My mother told me strong
She said, 'Be true to yourself
And you can't go wrong
But there's just one thing
That you must understand
You can fool with your brother
But don't mess with a missionary man.'"
-- Eurythmics, "Missionary Man"
Good God, lessons in love! My mother has taught me a few excellent ones, too. The best and by far the most memorable of the bunch came on the morning after I broke up with my first boyfriend. I was sitting on the bed/twin mattress on the floor in my first New York City apartment, a small studio on Avenue B, sobbing and venting to her, wondering, What's next?
"What have I done, Mom?" I asked the wise, concerned parent at the other end of the line. "I'll never find anyone else. No one will ever love me like that again?"
"You're right," Mom replied. "No one will ever love you like that again. But you'll love again, and someone will love you again. It will just be in a different way. But it won't be any less meaningful."
Mom's words unlocked my confidence and evicted my self-doubt -- at least until my inferiority complex returned, once again offering it free room and board. Almost immediately, I began to feel better. I wasn't 100 percent certain that she was right -- at 23, perhaps this was the end of the line for me. But you gotta have faith, and thanks to my mother's sage counsel, I now I had hope, too.
Anyone who has ever loved and lost and loved again understands where she was coming from. Unfortunately, the dream of a bright future doesn't diminish the harsh reality of the present: Breaking up is hard to do. It hurts like hell. Yes, love will find its way back to you, but what do you do in the meantime, when you can't think of anything else but the one who just got away?
"The best way to get over one man is to get under another one" is an approach that most of us probably have considered, regardless of whether we're familiar with that crude aphorism. Alas, sexual rebounding is just a temporary fix. It only works for a little while. It's like going out and guzzling booze to wash away the blues. For a few hours, all is right with the world, but the morning after, when you're lying in bed, alone (or not), with a pounding headache, all of the hurt and regret is magnified. Random sex is no more the answer than getting smashed. I'm sure my mother would agree.
In the years since my mom schooled me in letting go, I've turned to six simple remedies to help ease, if not avoid altogether, break-up pain and soothe the soul during those sleepless nights that inevitably follow any break-up.
1) Delete his number from my phone. This is how I ensure that I won't text or phone exes in moments of weakness, and more importantly, it stops me from doing so after I've had a few to many tequila shots with a beer back in a vain attempt to delete him from my memory, too. (I haven't had to worry about de-friending and/or blocking my last couple of exes on Facebook because they saved me the trouble.)
2) Delete all of his emails. Nothing rubs salt in the fresh wound of a break-up more than crying over spilled milk while rereading old conversations looking for clues or, if your final argument was over email, reliving that painful last chapter. The harshness of words spoken subside in our memory over time, while the brutal written word becomes more sinister every time we read it, as we pile on context and hidden meaning. While I'm pressing delete, by the way, I lose the email address, too, just to curb the temptation to write. (I do, however, insist on keeping all photos and keeping them intact, for the point of deleting exes' emails is not to completely erase them from your past.)
3) Go for a run. I have some of my best imaginary conversations while engaging in aerobic road work. It not only clears my head, but the rush from those endorphins must boost my self-esteem. His loss, not mine!
4) Write him an email. But I now know better than to ever send it! (Which isn't a problem after I've done No. 2.) As a writer, I find it much easier to express myself in writing than orally, especially when standing face-to-face with someone, tongue tied, or when he's constantly interrupting my train of thought. For me, organizing my jumbled thoughts and putting them in writing is excellent therapy, but when the intention is to press send at the end, it's hard not to edit the expression of my raw emotions. That perfect grammar and painstaking punctuation might make it come across as less sincere, like a rehearsed or teleprompted speech. Better to keep it messy, real and too ourselves.
5) Listen to the music. No phony I've-got-my-shit-together anthems like "Believe" and "I Will Survive." That's denial with a beat. Go ahead and cry along to a tearjerker because sad songs say so much. And it's always good to know that someone else knows the pain you're struggling through, even if it means wallowing deeper in it. But I'm masochistic like that.
6) Go on holiday. Yes, it's running away from your problem, but sometimes a change of scenery also offers a new, healthy perspective. Living at the scene of heartbreak can be like staying behind in a burning building. As Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn sang on their great 1971 country hit (their first No. 1 as a duo), "There's nothing cold as ashes after the fire is gone." Get out while you still can -- at least for a long weekend.
Over the years, these approaches have worked with varying degrees of success, for they're one-time treatments that offer temporary solace, not the key to systematic behavior that's more likely to lead to long-term healing. It's the difference between popping a pill to offer relief from symptoms and sticking to a preventative and proactive treatment plan. How many letters that you'll never send are you going to write? How many trips will you take? Once you delete his number and all of his emails, it's not like you can continue to repeat those actions indefinitely.
David Vickers, a fictional character on the now-defunct daytime soap, One Life to Live, once described his interesting systematic approach to broken love. He said he pretends that his ex is dead. Once they break up, poof! They're gone. Just like that. If they're dead to him, there's no urge to call, send emails, or stop by in the middle of the night. After all, ding dong, the ex is dead. Nobody would be home!
While I appreciated David Vickers' getting-over-it routine, it seemed unnaturally cruel -- one step away from wishing your ex actually were dead -- and like the ultimate in denial (without the entertainment benefit of a disco beat or an Auto-Tuned sentiment). I could never go there. And what would you do when you bump into your ex on the street, or on a night out? Pretend you've seen a ghost? No how, no way. There has to be a better method to get over someone.
Ultimately, time is probably the best medicine. It heals all wounds. But what to do while waiting for the healing properties of time to kick in? How to deal with the obsessive thoughts, the uncertainty about the future, the nagging certainty that your best love is behind you?
Despite mom's wise words, that nagging certainty that I'll never again do better has been a consistent component of my emotional state following every break up since. For me, relationships are a lot like writing. Whenever I finish one big assignment (as I did two days ago), I lapse into a mini-depression. I worry if I'm good enough, if I'll ever be able to do it again. One of the reasons I blog is to keep convincing myself otherwise. If only there were an equivalent remedy for heartbreak.
The format of the episode I saw was like a talk-show version of "Dear Abby," with an emphasis on love. Viewers wrote in their romantic woes, and Noeleen and a panel of four, not three, experts offered sage advice. All of them had interesting things to say to the viewer who was struggling to get over a bad break-up, but it was the words of motivational speaker and author Justin Cohen that showed me the light in the middle of the night.
"Focus deliberately on the negative about that person."
It's such simple advice, and it seems almost too obvious. But how many of us actually do that? We're often too busy idealizing our exes, reliving in our head the perfect relationship that never was, while focusing on the negative in ourselves. That's certainly what I was doing that morning in bed while I was crying over breaking up with my first boyfriend. That's pretty much what I've done at the end of nearly every relationship I've had since then.
I've always known when to leave -- when Justin said, "Just because we like someone doesn't mean they're right for us," he was preaching to the choir -- but when I leave with lingering feelings, saying goodbye is the easy part. Saying "good riddance," despite what I know in my heart, is tougher. Memories are tricky things. When they arrive in the form of nostalgia, we instinctively accentuate the positive, remembering the good times when perhaps we should be making a point of recalling the bad.
Think of it not as dwelling on the negative but rather, constantly reminding yourself of all the reasons why you broke up in the first place. Who knows? Maybe you'll even get yourself some brand new deal breakers and avoid dating the same mistake again.
"How Can I Unlove You" Lynn Anderson