I know that getting dumped sucks. But just like with moving or giving birth (I think), I forget just how profoundly it sucks except when I'm experiencing it or witnessing a close personal friend experience it.
Yes, breakups are unpleasant for both parties (I've even written a blog post to that point). Dumping someone is difficult during the breakup and in certain moments after. You miss having someone to cuddle with. You miss having someone to tell everything to. But ultimately you believe that your ex should not be that someone and that you are both better off apart. You are sad, but you are courageously moving forward. Maybe you already have someone in mind to move forward with.
Bla, bla, bla. Boo hoo. That is nothing compared to the gut retching devastation of being dumped.
This is how it usually goes...
The Wallowing Phase
In the immediate aftermath of the breakup I seized by crippling despair. I can't sleep and my appetite is lost. I force-feed myself at meal times and it's so hard to squeeze the chewed boluses down my esophagus. The only tolerable activity is laying in fetal position, watching dumb TV.
This = tolerable. Everything else = not.
Fortunately my friends are there like a rescue brigade. They swoop in with hugs and sometimes pies. They make me eat. They watch the dumb TV with me until I'm ready to acknowledge the world beyond my couch. They listen. It's not just that they're on my team; they remind me that I have a team.
The wallowing phase is dramatic and pathetic, but it only lasts a day or two. All consuming self-pity is neither sustainable nor attractive. I resume basal activities -- eating, sleeping, and working -- and enter...
The Bleak Projections Phase
This is when I shift from debilitating sadness to functioning bitterness. I generalize everything from my previous relationship to all relationships. How can I trust anyone again? Everyone is selfish and disappointing. Love is woefully ephemeral.
My friends indulge my bitterness over tasty froyo.
And they know to take me to BerryLine, NOT PinkBerry or Yogoland.
Lauren: "Seriously men are the worst."
Gilbert: "We really are. We really suck."
Sarah: "Do you think he's seeing someone else?"
Me: "No. I don't know. Probably some boring girl who never drinks enough to get hung over."
Sarah: "Ugh, of course. Men have the worst taste in women."
Ryan: "We really do."
My froyo companions are at different stages of relationships -- texting with a new crush, back with an ex, stuck in a stagnant three-year relationship, etc. But they all empathize with my current state -- hating the world and resigned to die alone -- and share perspectives from their most recent and/or traumatizing breakups.
Froyo with friends is great therapy. We vow to live together on a commune with adopted babies and puppies if romantic things don't improve by age 35.
And then I'm ready for...
The Trying to Convince Myself I'm Better Off Phase
There are some pros about being single. I make a list. I like lists.
1. More time to work on my blog.
2. I don't have to shave as often.
3. I don't have to wash my sheets as often.
4. More time for yoga and reading: I can finally finish Infinite Jest.
5. I'll be sleeping consistently at home, alone, so I can do Crest Whitening strips.
But I'd rather read in bed with a boyfriend. And I'd rather have to wash my sheets because I'm having sex. And what's the point of white teeth if no one loves me?! And so I slip into...
The Wahhh, I Want Him Back Phase
I miss him. I want him back. I stress about our forgone actual plans. We were going to try that new risotto recipe. We have tickets to the Red Sox game next month. He was going to be my plus one at my cousin's wedding.
I stress about our forgone imagined plans. We were going to live in some small New England college town. We were going to brunch after Sunday morning road biking. We were going to have the smartest, sportiest kids (okay maybe I never told him this, but I was planning).
He's in a Facebook picture with a cute girl. Who is this girl, this Riley Perkins? She has Liked three of his status updates in the past month.
At the same time he sends me a text:
Work's crazy this week. I'm on coffee #5 today :) Hope you're doing OK.
Is he being considerate or condescending? What should I respond? Should I respond at all? I don't know how to react, but my friends do.
Lauren: "No, he's being a dick. He doesn't get to text you stupid details from his day if you aren't his girlfriend"
Sarah: "Don't respond."
Maddie: "I don't like the way he said 'hope you're doing OK,' as if you're probably not. It's really obnoxious."
The next week he's in more pictures with this Riley Perkins. They seem to have gone away for the weekend together. My friends are livid.
Gilbert: "Unbelievable. Do you want me to kill him?"
My high school best friend over gchat: "He is rotten. He does not deserve you."
