Breakups are terrible. No one is immune to the resulting devastation, unless you’re a sociopath—something I have found myself aspiring to be over the last few months. (I realize, of course, that this is not a condition you develop through hard work and federally funded education.) But seriously, consider a few of the defining behavioral characteristics of a sociopath, according to Psychology Today. Absence of delusions and other signs of irrational thinking–yes, please! Delusions and irrational thinking have characterized every waking moment of every day of the last few months, and it would be nice to do without them. Lack of remorse and shame–no-brainer. “Could have,” “should have,” “would have,” oh my! The regret that accompanies the end of a relationship, spanning years of a previous life and pertaining to moments that you didn’t even remember until suddenly you regretted them, can be excruciating. To be free of that ever-present internal questioning (“What if I just hadn’t ordered the Ancient Grain Encrusted Cod from Schwans?!”) would be nothing short of incredible. Superficial charm and good intelligence–irrelevant, but who doesn’t want this?
In any event, despite at least one prior insistence to the contrary, I am not a sociopath. And struggling through a breakup as a relatively normal girl with standard-grade General Anxiety Disorder, I am oft reminded: “Lean on family and friends during this hard time.” WRONG! This may be the single most erroneous but widespread piece of advice given to people grieving the loss of a relationship. In fact, the only moment during the period in which you are processing and recovering from a breakup that you should reach out to friends or family is if you’ve wrapped your car around a tree and the paramedics absolutely refuse to come fetch you. Even then, if you are ambulatory enough to get to the hospital on your own, I suggest you go that route.
The unfortunate reality is that every person within your circle of friends and family has the potential to add a unique flavor of uselessness to the already trying experience you are going through, and that’s if you are lucky. Worst-case scenario, your support circle quickly comes to resemble the Malebolge and in no time you find yourself hopscotching between the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Bolgias before descending to the final depths of hell. It’s not a pretty picture, people, and it’s a l.o.n.g. way down.
Sisters: The bullshit that you receive from a sister will probably differ depending on whether you have younger or older sisters. If she’s younger, she’ll be too busy engaging in overweight stripping and uppers to be in touch. Consider this a good thing. It’s the older sister you need to be wary of, as she is the one who will leverage the situation to demonstrate how insignificant problems (yours) compare to real-world problems (hers). She has been doing this for years, you should not be surprised. But you will be.
You will also be surprised at how quickly she has forgotten the better part of the last two years, during which you dropped everything at a moment’s notice to help her process the end of her relationship—and then the beginning of her new relationship and then the beginning of drama in that relationship and then the interestingly depressing continuation of that relationship followed by the regret and longing for the old relationship. My advice—do as I say and as I do: tell her to fuck off. See Figure 1.
Dads: Your father will have nothing to say—informative or otherwise—and instead of letting that sentiment play out in real life by simply saying nothing, he will invariably repeat the most useless, albeit potentially harmful, single statement that comes to his mind. While seemingly innocuous, “you two were together for a long time” can take on a variety of disturbing meanings when you’ve heard it for the 87th time, including, but not limited to:
- Way to fuck this up, sport.
- Apparently you take after old dad here.
- Your mid-30s is a dangerous time to be moving out of a relationship.
- Have you thought this through?
- When am I going to recoup the $8,700 I loaned you for college?
- What happens to your cat?
- Is your car equipped with a good set of tires?
- At least your sister and brother have given me grandkids.
- You two were together for a long time.
Moms: It would be against the law of nature for a mother to rebuke her child in a time of need. You will find in your mom a never-ending source of support, so long as you assume full responsibility for the destruction of the relationship within the first five minutes of breaking the breakup news. If you do this, you’ll then have to endure another few weeks of shaming and blaming before she will move on to nurturing you back to health. The nurturing process will come with some free lunches–appetite not included–and some phone conversations involving an outdoor voice directed at you, the television, a neighbor, or an unseen audience that will not reveal itself for many years to come.
Male Friends: Wholly useless; largely without exception. If you want a man’s perspective on your breakup, talk to your bartender. He will be infinitely more useful than a guy friend, if only because he has a world of alcohol at his fingertips. If you are lacking a bartender, a booze bra will still provide more support.
Female Friends: Your best female friends are probably going to be there for you through the extended process that is a breakup. By best friends, I mean your kicked-out-of-a-hotel-in-France-for-fighting or bleached-your-hair-after-you-took-clippers-to-your-head best friends. These friends will answer your drunken, distraught calls that come in at 10:15 a.m., right in the middle of their morning staff meeting. They will find polite ways of telling you that Hail To The Thief on repeat may be contributing to your week-long, tear-duct breakdown. These friends, unlike your sister, will repeatedly answer a ridiculous question that you will repeatedly ask, and they will do so in a slightly different manner each time, so as to not make you feel terrible for engaging in irrational repetition. And, they will let you vomit your neurosis all over their kitchen table each time you crash their Friday family dinner.
But don’t look any further than these women, or you’ll find a bunch of bitches who operate on a single speed of absolute self-absorption. The female friendly acquaintance is not to be trusted with a sexually transmitted disease, let alone your fragile heart coming out of a breakup. The standard female reaction to learning about the demise of your relationship is something akin to “you can do better” and/or “you’re better off without him,” and they say these things because they’ve spent more time picking off their Shellac than actually listening to what happened. You will receive far more meaningful feedback from a Douglas fir or other conifer–run to the hills.
Colleagues: Best-case scenario is that no one in your office knows about your breakup. The reality-based scenario, however, is that everyone in your office knows about your breakup. This mass spread of highly personal information tends to happen when you spend the majority of each day criding (a combination of hiding and crying) under your desk or when you’ve been spotted on multiple occasions at the bar down the street “enjoying” jalapeno margaritas at 11:30 a.m. Don’t you fucking judge.
Point being: chances are good that people in your office know what you’re going through. And, chances are better that people in your office are going to comment on what you’re going through. Colleagues are probably the best source of the go-to and completely terrible condolence offering: “At least you weren’t married.” Yes, thank God I was not married. Fortunately for me, I wasn’t able to wear an obnoxiously large and wonderful white dress and party my ass off before my relationship crumbled. The last thing I would want to do during the grieving process is fill out rote paperwork and pay $250 in court filing fees. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that divorces can get messy. But perhaps that’s because one or more assholes are involved in the process. At least give me the ole’ “Thank goodness you didn’t have kids” bit.
Strangers: Jackpot! Whether you’re looking for advice on the best cave into which you can retreat for the next decade, answers to your fanatically wild questions about the meaning of life, thoughts on whether you were 97.3 or 99.1 percent to blame for the breakup, or simply an alternate reality in which your name is Beverley and you’re an insanely happily married machine welder and mother of three, strangers are incredibly reliable sources of kindness and valid feedback.
As it turns out for the brokenhearted, strangers are all around us. They frequent bars, work at restaurants, walk their small dogs through grocery store aisles against health code regulations, and drive the wrong way through your parking garage. Although most of my interactions with strangers begin and end badly, just today a passerby told me: “Smile, you’re beautiful.” He was a hippie and I didn’t take him seriously because I seriously doubted he wasn’t high as a kite–nevertheless, this single statement was far more constructive than anything my sister has said since November 2014. And when you’ve made a name for yourself crying through city bars and restaurants, it’s the little things that matter.