Breaking up sucks a fat one.
And yet people always seem to forget how sad and hard it is. Especially people in long-term relationships. I could never understand that. I’m boringly stable and hitched, but I can remember exactly how hard it is to recover from a break-up. He was part of your life. You looked forward to his funny texts and you got to kiss him whenever you wanted, and sometimes kissing and funny texts are pretty much the stuff happiness is made of.
Now that’s gone and you have to mourn it. Not him, necessarily – just it. The relationship. Even if you know the dude was a cockmonkey par excellence (and you wouldn’t ever, ever go back there and the idea of him even having the right to look at you again makes you want to punch something really hard), you have to mourn the end of the life you led with him.
And it’s made worse by people expecting you to be over it in days, or even weeks. Because then you start worrying that you’re weird for still feeling shitty. Which you’re not. Obviouslah. They've just forgotten what it's like.
For some reason I have a crystal-clear memory of the horrors of breaking up – in fact (warning: I’m about to go into a Gemma Burgess digression-from-the-damn-point), I have kind of a good memory for everything that isn’t 1. A number or 2. Practical. Ie, emotions and places. Fox says driving around London with me is seriously annoying as I keep up a running social history commentary like ‘ooh dinner with Creative Director Cheapass there, he ordered wine by the glass, total dick’ and ‘dinner with Sandhurst boy there, not that bright but oh so pretty’ or ‘drank four bottles of white wine there with Bec and pretended to be Stockard Channing by putting olives in our cheeks then gave bartender my number written in eyeliner on a napkin but he didn't call’.
And that’s not to mention the (many) places my relationships ended. Which weren’t always bars and restaurants, of course. Once it was the hallway of a particularly grubby little shareflat, where I opened the door, he said ‘we’ve got to talk’ and I said ‘oh fuck no’ and slammed it in his face and ran to the kitchen to hide. (Yah. Because THAT’S gonna stop someone dumping you.) I don’t know if it’s healthy, being able to recall so perfectly how I felt at any given time in my life, but hopefully it helps with the whole writing stories thing. Anyway.
One of the main things about breaking up that sucks a fat one is that what do I do now? feeling.
Because what DO you do?
Literally, on a day-to-day, hour-to-hour basis, what do you DO when the future suddenly has a giant relationship-shaped hole in it? I didn’t want someone to tell me I’d be fine. I didn’t want to talk about my feelings. I wanted practical advice about what to goddamn do with myself and how to make time pass fast enough till my heart (or ego – sometimes, let's face it, interchangeable) was healed.
Eventually, I made a Break-Up To-Do list of my own, based on trial and many, many errors.
Gemma's Break-up To Do List:
1. Make immediate social plans to go out with your friends, and accept that your first few nights out will end in tears. It is the law.
2. Don’t speak to him. There is no point. You will not feel better after you speak to him, or maybe you’ll think you do, but then you’ll want to speak to him again in a few days to say things you forgot to say (or ask things you forgot to ask or get some unattainable feeling of closure or ego-gratification or that masochistic thrill that you get when you know you shouldn’t say things like ‘do you miss me?’ but you just can’t help yourself). Because then it’ll get messy. So you’ll feel much worse. Pretend he no longer exists and delete his number. (And don’t give me that shit about it not making any difference because you know it by heart: you’ll forget it eventually.)
3. Rearrange your wardrobe. Tidy clothes equals tidy emotions. And looking marvellous is the first step to feeling marvellous. Shuffle the clothes that remind you of him to the back, but don’t throw them out. Just because he was a dick doesn’t mean innocent clothes should be punished.
4. Read something comforting-yet-sharp. Nora Ephron’s Heartburn is an excellent choice. It’s a novel about a woman whose husband cheats on her when she’s pregnant with her second child. It’s hilarious and warm and smart and hugely reassuring. (Nora Ephron’s husband really did cheat on her when she was pregnant with their second child, by the way. He was Carl Bernstein – yep, as in, Watergate-Woodward-and-Bernstein. And she knew who Deep Throat was for years. Apparently whenever anyone asked her she’d say ‘It’s Mark Felt’, but no one ever listened. Anyway, I digress. Read the book. You’ll love it.)
5. Get fresh air every day, preferably listening to music in the sunshine whilst walking somewhere. Fact: breaking up is easier in summer and diafuckingbolical in winter. I gave one total idiot an extra chance when I really shouldn’t have simply because it was a very cold February and I was bored.
6. Figure out what you enjoy doing the most and do it. Now, I am very much a city cat. I like traffic and noise and beautiful buildings. I like walking aimlessly and talking endlessly. I like coffees and browsing for hours in tiny bookshops and clothes shops and art galleries. I like finding bijou little bars that I never even knew existed where I can order a really strong drink. All in all, I like the chaos and the unexpected of a big city, and I am happiest in a crowd. So even though I have to sequester myself away a bit, because I’m a writer and well, it’s kind of hard to write in a crowd, I know that to actually be happy, I also need that stimulus. Without it I wither and perish, and I certainly can't write. Now, other people like making four-course meals from scratch or gardening or long rambling weekends in the countryside or going to the theatre or, gosh, I don’t know, running around Hyde Park at dawn when there’s no one else around. Whatever fries your burger. The point is, make a point to remember and then do what you love doing. It’s amazing how easy it is to forget what makes you happy sometimes. Especially when some asshat has just blown you out of the water. And I don’t mean in a fun sexual way.
7. Never say things like ‘my life is over’ or even a Princess Buttercupesque ‘I will never love again’. Your life will be long and interesting, and this was just one more chapter. You will love again, and be loved back. Nothing is surer. It’s how we’re built.
8. Don’t say 'now I’ll be single forever’, either. Focusing on singledom as the enemy is not the answer. And, anyway, it's so not true. This point is particularly relevant for anyone feeling that ricockulous late-20s-find-a-mate-pressure that we’re all aware of, no matter how strong and smart and independent we are. Particularly when it seems like everyone you know is in an annoyingly happy couple. A lot of girls you probably know who might smugly think they’ve won some imaginary race and found the right guy haven’t. Remember, marriage is not the destination. And those annoyingly happy couples are probably not even having sex.
9. Have a date with someone else as soon as you can. Fact: there are other men out there. Hundreds of thousands of millions of them. And one is just the right combination of smart and interesting and handsome and laugh-out-loud funny and generous and kind for you. So don’t curl into a ball and cry for months. Cry for a while, of course, indulge your every whim, then batter up and play the game again, because someone perfect is out there waiting for you to turn the hell up. I always think of it this way: if you were looking for a cab, you wouldn’t just expect one to read your mind and brake next to you on the street. You’d put your hand out and hail one, right? Even if the first date after the break-up isn’t perfect – and odds are it won’t be – it creates a memory that’s newer than the break-up. And it’s more fun than staying at home. So go hail yourself a dude.
10. Watch Love & Sex.
Yes. That was where this entire blog post started, as I was talking to a friend about her break-up, and I remembered that the movie Love & Sex existed, and that whenever I broke up with someone I watched it, and forced my friends to watch it with me. It’s a criminally underrated romantic comedy written by Jon Favreau, and starring Jon Favreau and Famke Janssen. It starts with Famke trying to write a positive, perky article for a women’s magazine about love, and she starts remembering all her past boyfriends and break-ups... It’s very funny and smart and silly – some of my favourite things. And it makes you feel better about life. Which is my favourite thing of all.
Got any break-up survival tips to add? Put it in a comment. Or if you're feeling shy, email me. (I always get blog comments nerves, myself.) firstname.lastname@example.org