They say you never forget your first love (and that’s certainly true), but more than that, you never forget your first breakup—at least, that’s been my experience. I was 16, and my boyfriend pulled me aside to tell me that he didn’t think being in a relationship was the best thing for him. Naturally, I cried my eyes out and then proceeded to have to see him at school almost daily. You’ve got to love high school, right?
Being as young and inexperienced with romance as I was, I had such a hard time believing that I could ever feel as strongly about another person as I did for him. But now, almost seven years later, and with a few more relationships under my belt, I know that I was wrong for thinking those feelings were only a one-time experience. I have learned a lot since that breakup that would have saved me from an insurmountable number of tears, and while they were painful lessons to learn, they were valuable nonetheless. So, if I had a chance to tell my 16-year-old heartbroken self anything, I would tell her these six pieces of breakup advice.
1. The pain will come in waves (and that’s OK)
For the first few weeks following my breakup, I don’t remember much, but I do remember that it was an emotional rollercoaster. I remember sleeping on the floor of my parent’s bedroom because I didn’t want to be alone. I remember feeling fine for several days just to get hit with emotions again at the most inconvenient time. But mostly, I remember feeling so out of control of my emotions—and I hated that. This kind of unpredictability after a breakup is something I’ve learned to be true even now. As an adult, some days still feel like the first one, even if you have been processing a breakup for several months. Now I know that’s normal, and it’s OK.
Grieving a relationship isn’t all that different from other types of grief. According to Dr. Lauren Ogren, a licensed marriage and family therapist, you experience a noticeable shift in your day-to-day life. For example, you go from spending so much time together to pretending you don’t know each other when you’re in the same room and from talking every single day to checking your phone out of habit just to see that you have zero unread texts. Couple that with the hormones of first love that make everything feel more intense than it is, and, of course, the pain you feel is going to be significant.
As I grow older, valuable breakup advice I’m learning is that the quickest way to get over your feelings for someone is to still let yourself feel them. The good memories you have with someone no longer in your life are still allowed to be good, and you’re allowed to mourn what your relationship could have been, too. Feel your feelings, whether you do so through journaling or by giving yourself the space to cry when you need to, and remember that healing is not linear. “Moving on fast enough” is not a thing, so focus on taking your time and allowing yourself to feel everything you need to feel—whether it’s good or bad.
“Moving on fast enough” is not a thing, so focus on taking your time and allowing yourself to feel everything you need to feel—whether it’s good or bad.
2. If you can tell a breakup is coming, let it
Leading up to my first breakup, I noticed that we were talking less and less frequently. I was always the one starting conversations, and all the dates I tried planning never happened because my ex was always “busy.” During one particularly low point, I even remember calling his sister in an attempt to get in touch with him. Something was wrong, and as someone with an anxious attachment to relationships, I felt like every unanswered message meant I had to try harder to fix things. But ironically, my attempts to do so only pushed my ex away faster. Of course, this wasn’t my intention. I could tell a breakup was coming, but looking back, I know I was more focused on “keeping” my relationship rather than fixing it or admitting to myself it wasn’t meant to be.
Now, I know that communicating with a partner means more than talking every day. If I had known this back then, maybe I would have asked my ex upfront about the disconnect I felt, even if that meant we broke up sooner. I’ve also learned since then that healthy relationships require effort from both sides. I wish I had been able to recognize that I was putting in more time and energy than my ex.
If you feel like you’re headed toward a breakup, some of the best breakup advice I can give is to address it head-on with your partner instead of keeping it to yourself and spiraling. Either your relationship will grow stronger as you work together through difficult conversations, or you’ll learn that it’s better to go separate ways. No matter how it pans out, you deserve someone who will make time for you, not one you have to beg to be with you. Recognizing when a situation no longer serves you and being able to walk away takes a great deal of strength, but you’ll be proud of yourself when you look back.
3. Cutting contact will help clear your head
It’s so hard to go from talking to someone every day to not talking at all. When my ex said he wanted to stay friends and still be around each other, I jumped at the chance. But let’s be real: I had ulterior motives in agreeing to it. I thought that if we were friends for long enough, we’d just get back together like I wanted. As you can imagine, that fantasy of a second chance didn’t last long. Staying in regular contact with your ex isn’t fair to either of you. It’s confusing, and it makes it harder for you to accept that your relationship is over.
Sometimes it’s hard to completely avoid each other—maybe you’re coworkers or you’re in school together like I was with my ex, or maybe you have children together and need to co-parent. It’s not always going to be easy (or possible) to cut contact, but setting boundaries around communication can help keep the lines of your relationship from getting blurry.
I want to stress that this breakup advice isn’t so cut and dry. Giving in to the urge to reach out might happen—you’re human! But where you can avoid each other, that’s for the best, at least in the beginning. This isn’t to say that getting back together doesn’t happen often, either. It’s more common than you’d think. But to decide whether or not that’s the right move for you, you need a clearer mind to examine the state of your relationship, and spending true time apart will help you reach it.
Recognizing when a situation no longer serves you and being able to walk away takes a great deal of strength, but you’ll be proud of yourself when you look back.
4. Lean on friends, but don’t put them in the middle
Not so lucky for me, my ex and I were both part of the same friend group. It felt like all of my friends were involved in our breakup already, so I took advantage of it. I had them pass messages between the two of us and fill me in on his life. Now, of course, I wish I learned this breakup advice sooner because it wasn’t fair to my friends, and it also didn’t help my healing. I did not need to know he was moving on so fast, you know?
As someone who processes a lot of her emotions by talking them out with other people, I’ve learned that I feel a lot less stressed about a situation once I’m verbalizing my thoughts instead of keeping it all to myself. But if you run in the same social circles as your ex, talking things out with your friends is only healthy to an extent, especially since it can create unhealthy drama within your group. Your friends are a great resource to have if you’re looking for a shoulder to cry on or a distraction to get you out of your head, but putting them in the middle of your breakup just isn’t fair for anyone. Having a good support system makes a world of difference when times are tough, as long as you’re not taking advantage of it.
5. You will feel strongly for someone again, even though that might feel impossible
Believe me, I know that the pain of a breakup is unlike any other, and when it’s your first time experiencing that pain, it feels like you’ll never get out of it. But I’ve been in other relationships since that first one, and I have felt all of those same positive feelings again. Looking back, I’m actually grateful for my first breakup because it taught me all of this breakup advice and more. I’ve learned so much about myself as a person and as a partner, both through being in healthier relationships than my first and from simply growing up and gaining perspective.
Your first relationship may have been amazing, but you’re part of what made it that way. Give yourself the time and the grace you need to work through everything that you’re feeling. Once you’re ready to get back out there, you’ll have a better idea of what you’re looking for. Remember, too, that not every ending is negative. Maybe this breakup is what opens the door for the right person to come along.
6. Ice cream really will make you feel better
A few days after my breakup, one of my best friends drove to my house to drop off a huge tub of my favorite ice cream and a note that said, “Boys suck.” I couldn’t help but laugh because it made me think of the romcom stereotype. Picture this: A newly single lead crying, yelling at their TV, and drowning their sorrows with sugar. That was me, and I thought I had officially reached the peak of pathetic post-breakup behavior. But my friend driving to my house with ice cream is still one of the nicest things anyone’s ever done for me, and I’ve returned the favor time and time again to friends ever since then because I remember how comforting it felt. Wallowing is essential to breakup recovery, and it’s OK to be stereotypical while you do it. No matter how old I get, this piece of breakup advice will stay with me.