Friday, March 16, 2012

Post Break-Up Etiquette: Do's and Don't's

While an inevitable part of life, break ups are never easy, whether it be a long time coming or a complete shock, we all of a sudden have a loss that we have to cope with. Our world is turned upside down, emotions are fragile and egos have taken a beating. Regardless of how independent we were whilst in the relationship, we are no longer part of something, we have lost our partner.

We all deal with break ups differently, and that is attributed to our personality and how we handle certain situations, but, we are not at our most lucid when we are surrounded by the chaos that a dissolution of a union creates. There is no “right” way to do things, we need to do what is best for us, but should do our best in the circumstances to be objective as possible, to see past the situation and think about the big picture.

Here are some Post Break Up Etiquette Do’s and Don'ts:


Hook up: I know it’s tempting, and we often hear about “break up sex” as being some of the best that there is. Usually, however, it’s not, because someone (if not both parties) is going to be upset by it, because it’s highly emotional and confusing. Break ups should be clean, and keeping the physical aspect alive will keep things messy and volatile.

Try and get revenge: I don’t care what happened, really I don’t. I have said it before and I’ll say it again, hurting someone doesn’t make you hurt less. It may be a short term solution to a problem, but the when the chips have fallen, we probably won’t feel good about ourselves if we have vindictively tried to destroy someone. We can’t control what those around us do, but we are able to control how we conduct ourselves.

Disparage: Post break up, we aren’t at our most objective. We either tend to wallow in the good or focus on the negative. If it’s the latter, we get animated thinking about all the things that were wrong with the person and the relationship, which is fine, and actually a natural part of the letting-go process. It’s not WHAT we think but what we do with our thoughts. Saying horrible things to and about your ex is never the answer, even if they did something despicable to you. Break ups are messy and complicated, details and emotions are heightened and it’s unnecessary to mar someone’s name because you’re angry or hurt. I am not suggesting that you lie, but keep the information confined to a small group and don’t over share too much. The fact of the matter is, you will not be able to give the whole story anyway. Remember: at one point, you really liked this person, and you cared about them. Trash talking them is undignified and also makes you look kind of stupid. (I mean, why were you with them if they were so terrible?)

Involve others/Create drama: Friends and family are important support networks, and we’re going to need them at this time, however there is a way of doing that. Have your friends take you out on the town to take your mind off of things, or let them come over with wine, ice cream, and DVDs, but do not drag them into your drama, or try and create more. This is especially applicable if you share these friends with your ex. You may be sad, heartbroken even, but if your friends care about the both of you, it’s going to be awkward for them that you broke up, and if you respect their friendship you can not put them in a position where they have listen to negative remarks about your ex, or feel like they have to choose sides. It will only alienate the people who want you to be happy/to help you.

Flaunt your new status: You break up and move on. Ok fine, but is it necessary to flaunt your new relationship? This of course, has a time sensitivity relevance. I certainly am not suggesting that we should be *sensitive* in regards to someone we dated 10 years ago but if it’s been less than six months (or a year if it was long term) bear in mind that your newfound happiness may cause your ex some heartache, even if your split was amicable. Once again, I am not saying you should have to lie or walk on eggshells, but just practice some consideration to their feelings. (Examples: making out in front of your ex-immature and mean; gushing facebook statuses about how you “Finally found someone who understands you,” also unnecessary) On another level, if you’re still on decent-to-good terms with your ex you should, considering the duration of your relationship, let them know if you’ve entered into a new relationship that you think may potentially blossom into something serious. It can be slightly awkward but I think it’s better for your ex to hear it from you rather than see you out, read about it on Facebook, or hear about it from mutual friends.

Also, in regards to flaunting, this also applies to your new single status. If you’re happy to be single, be happy, good, but nasty, callous public digs at your former partner isn’t the way to go.

Drunk contact: People tend to drink and party more when they’re newly single. While I think this is a bad idea, it’s a fact that won’t change. I implore you, please, to try and have a sense of control when it comes to drunk contacting your ex. Calling them sobbing to tell them that you love them and miss them? Makes you look (and feel) pathetic and desperate. Angry messages will just reinforce to the recipient why they are so much better off without you. You may have lost a lover, but that doesn’t mean you have to surrender your dignity at the same time.

Torture Yourself: Playing the relationship over and over in your head trying to figure out what went wrong is not going to help you move on. The cold hard fact is that it’s over and there’s nothing you can do to fix that. If it was “your fault” you need to learn from it and not make it again, if it was something they did, you need to accept it and move on. Reading old emails, Facebook stalking, and obsessively going through old pictures of when you were “happy together” are not recipes for success, they’ll just keep you stuck in a place of turmoil.


Take a break: I read a book called “It’s Called a Break Up Because It’s Broken” (written by “He’s Just Not That Into You’s Greg Behrendt, and his wife) that suggests, when we break up with someone, we need a month, minimum of zero contact. This seems impossible to do, believe me I know, but I think it is one of the healthiest decisions we can make in regards to maintaining our sanity, dignity, and being able to delve through our convoluted emotions and come out on top. This person is no longer our #1 and we have to learn how to be on our own without them, we can’t expect them to be our rock. Instead, we should take this time to see how we can manage without their constant presence in our world, we need to be aware of the strength we possess without them. Keeping them around during this time will just delay the process of repair and moving on. Personal tip: When, and if, you are ready to start contact again, I suggest starting by email and building from there.

