How To Take A Casual Relationship Breakup Like a Champ
The other day yet another pseudo-relationship of mine came to an end. This time, it was via Facebook Chat. This is actually the first time I’ve experienced the Facebook Chat “breakup” (Please note I use quotations because consistent casual dating over a few months doesn’t necessarily warrant such a loaded word as “breakup,” but what else might one use? “Pulled-the-plug?” Pulled-the-Plug; Idiom: The act of ceasing engagement in a casual dating relationship). Anyway, I think I appreciated the Facebook Chat breakup more than the phase-out, perhaps even more than the text-breakup. I still prefer the face-to-face if I’m on the receiving end, though… Their discomfort offers me a momentary blast of sadistic satisfaction before I attempt compassion and understanding.
I’ve been a plug-puller and a plug-pullee dozens of times over the past couple of years, and I’ve treated myself as a bit of a research project in the process. Writing tends to be my main outlet when I’m hurt (shocker, I know), so I have a lovely mosaic of archived cognitive and emotional responses to relationship endings.
Now, I do recognize I alone am not representative of the general population, but my experience seems to parallel that of many of my clients, so I think there’s some validity there. So, I guess I’m hoping that this might be helpful for you currently, or in preparation for, a disappointment in a casual dating relationship. It might not be sufficient for full-on heartbreak, though.
My typical plug-pullee routine is as follows: I have a little cry, put on some music, call either my mom or one of my best friends and tell said friend I’m coming over, get somewhat presentable for the outside world (I’ll be sure to remove any remaining mascara and throw on sunglasses), and make my way said friend’s, usually by public transit, hoping no one will question my Carey Hart style. We’ll get tea and I’ll lament and she’ll tell me I’m better off and we’ll go for a walk and then I’ll write a bit and feel immensely better (One time I was driving when I got off the phone a breaker-upper, and went to call my mom to debrief. I hooked her up to Bluetooth via my phone, and got pulled over for using a mobile device while driving. Poor cop was horrified when I broke down in tears as I rolled down my window, explaining that I was just calling my mom because I just got dumped. He still gave me a ticket, but was pretty nice about it…)
But I digress. It’s not the behavioural strategy that I believe is most important to share with you; rather, it’s the internal strategy that this post is all about. I want you to get something out of this other than the entertainment of my tumultuous dating life, of course.
In my work, I’ve noticed that in response to breakups, many people have a tendency to go one of two ways:
1) Some people go totally up in their heads, pulling themselves out of their emotional experience, and appearing unaffected and calm. They might express some anger or resentment, but they minimize the importance of the relationship to them, chastise themselves for feeling or caring, degrade the inflicter of their pain and continue onward. The positive is that they continue on with their lives; the negative is that they don’t give themselves the chance to grieve or make sense of the loss, harbor resentment, feel shame as a result of their sadness, and often describe themselves as “hardened” or “guarded.”
2) Others might be more consumed by their emotions, spiralling into a vortex of pain and dejection, convincing themselves they’re undatable, that if this person didn’t want them then nobody could want them, that they’ll spend the rest of their lives alone, etc. The positive is that they attend to their feelings, but the negative is that they become their feelings rather than standing outside of them.
So, here’s how I suggest to deal with the casual relationship breakup experience constructively, attending to it with both your rational mind and your pained heart:
IN THE MOMENT OF THE BREAKUP (AKA PLUG-PULLING) ITSELF…
1. Use Your Wise Mind
As you realize what’s happening, it’s very easy to let your emotions guide your behaviour. Before you know it you’ve called them something nasty and changed your Facebook status to NIN lyrics. Whatever your instinct is, don’t do it! Take a step back. You might feel pressure to say or do something hurriedly in that moment, but give yourself permission to absorb and reflect (actually, it might be better to think of it as reigning yourself in rather than giving yourself permission…). I like to use “STOP” (Stop, Observe your experience, take a breath, proceed appropriately), to slow me down. Then, I pay attention to (but don’t react to) my emotional and rational minds, and conjure up my Wise Mind. The Wise Mind is legit, and it’ll seriously help with not feeling totally unnecessarily guilty or embarrassed afterwards.
