How to survive a break-up

Sean Hoffman
9 min readJul 16, 2023

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Unfortunately I probably have more than the mythical “average” number of experiences with this, both being on the receiving end, and regrettably, on the initiating end. Regardless of which “end” you’re on, here are my tips on getting past those difficult days. Or weeks. Or months.

  • Get busy. No, not that kind of busy. I mean get productive and/or selfish busy. Sign up for an exercise class at the gym. Join a martial arts class. Read a book series you’ve been wanting to read. Maybe go to Church if that’s your thing. Go get that graduate or undergraduate degree. Join a book club. Go see movies that you’ve wanted to see without having to be concerned with another. Take a road trip to see friends or family. Join a hiking group. You’re not going to completely get your mind off of your ex, but it helps to fill some of the time with experiences, all the better if they’re experiences that are improving yourself. Should you, down the line, encounter your ex or mutual friends from that relationship era, your goal is to be a better version of yourself. Wiser, smarter, perhaps leaner, and definitely “okay” without them, even if it took a little while to get there (and no matter how much it hurts when it’s fresh, time will heal those wounds.. eventually).
  • Get off social media completely. Seriously, take a long (perhaps permanent) break. And if you can’t get off social media completely, then definitely “unfriend” or “un-follow” your ex (and his/her/their friends). Stop monitoring their lives completely (after all, depending on how they handle their grief, the less you know about the gory details of how they’re spending their time without you, the better). And don’t let anyone guilt you into feeling like you’re “being mean” or anything of the sort by breaking off contact. Self-preservation is not mean. You are simply self-insulating so you can heal.
  • Congruent with the above, do not try to “remain friends”, at least initially. It is simply impossible to “remain friends” with someone that you’re still in love with, and again, it’s not “being mean” if you stay away to protect yourself for a while. Cut. Off. All. Communication. Block them if necessary. For now. If they are upset or ask you why, simply respond with, “I need to be away from you for a while so I can focus on me and acclimate to life without you; possibly for forever. I cannot be your friend when I’m trying, by necessity, to cut the emotional ties between us.” It doesn’t require any more explanation, and you don’t need to “talk it over” with them, or get their approval to protect yourself.
    Having ongoing communication with someone you’re still in love with whom you’re also trying to get over romantically is like continuously ripping open a wound that’s still trying to heal. Remember Kate Winslet’s character in the movie, “The Holiday”, and how her shithead boss (ex?) managed to remain “relevant” in her life while being engaged to someone else? Don’t let people do that to you. Believe me, there are selfish and egotistical people out there who, once you become their exes, will periodically “check-in” under the guise of “making sure you’re okay” during your grieving period, knowing full well how much their contact with you is both the thing you emotionally crave the most but practically need the least. I’ve had it done to me before. These same people are secretly gratified to know that you’re not yet over them. As for your concern over what they might be feeling or going through, it is not your job to help them get over you. Your job is to be perfectly content, and perhaps even happier, without them. Let them worry about finding their own support network: you are not that person. It sounds harsh, but it’s unfortunately necessary. It’s also realistic. Weeks, months or possibly years later (once they’re completely out of your system), you can have contact with them and possibly even be friends. But not when one (or both) of you is trying to heal, and certainly not if you’re still in love with them.
  • No more trips to the well. You know what I’m talking about. I don’t care how impassioned you are, how late it is, how comfortable you happen to be with each other physically, how well they know your preferences (or vice versa), you’re not going to get over someone while you’re still being intimate with them. Besides, it can lead to confusion later ̶i̶f̶ when one of you becomes involved with someone else. Let’s say you’ve had a couple of trips down memory lane and they start seeing someone else? Where does that leave you? You aren’t going to “win them back” by sleeping with them.
  • Give yourself time to grieve, in whatever way that’s most appropriate for you. Some people believe that not-grieving at all after a break-up is being “strong”, but my belief is that it’s just deferring dealing with the crappy stuff until later (sometimes much later), perhaps even when you’re trying to forge a new relationship. As a person who used to try and sweep emotional stuff under the rug, pretty soon you realize you’ve got a pretty big mound of stuff under a carpet in your living room. Regardless of whether it was a “friend with benefits” arrangement (which almost always gets complicated because one of you will develop feelings), it’s likely going to take some time to adjust to their absence. Speaking for myself when that’s happened, frankly, that adjustment hurts. It’s okay to cry if you feel like crying, take some mental health time, possibly even mourn a little. Just don’t stay in that place.
  • Repeatedly remind yourself of all the things about them that got on your nerves. This is the secret weapon to getting over someone. I don’t care if he was your Prince Charming or she was your Princess Perfect, everybody has flaws. Human flaws. When we are in love (especially if it’s a “new” love, which I would characterize as approximately 6 months or less), we have a tendency to ignore or “give a pass” on those flaws. After a breakup is when you want to do the opposite. Every single flaw or unpleasant reality, even the scatological ones (especially the scatological ones), are fair game to hyper-focus on. Did they leave their clothes on the floor? Did they have a funny smell or halitosis? Did they let you finish your sentences or did they cut you off all the time? Were they genuinely interested in you or only interested in what you had to say when they wanted something? Were they punctual? Did they share the remote control? No? Think about how annoyed you would have been if they were still doing that 20 years from now. Did they always want to go to the most expensive restaurants when you would have been good with an occasional trip to the Taqueria? Or perhaps they were selfish lovers? Think about how good it will eventually feel to someday be in a more balanced relationship. Which leads me to my next point..
