Once I read that after a break up, the length of time it takes to move on is half the duration of the relationship itself. After my seven year (and almost four month) relationship ended, I kept thinking that if this was the case, my deadline was October 26, 2019.
Deadline for what? Well, I wasn’t sure. To “move on from” or “get over” a person or relationship can mean many things. In the *dark days* as I have not-so-fondly named those first few months of 2016, I wasn’t sure if it meant the date I was allowed to start seeing other people, in which case, I felt simultaneously overwhelmed at the idea of dating someone new for the first time since I was seventeen and at the prospect of being single for such a long time until I could pass that proverbial “GO” and collect $200. The other meaning, and the one that scared me infinitely more, was that the actual heartbreak – the all-consuming feeling of loss and pain and loneliness wouldn’t begin to subside for well over three years.
Well, here we are.
This post isn’t, by any means, my way of putting anyone “on blast” as the kids say, but instead is how I want to acknowledge the part of me that saw the late October 2019 deadline in those early months of 2016 and felt that something monumental would have to happen on that day. If the last three years have taught me anything, it’s that the little things truly can be the most impactful. For a long time, I had planned on using this date to publish a giant open letter, exposing all the ways I was hurt and wronged. I had saved some quotes to use as literary disclaimers, if you will, one being by Taylor Swift regarding lessons turning into legacies and some poem by Rupi Kaur. The main one, and the one I’m still going to employ here is by Anne Lamott from her book, Bird by Bird.
“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
It’s one of my favourite quotes and I will never turn down an opportunity to use it, but something happened earlier this year that put a lot of things into perspective. I am particularly skilled when it comes to being petty and holding grudges but I have no desire for anything I write to hurt anyone. I want to help and to heal and to make people happy. Perhaps one day when there are more years behind me and that seven year chapter doesn’t make up an entire quarter of my life, I’ll write it all down but for now, this is my way of stamping the deadline on the metaphorical pages, acknowledging that I reached that goal surrounded by question marks. Well, at least until I decide to reflect on it with more perspective granted to me by my current and future relationships and experiences. If you are going through your own heartbreak, I hope this post helps you get through those darkest, hardest parts. At the time, I thought I would never get past it and I’m here with all that 20/20 hindsight to say that you will. It just takes time, and it took me significantly less than I feared it would.
Things That Helped:
1. A Social Media Blackout.
There is nothing to be gained by posting your feelings or emo song lyrics on Facebook for all to see. The very first thing I did (while sobbing, of course… it was all very dramatic) was deactivate Facebook and Instagram. I deleted my Twitter app. I changed my Tumblr so it couldn’t be viewed unless you were logged in and following me. I got every emo post (mostly quotes) out of my system through Tumblr and received several messages from strangers asking if I was okay. It was a dark time but I’m glad that I had the foresight to stop myself from posting passive aggressive Facebook updates or creeping his Instagram. I can tell you with 100% honesty that I haven’t looked at his Instagram profile to this day and my Facebook is still deactivated. Ever since then, social media has served a totally different purpose in my life and I wrote a post last year addressing my relative inactivity. When I look back at my Tumblr archive throughout 2016, I feel thankful that I had an outlet where I was able to project my feelings into the universe, without needing to drag anyone from “real life” into it.
As I mentioned above regarding my early 2016 onslaught of emo Tumblr posts, quotes played a huge part in the healing of my soul. If you wish to check out some evidence, my archive is HERE and you can change the year/ month at your own risk. Outside of Tumblr, I saved any quote to my phone and computer that gave me hope or made me feel less alone. It’s incredible how helpful it can be to discover that other people have gone through the same thing. In a folder saved deep in the annals of my computer there is a folder called “Quotes That Saved Me” with 387 screenshots I took from Instagram, Pinterest, and the like. I quickly went through some while writing this post and it was a nice stroll (scroll?) through memory lane. This might not be something that works for everyone, but for me it was one of the most helpful and uplifting strategies I used. This is definitely my form of “affirmations”, instead of simply telling myself I am strong, kind, loving and deserving of love.
