Real-World Ways to Cope With Heartbreak

Let’s just get right into it and talk about my worst breakup. It was one of those whirlwind romances, and we’d grown very close in a very short time. The split was so painful that I felt compelled to cause a big, dramatic scene, so I did: I packed up all my things and drove halfway across the country, where I moved back in with my parents. At the age of 30. Without a job. 

I do not recommend this. There are better ways of coping when your heart has been pulverized and you’re in the thick of Stage 1: Crushing Grief and Emotional Paralysis. That stage requires immediate intervention. Here’s my prescription for getting through it (and you will get through it, even if it doesn’t feel that way now), tested more times than I care to count. 

Meet with a therapist

Sure, therapy “isn’t for everyone,” but I truly believe finding a trustworthy therapist will benefit most people, especially in the wake of emotional distress. For me, therapy is a space where I can express my most complex and deeply felt emotions, knowing that they will be heard. A good therapist will listen without judgement, provide emotional coping mechanisms and, eventually, help you to turn a critical eye on the relationship that ended.

If you can’t find someone who takes your health insurance, or you currently don’t have insurance, you might try Catholic Charities, which offers free or low-cost counseling in some regions. Other options: Google “sliding-scale therapy,” or try the app Talkspace

Lean on your friends

After one breakup in college, my roommate walked into our dorm room to find me crying on the floor. She knelt down and held me in her arms until I stopped. A few years later, she put the end of another relationship into perspective by hilariously calculating the exact amount of time I’d spent dating the guy — proving that, in the context of my entire life, the relationship was just a blip. 

Your friends are absolutely invaluable during this time — not only will they provide comfort and a listening ear, they probably also know when it’s time to snap you out of you funk by making you laugh. Let them.

Watch sad movies and listen to sad music

We all want to be in love – which is why (by my extremely unscientific calculations) 65 percent of all movies and music relies on love as the central theme. It can be satisfying (in a twisted way!) to see what you’re going through reflected on the screen, or to hear it in music. Post-breakup, I personally like to watch “Forrest Gump,” “Casablanca,” or Moulin Rouge because they’re heart-wrenching enough to inspire a good, cleansing sob session. But, because the romantic relationship at the heart of each movie is eventually resolved, you get a little hit of hope.

On the other hand, you might just want to shut your bedroom door and listen to some sad, beautiful love songs. My top recs are: Donny Hathaway, “For All We Know,” Stevie Wonder, “Lately,” and A Fine Frenzy, “Almost Lover.”

And, when you need to dry your eyes, two of the most soothing instrumental recordings I’ve ever heard are Max Ritcher, “Dream 13” and 2CELLOS performing Karl Jenkins’ “Benedictus.”

Read these poems

I read something years ago about how the entirety of life is learning to hold the dark and the light, the desolation and the hope, side by side. I wish I could remember who said it, because it’s profoundly true. Some poems perfectly express that duality and have given me hope in the midst of darkness are “The Future,” Wesley McNair, “To the Woman Crying Uncontrollably in the Next Stall,” Kim Addonizio, and “Wild Geese,” Mary Oliver.

Bookmark silly stuff on your computer

As my favorite late-night host, Stephen Colbert, says, “In the face of something that might strike you as horrible, I think laughter is the best medicine. You cannot laugh and be afraid at the same time, and the devil cannot stand mockery.” So go ahead and mock your own misery by watching one of these joy-inducing videos: this little girl eating a corndog and dancing to Beyoncé, these toddlers BFFs excitedly running toward each other and hugging, or Key & Peele’s East/West College Bowl sketch.

I hope these hacks help you get through your darkest days. As Kim Addonizio writes in the poem above, “listen I love you joy is coming.” Trust that it will.

Originally published on February 11, 2020.

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