Ways to navigate thoughtfully.
When it comes to heartbreak, there are generally two schools of thought. One side believes that it should be avoided at all costs, while the other argues that experiencing heartbreak is essential to being able to appreciate real love (no pleasure without pain, right?).
Still, let’s be clear—no matter your opinion, heartbreak sucks. And there’s no timeline for how long it takes to heal.
There’s a reason heartbreak feels so painful. According to a TED Talk by psychologist Guy Winch, brain studies show that when we experience a withdrawal of romantic love, it activates the same mechanisms in our brain that occur when drug addicts are withdrawing from addictive substances. What’s more, research also shows that rejection can drastically reduce our IQ, leading us to irrational and self-destructive behaviors that we wouldn’t usually be prone to, like, say, dramatic drunk texting.
But here’s the thing: pretty much everyone across the board experiences heartbreak at some point in their lives, whether it’s the pang of rejection from an unrequited crush or the end of a long-term relationship. At least there’s plenty of good music that can help soothe you through the process, whether you turn to Oliva Rodrigo, SZA, or Phoebe Bridgers to languish in all your feelings.
The good thing about a broken heart is that it heals—eventually. Here are a few ways you can help the process along.
Allow yourself to wallow
One of the many lessons Lorelei Gilmore taught Rory: It’s perfectly appropriate (and necessary) to mourn the end of a relationship. You’ll likely go through the five stages of grief: shock and denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. No rule of thumb can tell you how long you’ll feel each of these emotions, but especially if you’re experiencing the end of a long or significant romantic relationship, give yourself time to grieve adequately without forcing yourself to move on too quickly.
The key here: allow yourself to feel, but don’t overthink. Psychologist Berit Brogaard says that the stages of grief at the end of a relationship may overlap and they may occur several times. That’s natural, but spending your time thinking about what went wrong and what you could have done differently won’t help you to heal.
Reflect on the relationship realistically
We also tend to idealize the person we’re heartbroken over and forget about all the things that weren’t so great in the relationship. So Winch suggests making a list of all the negative aspects of that person or relationship and keeping it on your phone. Whenever you feel a wave of nostalgia for the relationship approaching, whip out your phone and read over the list to remind yourself of all the ways that person was wrong for you.
It can be helpful turning to a friend—maybe a friend who admittedly wasn’t the biggest fan of your S.O.—to help lend some perspective. When you’re in the thick of dating or a relationship, it can be hard to notice the negatives (or the red flags). Ask a friend if they’re willing to have a venting session with you, pour them a drink, and chat it out. Letting yourself feel anger can be helpful, and reflecting on the things you didn’t like about your relationship with your partner can help ease yourself towards acceptance—and the knowledge that you deserve a relationship that’s better suited to your emotional needs.
Keep yourself busy
Don’t spend too much time over-analyzing why things didn’t work out—try to accept it and move on. A great way to do that? Keep busy and focus on doing things you love and spending time with friends who make you feel good about yourself. It might even be a good opportunity to take up that hobby you’ve always been wanting to try that your ex-significant other wasn’t into (admit it, their taste was terrible). Consider leaning into activities that will make you feel good: exercise is notoriously mood-boosting (even if you have to give yourself a pep-talk to get out on a run) and creative endeavors can be fulfilling. Ideally, the best hobby is one that requires enough concentration so that you’re forced to not think about your heartbreak. That might look like signing up for a pottery class and learning how to throw clay or getting really into foreign films that force you off your phone for two hours at a time (those subtitles can be pretty helpful).
And if you’re feeling particularly stressed, masturbation helps, too.
Strengthen your other relationships
In an ideal world, you’ve kept up with all your friendships while you were in a romantic relationship; but realistically, sometimes other bonds fall to the wayside. That friend who you haven’t called up in a while? Give them a ring. Had plans you were looking forward to doing with your ex? Do them with one of your best friends instead. Remember that intimacy isn’t just about romantic relationships—it’s about how we connect and grow with our communities and families (chosen and otherwise).