Maddie: "Unfriend him and delete him from your contacts. You are too good for him."
Over and over again, the point is my friends love me and hate him. That's a fundamental property of best friends: they hate your exes so much more than you ever can.
The Desperately Active Phase
I am working hard, exercising, reading, and writing. I paint my kitchen table. I try that risotto recipe without him. I hand wash my bras. I start to learn Russian (or I watch one YouTube video of basic phrases). This frenzy of productivity is half about distracting myself from being sad and half about attaining my best possible self to smear it in his face.
The self-improvement includes social life. I go out a lot. I host dinner parties. I try new substances and sexual things. I make my life as fun and fabulous as possible and make sure that fact is conspicuous on social media.
Maybe I'm not totally happy and healed, but I'm acting like it.
I'm out for cocktails and fancy tacos with Lauren. We Instagram my jalapeño pisco sour, #TuesdayTacos&Tails.
Lauren: "Remember how sad I was after breaking up with Eric? It was horrrrrible, but I was sort of glad to be sad. Like if I wasn't sad, then it was a pointless relationship. I was only so sad because I was so happy before. So you have to take the good with the bad."
Me: "Yeah, that's so true."
Lauren: "I stole it from an episode of South Park."
Lauren whips out her iPhone and we watch a clip from an episode when Butters gets dumped.
If you don't feel like clicking the link -- I certainly wouldn't -- here's what Butters says:
Ohmygod that's so true, Butters! Strong emotions -- both good and bad -- do make you feel alive. That's the human experience and I certainly want to experience the human experience!
The Snapped Out of It Phase
And at some unexpected, glorious moment I snap out of it.
It's a Friday night and I'm staying in -- not because I'm wallowing, just because I'm tired. I've never seen the TV series Girls so I start with the pilot episode and pour a glass of wine.
Look, the girls from Girls are discussing relationship strife over Froyo! This is EXACTLY like my life!
I like the show. I download another episode, pour another glass of wine. Five episodes later it's nearing midnight and I'm nearly out of wine, but I'm really enjoying myself. I remember that I like my own company -- that I can be alone without being lonely.
I pause to check Gmail. Gilbert is there and we start to video chat. He is on a research trip in Armenia, currently in a hazy, boisterous room. Some kind of tavern. He looks flushed and energized. So, drunk.
Gilbert: [barking over the din] "How are you?"
Me: "I'm okay. It was a long week, but I'm feeling better. What's up there? Where are you?"
Gilbert: "Oh I'm at this pub. We had a sort of concert and me and this Russian guy played the guitars. My grant is due tomorrow though so I'm working on it and sending emails in between the songs and drinks. What are you up to?"
Me: "Drinking alone. But in a healthy way."
A woman with heavy eyeliner enters the screen.
Gilbert: "This is my new friend Kate. She's Australian. Kate, this is my best friend from Harvard. Her boyfriend broke up with her last week."
I give Kate a one-sentence summary of the relationship and breakup.
Kate: "He is a total bastard! A wanker with a little prick! You're so much better without him. He's a turd f*cker!"
(Australians pull off unsavory, absurd language because their accents are chipper and half-incomprehensible.)
This woman who I have never met -- an Australian bar patron in Armenia -- is 100 percent supportive of me in this breakup. She is certain my ex-boyfriend is a bastard and is ready to stab him, just out of solidarity. I'm sure she's been dumped before and we'll both be dumped again. Being single suddenly feels par for the course.*
(*When writing this blog post, I googled this idiom to check its proper usage. The example was, "So he went off and left you? Well that's about par for the course. He's no friend." So yeah, being a scorned lover is par for the course.)
Me: "Haha thanks. You're right! Have fun. I'm going to go."
Them: "Love you! You're beautiful!"
I close the chat and just like that I'm over the breakup. I watch one more Girls and have one more glass of wine.
And the point is:
There is one good thing about getting dumped: it reminds me how great my friends are.
These are friends who I probably neglected during the relationship. I called it a night early and skipped brunches because I was soooooo busy falling in love. I talked incessantly about my boyfriend and forgot to ask how they were. But when that relationship falls apart, they are there for me without hesitation or grudge.
My 20s have been about true friends and romantic false starts. The former are my greatest assets. The later are stupid asses.
Annelia Alex writes at bannelia.com, where this post first appeared.