For the last couple years I’ve been really out of the loop with shows, especially on Netflix. I am a season behind on Queer Eye and I still have three and a half episodes left on Party of Five, which I started in 2017. However, in the early post-breakup days, Netflix was my most valuable resource. My mind is loud and not always the kindest, and for the first few weeks I was unable to sleep more than a couple hours a night despite not having the wherewithal to do anything beyond the barest minimum. I realized quickly that if I didn’t start sleeping (I’m a ten hour a night sleeper for optimum functionality) I would start getting worse migraines. I decided to watch Netflix on my iPad just to have something to focus on beyond my thoughts and began by binge watching Greys Anatomy until I couldn’t keep my eyes open. When I finished Greys, I moved onto Full House. Then Fuller House. Then Gilmore Girls. X-files was next and then Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Soon, they became the shows I just had playing in the background while I was doing other things. It sounds so problematic, but it was truly helpful to have these fictional stories to distract me from what I was struggling with.
4. The “Dean Box”.
For awhile after the relationship ended, I refused to touch anything. All I could do, at first, was turn the pictures backwards and then put them under my bed. I was overwhelmed by seven years worth of birthday/ Christmas/ anniversary presents and all the little things in between. What is the protocol on keeping presents from an ex? I Googled that to unsatisfactory results. I asked my mom too and her answer wasn’t helpful, but led me to my own: get rid of the things you never liked but kept because they were from your now-ex. Keep the things you genuinely like because of what they are and not who gave them to you.
The most helpful advice, however, came from Lorelei Gilmore in episode 17 of season one. When Rory and Dean first broke up, Rory immediately packed up “everything he gave [her], everything he touched, everything he looked at” into a box, which she passed on to Lorelai and requested it be taken out of the house (specifically to be thrown in a dumpster burned) so she would never have to see any of it again. Lorelai replied by saying, “Someday when this is all in the past, you may be sorry you don’t have some of those things anymore” and tells Rory it will “sleep with the fishes” but instead hides it in one of the cupboards under a blanket. A few episodes later, Rory finds the box and is able to see everything through a new set of eyes and appreciate it all for what it was and what it meant at the time. For me, all the letters and cards and pictures (the ones I didn’t rip up once I entered the anger segment of my Stages of Grief Tour), along with anything else that could be potentially sentimental went into a nondescript Rubbermaid tote at the back of my closet. Over the years, I’ve toyed with the idea of a bonfire, paper shredder, or dramatically throwing them all into the ocean. A more tenderhearted part of me wanted to keep them to share with my one-day future daughter for when she goes through her own first heartbreak. For what I actually chose though, I’m keeping that to myself. Or for that hypothetical tell-all.
Midnight Machines by Lights, Astoria by Marianas Trench, and eventually Melodrama by Lorde were the albums that helped me the most. I also made a playlist on my iPod called “💔👉🏻❤️” which lyrically illustrated the process of going from heartbreak to being “over it” in mostly Taylor Swift songs. I later (see: when TSwift released her discography to streaming sites) transferred it over to Spotify but it’s presently a private playlist (you can see a segment of it in the featured image of this post though!). Key players on that playlist are “All Too Well”, “Sad Beautiful Tragic”, and “White Horse” by Taylor Swift, as well as “Stupid Boy” by Keith Urban (which was the song I listened to every time we fought during our relationship).
It also really helped to have musical “palette cleansers”: songs that had no relation to how I felt or the relationship/ its end but that I just always really liked. For me it was “One Week” by Barenaked Ladies and “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman. I also listened to “Total Eclipse of the Heart” a lot, I guess that could be considered relevant to my situation but ya girl just loves a good dramatic song. For awhile, whenever I heard a song that felt eerily appropriate to my situation I would add it (see: “26” by Paramore and “Better Man” by Little Big Town) I would add it to the playlist but it became almost more for the sake of the narrative rather than the original purpose of healing. I definitely recommend making a playlist of songs that are helpful and relatable in the order in which they become relevant (mine starts with “A Perfectly Good Heart” by Taylor Swift and ends with “Second Wind” by Maren Morris, which was a later addition. The original closer was Taylor Swift’s “Clean”… naturally). Now I just have a mental playlist of songs that I wish I could send to 2016 me, rather than feeling that they presently help me. Recent additions to that list for the potential time machine are “Death By A Thousand Cuts” by Taylor Swift, “Fortress” by Lennon Stella, and “Lose You To Love Me” by Selena Gomez.
