Q&A: Jamie Beckman, Author Of “The Frisky 30-Day Breakup Guide”

Last July, The Frisky ran a 30-day guide to getting over a breakup, penned by writer Jamie Beckman. The calendar was such a hit that a publishing company approached us about expanding the idea into a book, which we immediately put into Beckman’s trusty hands. Now, nearly a year later, we’re celebrating the upcoming release of The Frisky 30-Day Breakup Guide by re-posting the original tips (which have been expanded upon in the book) and having a newly single writer test drive the book’s advice. So what’s the story behind Beckman’s brainchild? It should come as no surprise that bouncing back from her own breakup inspired her to offer advice to other women going through similar heartbreak. After the jump, Beckman tells us what she learned from her breakup, how a recipe for key lime pie helped dry her tears, and what separates The Frisky 30-Day Breakup Guide from other self-help mumbo jumbo. What inspired you to write the breakup guide — the initial calendar — for The Frisky in the first place?

My most recent breakup was with a long-term boyfriend I seriously considered marrying. Suddenly I was single for the first time in three and a half years, and I had no idea how to begin to deal with that. I made a lot of mistakes initially, but eventually I found that I needed to revamp the way I approached life, from the most basic things on up, starting with something as simple as grocery shopping for myself and myself alone, which ended up being Day 6 of the book. I’ve gone through other breakups too — some short-term and one longer than my last breakup — and it’s never easy, whether you’ve been dating someone for two months or half a decade. I wanted to give women a game plan — a rope to grab onto when you can’t see your way out. Because I sure could have used one when I was in those emergency situations.

Did much of what appeared in the calendar and now the book help you bounce back from your breakup?

Absolutely. One example: Day 18 encourages you to cook something for yourself. After my last breakup, I remember that I made a key lime pie from scratch. It’s not an easy thing, reaming all of those limes, and I am no Julia Child, but the process was consuming and therapeutic — not to mention ultimately delicious. I was so proud of it that I took a picture of it with my cell phone. It was very much one of those “Hey, look at what I can do!” moments — even if it was just one little pie with a delectable graham-cracker crust. OK, now I’m getting hungry.

What did you learn about yourself during your breakup?

There is so much reshuffling that goes on after you breakup with someone. It’s time to re-sort your priorities, your needs, your routine. This is something incredibly basic, but I learned that I love going to movies by myself (Day 24). My ex hated going to movies — he wasn’t interested in actors or film history, and he didn’t like sitting in the movie seats because he said they were uncomfortable. But I love movies, classic and brand-new, and after we broke up, I went to see “The Simpsons Movie” in the theater by myself, and during the movie I laughed loudly with abandon among all of my fellow nerds, and it was pure bliss. I had missed new films so much.

What helped you get over your breakup the most?

I’m going to have to say that it was spending time with my lady friends. I’ll never forget that right after my breakup, one of my best college girlfriends encouraged me to take the Greyhound bus down to Baltimore to stay with her and go to a party she was throwing at her house. The last thing you want to do after a breakup is drag yourself out of bed and get on a bus (or train, or plane — planning a trip is Day 5), but I did it! I was self-conscious and a little nervous at the party, even in the fun, bright dress I brought along for the occasion, but being around my friends and meeting new people — even a few cute guys — helped soothe my soul, if only for a night.

Do you think your current relationships are different as a result of going through a really s**tty breakup? How so?

Oh, heck yes! That unlimited alone time that I got to spend with myself opened my eyes to what I was unwilling to compromise on as an individual, and I had an even better idea of the kind of partner I wanted in life. For me, I realized that I require someone who is unfailingly supportive of my career and, in turn, has a strong work ethic himself. I wouldn’t have realized that if I hadn’t gone through a breakup with someone who didn’t “get” me. I realized that a lot of the hurt that I carried around from that past relationship was a result of my ex not understanding why I didn’t have lots of leisure time for myriad hobbies … even though I worked 60-plus-hour weeks. Now, my incredibly encouraging and driven current boyfriend and I occasionally spend entire evenings in different rooms on our respective laptops if we have a lot of work to do. I know that that’s some people’s worst relationship nightmare, but, for me, it’s the sweet frequency of striving for more. Together.

