It’s Called a Break Up, but You’re Not Broken

It’s over. Whether it happened suddenly or after a hardscrabble negotiation of current needs and future desires, you and your partner decided to call it quits. (Or maybe you were unceremoniously dumped, or, even worse, forced to be the breaker-upper because your ex wasn’t adult enough to do it themselves.) After the dust settles (and your ice cream/rosé/cigarette/shopping/social media stalking binge is over), what are you left with, besides a raging physical and emotional hangover? Probably what feels like a giant ex-partner sized hole in your life.

Break ups are hard. Your friends encourage you to “get back out there,” or try to soothe you with unhelpful platitudes like “you are soooo much better than him anyway.” You get frustrated that you can’t connect to their support (it came from their own discomfort anyhow), and find yourself taking home the next sort-of-cute woman from the bar for some empty sex, you wind up face-first in a pepperoni pizza, or you throw yourself into dry chicken breasts and the squat rack. Your pain sends a clear message: you’re a messed-up person who somehow needs fixing. Let’s stop right here: you do not need fixing.

Yes, you just got broken up with, but you’re not broken.

You’re still an in-tact human. Nothing about you has actually changed, except that you no longer need a plus one to your cousin’s wedding in Omaha. But here is one thing that has changed. You’re grieving. You’re mourning the loss of a person with whom you spent most of your time; even if you’re still in contact with each other, the context of your relationship is changed. Yes, you’re mourning this person, specifically, but you’re also grieving over the loss of what you envisioned for your foreseeable future: the wedding that won’t happen with this person; the kids you won’t have together; the waffles on Sunday morning you won’t share; the puppy you won’t adopt. How you imagined your life was just instantly altered, and that is deeply disorienting.

Grieving the loss of a relationship, like any kind of grief, is a process, and definitely not a linear one. (In my own past heartbreak, I remember waking up alternately seething with rage and feeling kicked in the gut by the bottomlessness of my own sadness.) Eventually, the sharpness of the pain of heartbreak dulls, but that doesn’t change the fact that right now this pain feels infinite. But even right now, in this very moment, with your face sticky from tears and your thumbs sore from texting your friends or your mom in-the-moment break-up updates, you are ok. You are sad, you are grieving, you are sitting shiva for what you thought was your future. But you do not need fixing; you need to stay right here, in this moment, and feel your feelings. Cry. Scream. Run a marathon. Laugh at the absurdity of it all. Order Thai food for the 7th time this week. (Is that just me? Shout out to Ben’s Noodles and Rice in Chicago circa 2006.) In your own time (and only in your own time), you’ll find your way out of heartbreak and into a future that might just be brighter than you ever could have imagined with what’s-her-face.

Right now, yeah, it’s a break-up. But you, my dear, are far from broken.

Going through a rough patch, post-split? Just recently outgrew a relationship? Drop me a note; I’d love to sit with you.

Illustration by Jon Ehinger