Change your scene temporarily: One of the worst parts of a breakup, for me, is the constant reminder of a life shared that no longer exists. In a relationship, you form memories and affection towards certain things and places or groups of people. Giving them up completely is not the answer, but at least, initially, it is better to avoid them. You don’t want to go to your favorite cafĂ© only to find that you’re suddenly crying into your coffee cup, nor do you want to purposely place yourself in a situation that will drudge up pain. This is a good time to try out new spots, reconnect with friends you may haven’t seen as much, a discover new activities in your city that have nothing to do with your old life. You can go back to your old habits eventually but when you do, you’ll have a new perspective and resilience than you did before.

Mourn: Regardless of what you might allow yourself to think, you are not ok right away, and nor should you be. We suffer from five stages of grief, and, after a breakup, we are left with a serious void that can be as bad as having someone in our lives die. One of the worst things we can do is act like we don’t care, we’re lying to ourselves and to everyone around us. No one expects for you to bounce back immediately. Doing so, can be incredibly destructive and backfire a thousand times over, especially if you are trying to fill the void with something like over partying or by jumping into another relationship too quickly. (I talk about this a bit in my Relationship Handbook, see “The Distraction”)  I am not saying to not date again, but really think about why you are, is it to take your mind off of your ex (not good) or is because you’re actually ready to get back out there? When my ex and I first broke up, I went on a slew of dates that left me feeling depressed and crying in my bedroom. I was pushing myself towards something that I wasn’t ready for, and doing so was not necessary. Take the time you need to mourn, be sad, cry, lean on your feel like yourself again. When you’re ready to get back out there, you’ll know.

Be polite when you inevitably run into them: Unless you are in a long distance relationship, there is a 90% chance that, at some point, you will run into your ex. This will be slightly uncomfortable but it doesn’t have to be awkward or horrific. Remember, this person is someone you used to care a lot about, and despite what unraveled between you, has good qualities and feelings. Also, despite how they seem, they might be devastated about what transpired between you two. You are, by no means obligated to spend a significant amount of time with them, but you should always treat them with respect. Go over, say hello, have polite chit chat, and if it feels appropriate, depart with a hug. The first time will be the toughest but doing this will set a precedent for future encounters. In the event that your ex is aggressive and responds badly, do not rise to the bait. Simply walk away, knowing you behaved with integrity and remember that you’re accountable to yourself so behave in a way that makes yourself proud. Keep it classy, always.

Respect the other persons wishes: This can be a tough one. I have said that we need to do what is best for us in this time, but yes, we also need to take our ex into account as well. If they tell you that they need to take a time out from speaking, then you have to respect that. You may want to talk and hash things out endlessly, but it won’t be conducive to the process if both aren’t onboard. It may be difficult to give the person their wish but try your hardest, it is the best way to ensure that the breakup will stay as amenable as possible (and also keep the door open for a friendship down the line) Be honest with what you want and need but also listen to them. This isn’t an overnight process. *On a side note, if you ask someone to “give you space” you can not be angry or hurt if they actually do it. This is not a time to play games or test out if they care about you. They are showing that they care by acting in accordance to your request. Plus, if they go against it you may be secretly happy, but then will, at some point, turn it around and say, “Well, I asked you to do this and you didn’t even listen to me then!” Vicious cycle. Don’t do it.

Focus on the positive: When I was going through a breakup, my friend Harry challenged me to put my life into perspective. He does this for a living, and is very good at it, so I felt compelled to take it seriously. He gave me two writing exercises: “1. Write down everything you are grateful for…start with ‘I have four limbs, I can see/hear, I have a job…and build from there.'” (You’d be surprised how quickly the list accumulated and I was able to discover how lucky I am) The second assignment was: “Reasons Any Man Would Be Lucky to Date Me”, again, the list grew before my very eyes. I had spent so much time focusing on the negative that I'd forgotten to remember anything good about myself. (I don’t think we should be in denial and think we are flawless but it’s important that we embrace our attributes) At first, I felt a bit ridiculous writing all of these things down, but do you know what? After I did, I had a newfound sense of confidence, a glow, a skip in my step that I didn't have before I sat down with my pen and paper. A breakup is not a failure, it’s a life lesson, a chapter in the never ending story that we are writing for ourselves.

I think the important thing to remember is that, however excruciating the loss, that we need to realize we're going to be ok. That, despite our previous beliefs, this person is not the right one for us and we can't change that. Sometimes, after time has passed, we may rekindlewith this person and try again, but we shouldn't count on that happening, instead we should take the time to focus on ourselves. We need to accept it and look at it as an opportunity for rediscovery and exploring options that were previously unavailable to us.

*Thanks: AH for the inspiration for this post; AK for helping me do all of the above right; HK for being good at your job


  1. Love this one....and so so true

  2. This has been sent to 3 friends in the last month, Alice I owe you some French Fancies x


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    Thanks again.

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