* Names and details have been changed.
Not long ago, I received an email from Catherine, a young woman suffering from the heart-wrenching pain of losing her first love. In the email, she told me how her boyfriend had recently broken up with her. Even though the relationship was not a positive one (he broke her trust, flirted with others, gave less than he took, etc.), she was crushed by the relationship’s end. She knew she was better off without him, but that knowledge didn’t make the loss easier to bear. She wrote, “Being with him was like a high. It wasn’t a healthy situation and ultimately he didn’t make me happier, but I am still sick after losing him.”
Immediately upon reading her email, I was transported back to a time in my life when I was desperately in love for the first time. That first love is a wild thing, so consuming and intoxicating, and the end of it was like the worst kind of withdrawal — a physical and emotional ache that felt endless. Heartbreak is always hard, but the first time is the worst because you haven’t yet survived it, and it feels like you’ll never get past the pain.
Reading Catherine’s email, I could remember just how it felt to be in her shoes. Even though I’d been the one to end the relationship back then, the pain had been raw and real, and it had felt as if nothing would ever ease the ache. Straightaway I wrote her back, hoping I could use what I learned from my first heartbreak (and many subsequent heartbreaks!) to help her cope with the loss. The most important thing to remember, I wrote to her, is this: One day you will feel better. It might take a long time (it’s different for every situation), but it will happen. You will also find love again. It might not feel like it’s possible in the midst of losing that first love, but it will happen.
Of course, most of us have heard these things before. I know how meaningless these words can sound when your heart is breaking, so I offered up some practical advice to help her manage the heartache:
1. Take a social media time-out
First and foremost, social media is a gateway to checking up on your ex — something that’s never healthy or productive. If at all possible, delete him or her from your accounts so you aren’t tempted to look at (or accidentally come across) updates. It might sound extreme or petty, but if it helps you get through it, who cares what your ex thinks? Also, avoiding social media in general for a little while can be helpful; it’s really hard not to compare where you are to where others are. Seeing pictures of happy, smiling couples will only reinforce any loneliness you’re feeling.
2. Find a new social outlet
When you’re newly single, you have a lot of extra time on your hands. All the time you used to spend with or talk to your ex is now free time. This can trigger loneliness and sadness, which is why it’s important to find new ways to spend all of that downtime. Some ideas: make more plans with friends; join a local group or club; check out meet-ups in your area; join a recreational sport team; sign up for classes at your local college; take creative classes (art, dance, etc.). Whatever you do, it’s important to find positive ways to spend your time. This can be tough if you’re more introverted, but at least give one or two things a try.
3. Spend time with happy people
It might sound counterintuitive to surround yourself with joy when you’re feeling sad, but the more time you spend with happy, positive people, the more their happiness will rub off on you. It’s been proven that happiness is contagious, and, from personal experience, I know this to be true. When you’re hurting, it’s very tempting to spend time alone or maybe even with other people who are in a negative state of mind (it might feel like they “get” you); but, you’ll benefit the most from surrounding yourself with uplifting people.
4. Don’t force friendship (right away)
One of the questions Catherine posed in her email was whether or not she would be able to be friends with her ex. When you’re losing someone who has become a big part of your life, it’s hard to envision not having him or her (even in some form) as part of your social circle. However, unless the breakup is 100% mutual, it’s not the best idea to focus on creating a friendship right away. In the future, a friendship might come to be, but post-breakup, this shouldn’t be something you worry about. This is the time to focus on you, not your ex.
5. Avoid “never again” thoughts
After a breakup, it’s hard not to have thoughts like, “I’ll never see him again,” or, “I’ll never kiss her again,” but these are not helpful for two reasons: 1) you never know what will happen — I’ve reconnected with many an ex, which is generally not a good idea, but it does happen — and 2) those kind of thoughts only stir up more despair. These thoughts make up “all-or-nothing” thinking, and they make you feel as if there is no other option other than “never again.” Try to avoid these thoughts at all costs; they will only bring you down.
