Welcome back to Ask the Editors, where we here at Persephone do our best to bring together the multi-generational wisdom of our editorial team to answer burning reader questions. If you’d like to ask a question of your own, you can use this completely anonymous Ask Us form.
Today’s Ask the Editors comes from a caring sister with good intentions, and is all about broken hearts: “My sister is going through her First Major Break-Up. My offers to beat the guy up/egg his car have not been met with the kind of enthusiasm I expected, which leaves me sort of a loss in the helpful department.
“So I ask the editor panel: what advice do you wish you had been given during the First Big Break-Up?”
Stephanie: “Hey, your boyfriend is abusive. No really, your boyfriend is abusive. NO, SERIOUSLY, he is abusive. Dump him.” Why nobody said that to me until AFTER we broke up, I will never understand. Of course, this only applies in cases when the boyfriend is abusive. But sometimes a bunch of ice cream and a season of TV (a recent favorite of friends who have gone through breakups is Dexter) and no talking is a great cure. And I think the first season of Dexter is on Netflix Instant. [Ed. Note: It isn’t, but you can find some here.] Sometimes there just isn’t anything to say or understand. You’re just bummed. Ice cream and serial killers evidently help in situations like these (I wouldn’t know, Dexter didn’t exist the last time I went through a break up. Detective Stabler did though… Mmm mmm.)
pile of monkeys: Advice is tough, because in a break-up, you generally just don’t want to hear it. Distraction is the key. Go out, have fun, watch good movies, eat good food, and laugh about how, in 15 years, that loser is going to be boring and have a boring wife and obnoxious kids and he would have totally stifled your awesomeness and aren’t you glad you dodged that bullet?
queSarahSarah: If she’s of age, vodka and Chaka Khan. POM is right, distraction is important. Maybe have one night that’s always for you and her– take a cupcake class or watch movies in your pajamas. Having something that’s scheduled and reliable will help her make a new routine and be an anchor when her world has been flipped upside down.
Also, I’m sure there will be a point when she’ll want to hear about how you want to beat him up– there’s comfort in knowing your sibling or friends would commit a felony for you.
Sally Lawton: I would encourage her to get out of town for a while, even if it’s just to visit a friend an hour away for a day or two. Going to a different place can be really helpful when trying to feel better after a breakup.
SaraB: In this situation, I find that the “Yes, but…” approach can be very helpful. If she wants to talk about how great he was, tell her you know he was great, but she really will find someone else who is just as great. If she wants to talk about how she is going to be miserable forever, then tell her you know she is miserable, but it won’t be forever. If you flat-out disagree with her, her gut reaction will be to defend her negativity. If you agree a little and re-direct, it’s easier for her to listen.
I know I like it when people do silly things that they know I like when I am sad, easy stuff like my favorite cookies, favorite movie, or favorite restaurant. It reminds me that other people know and love me and makes me feel better.
Last, but not least, you may just have to let her be sad for a while. Do what you can, so she knows you care, but if she needs to feel like shit for a while, just let her process it out instead of trying to convince her to pretend everything’s OK.
Meghan Young Krogh: I always hated being “advised” by well-meaning people when I felt miserable about a dude, but I did appreciate it when a friend sat me down and said, “Look, I can’t do several weeks straight of you moaning about this, but I will set an egg timer for ten minutes and you can say every horrible thing you want to about him, yourself, and the situation. At the end of that ten minutes, we are going to start working on being constructive, positive, and grown up about this, okay?” It was a little tough love-y, but I knew it came from a good place, and it was just what I needed. Also: this might be your sister’s first real breakup, but it doesn’t mean it’s the first time she’s been upset. Ask her what she needs or wants from you, and give her whatever of that you feel you can justifiably give her. If that’s misery moping time with Bridget Jones and a whole lot of box wine, fine. If it’s lots of positive distraction activities like yoga and power walking and retail therapy, that’s fine too. Just make sure you set your own boundaries so you don’t get sucked into (or enable) a cycle of ugly.
SaraB: I like the idea of timed negativity. It helps you find a line between getting it out of you system and wallowing.
Hattie McDougal: When I had my first (and only) breakup, with my HS boyfriend when we were 22 and had been together for 5 years, one of my BFFs (whose parents both died when he was an early teenager and therefore knows a few things about death) told me that a breakup is like a death. It’s the death of a relationship, a death of part of yourself, and a death of the future that you had planned with this person.
Therefore, neither she nor anyone else in her inner circle should characterize her feelings about the breakup as petty or wallowing; they are grieving the loss of this person and this relationship.
I think that helps to not belittle or minimize what the person is feeling in the aftermath of the breakup.
Sally Lawton: Post-break up is a great time to start therapy because you can start to parse out the bad relationship habits you might have so you can have a better relationship next time. And like Hattie said, a breakup can be pretty traumatic and it’s worth giving yourself a few weeks with someone who can counsel you through a rough time.
My final word of advice is to stay single for a while. Give yourself a project that takes some times and effort but that actually finishes and tell yourself you can’t date until you finish. After my last major breakup, I bought this huge puzzle that took me a few months to complete. It gave me something to do and set some boundaries for myself so I didn’t go rushing into something new too quickly.