My ex and I broke up last month. We had dated for 2 1/2 years, and with one conversation, it was over. The breakup was mutual, we still like each other very much, and we talk often. (He called our separation a “conscious uncoupling,” which kind of made me want to break up with him all over again.)
But it still sucks.
It sucks to not know exactly what your plans are at the end of a long day, to not be sure that if you need company at 9 at night or 2 in the morning, you will have it. It sucks to re-download Tinder and remember how much you hate it. It sucks to confront your half-baked plans for the future - the travel, the apartment shopping, the holidays - and realize that you wanted another person there with you: the person you just left. And so, hopeful that my recovery from the breakup could be as swift and painless as possible, I tried six coping mechanisms lifted from the greatest body of love literature we have: romantic comedy movies and TV.
I have rated each based on efficacy in soothing my sad heart out of a maximum possible score of five emoji salsa dancers, because to me, it is she who most represents joy, independence, and Living Your Best Life.
Here are my results.
1. Wine on the couch: one day after breakup
As seen in: Bridesmaids
I side with Hollywood here: Emotional turmoil goes well with wine. On screen, though, wine-drinking, newly single characters tend to actually talk about their emotions, whether they’re vowing to get revenge on a guy or lamenting that they’ll never find anyone like him to a bestie cooing her objections. I, however, was not ready to analyze my past, present, or future in any serious way. I needed distraction, and to pretend that everything was fine. I texted my friend Em to ask her to come over that night, which she did, armed with a bottle of red wine. Somber moments call for red - white wine is for celebrating and throwing in people’s faces on reality shows.
We talked a little about the breakup, but I was more interested in discussing our jobs, the show she had just seen, a thing her boyfriend had just done. I just wasn’t ready for the deep emotional catharsis wine on your couch brings when you really lean into it. I would have more than enough time to scream or cry or write poetry or whatever else later. Em left, I went to bed, and voilà: It was two days after the breakup instead of one. Because of that simple fact alone, this gets four salsa dancers.
2. Netflix and junk food: four days after breakup (and so many other days, TBH)
As seen in: Bridget Jones’s Diary
This one is inspired by Bridget Jones, of course, but also every other romantic comedy protagonist whose relationship has ended, ever. This is the moment in the movie when we are supposed to feel sorry for the lovelorn heroine: Look at her there, pathetic in her sweatpants, shoveling ice cream into her mouth as she sobs over Leo and Kate. But never fear, she will rise like a phoenix from the ashes in the next scene, when she takes a shower, ventures out into the world, and bumps into the love of her life!
There are two ways to approach this one. Pick a show or movie that is distracting, that has you focused on the exploding cars or arch villains and not your own sad, sorry life; or do it like in TV and movies and pick something heart-wrenching that plunges you into a bucket of your own feels (see: Blue Valentine, The Notebook, Love Story). I shied away from the tearjerkers and opted to watch complex, damaged women either fucking up their lives further (Fleabag) or righting wrongs (Jessica Jones). In both cases, at least they have agency over their lives. While men are important to their stories, man-related moping is not a motif. I combined this with Frosted S’mores Pop-Tarts, because that is the best flavor and if you don’t agree you are wrong. Yes, this made me feel better but I was still avoiding my feelings. If my life were a rom-com, at this point, it would be a very boring one about a girl refusing to engage in any character development.
A note about the ice cream: You can eat an entire pint of Halo Top ice cream, which is 240 calories, and not feel like a garbage can, but it will never, ever compare to Ben & Jerry’s. But if you do eat an entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s, I am here to tell you that you will feel sick, and any movie that does not show you the heroine clutching her stomach in pain afterward is a fantasy as well as a rom com. Because of deliciousness, however, five dancers.
3. A rebound date: 14 days after breakup
As seen in: Forgetting Sarah Marshall
“Get back out there!” they said. “It will be fun,” they said. Peter did it in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Sally did it, sort of, when she called Harry to come over and comfort her after her breakup, and look at how well that turned out! So two weeks after my breakup, I met a guy for drinks that, based on prior texting, we both assumed would lead to more than drinks. This guy was already a casual friend. This date did not happen through Tinder! Shocking! I know! I did re-download that inexhaustible source of questionable one-liners and dead-end conversations shortly after my breakup, but found it just as disappointing as when I had left it.
Rebound guy and I met for drinks and made fine if not awkward small talk. Rebound guy and I went back to his place and had a fine if not awkward hookup. Everything about it was fine. I Ubered home. There were no fireworks, like in movies where the rebound is actually the guy you should have been with all along. There was also no epiphany that I should get back with my ex, like in movies where the ex is the one who got away. In movies, these are generally your two options for your happily-ever-after. Going on a years-long parade of “fine” dates punctuated by the occasional committed relationship? Too complicated, not to mention boring, for the screen. The only thing I realized on this date is that I did a hard thing and it’s going to hurt for a while and I can’t just leapfrog into the next relationship. There are many more mediocre dates and mediocre hookups in my future before something as good and true as my last relationship comes along. So how many salsa dancers to give this one? I guess it’s healthy to come face-to-face with the fact that you are alone in this world and facing an indeterminable number of so-so nights with so-so guys, but also that is the literal worst ... so let’s go with a 2.5 out of five: ambivalent, just like how I feel about starting to date again.