6. Write down what you want
After a particularly tough breakup, I once wrote down everything I wanted in the next guy I was going to date. And guess what? The next guy I met had almost every single trait! It sounds a bit unbelievable, but it worked for me, and I know it’s worked for others too. Instead of focusing on what you’ve lost, you’re redirecting your attention to what you want — which makes it much more likely that you’ll get it. Plus, if you’re struggling with staying present (as one does during heartbreak), focusing on the (positive!) future is much better than dwelling on the past.
7. Do not contact him/her
This can be incredibly difficult (especially if you were in a relationship in which you were in constant contact with one another), but don’t do it. Delete the number. Remove the email from your contacts. Block social media accounts if necessary. Have a breakup buddy — a friend you can call/text when you want to reach out to your ex — and use that buddy often. Also, don’t give in to any excuses. You don’t need to tell your ex about a funny article you saw or a video of his favorite celebrity. You don’t need to ask her, “Hey, what was the name of that place where we. . .?” or need to wish him a happy random-holiday-that-no-one-cares about. No contact. No excuses.
8. Start dating again
Even if you don’t feel ready, it feels nice to meet new people and to go on dates, and it gives you something to do other than sit around at home and wallow in your new single status. Dating isn’t always fun, and it’s a lot of work sometimes, but getting out there will be good for you; and, you never know, you might just meet the love of your life! Important reminder: When on dates, do not talk about your ex. First of all, this is just rude. And, secondly, this new guy or girl doesn’t (yet) care about your pain. Save your sob story for your friends, and try your best to have a positive attitude with new people.
9. Combat your anxiety
You might be feeling more anxious than usual post-breakup. Your life has been turned upside down in some ways, and this can be hard to cope with. When you’re feeling anxious, try focusing on your five senses. When your anxiety is bad and you feel panicky, it helps to pay attention to things happening right this moment (what you can see, smell, taste, feel, and hear). It won’t completely take away the pain, but it’ll bring you out of that endless cycle of panic that can come with the heartache. Try your hardest not to focus on the past (it’s over) or the future (it hasn’t happened yet), and you’ll feel a lot less anxious.
10. Have a hopeful heart
Remind yourself (over and over again) that it will get better and you will find love again. It’s hard to believe this in the midst of heartache and pain, but it’s true, and telling yourself this (even if you don’t 100% believe it) will help you have hope. And when you have a hopeful heart, any pain is a lot easier to deal with. Hope can also help you take it one day at a time. Use a hopeful attitude to remind yourself, “I can get through today,” or, when it really sucks, “I can get through the next hour. Or ten minutes. Or one second.” Hope is really powerful!
If you’re coping with a broken heart (or a loss of any kind), I hope these tips will help you. It can be hard to follow through on all of them, but don’t give up. Keep trying to get through it, and one day you will be on the other side of the pain, looking back on it and probably feeling thankful that you didn’t end up with that person.
Also, never forget: You are enough. It might feel like you couldn’t make a relationship work or like the other person didn’t want you, but know that some people aren’t meant to be together (no matter how much you might want it), and the end of one thing can be the beginning of something else. It’ll be scary to love again and risk being hurt, but don’t let a broken heart deter you from loving again in the future — because loving people is the very best thing you can do.
For more inspiration on surviving loss and a broken heart, check out:
- How to Be Happy with a Broken Heart
- 6 Ways to Have a Positive Break-Up
- 30 Lessons I Learned from Love (for hope that you will find love again!)
- How I Stayed Positive During Heartache
- Let Go + Let In: How to Stop Being Afraid of Love
Dani DiPirro is an author, blogger, and designer living in a suburb of Washington, D.C. In 2009, she launched the website PositivelyPresent.com with the intention of sharing her insights about living a positive and present life. Dani is the author of Stay Positive, The Positively Present Guide to Life, and a variety of e-books, including Loving Your Self, a workbook designed to promote self-love. She is also the founder of Twenty3, a design studio focused on promoting positive, modern graphic design and illustration.