Breakups. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: They suck. Big time! No matter what side you’re on, they sting. But I do declare that being broken up with stings worse than being the one doing the breaking up. Somehow, it feels shameful even, thanks to a weird stigma placed upon people who are on the receiving end of a dumping.
“There’s a whole lot of ego, feelings of self-worth, being unlovable, and ‘why am I not enough?’” says Natalia Juarez, breakup coach, dating strategist, and founder of BetterBreakups. You may have been (well, I hope you were) super attracted and attached to your ex-person, and being around them made you feel your best self.
After 26-year-old Nicole B’s boyfriend ended their two-year relationship, her post-breakup feelings had a lot to do with ego. “I didn’t want to admit that I wasn’t wanted by that person anymore,” she says.
On top of that, losing someone leaves you to wonder what being alone says about who you are now. “As soon as that’s ruptured, our brain goes into overdrive because it thinks we’re in danger. That’s evolutionary biology, it’s natural,” says Juarez.
Not only do our heads start spinning and automatically assuming that there’s something wrong with us, but all of that hurt and disappointment becomes a matter of public discussion. “You’re going through this really personal experience, and then you need to deal with everyone else who, depending on their level of awareness, can be retriggering all of the time,” says Juarez. They might start to ask how your girlfriend’s passion project is going, but stop short after remembering she’s now your ex. Or, they could mention them in casual conversation, forgetting it still stings to hear their name. You end up focusing on what everyone else thinks, not on how you’re feeling. And how people react to you giving them the news — usually with a “tsk” and a dragged out “I’m so sorry” — kinda makes you feel pitiful.
After the dissolution of a six-month long “situationship,” Michele T., 24, worried about how to break the news to her loved ones. “I told my parents about him, and that was a serious step for me,” she says. “I had just been raving about him, and then he called things off. It was embarrassing — I knew I’d be getting questions from my parents about him, so I didn’t tell them until they asked how he was.”
It only adds insult to injury when the ending happens in a not-so-cool way. Was the breakup executed with compassion or were you blindsided and disrespected? If it’s the latter, you most likely will make up a reason for why it went down that way, and you will land on it being about you not being enough. This hinders the healing process. If you actually look at the reasons why people break up, none of them are really that shameful. Juarez lists them as: love connection (you fell out of love), character issues (they weren’t a good person), commitment (not aligning on wants and needs), communication (different styles), compatibility (you weren’t jiving), and circumstance (long-distance, for example). These are all just facts of life.
You cannot emotionally bypass the experience of being broken up with, plain and simple. But doing things that buy into that social shame, like posting comments that drag your ex or the relationship, actually make it worse because they are means of overcompensating. “Look at this language of breakups,” says Jaurez. “It’s ‘broken,’ like it’s a failure. People say they were ‘dumped,’ as opposed to ‘someone ended the relationship.’” To reframe the experience, you can say things like: “the relationship ran its course,” “we wanted different things,” or “we couldn’t communicate.” Talking about what happened in a more positive light can help reframe your shame.
Breakups are a refinement, says Juarez. You broke up for a reason, and while this is almost fucking impossible to see in the moment, there is something to celebrate. You have a different future ahead of you. Things end all the time: a basket of fries, movies, and yes, relationships. There’s nothing to be ashamed about.