4. A tarot card reading: 30 days after breakup
As seen in: Sex and the City, the show
Female protagonists love to embark on spiritual journeys after heartbreak or other life-disrupting events. Since I had one evening and about $40 to spare, I forewent the Eat Pray Love-style trip to India in favor of a trip to Namaste Bookshop in Manhattan, where Natalie asked me to shuffle her deck of tarot cards so she could gaze into my romantic future. If not following in the footsteps of Elizabeth Gilbert, whose writing is lovely, I was at least making like Sex and the City’s walking embodiment of gender norms Charlotte, who consults a tarot-card-reading psychic in episode 12 of season one of the show to determine when she will get married. “You’re a strong, independent woman with great success in your future, but I do not see marriage,” the psychic tells a crestfallen Charlotte.
I had better luck. Before she began, Natalie asked if I had a question for her. “I want to know whether I should be spending more time alone,” I said, alluding to the fact that I have been in relationships for the past five years, not wanting to give away too much about my newly single status. I was curious to see what she would come up with based on just a few details.
Plenty, it turned out. Natalie laid out the cards. “You’re stubborn,” she told me - like I haven’t heard that from everyone I’ve ever dated - “but that’s a good thing” - a less common observation from people I’ve dated. “You’ll get married, but not for a while,” she continued. “Lots of relationships are coming, so make room for them. Be patient. You’ll end up with the right person and have kids, but only one or two. And you won’t die alone - I see you surrounded by family, friends.” We then moved on to discussing which member of my family was in excruciating emotional distress, which was more of a downer. I did leave feeling better about my chances of eventual happiness. Of course, this could have gone in an entirely different direction if Natalie had somehow foreseen that I would end up choking to death on pad see ewe before my time, alone save for legions of pet cats who would feast on my remains until the stench alerted neighbors of my passing. So undertake this coping mechanism at your own risk, but I give it three out of five dancers.
5. A night out ~daNcinG~ with “the girls”: 31 days after breakup
As seen in: The Sweetest Thing
Hitting the ~cLuRb~ is not a part of my regular weekend routine, which is maybe why it took me so long to make it happen. I usually prefer dancing in my living room to dancing in very loud boxes full of sweaty drunk people. But for the sake of the experiment, I enlisted Em to meet me at a bar for drinks, followed by two more bars with friends and finally, a club. That afternoon I browsed halfheartedly at a Forever 21-type chain store, contemplating a flimsy V-neck bodysuit before deciding that I’d rather dig something out of my closet/the pile of clothes on my floor and spend my money on drinks instead. At least I shaved, which was less of a priority when I knew whom I’d be going home with, and I wore the high-heeled black combat boots that make me 6-foot-2, because why not? This is what single girls do, right, wear high heels and hit the club with the squad?
This evening was excellent for distraction, and made me feel like a human capable of going out and getting drinks and talking with people (even male people!) without her
emotional crutch security blanket boyfriend anywhere in the vicinity. But Em and I hit the cocktails too hard, and when I woke up the next day, all I could do was order a cheesy omelette with a side of bacon and lie in bed in need of some company. Giving this one dancer only because I never want to feel this hungover again.
6. A drastic hairstyle change: 33 days after breakup
As seen in: Sex and the City, the movie
When Carrie is left at the altar by Mr. Big, she turns to the time-tested technique of changing her life via her hair, ditching blonde for brunette. And so naturally I dyed my hair purple. Grape-Laffy-Taffy purple.
At first I mostly forget that I’ve done this, until I’m walking in the street and onlookers helpfully inform me that my hair is, in fact, purple. Specifically I’m getting noticed more by guys, who take it upon themselves to call out to me that they like the color of my hair! Purple is their favorite color! What nice hair! Oh good, I was hoping you’d like it! I cry back in my head. And since catcalls inevitably lead to dates, my social calendar is now fully booked, said no woman ever.
I do like the purple hair though. Four dancers.
This is, of course, not an exhaustive list of ways to cope with a breakup. Others include: calling your mom; calling your therapist; firing up your vibrator; meditating; making a list of all the reasons you broke up; and changing his name in your phone to “Stop Texting This Number at 2 a.m. You Beautiful Idiot.” (I’ve done four of these six so far, I’ll leave you to guess which.) After this experiment, I have no better idea of how long getting over this is going to take. I am convinced it won’t be linear, as it tends to be in TV and movies. Real-life grief isn’t: It hits you when you pass someone wearing their scent, is absent when you’re laughing on Skype with your little brother, then hits you again when you find something of theirs in your apartment.
The hope is that the spaces between the moments of grief get longer and more peaceful, and let you build a new life, a process that does not for a good 90-minute-long romantic comedy make. Some rom-com breakup cures are fun. Some are healing. But their purpose is to show you visually what a character is feeling, not to actually help anyone through a breakup. That happens in quiet moments. That happens with time. And, for better or worse, it usually doesn’t happen with a star-crossed kiss and a fade to black.
But maybe it can happen without Tinder.
Follow Hayley on Twitter.
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