How to deal with a breakup.
I’m really disappointed in myself for ending up here again and scared for the coming weeks where I’m inevitably going to see him move on with his life.
The guy I was dating and I are 23 and we were together for about a year and a half. We’re at a point in life currently where we’re finishing college soon and starting to apply for jobs all around the country so there’s generally a lot of uncertainty in the air and feelings of being a kid in adult’s clothing. On top of that, his grandad, who he’s very close with and loves dearly, became ill over Christmas and has been given just a few months to live.
We’ve been through our fair share during our time together. Quite early on he kissed someone else on a night out. I also caught him and his friend forwarding and commenting on a girls nudes (that had been put into his sports clubs chat 🤢) a couple of months later. I don’t know if we got through these things because we were meant to stick together or because I forgave/swept it under the rug but we kept on going and considered ourselves a team.
Anyway, fast forward to this week where he told me that he loves me but that the relationship had ran it’s course, he wasn’t 100% in it and had been thinking that for a few weeks, and with everything else going on that he doesn’t want to drag this out to the point that we hate each other. At first, I was relieved, I’d known something was up and things had been off, and so I agreed and told him I understood his point. The decision made sense and we were even joking and laughing about aspects of the relationship after a couple of minutes. We agreed to meet in a few weeks to see how the other person is doing.
However, I’ve had some time to think now and there’s a few more complicated emotions that I need help processing. Firstly, I’m angry. I prioritised what he needed in the relationship; his space, his freedom, and made sure he always had that. And yet I still got dumped. I’m also embarrassed looking around at friends in longer termed relationships wondering HOW have I ended up in this position. He told me that I did nothing wrong but there must be something wrong about me to end up here again (this is my third relationship since 2015). I’ve never broken up with someone, even if, as was the case this time, I had very valid reasons to (eg cheating) or I knew something was off. It also feels so much harder to deal with a pleasant breakup than one where I could just be furious at him.
Idk, I’m really struggling to wrap my head around everything and apologies if the letter comes across a bit jumbled. I considered the breakup healthy because I accepted and understood his position and it was done before things got toxic just for the sake of staying together longer. I’m really disappointed in myself for ending up here again and scared for the coming weeks where I’m inevitably going to see him move on with his life which is going to make the acceptance and amicable breakup so much harder to maintain that way. I’d really really appreciate your insight into the situation and any tips that you could provide to help get past these couple first few weeks.
Probably the biggest relationship misconception of all time, which is much much much MUCH MUCH easier to dismiss from the outside is this: “He told me that I did nothing wrong but there must be something wrong about me to end up here.” THIS IS BULLSHIT. Sorry, I’m not trying to be rude to you for feeling this way. Pretty much everyone feels this way when someone dumps them. Like everyone, ever. But the sad/strange/fucked reality is that someone can leave you and it doesn’t mean that you were wrong or did something wrong.
Relationships are not like driving tests where you simply have to score above a certain percentage one time and they let you pass and rarely check in on you ever again. There aren’t rubrics or demerits. Loving someone could never be as simple as “you did something wrong and therefore I’m out.”
You did NOTHING wrong. NOTHING about you is wrong. At all. The relationship was not right for your partner and they chose to leave. That’s… allowed. Sorry, I know that’s another bullshit thing in this world but while you have to have two people agree to start dating, you only have to have one person agree to stop dating. And sometimes, it won’t be you. And it will suck suck suck suck suck suck suck suck suck.
I virtually guarantee that there will come a time in your life where you are in a relationship with someone that isn’t quite right—you love them, you want only happiness for them, you think they’re wonderful in general—but it’s just not what you need or want. Or maybe there’s no attraction there. Or maybe they want to live in another city than you do and you can’t fathom moving to Tallahassee. And nothing they did was wrong, but you can’t stay. In that moment you may just flash back to now and go, “Ohhhhhhhh. Ohhhhh. OOOOOHHH. Fuck. Of course he loved me. Of course he cared. This just wasn’t right.” I think in a few years time, when you’re on the other side of something similar to this, you will feel deep sympathy for your past self who thought that something was wrong with her because you will understand that sometimes people need to leave a relationship and it has no reflection on the other person at all.
Additionally, being dated by someone— this guy in particular or someone else in a more general sense— DOES NOT MEAN ANYTHING ABOUT YOUR WORTH. It doesn’t mean that you’re more lovable or hot or smart or worthy. It means that someone liked you at the same time that you liked them. People looooooove the idea that if someone is dating them monogamously that must mean they are lovable. It’s bullshit. Dating someone should not a source of external validation. You cannot build a life where you believe that people are worthwhile because someone is fucking them on the regular. That’s ludicrous. People have worth even if they’re never in a long term relationship ever. Even if they die single. Even if they’re in a long loveless marriage that looks great from the outside. You have worth outside of this random ass dude. If you doubt that, please look at all the other people in your life who are not being dated by this guy. He’s not dating me, for example. He’s not dating your mom or your dad. He’s not dating your best friend. He’s not dating JLo. All of those people have worth and it’s not about this dude’s approval or willingness to date us.