Were there any particular books/music/movies that helped while you were going through your breakup?

This is going to sound crazy, but the song “Big Country” by the band Big Country helped me immensely. I downloaded it with a batch of other ‘80s classics, and after listening to it a few times, I realized how encouraging the lyrics are, almost as though they were written especially for someone going through a breakup. My favorite line: “I’m not expecting to grow flowers in the desert, but I can live and breathe and see the sun in wintertime.” Even the simple command “Stay alive” in the chorus is beautiful. It’s impossible not to feel a little bit better after hearing those words.

As far as movies go, what kept me sane and grounded and busy during those first few weekends alone was the “Up” series, a British documentary that follows the lives of 14 children from different class backgrounds from age 7 until the present. The series began in 1964, and a new installment is shot every seven years (“7 Up,” “14 Up,” “21 Up,” etc.), so there are seven DVDs available now, and a new one is being filmed next year. The experiment with those same people is still going on! Aside from being sociologically fascinating, the series gives real perspective to what life is — a long process with ebb and flow, rather than something that happens to you in a day — which can be very helpful when you’re trying to work through a breakup. Not to mention that you’ll have a new DVD to look forward to every few days.

How is “The Frisky 30-Day Breakup Guide” different from other self-help relationship books out there?

This book is all about action, not psychobabble, and it’s positive reinforcement rather than a big ol’ heap of negativity, like some self-help books can be. The last thing in the world you want to hear when you’re going through a painful breakup is what you should have done differently. Forget about the past! Each day of this book contains a tip or a recipe or an exercise that you can follow now to remember how awesome you are and how much you’re capable of. Think of it as your game plan or playbook — a journey that you can go on to distract you from feeling sad. Of course you’re going to cry and feel low, but this is a way to temporarily quell your suffering and channel that energy into something positive for yourself. Another fun fact about the book: all of the experts and celebrities that I interviewed are women. I think women understand what other women go through during a breakup better than men can. You can quote me on that.

Done! What are your three favorite bits of advice in the book?

This is so tough, as there are so many good tips, but my favorite, hands down, is the first of five tips from actress Audrina Patridge (of MTV’s “The Hills”): “Buy your own damn flowers and revel in their smell!” I absolutely did that after one breakup I went through — classic white roses were my go-to deli purchase.

My second favorite is from a real woman I interviewed: She recommended changing a guy’s name in your cell phone to “Do Not Call” or “Insecure” to avoid answering his text or dialing him up. That’s just so darn useful.

Third? I was starstruck when Penelope Spheeris, director of the awesome movie “Wayne’s World,” shared with me the top three movies with empowered female heroines that inspire her. All are perfect for watching post-split. Her first pick was “Alien,” starring Sigourney Weaver. I dare you to view yourself, or women in general, for that matter, as weak after watching that movie.

What do you think are the biggest mistakes people make during a breakup that stand in the way of moving on?

Trying to get the guy back is number one. There’s a reason that it didn’t work out, especially if he was the one who dumped you. If someone tells you they don’t want you, under no circumstances should you want to be with that person. He doesn’t deserve you. Now you’re free to find someone who does … and you will.

What does your current boyfriend think of the fact that you wrote a book inspired by your last breakup? Is he scared of what book you might write if you two ever split? Knock on wood that doesn’t happen, of course!

Ha! Let’s hope not! I am lucky enough to have a boyfriend who is unconditionally supportive and understands that what I wrote came from a real, heartfelt place. He is thrilled that something I’ve written is garnering this kind of attention. He’s also probably the least jealous person I’ve ever met, which is nice. Is he scared of what I might write if we break up? I’m going to say … probably not. One of the things I love about him is how reasonable, laid-back, and confident he is. But maybe the fact that I’m a writer makes him less likely to misbehave — he might have to read about himself one day!

What has it been like writing about your personal life in such a public forum?

I am very skittish about putting myself and my mistakes out there for public consumption. You never know who’s reading it, after all, and you never know what judgment people will pass when they hear about your private relationships. I finally told myself that what I am trying to do is help other women. If I get an inbox full of hate mail but helped one woman through a tough time in her life? Well, I’ll consider that a fair trade.

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