One of my best friends, S, is also one of the smartest, most interesting, sassy, sexy, loyal, and complex people I know. Right after she graduated with honors from an Ivy League college, she got a high-powered job as a consultant, and now she’s at one of the top business schools. S is also tall and model-thin and has lips like Scarlett Johansson’s. But that’s all on the outside: what really makes S special is her unwavering sense of integrity, artistic sensibility, wit, and genuine warmth.
So it really confounded me when she and her ex broke up, and she professed feeling utterly miserable and unable to get over the slump. Here was this young woman who by all external standards looks invincible–and on the inside, is hurting so much, inconsolably. And I could recognize her pain from experiences of my other girl friends: a friend who, time and time again, fell for emotionally unavailable, even married men; and a friend with an on-and-off lover who said things like, “I don’t know if I’m all that attracted to you.” They were all intelligent, driven, loving, and beautiful women, and yet they were heartbroken–and they couldn’t stop themselves from pining for their lost relationships.
And of course, there’s my own past experience. Though I’ve been unbelievably lucky to meet my boyfriend so soon and so unexpectedly (more on that later), I’ve definitely had my fair share of feeling like my heart’s been put in a blender or dragged through mud, whichever you prefer. Here’s my advice to all those who are facing heartbreak and emotional trauma.
1. Allow yourself to feel without judgment.
You, like my friends, are probably very accomplished and hard-working–and very demanding of yourself. You set yourself to a high moral standard (um, vegan, duh), which means you expect poise, emotional clarity, independence, and dignity from yourself–at all times. So when you can’t stop texting your ex or secretly crying in your bed at night, you scold yourself for not being strong enough. You would rather hide your pain than acknowledge that you’re vulnerable. While it’s brave of you to try to maintain equilibrium, in times like this you must first allow yourself to feel without judgment. You’re feeling all this pain because you truly cared for someone. That’s a sign of your capacity to love, not your weakness.
You can’t experience the fullness of life without letting yourself meet these new sensations. Imagine you’re outside in the cold without a coat, with the wind whipping at your face. Your immediate reaction might be to curse the cold, and run back inside. But instead of running away from the pain and cocooning yourself in comfort, allow yourself to just be still, experiencing that coldness. Feel the fact that you’re shivering. If you don’t ever let yourself feel the cold, how would you ever experience snowflakes starting to come down?
2. Rid yourself of your ex and anything that triggers your associations with him.
Just because you are acknowledging your sadness doesn’t mean you should fuel it, too. The next step in healing is to get rid of your ex. You may one day become friends and find a way to be in each other’s lives in a way that doesn’t make your heart break. But now is not that time. Archive all his old emails in a folder, or delete them if you can. Delete his texts and, if this was a particularly toxic relationship, delete his phone number, too. Stay away from social media if it triggers you. Put away items that remind you of him. Maybe one day you’ll take them out and feel bittersweet, not bitter. But for now, help yourself heal.
3. Talk to someone.
Someone other than your ex, that is. Yes, you want to call him, but it’s not to “get closure”–it’s because you miss him. You can’t get closure by opening the wound and continuing to talk to your ex. What you should do instead is to talk to someone you trust, who truly cares about you, like your closest friends, family, or your therapist. Because even though in your heart you know how truly amazing you are, sometimes you need to hear it from someone else.
4. Talk to yourself.
We all have internal conversations with ourselves. Talk to yourself as though you’re talking to your best friend, who is going through a very hard time. What would you say to her? “I can’t believe you still love him. Have you no pride? You look like a mess”–or–“you’re the most amazing, kind, nurturing, loving, gorgeous, hott(!) woman I know. You deserve someone who worships you, nothing less. And you will meet that person very soon–I promise you that”? You see, it’s so much easier being objective and kind when you treat yourself as you do your friends. Writing in a journal is also a great way to be your own best friend.
5. Do something that rekindles your fire.
When you’re going through a heartbreak, it feels like you’ve lost some of your inner fire, sensuality, and confidence. Find time to do things that make you feel happy and lit up, every day. Try practicing yoga, dancing, going to a museum exhibit. Get a haircut, statement jewelry, sexy shoes, a new lipstick (try red!). In your apartment, walk around in your prettiest eco-friendly lingerie listening to Carla Bruni (if you feel like being a breathy, husky Parisienne) or Regina Spektor (I recommend “Fidelity“). Take a candlelit bath and treat yourself to a decadent vegan chocolate mousse. (More for you!) Rebuild you confidence and get your sexy back.
6. Meet someone new.
When you get your sexy back, open yourself to the possibility of meeting someone new. It doesn’t even have to be looking for love or long term relationship–just be open-minded about the possibility of flirting with someone, and enjoying that tension of romantic prospects. Next time your server gets flusters while taking your order, or a friend’s friend chats you up at a party, and you feel sexy, playful and confident–you’ll know that you’ve already recovered from your heartbreak, and become an even stronger, more mature person for it.
Related: How to Deal with Toxic People
Photo: bored now via Flickr