Four Phases of a Mutually Beneficial Breakup

Yeah, all breakups suck, but mutually beneficial break-ups are the worst. There are no winners, no losers; no one to blame, no lamenting. You can't pull a Cusack and stand outside her window holding a boom box over your head.
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Yeah, all breakups suck, but mutually beneficial breakups are the worst. There are no winners, no losers; no one to blame, no lamenting. You can't pull a Cusack and stand outside her window holding a boom box over your head. You don't want to unfriend him or burn that sweatshirt he left at your place that one time. All you're left with is pure unadulterated melancholy and the realization that the decision to separate was probably the right one.

But at least you can find a little solace in knowing what's ahead. Here's a curated list of post-breakup phases that inevitably come about after the decision to separate settles in.

(The phases below are based off a two-year relationship in your 20-somethings.)

Phase 1:"No, no! Let's get back together!"

Whether you're the one to initiate the breakup or not, there is always a moment of regret. You're both still in love with one another, that's not the issue at hand. It's the involuntary circumstances, which are out of your control, that have put a strain on the bond: dependency issues, maintaining a sense of self, numerous insecurities, and unavoidable social pressures. Things that used to feel fake or at least controllable, have since transformed into a thick fog consuming your collective subconscious. Until finally, you can no longer see through the haze, and come to the heart wrenching decision to breakup. (Lennon was wrong, love is not all you need.)

Following the decision, you start to wonder if the separation was actually the right choice.

"Well, maybe we could have figured this all out while still being together."

"Maybe we just need some space."

Wanting to be with someone you've fallen so hard for isn't crazy -- you'll want to figure out any scenario where the two of you stay together. But one of the hardest realizations is that you are each other's obstacles. There's no way of getting better while together (at least for now). The only way forward, is to breakup. Your friends and family will say "if it's meant to be, it's meant to be" and you'll scoff at that trite, superficial advice. But they're right. If it's meant to work out, it will -- for now though breaking up is in fact the healthiest decision for both of you.

Phase 2: "Actually, this sort of makes sense."

After realizing the breakup was a necessary evil, there comes a brief time of euphoria (maybe euphoria is a bit of an exaggeration, but after climbing out of the first few months, any semblance of normalcy feels like a dream come true). Grief still comes in waves though. You'll be sad on Sunday's, when you used to go on adventures exploring the city together. Your hangovers will still exacerbate the depression. But during the week, you'll start taking advantage of newfound free evenings and start remembering what you used to fill your time with before the relationship.

Becoming a little more spontaneous is an inevitable byproduct of splitting up since for the past two years, you've come to know what to expect from your days, weeks, and months. Now, when that sort-of-friend hits you up to check out that show you don't really want to see, you go -- because you're just thankful for having an activity on your schedule. And maybe you'll like the band more than you think.

Breakups also make you realize you don't know yourself as well as you thought. You no longer have that reaffirming soundboard 24/7 -- but that's a good thing. Now you get to rediscover what makes you happy, so take advantage of this time. Join crossfit or start spinning. Every free evening you have, try to practice making a new cocktail to show off at parties. Instead of clicking "going" to the free events on your Facebook feed, actually go to one. That free movie screening at a museum (beer tasting included) sounds pretty awesome -- so go even if you can't find someone to go with. If you ever find yourself wondering what they're up to, think about the activities you would find attractive. Activities that would make you think to yourself "damn, I wish I was as far along as they are." Then do them yourself!

Phase 3: "If it's meant to be, it's meant to be."

After the stint of euphoria comes a brief time of feeling numb. It still hurts thinking about them, but you now know when it hurts most, so you can plan accordingly.

You'll also keep the hope that maybe there is some way things will still work out, and that's ok. (I know, those Hinge dates just made you realize you missed them more than you thought). Maybe at the end of this dismal, never-ending tunnel, there's a light, and in that light both of you are holding hands again. The trick is not to not hope, but to not act on that hope. Keep believing that it will all work out in the end; keep writing those emails and not sending them; keep leaving your friends depressing voicemails. But don't let that hope paralyze your day-to-day -- or convince you that more contact will fix all of this. It won't.

When you part from your friend, you grieve not; for that which you love most may be clearer in their absence. -- Kahlil Gibran

Yes, I threw in an esoteric quote -- but only because it drives home my point. In the absence of communication you both will realize what you love most about each other. Therein lies healthy hope; so keep focusing on those activities from Phase 2 that are keeping you engaged in the world.

Phase 4: "Now, who knows."

All those moments you second guessed your feelings towards the relationship is a sign you needed this time apart as much as they did, so stop dwelling on the past -- or at least stop fixating on how they feel. That's out of your control.

As deep into the separation as you are, it's still okay to obsess from time to time. They had such an impact on your current self that you're not, not going to think about them. But you do have to keep focusing on activities that keep you distracted and focused on yourself. Take Sunday's to plan after-work activities. Hit up everyone, even old colleagues you weren't that interested in getting to know (this is the time to exacerbate all your networks). Above all else stick to the schedules you create. This time has made you better at strategizing solutions to the grief.

You're no longer allowed to scroll through old GChat conversations or swipe through photos you're tagged in together. They're thinking about you just as much as you are them, even if they're not as off the cuff about it.

The longer you're broken up the more impulsive you're going to want to be in contacting them. That random 2PM call while they're at work isn't a great idea, it will just push them farther away. You're still not thinking rationally enough to be impetuous. On Sunday's plan potential times to contact them during the week (after work hours). If by the scheduled time you still feel it appropriate to call -- do it, but with no expectations.

Having the foresight into a breakup will hopefully soften the blow of depression, help you speed through these phases, and keep you from losing yourself entirely. Stay positive and keep smiling, you're not going to bottom out. Eventually that façade of positivity will turn genuine and you'll start feeling like yourself again.