Breakups feel like vegetables taste: bad. And, in my opinion, the worst part about a breakup isn’t ending things itself, it’s the aftermath: overthinking, crying, bargaining, wondering. It leads you to a dark place. What could I have done differently? Why did it work out this way? And a lot of times, you won’t get the answer to any of those questions. Unless you’re me.
The idea came to me about a year ago, by accident. My boyfriend at the time, Sam*, broke up with me out of the blue (although I had sensed something was off for some time). He came over to my apartment, broke the news, and then scooted out to a therapy session. It was a selfish but sly move. I asked if he’d come back post-appointment to continue our conversation, but when the time came, he texted me saying he’d be available the next day instead. I was so angry and hurt that he was thinking about only himself in what was a two-person partnership. So much so that I told him I needed time to process, digest, and figure out how I wanted to move forward. I needed a week. During that week I cried, slept, and journaled everything happening inside of my brain. I kept an ongoing note in my phone detailing my feelings and questions I had for Sam. When we met up seven days later at my apartment, we had a three-hour conversation. I recited the questions I had prepared, and he answered them. After we finished talking and he left, I took to my Notes app to record what I remembered from our conversation so I could refer back to it when I was feeling hurt, confused, and/or sad. While this was only a temporary Band-Aid on my healing process, it gave me some sort of closure.
“I cannot express enough how important clarity is for closure and to create the most positive narrative,” says Susan Winter, relationship expert and author of “Breakup Triage: The Cure for Heartache.” “When you don’t have a conversation after a breakup, there is always confusion. There are assumptions and, more times than not, there are wounds that never needed to [exist].”
We create these wounds in the process of making up a false story about what led to the demise of a relationship. But those negative, swirling, and black-hole type thoughts are completely natural. When he said this, was he warning me this wasn’t going to work? Did she lie when she said she saw this going somewhere? They’re never-ending. So, when it was time for my next relationship to end and in an attempt to sidestep that mental spiral, I put what I have now deemed “the two-part breakup” into use again. We took time apart and then came back together to talk things out. It was sad and difficult, but we were able to have an open and honest dialogue. We spoke about how it was clear that neither of us were ready for the next step in our relationship and agreed that we’d rather exit on a high note and miss each other than drag it out and leave hating each other. We walked away from the conversation and relationship with love.
“You can’t close the wound until it’s got [a] narrative,” Winter says. “You have to put a cap on it, and that’s what closure is. In order to walk away from something, in order to have an ending so you can have a new beginning, you have got to have a framework for what happened and what occurred.”
I happen to be extremely lucky that several of my ex-partners were willing to give me that second part of the breakup conversation and engage in a candid exchange. I know that. But not everyone is going to have my experience. In that case, you have to make up — and keep repeating to yourself — your own narrative. Maybe they were a terrible communicator and were unable to be open with you in the way you needed. Perhaps they had a lot of family stuff going on and were not present enough in your relationship to give you the time and attention you deserve. Whatever the reason, it’s about giving yourself a way to heal and providing yourself solace. “You have to take the best information available and give yourself a temporary answer,” Winter says. “Life will always reveal more as time moves on, but you have to have a reason [now as to why it happened], even if it’s as simple as ‘they can’t, they simply can’t.’”
I know I’ve made it sound like I have a unique talent for tying my breakups up with a neat bow. But the truth is, both breakups were really hard for me to get over, and there were (and still are) times when I had more questions. This isn’t a breakup wonder drug. It’s more like a cough drop — it doesn’t cure you, but it soothes you in the meantime.
*Name has been changed.