Stage One

Folks who are over it won’t be reading this article. Because they are over it. The very recently dumped will be typing ‘getting over a break-up’ into Google and be on page twenty-six of the search results. Just in case they missed the secret to getting over it faster. They are tired of reading ‘time heals all wounds,’ and want this feeling gone by the weekend, or at least by Christmas. I’m afraid time doesn’t do all the work for you. If you’ve ever listened to someone talk about their difficult break-up, only to find out it happened eight or nine years ago, you know time doesn’t give a rat’s arse about your loss.

I think I have some advice about getting over your break-up, but it’s going to be messy and you might want to lay a towel on the floor.

It’s possible you ended the relationship…it still doesn’t mean you are over it. If you’re the one who got dumped, you can double the recovery period but oh, the victory will be yours in the end. It might have happened twenty years ago or last week. You know you’re over it when you stop wondering if there is a chance you’ll get back together. You’re not waiting for them to wake up one day, reach for their phone and tell you, ‘I’m sorry. I failed to appreciate you. I want to apologise for every negative comment I made, starting with that remark about your mother. I didn’t mean it when I said, ‘pack your shit and get out.’ What I meant was, I love you. I’m coming over.’

Getting over it requires passing through two stages, the first is experiencing the loss. When you’re through that, the second stage is wishing them well in their future. The one you’re not in.

Go ahead and get that towel ready.

Obviously I’m speaking from the experiencing of getting dumped hard. ‘Pack your shit and get out,’ was a direct quote. Not a lot of wiggle room in there to try and get back together one day. Yes, I still entertained those fantasies on high rotation. I packed my shit up and muttered some encouraging words about us, ‘taking time out to look at our issues,’ while he held the door open to my car. I was going to be alright, I told myself, barreling down the highway. I’ve been here before and it doesn’t kill you, it just feels like you’re going to die. There is a wall of pain headed your way, and you will scamper over it, sort of the way a toddler climbs a stool. Awkwardly and without any dignity.

The most important thing is to keep your panties on. The person who told you ‘the best way to get over someone else is to get under someone new’ wasn’t really grieving. They were using someone else’s body to grieve on and that’s not very fair. Grab a hanky, instead. At least after you throw the hanky out, it won’t climb back out of the dirty laundry basket, hoping to hook up again.

After getting dumped, I told my friends I would be over it in ninety days. I’m a writer, I figured, I work well with deadlines. One wise friend kept checking in on me.

‘Almost through!’ I said, ‘It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.’

She replied, “I want to suggest to you, Vivvie, that even though you think you’re through, you may not be through.”

“Nope, I’m definitely through!” I said, because I had started eating solid foods again. Freedom was just around the corner.

“Are you down on the marble tiles, yet?” she asked.

“Nope. I don’t really know what that means, but I don’t have to!”

“Lying on the floor of the bathroom, crying through the layers of grief until all you feel are the marble tiles on your back?”

“Nope! I really don’t think that’s going to be necessary.”

You can see where I’m headed with the towel.

I was using a lot of positive encouragement. You know the kind I’m talking about. You’re going to be a really interesting person after this, wowwee… I was using it as a bandage over the wound that wouldn’t heal. That wall of pain had arrived and it can’t be scampered over. You have to walk through the wall. That’s why it hurts.

I finally gave myself permission to cry. Then I started to howl. Then it was those moans an animal makes when it’s dying in a forest alone, its foot caught in a trap. I cried first for the break-up and every break-up before it. I cried for my father and his abandonment. I cried for a pain that went back three generations. There were probably random people I’d never met scooped up in that howl, that’s how big it was.

The door from my bedroom was open, and lying on the bed, I saw what I looked like in the bathroom mirror. I looked like I had rigamortis. Not so much a serene looking corpse, but the ones they dig up from the base of a volcano, burned alive. ‘That’s kind of funny,’ I thought and broke for lunch. I made myself a sandwich and went back to crying for another couple of hours and then I was done. Was I over the break-up? Almost. There’s another stage I had to pass through, but I was ‘moving on’ by moving through the grief. This, I thought, this is interesting. I’m in pain and I’m quite enjoying myself.

If you do go with the bathroom tiles option, I would recommend the towel. It’s easier on the back.

The second stage in getting over your break up is more challenging. 

Wishing them well.

To wish anyone you loved and lost well comes easier for some, more difficult for others. If your loved one displayed particularly shitty behaviour, you might try to skip this stage. Feeling the depth of your grief releases them from your body, but wishing them well releases them from your mind. Because no one wants to be the girl at the party, bitching about their ex twelve years after it ended. Or as my mother once said to me, “It’s been two months since your relationship ended, please stop talking about it. It’s not fair to people. You’re boring them.”

What you seek is ‘closure’, but we only get closure when we no longer need it. With pain and loss, the mind wants to apportion blame. We put certain events on trial, and stack the jury, create the judge and start the prosecution. We know it’s an enormous waste of time, but we do it anyway. Some people actually go to court in real life. A friend recently went to court for mediation. There were twelve other couples there that day. The judge looked at each of them and said, “I’d like you all to step outside and take two hours to work out your issues with a mediator and come back in here like adults.” One’s day in court isn’t always the vindication we hope it will be.

If there has been violence and custody battles, wishing them well is going to be the last thing on your mind, but it releases you from the spell of the relationship. Or the death grip, depending on your level of despair.

Close your eyes. Visualise the person. Now wish them well.

It’s hard, isn’t it?

I have a friend who grew up in India and he told me a story about his heartbreak when a woman dumped him. He was in pain and so he sought out a guru his uncle had recommended. He sat in front of the guru and explained he has been heartbroken and needs help moving on. The guru told the young man he would recover if he did one simple thing. Pray for her happiness.

Two years went by. He prayed for an hour every morning and an hour in the evening on her happiness and still, he was in pain. So he travelled back to the guru and told him, ‘I’ve done as you said. Prayed for her happiness and it didn’t work. I’m still miserable.’

The guru asked, ‘Did you mean it?’

The young man realised he had been praying, but hadn’t really wanted her happy. He just wanted her back.

Pray for their happiness. Mean it. And you’ll be done.

What are your best tips for coping with a break up?

Vivienne Walshe is an Australian playwright and screenwriter. Her plays have been highly awarded and published by Currency Press. As an actress she appeared on The Secret Life of Us and many other television shows and performed in plays at the Melbourne Theatre company, Sydney Theatre company and Queensland Theatre company.