Did you know that when you go through a tough breakup, you can actually go through the Kübler-Ross five stages of grief? Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Breakups have become so normalized nowadays that the emotions one can feel from a breakup might not be validated enough. We see breakups on TV, in movies, in our everyday lives, to the extent that media can now pass breakups off as being fine and completely bearable–as long as you binge-eat some ice cream and watch sad rom-coms on repeat for a couple of weeks. For some people, and with some true heartbreaks, however, the pain felt is nothing to be taken lightly. When going through a tough breakup, even though the person you lost may still be alive, you still lost them.It is perfectly okay to grieve for that heartbreak, and it’s also okay to mourn for that person. You lost a part of your life, and that pain can be unbearable at times. Learning this, and learning that my emotions were totally normal, and having them validated, was one of the best steps I could have possibly taken towards healing.
We were together for over a year. In that year, he learned everything about me, and I learned everything about him. He became my best friend, and the closest person I’ve ever been to. I never really considered him not being in my life, not just in a romantic way, because I knew that us breaking up was always a possibility, but I never considered losing him as a friend or simply a person in my life, even if we did break up eventually. I thought he would always be there. The first few months of our relationship were blissful. He was my first boyfriend, and I really thought that the honeymoon phase would never end. We spent every day together. We went on wild, spontaneous adventures together. We were so happy, and we were so in love.
But of course, life happens. I won’t go into the depressing details of why we ended, but the point is that we did. We broke up. He broke my heart and I’m sure that I broke his. Like I said, I never thought that this boy would ever leave my life, but then he did. Just like that, and I felt alone. All at once, this huge, important piece of my life suddenly vanished.
I don’t think that the denial stage for me was necessarily denying that we had broken up, but denying that I was upset about our breakup. I was still so mad and so hurt by the way that we’d ended, so I let those emotions cover up my sadness and grief. I told myself that I didn’t care. I told myself that he didn’t matter and that the year we’d spent together didn’t matter. I was fine. I could not care less about that stupid boy.
But then, of course, my heartbreak grew stronger and stronger and my false emotions couldn’t continue to conceal my pain. My grief slowly expanded and I began to feel worse and worse as the days passed. I felt like he had abandoned me. I was all alone without him and he left me. I felt stranded, empty, and isolated, and I was furious at him for putting me in that situation. I couldn’t think about anything except for how angry I was at this boy. He overwhelmed my thoughts and I honestly had a hard time at focusing on anything else. I compared my life to his at the time and was so furious and hurt that he seemed to be doing fine without me, maybe even better. It was a huge, fat slap in the face.
This was my first conscious effort to fight my denial and anger. I wanted to regain control over the situation. All of the “what ifs” and “if onlys” soared through my mind on a daily basis. It was a line of defense against my emotions of grief, and it was preventing the sadness from truly kicking in. I considered going back to him so many times, because at the time, nothing felt worse than how I was feeling mid-heartbreak. I felt so alone; I knew he wasn’t right for me anymore, but I actively did not care.
This one was the real kicker. I’m not even sure how to describe its horribleness. I thought that I would never get over him and I believed that my sadness was eternal. I was terrified of going forward in life and moving on, because the thought of doing all of it alone was petrifying. I compared my life at that moment to my life when we were together and I was so mad at myself for letting him get away, because I was so much happier before than I was when in the middle of all of this pain. I ignored all the bad things and all the red flags of when we were together, because the sadness that I was feeling at that point felt a million times worse. There was also a sense of shame and embarrassment that I was allowing one boy to make me feel so horrible. I’d always thought of myself differently than that: “I don’t need a man to make me happy, I’m fine on my own!” So when I didn’t feel fine, I knew that something might be wrong, and I sought out help. I realized that the grief over a bad breakup is nothing to mess around with.
And then, as it always does, life happened. Things started to perk up. I started to go to therapy, and I learned that maybe I was better off without him to begin with. We loved each other so much and spent so much time together; however as a twenty-year-old college student, did I really want that? Was I really ready for that type of love? Was it fair to him, who was ready for that? I went shopping, and bought myself new outfits. I changed my sheets, went blonde, and gave myself bangs (classic breakup move). I re-decorated my apartment, and I fostered a kitten. I started playing the guitar again–something I had done before we got together and sort of forgot about when I was with him. I was so over being sad all the time, and I was finally ready for change. It didn’t necessarily feel easier, because I still missed his smell, his music, his touch… I still missed everything, but I finally didn’t want to miss him anymore. It was a conscious decision that I made: I didn’t want to be sad anymore.
Those few months post-breakup ended up being one of the biggest learning experiences of my entire life. I put myself out there and went farther out of my comfort zone than I ever had before. I went to concerts and parties solo. I joined new clubs and organizations at my university and went on epic backpacking/camping trips with strangers. I met new friends and created new memories without him. I learned so much about myself in that time. I learned that I don’t like to be alone, yet being alone is something that I need to learn how to be okay with. I learned that I don’t want to settle, and I am going to expect to be treated like a queen in my next relationship. I learned that I love to play the guitar and sing, and I maybe even want to pick up the piano. I also learned that even without him, I still love the outdoors, and I still love music. I still love taking long walks in the city, and I still love to head-bang at shows. My happiness did not end with him. It never ended. Him leaving my life simply opened space for someone new to come into it. Now that I am without him, I can wait for the person I’m supposed to be with.
I used to skip all of “our songs” on my Spotify because I could not bear to listen to them without thinking about him, but now I don’t need to skip them. I still, of course, will never hear those songs without thinking of him; however now, instead of falling into a dark pit of sadness, when I hear those songs I remember the good times that we had together, and I think about how glad I am that he came into my life, and how glad I am that he left it as well.
Even though that was my first breakup, I know that it isn’t going to be my last. I am going to go through so much more heartbreak in my life, and while that is a terrifying thought, I now know that I am strong enough to get past it. I know that my life and my happiness will never be defined by one boy or one heartbreak. As Ariana Grande might say, “I’m so f****** grateful for my ex.”
art by Isabella Baxter