  • If possible, avoid relationship-like entanglements until you’ve healed some. If you can help it, try not to rush into anything meaningful (or even superficial) immediately. The more in love you were with your ex, the more time you should probably give yourself before you get involved with someone else. I realize this isn’t easy, and I confess I’ve given into a moment of weakness in the past. The more choices you immediately have at your disposal, the more difficult it can be to resist them. This was especially difficult for me at one time because when I was in post-relationship healing, the more determined I was to have only platonic friendships with women, the more determined a couple were to become involved.
    Some people live by the saying, “The best way to get over someone is to get under someone new.” Personally I don’t prescribe to that viewpoint, but I also don’t judge those who do. The problem is when the morning comes, not only are you still hurting because you miss Justin or Laura or Guenevere or Lancelot, but your emotions are potentially confused, right when you’re the most vulnerable.
    The simple reality is the “new person” isn’t Guenevere or Lancelot, and you might not be giving them a fair shake if you’re expecting them to be. Even if it’s just- shall we say- “ephemeral impulsive chemistry”- it can take time for them to learn your likes and dislikes. A person may not seem “very good” in the sack if they don’t know what you like and prefer. Speaking as a man, and without being disrespectful to the lady in my life, every woman um- “wants to be kissed”- differently (so I’ve read in books anyway 😇), and even a person you are very intimately familiar with can and will have different moods when she prefers a different- kissing technique. Sometimes it can be “latch on for the neck ride of your life” while at other times you have to be as gentle as the morning dew on a butterfly’s wings. My (apologetically salacious) point is, it can take time to learn a person’s love language and discover these traits, and “Mr or Misses Right Now” entanglements may not survive long enough for either of you time to discover such nuances (once again, according to the books I’ve read).
    On the other hand, I fully acknowledge that sometimes it’s possible to just be in so much pain that we just want to feel good, or perhaps we just want to feel attractive and/or appreciated. I’ve been there too. If you do go down that path (which again, that road has never ended well for me), remember to forgive yourself.
  • Don’t do something in the middle of the night (or any other time) that will break your family’s heart when they get a tragic phone call a few days later. No matter how much it hurts and aches or how disrupted your life’s plans might seem to be as a result of the breakup, I promise you it will get better. You just have to hang in there. Please hang in there- whether you’re fifteen or fifty-five; you have so much more living to do. Get a cat or a dog to cuddle with if it helps get you through the tough times.
  • If you can’t sleep, you might need to see a doctor. Honestly there is very little good that comes from no sleep; I’ve been there. Lack of sleep affects your ability to work, study, rationalize, or even explore your emotions. Sleep deprivation can even make you temporarily psychotic, and that’s where the danger lies. There are a lot of treatment options. Counseling. Aromatherapy. Audio books. Documentaries. I used to sleep like a stone during football games. Possibly even consider temporary prescription sleep aids. I needed Ambien for nearly an entire year of my life to sleep through the night when I was trying to get over my worst heart-break.
  • There is someone better out there. I once swore up and down that this couldn’t possibly be true, and I was 100 percent convinced that nobody, and I do mean nobody could replace my “Guenevere.” But time passed, I healed, and I even came to realize that maybe “my Guenevere” wasn’t as good a catch as I thought she was, and she certainly didn’t love me the way I loved her.
    I know many of us have a “checklist” for what we want in a partner, and perhaps your ex checks a lot of those boxes. But someone better will come along. In my case, I would go on to meet someone who isn’t just a better catch in in every way, but she ended up being a better fit for me. Be patient. It won’t happen immediately, and if you’re looking for it to happen too soon, you’re setting yourself up for a potential mistake.
    In fact, I’d say if you’re looking for a relationship at all (as opposed to learning to enjoy your own company without owing anyone anything), you’re far less likely to find it. Your best relationship opportunities will always come when you’re happy in your own skin and you’re not looking for a match. Regardless of whom you ultimately want to attract, there’s just something imminently more attractive about a person who has their shit together.
    Even if you did find someone amazing immediately, your experiences with them would likely be impacted by the uncured emotions and experiences of your last relationship. Don’t make the next person who sits down at your dinner table pay the tab for the last person who skipped out on the check. However hard it is to believe, there are multiple people out there in the world who have as much, if not more to offer you than the one you’re currently grieving. In the meantime (and make no mistake, it will probably take some time), enjoy yourself. Be the person you want to find. Enjoy your other friends and your family. Enjoy living and enjoying life, and relishing your own company while at the same time reminding yourself of what you have to offer.

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Sean Hoffman

Software Developer (C++, C#, Go, others), Husband, Father. I eat fried potatoes annually on July 14th.