. But the spirit of all that advice is to acknowledge your feelings and then try to get the fuck past them, right? Like, pronto? Aren't I right?
Maybe not. Maybe getting over it is overrated. Maybe there is nothing wrong at all with taking your time, working through it, and going at this thing day by day, minute by minute, second by agonizing second, until…what? Exaholics is making me wonder: Would we all be better off — more thoroughly and truly healed — if we were encouraged to mourn more openly, whether for love lost by actual death or love lost by someone else's deliberate removal from our general vicinity?
The upside: Everyone else there is just like you — here is a place filled with other people just as wistful, sad, and overly nostalgic about a person they used to be with who is probably in reality a total gargoyle, but who, for some reason, in the warm, generous, pink-hued light of break-uppery, seems like the most handsome, appealing motherfucker that ever lived (a recent thread on Exaholics is titled "Idolizing your Ex?!" and proceeds to do exactly that.)
Downside: Everyone else there is just like you. Circumstantial sadsacks parsing every little interaction as a sign of hope, misremembering the relationships as way better and more fulfilling than they possibly could've been. Also: Moping around. Lotta moping.
But it isn't without risk: All this support and indulgence could potentially enable you forever. Or you could become irritated just enough by seeing your own sadsackery mirrored back to you to get your shit together. Also, it could legitimately help.
In an effort to understand the very real pining that happens with breakups, Henry Alford at the New York Times tells us:
Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist, has, with colleagues, hooked up jilted lovers to a magnetic resonance imaging scanner and had them look at photos of their ex. "We found activity in a lot of different parts of the brain," said Dr. Fisher, who teaches at Rutgers University. "One of them is a tiny little section of the brain called the ventral tegmental area, which is the part that makes dopamine, which is a natural stimulant and is linked with romantic love. When you've been rejected by someone, you love them even more. I call this 'frustration attraction.' Another activity we see is in the part of the brain linked to craving, including the region associated with addiction: heroin, cocaine, nicotine, alcohol."
We've all surely felt this. The real question is: What now?
Back to Alford:
The picture is all too clear: craving and throbbing, the jilted lover is a kimono-clad opera singer on his day off, alternately sobbing on the phone with a lover in Milan or decimating a medium-size grocery store's pasta section. He's a love-crazed hyena in need of a tranquilizer dart or genital cuff.
Lololololololololol genital cuff why did I not ever think of it.
Moving on. What do we really know about getting over breakups? We know that it's hard. And mysterious. And crazymaking. We know that people say bizarre shit about how long it takes to do it. Half as long as you went out? Twice as long (as the length of his dick)?
Katrina Tamondong at Thought Catalog relays it:
If you consistently watch How I Met Your Mother, you'd know that the quirky group of five has already discussed this.
Ted: Everyone has an opinion on how long it takes to recover from a breakup.
Lily: Half the length of the relationship.
Marshall: One week for every month you were together.
Robin: Exactly 10,000 drinks, however long that takes.
Barney: You can't measure something like this in time; there's a series of steps—from her bed to the front door. Bam! Out of there. Neeeeext!
The goal, obviously, just as it is in all things, is to annihilate the feels until you reach a point of not caring. Or as Rich Santos at Marie Claire put it, "achieving unemotional response to their existence."
In my mind, that takes a combination of wicked repression, avoidance, and the occasional drunken acceptance of the thing you are feeling. Or hey, you could put an ad out for a rebound boyfriend, just like these women did looking for "Fall Boyfriends."
Whatever you do, keep this in mind: There is no such thing as closure, and try not to backslide. On Exaholics, an entire thread is called "Counting Days," which involves users admitting they are exaholics and listing the number of days that have passed since they initiated contact with the ex. Some of them are counting at 154 days. Others have slipped up and are now back at day 1, likening it to a kind of "Groundhog Day" cycle of progress. This is when it would be good to hold strong. No good comes from going back (except that one person who did it and it worked out and they lived happily ever after. THAT PERSON IS NOT YOU.)
Back at the NYT, Alford spoke with a psych prof at Cal State, Nancy Kalish, who interviewed 4,000 lonely lonertons who tried to get it back on with an ex after more than 5 years:
"If you want to contact a lost love, ask yourself why you're doing it. If you're married, no good can come of that. Some people who contact exes say they're looking for closure. That's not a psychological term. There's no closure. You're going to get more questions than answers. Other people say they want to give an apology. That's reasonable, but is the apology worth disrupting the other person's life? Don't call. If you do write, send an email, preferably to work. Don't pry by asking a lot of questions, don't complain about your own current situation, and don't pester the other person if they don't write back. And don't start your first email with 'Hello, I've loved you for the past 35 years.' People actually do that."
Seriously, if that's where you are at, spare them. Spare yourself. Spare your loved ones. Come to think of it, save it for the deep, dark, anonymous web.
Illustration by Tara Jacoby.