2. Follow The 24 Hour Rule
You’ve heard this one before. If you want to send a nasty text or email, write it, save it, and wait 24 hours. Read over it 24 hours later, and you might not want to send it anymore (or you might at least want to make it all lower-case, rather than all CAPS?). Without the 24-hour rule, I’d have a restraining order or two against me for sure. Kidding. A little.
3. Facebook Delete
Unless they’re someone with whom you truly want to maintain a friendship down the road, delete them from The Book. There’s absolutely no benefit in watching them continue on with their happy you-free life and subsequent love interests who are better suited. You’re not deleting them out of pettiness or power; rather, you’re doing it to help you move on.
ONCE THE DEED IS DONE…
1. Recognize that Discomfort is Normal and Necessary
I always have trouble sleeping with rejection (I just can’t get in the mood! Haw, haw). For me, I feel a lot of anxiety around “breakups.” The proverbial hamster in my head runs rapidly on its wheel, tortured by lack of control and searching for an answer to an unanswerable question. I generally waffle between anxiety, hurt, and anger, none of which I enjoy. But by now, I recognize these uncomfortable feelings are part of the process. As humans, we’re attaching beings who yearn for closeness and relationship. Pain, anger, and anxiety are natural (and evolutionary) responses to a relationship loss. Now, how to cope with them:
2.. Make Space for that Discomfort
With anxiety high, I wrote down all the reasons not to be sad:
1) I shouldn’t be sad, because people should be happy
2) I shouldn’t be sad, because that would mean I’m weak
3) I shouldn’t be sad, because it has to do with guys, and I’m independent, and I’m a feminist, and I pride myself on being that way, and if I was fazed by a guy then I’m being a hypocrite
4) I shouldn’t be sad, because I’m a therapist, and I have to keep my shit together for other people
5) I shouldn’t be sad, because people don’t like to be around sad people
6) I don’t want to be sad, because it feels really fucking shitty.
When I read all those reasons, it’s quite overwhelming. Unbearable, really. But when I take away the first five, I’m left with “I don’t want to be sad, because it feels really fucking shitty.” Now, this might not be a victory, but it’s much more bearable/manageable than all 6 of the statements. Take away the “shoulds,” and you help make space for what’s there to just be there. You also take away the guilt or shame that the “shoulds” create. You have every right to feel what you’re feeling right now, and you don’t have to “pull yourself together” or “snap out of it.” Even if you think “She’s a Bitch” or you’re “Better of without him,” it’s OK to feel pain. It’s necessary. It’s human.
3. Use Your COAL Mind
Once you’ve successfully created space for the negative emotions, recruit your COAL Mind to help with the discomfort:
- Curious: Be curious about what is happening for you emotionally. Think of it as a research project. Oh, how interesting. I currently have a strong desire to slight his cowardly exit. I think there must be some anger there. Where do I feel this anger? Where is it in my body? Hmm, looks like I’m feeling defeated and, yep, triggered. This is touching on my abandonment nerve. Interesting.
- Open: Be open to whatever comes up. Pain, anger, relief, anxiety…don’t judge or interpet it, just let it be there.
- Accepting: Don’t tell yourself not to feel a certain way, to suck it up, to hate her for betraying you, etc. Everything is allowed to be there together. Every emotion that is present is valid.
- Loving: Be self-compassionate. What would you say to a friend? Say it to yourself. Empathize with what you’re feeling (e.g. “It’s understandable that I’m feeling (hurt/sad/pissed/humiliated) because (I opened myself up to them/liked them/told my friends about them/etc).
4. Recognize the Impermanent Nature of the Emotions
Remind yourself that these feelings will come and go. Just like the weather. It’s raining rejection* right now and there’s a slight chance of underconfidence later. Pull out your social support umbrella and your self-compassion jacket and you’ll make it more bearable until the weather shifts.
*I really wanted to say it’s raining Assholes.