6. Talk To People!
For me this was especially significant because during the relationship I refrained from confiding with anyone the things I was going through in the relationship: good or bad. I didn’t want anyone to think less of him because of things I divulged. My friends and family noticed when I would get upset but I would laugh it off and seclude myself instead of talking to them. This was such a detriment to my mental health because I was constantly brushing off my feelings to everyone but it didn’t lessen the hurt I was experiencing. After the relationship ended, I eventually told those closest to me about things that occurred over the prior 7+ years and it was incredibly cathartic. It’s kind of a funny image to picture me almost in tears baring my heart to my best friend in the middle of a Tim Hortons. Multiple times. Another thing that was helpful was simply telling people that I was struggling. I’ve always been the kind of person to “suck it up” and “power through” situations but I was so overwhelmed that I didn’t care if I looked weak by of asking for help, because I needed the help. I talked to a couple of my professors and was able to get extensions on some of my major assignments. Not everyone will be understanding, of course, but I was very lucky to have a lot of people rooting for me to succeed. Earlier this year when my ex contacted me out of nowhere, I was so overwhelmed and felt myself reverting to a mental space that I hadn’t been in for over three years. I conversed with several people in my life, some who have known me for over a decade and others who are much more recent additions to my circle. I received advice and votes of confidence from so many different perspectives and I cannot express how reassuring it was to have so many people in my corner, knowing what I was going through, and being on my side. One of my best friends was with me when I received the initial email and after spending the weekend together, she sent me a picture of an article that was in the Cosmo magazine she was reading on the ferry ride home.
7. Don’t Judge Yourself.
Be forgiving. During my lowest point I actually Googled “How to get over a broken heart”. I titled this blog post as a homage to that, to remind myself that I got out of that space. One of the results of that search was a little schedule thing that listed a bunch of activities you should do after a breakup. From deleting their number and unfollowing their social media to getting a pedicure, I had done most of them but felt so pathetic and ridiculous for going to Dr. Google for such an asinine request. I cried in many doctors offices. I cried on public transit. I had to leave classes and go cry in bathrooms. I was a mess. But I did what I had to do, and I made it through all of those feelings. People heal in different ways and you don’t owe anyone any apologies for how you choose to do it (does anyone know the Greys Anatomy quote I almost put here?).
One of the points on that aforementioned post-breakup schedule was to travel. It was the only thing on the list that I hadn’t done and I felt it was unlikely to happen. Where was I going to travel in the midst of a particularly difficult university semester? Well, turns out, it was Hartford, Connecticut. You can read about why I went there in THIS post! It was something he would never have done with me. Something a little absurd. But something I was so excited about. It gave me something to look forward to. My parents made my brother go with me and I’m not sure if it’s because they were worried about my mental state or concerned I might go and never come back. That first night, I remember laying in the hotel bed and realizing that I didn’t miss him anymore. That I was excited about my life, even though it contained more unknowns than ever. Travelling was the turning point for me and has become inextricably linked to my mental health. My next trip is related to that first one to Hartford, and I’ve been feeling extra sentimental about it. And about how it took me a little less than three months to feel like myself again. To feel hope for a future that didn’t contain that particular relationship. It didn’t take three and a half years to get there. Now that I’m finally at the finish line I once etched on my calendar, I’m grateful for every single moment I went through to bring me here (but would never, ever want to re-experience the first four months of 2016).
Heartbreak doesn’t happen in a vacuum. There are so many facets to life that may make the process of getting over a relationship easier or harder. By extension, the road is different for everyone. One of the articles I read following that embarrassing Google search said that she was over her ex in three days. Another one specifically said to stick to watching comedies and to avoid dramas like Greys Anatomy at all costs (rude, I know). For me, binging Greys was one of the most therapeutic things I did. Personally, dramas are my favourite kinds of shows so while the author of that article may have preferred things that made them laugh, I had the mentality of “if Meredith can get through all this nonsense, I can make it through today”. The only time I honestly stopped and sobbed was the episode of Full House where Uncle Jesse made it “snow” in San Francisco as a Christmas present for Aunt Becky. I don’t even fully know why that hit me harder than anything in any of the many very dramatic shows I went through in 2016/2017 but there you have it. Everyone is different and it would be unfair for me to say never in regards to anything that may help you.
Just know that no matter what (or how, or when), it will get better. I’m going to leave you with one of the (many) quotes from my 2016 quote folder:
Thanks for reading ♡