Now that we’ve established that there is literally nothing wrong with you and that this relationship was simply done, let’s talk about what you can do to feel better, because all the assurances in the world from me that you did nothing wrong and that there is nothing wrong with you mean very little. Here are some things that I think you should do:
Give yourself time. I know that sounds like a line—that IS a line in fact!!!— but I mean literally give yourself a timeline of sadness. Mark on your calendar for a month or two weeks or however long you want and say, “Ok, until this day I am allowed to be very very indulgent. I can get pedicures and cry in bed and watch Hitch every day and only use dry shampoo.” It doesn’t mean that the day that your “sadness period” is over that you’re not going to be sad as shit. You probably will still be. Or maybe you’ll be doing great and you’ll think you’re out of the woods and then one day you’ll see a pack of gum that your boyfriend used to love or some shit and be sad again. That’s how grief works. (And a breakup is grief, by the way). But when the “sadness period” is over, that’s when you start to fake it. You put on nice clothes, you wash your hair, you start doing things even if you feel like shit while doing them. That doesn’t mean you still don’t watch Hitch and cry, but maybe not every single day.
Fill up your life as much you can. Fill your life up so much that you know what you like, what you want, and what you do not have time for. Fill it with friends, family, new hobbies, working out (ugh), eating seasonal soups, taking a class, reading shitty books, reading good books, a trip you’ve always wanted to take, whatever!!!!!!! Pour yourself into your life. Right now there is a big hole in the shape of your ex and the inclination many people have is to fill that hole back up with another person because, of course, it’s a person-shaped hole and doesn’t that make sense? DON’T FALL INTO THAT TRAP. Fill that hole in your life up with other stuff that is not another romantic partner, please. Because when someone does come into your life, there won’t be a hole. Or there won’t be as big of one. And you’ll know that you actually want that new person there, and not just as a replacement.
Be gentle with yourself. Label unhealthy thoughts as unhealthy, but don’t beat yourself up for having them. You can think “He broke up with you because you’re a piece of shit,” but you don’t have to believe it. You can say, “Wow, self, that is a very mean and untrue thought, which is clearly coming from a place of insecurity and sadness.”
This is the most condescending-sounding douchey sentence I’ve written in a while so I pre-apologize, BUT: there is a whole lot to learn from this relationship. This is a big chance to learn some lessons and not repeat some patterns that you set up with this ex In some ways, that’s a gift. I know that’s gross to say, and annoying to hear and IM SORRY!!!!! But I want to address some of that below:
I don’t know if we got through these things because we were meant to stick together or because I forgave/swept it under the rug but we kept on going and considered ourselves a team. This is a very insightful question!!!!! Did you just let him get away with things? Did you agree to move on just so he’d stay with you? I encourage you to think about it and what you’d like to do in the future to make sure that you aren’t just accepting people’s mistreatment so that they’ll stick around. I think that if you guys had really “gotten through” the issue, you would have done a whole lot of talking about it, rather than simply moving on. But maybe I’m wrong! This might be a topic to seek advice about it. Often, when we allow other people to mistreat us, it’s because we’re insecure about something, afraid that we’ll be abandoned. Or because we think that it’s what we deserve.
I prioritised what he needed in the relationship; his space, his freedom, and made sure he always had that. When you fill your life back up again and find what you value and love WITHOUT ANOTHER PERSON INFLUENCING YOU, you will come to realize what is and is not negotiable. This will mean that the next time you date someone, you will be much better equipped to decide if and when you want to prioritize your partner over yourself. In a relationship there will of course be times when you give more and your partner gives less. But your partner also must do that.
Your ex is going to move on with his life. And you are going to move on with yours. You are the only one who has the power to not put those two timelines in competition with one another. No one else is thinking about it. If you find yourself really getting obsessed with where he’s at, please block him or mute him on social media. Please. It’s not petty or small, it’s protective.
And my last piece of advice is this: PLEASE STOP TALKING TO HIM. If you want one more check in just to be clear that you’re ok and that you’re going to stop talking to him, fine. But for the love of god, you will never heal if you keep reopening the wound. For at least 6 months, please please please stop talking to him at all. You do not need to be his support system or his friend right now. That is not your job. You are your job. Stop talking to him full stop. Give yourself a chance at a full life without him.
Sophia Benoit writes this very newsletter; she also writes about sex & relationships for GQ, tweets about everything else at @1followernodad, is a researcher for Lights Out With David Spade, and has had bylines in The Guardian, Reductress, Refinery29, Allure, and The Cut. You can reach her or yell at her at email@example.com.