ONCE YOUR EMOTIONS HAVE SETTLED SLIGHTLY AND YOU NO LONGER FEEL LIKE A CRAZY PERSON…
1. Let it Be. Don’t actively try to “Get over it.” It’ll happen on its own
The wonderful thing about adjusting is that it generally happens on its own. Now that you’ve deleted from FB, give yourself permission to think about it with sadness (or anger, or confusion, etc.) for the next few days/weeks/months (depends on the intensity of the relationship of course), and keep going about your life.
2. Some Intellectualizing and Analyzing can be Helpful, But Don’t Pressure Yourself to have an Epiphany or be Freud:
Being the curious, cause-effect searching beings that we are, we want to know why. WHY didn’t this work? WHY does this keep happening? WHY have I not figured out how to prevent being hurt yet? Looking back on my writing from the last time this happened, I see that I’d been hypothesizing what was going on. Maybe it’s because it’s only been in the past few months that I’ve finally allowed myself to be vulnerable, thereby allowing rejection to occur (whereas the year and a half prior was spent healing from my ex and being “guarded”)? Maybe it’s because I’m choosing to date emotionally unavailable (aka “safe”) men? Maybe it’s actually all me, and I’m undatable, and I’m just protecting myself from that sobering reality by making it about something else slightly more in my control? Maybe…Maybe…Maybe… But then I realized what I was doing. Just let the pain be there, Megan. Don’t try to figure it out.
Sometimes, we just need to be sad. Sometimes, we just need to sit in the shit, and feel it. And that’s OK.
3. Find the Positive in Pain
Be careful not to end up minimizing your experience by doing this. Do it after or alongside empathizing with and practising compassion towards yourself. Finding the positive in a negative situation is not about putting on a big, fake smile and saying “I’m glad this happened;” rather, it’s acknowledging that there are positives and negatives to virtually everything in life, and being able to recognize the positive can help us experience and make sense of difficult situations. As I sat in my pain, this is what I wrote:
- Pain is a reminder that we’re alive, that we can feel.
- Pain is the necessary emotion on the binary scale responsible for pleasure. Without pain, we wouldn’t know pleasure, happiness, or love.
- Pain is proof we valued something we’ve lost. How fortunate we were to have experienced what we had
- Pain is proof we have the ability to be in relation, to connect, and to attach–qualities necessary for a relationship.
- Pain is proof we allowed ourselves to feel, hope, care. We are not broken or jaded.
These are just examples of positives in the experience of the pain itself. There’s a good chance you’ll be able to also find the positive in the experience of having the “relationship,” but also of being out of it. I invite you to come up with your own…it’s more significant that way
4. Trust in the Process
Perhaps you have a spiritual belief that helps you manage moments like this that you can’t understand. The thing is, due to the power of the Universe or the process or what, it helps to just trust that this will, at some point, lead you to something positive. You’re probably not there yet, but you’ll get there. Even if you don’t believe it fully, just allow a part of yourself to humor the idea that this will lead to something good. What happens when you do? You can always go back to not trusting in the process/Universe/etc.
5. Empathize with the Breaker-Upper
No, I’m not BSing you. Yes, it takes effort. But, most of us have been there before. You’re not feeling it, or you’re feeling it more with someone else, or it’s run its course, or whatever. Whatever the reason, it’s generally not because they’re some awful, undatable person. It hurts to hurt people, too, so try to find a very small, rational part of yourself to put in their shoes. Imagine what they might be feeling right now–guilt, anxiety, conflict, etc. Practice empathy and compassion towards them, and you might find you feel lighter.
So, those are some tips from a seasoned professional for dealing with rejection and heart…hurt. Hopefully you can apply some of them. I’m sure it’ll happen to me again and again; but, given my familiarity with the whole experience, I know the sharp hurt will soon transform until a dull sadness which will then transform into a mild sting, which will then transform into an apathetic, fuzzy memory. I’ll close with a quote from our girl to sum things up:
“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, [and] for joy.” - Pema Chodron
Happy Healing :)