We’ve all been there. Some of us lived in denial even though we saw it coming for months (or years.) For others, it came out of the clear blue sky. Whether it ends with a bang or a whimper, breaking up is a difficult time in every man’s life. Men’s emotions and feelings don’t tend to get a lot of ink as, generally speaking, men are more reticent to acknowledge much less discuss them. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t feel things too, including suffering after a break-up; Several recent studies even point to the fact that break-ups might even affect men more than women.
Now, there’s at least a hundred “flavors” of break-ups. It would be next to impossible to write a guide that covers every single contingency that leads to a split. But what we’ve tried to do here is create a series of coping strategies, pick-me-ups and silver linings that should help you through the dark days until you see the inevitable light at the end of the tunnel.
Feel the Feelings
Traditionally, men have been discouraged from showing excessive emotion from an early age. Phrases like “Be a man” and “Man up” are typically meant as ramrods to stuff down your emotions. But what happens when the emotions come flooding so fast it overwhelms that instinct? Nothing. Just roll with it. You are going to feel shitty for a time, regardless which side of the break-up you were on. And that’s perfectly ok. It won’t be fun, and you may not feel like yourself, but acknowledge what you are feeling and allow yourself to feel it.
Scientific American recently wrote about a Rutgers University study that used neuroimaging technology to show what happens in the human brain when it experiences rejection. The study participants were shown pictures of the person who had recently broken up with them. Using an MRI, researchers saw their brains “exhibited increased brain activity in several regions associated with reward, motivation, addiction and obsessive-compulsive disorder, which helps to explain why you might struggle to let go after a romantic relationship ends.”
Though it may be tempting, don’t drown your sorrows in alcohol or drugs, including workaholism, these are temporary distractions that only will defer feeling the pain and prolong the healing process. Plus you might be more tempted to reach out to her or attempt some sort of Lloyd Dobler-esque boombox-outside-her-window maneuver, which trust me, only works in the movies.
Don’t Try to Win Her Back
A lot of guys get wrapped up in the emotional fantasy of a grand romantic act, convinced that swinging through her window hanging from a chandelier will instantly show her the error of her ways and make her helpless to the power of your charms and fall for you once more. Don’t. We’ve been lied to, gentleman. Decades of romantic movie plots have incorrectly taught us that pretty much all break-ups warrant some sort of go-for-broke romantic gesture. But real life isn’t the movies. Sometimes your former significant other wants their space, and your sky-written love note or dozen puppies in a box wearing “take me back” sashes could come off as desperate. If this is the love of your life, and I mean the real love of your life, it will work out. There’s absolutely nothing you can do to force someone to love you or to want to be with you. You won’t be able to trick her or use guilt, so don’t even try.
What About Mutual Friends?
Another post-break-up minefield is divvying up the mutual friends. Some people can remain friends with their exes, and so for them this is less of a consideration. But for the rest of us, mutual friends are the equity built over a long-term relationship. Certain cases should be more obvious, for example, the friends each member of the former couple brought to the relationship generally side with their original friend. It’s probably a good idea to avoid “custody” battles over friends with your ex. It’s a losing proposition and will almost certainly end badly, maybe even with lost friends. People tend to naturally gravitate towards one “camp” or another after a break-up. Let it happen. Post-break-up, the once-mutual friendships you keep are organic and already battle-tested. When someone “chooses” you, it solidifies the friendship and you’ll never wonder if someone is spending time with you out of pity or attempting to slowly ease themselves out of your life with a few cursory post-break-up hangouts.
Don’t Wallow – Be Productive Instead
Build something with your hands:
While all you may want to do is sleep or sit around and mope, fight the urge. Use this time to your advantage to better yourself. Long-term relationships are very driven by routine, so being out of that routine can feel unfamiliar or uncomfortable. You can help neutralize the jarring effects of this routine change by taking up a new hobby. Pick something you’ve always had a passing interest in but never pursued. Even if you’re not usually the type, try heading to an art supply store and wandering around for some inspiration. Maybe pick up a canvas and some paints or some sculpting clay. Making art and creating something with your hands can be a wonderful distraction, not to mention therapeutic. Plus it will give you something to focus your energies on.
Maybe you want to use this time of reflection to hit the gym more or learn to be a better cook or learn to fix motorcycles. Whatever you choose, pour some of that passion the strong emotions associated with the break-up have stirred up into a creation that you can be proud of. When the post-break-up fog has cleared, it will stand as a personal artifact symbolizing your refusal to give into sadness and depression.
Enjoy Being Single
At a certain point after breaking up, your emotional state transitions from misery to realization that you are now free to be a bit selfish. Relationships require sacrifice from both partners for the sake of harmony, so maybe it’s time you got re-acquainted with the things you’d been sacrificing now that you’re able. Consciously go enjoy doing something you wouldn’t have done as part of a couple. Head to the movie theater and take in a double feature of movies you would have had to drag her to. You won’t even have to share your popcorn. Eat a whole meat lover’s pizza in your underwear in the living room while watching all three Christopher Nolan-directed Batman films back to back. Play video games all day long on a Saturday. Stay out late with the guys and realize you don’t have to call home.
None of these activities should be undertaken in a spiteful way. It’s all about enjoying the newfound freedom that being single affords you. It’s a silver lining in an otherwise painful situation. Be conscious of the fact that now that you’re a free agent, you have the time and ability to do what makes you and you alone happy. There’s a freeing and empowering quality to that realization when acted upon.
Tom Haverford would agree with me on this one: Retail therapy isn’t just for ladies anymore. Sometimes when you’re feeling low, a quick fix of purchasing goodness can be just the boost you need. Have you been eying a big-screen TV but holding off? Have you been itching to fix up your car? Have you been craving some top-shelf booze and a nice cigar? I’m here to tell you to take that plunge and indulge. Do something just for you that makes you unequivocally happy. I’m not saying to cash in your 401k and fly to Macau to try your hand at the baccarat tables, but making a splurge within reason is just plain good for the soul.
While enjoying this treat, take a few seconds to consciously acknowledge that you deserve it. The exercise will remind you that you are still the one person who knows how to make you happiest, which is something we tend to lose sight of during a break-up.
Take a Man-cation
Perhaps the ultimate expression of newly single freedom is the man-cation. Men are all different, so the details of what makes a true escape will vary depending on you. But that’s the beautiful part—you don’t have anyone else to account for, so you can literally make the trip whatever you want it to be. When was the last time you planned a trip without considering what anyone else wanted? Plan it out, book a hotel room for a few nights and hit the road. A man-cation doesn’t have to be hedonistic. See some sights, eat some good food, get a barber shave, go for a hike, chat up some locals, make some new memories. Taking some time to be alone with yourself can help you get back in touch with the “you” that was there when the relationship started, and remind you that the same person is still there now that it’s over.
Whether it was a relationship you knew was on the rocks or one in which your heart got stomped on by the person you thought you’d be with forever, parting ways with someone after a long time together is a major life transition. If you’re hurting right now, don’t lose sight of the fact that you’re still you. So much of a relationship is about two individuals becoming a unit. When you’re once again out on your own, it takes some time to recalibrate. But real talk: You WILL get through it and you WILL come out stronger on the other side. It will be difficult at times, but there are ways to enable yourself to not just cope, but actually thrive under these new life circumstances.