“This isn’t working for me anymore,” he says abruptly one night on the phone, and you’re stunned. Everything had been going great. You’d even been thinking about places to go on a summer vacation together, but unfortunately, he had other plans. And you did not see this coming.
Breakups are hard enough when you know things aren’t working out and sense that the end is looming, but they’re even more painful when you’re totally caught by surprise. What relationship was I in? you wonder, since it was obviously so different from the one your boyfriend was in. Questioning whether you were completely out of touch with reality, you search for red flags you may have missed, look for everything you could have done wrong, and long for answers.
But when a breakup comes on out-of-the-blue, it’s usually not because of anything you did wrong. Abrupt endings—that happen when things never seemed better, and without any discernible warning signs or discussions about his relationship concerns—usually have more to do with a guy’s emotional unavailability or fear of commitment.
This isn’t a time to berate yourself about all the things you wish you’d done differently, or chase him to get closure—or another chance. This is the time to let go of this relationship and prioritize taking care of yourself so you can recover from the devastation of a surprise attack, heal, and move on. Here’s how:
1. Don’t call him for answers. That last conversation didn’t go well. There’s so much more you want to know and all those things you forgot to say. So you’re tempted to call him, just one more time. The problem is, this follow-up conversation will never, ever be satisfying. You might feel good for about three seconds but as soon as you hang up the phone you’re going to think of something else you want to say, which will lead you right into an endless loop of just one more phone calls. The peace you imagine closure will bring is an elusive thing; most of the time, all you really need to know is that he doesn’t want to date you anymore, and the only thing that will truly bring you peace is time. Nothing he could say, barring, “Let’s get back together,” is actually going to make you feel better. So let yourself cry and vent to friends, but don’t pick up that phone. Ditto for text or email.
2. Maintain your dignity. Another danger of being in touch with him post-breakup is that you could be telling yourself you’re just doing it because you want closure, when deep down what you really want is another chance. If someone does not want to be with you, trying to convince them otherwise is a quick and painful road to losing your dignity. Promising you’ll change, trying to prove your worth, or flat-out asking (not to mention its close cousin, begging) him to give things another shot will take a tremendous toll on your self-esteem. Know that what you’re really worthy of is a man who wants to be with you and doesn’t need convincing, and walk away with your head held high.
3. Don’t try to run into him or be friends. The same impulse that makes you want to call him is going to nudge you to casually stroll by those places you know he’s likely to be, but resist. Running into him will keep reactivating sadness over the loss of your relationship. And if he says, “We can still be friends,” pass on that offer, and don’t suggest it yourself. Do you really want to be friends with a person who was so inconsiderate, uncommunicative, and hurtful? Are these qualities you look for in a friend? Even if you’re the one person in the world who can actually be friends with an ex who dumped you, that friendship is going to cease being fun really fast when he starts dating someone else, and your “friend” tells you all about his new love.
4. Delete, delete, delete. A great way to torture yourself after you’ve been dumped is to go back and reread all his old texts and emails and listen to his voicemails. Avoid this temptation by deleting them sooner rather than later. Sure, they feel like a security blanket—if you’re not dating anyone else yet, his messages remind you of a time when someone loved you. You might be afraid that if you delete them, you’ll have nothing left and will just be in this relationship-less void, thinking, What if no one ever writes me sweet, loving messages like he did again? But you still have to take a deep breath and click Delete. Rereading or listening to them could take you back to when everything was blissful between the two of you, causing you to idealize the relationship and go into fantasy and longing for him. Or it could dredge up, over and over and over again, what you’ve lost. Either way, it’s going to keep you stuck, in pain, and closed off to meeting someone new. If deleting seems impossible, ask a friend to sit with you while you do it to provide support, and reward yourself by doing something fun after the deed is done.
5. Take some time off dating. Being dumped, especially unexpectedly, is painful, and you can avoid feeling that pain by starting to date again right away. Lots of people say it—you can’t get over the last one until you meet the next one. But when you’re dating from this place of needing to get over someone else, there’s a desperation underneath everything you do. First of all, guys can sense this, but more importantly, it puts you at risk for being even more hurt. If you haven’t dealt with the underlying pain of your last relationship, every single slight from a new guy is going to feel disproportionately agonizing. Someone you just met online doesn’t ask you on a second date? Heartbreaking! A blind date stands you up? Devastating! Better to take some time off to nurse your wounds before heading back out there. And don’t just sit in your room with the shades drawn feeling sorry for yourself during this dating hiatus. Use it as a time to get back in touch with your life and the things you love to do. Go to concerts, enroll in a class, take up yoga, read that book you’ve been meaning to for the past year. Nurturing your relationship with yourself will build up the resilience you’ll need to dive back into the dating the pool from a place of confidence and hope instead of desperation and dread.
6. Keep the faith. After someone has hurt you in a way you didn’t even see coming, it’s natural to be skittish about relationships. Trusting that this relationship was going somewhere led you to feeling blindsided and betrayed when it ended out-of-the-blue. It’s hard to trust that another man won’t do exactly the same thing if you become vulnerable again, and it’s even harder to trust yourself when you’d thought things were going so well when they actually weren’t. But this is the most important piece of moving on after a breakup—believing that you will meet someone else who won’t hurt you like that, and letting yourself open up to and trust another person. There are no guarantees, and you might get hurt many more times before you meet the person you can trust. In the absence of guarantees, all you have to hold onto is faith, which sometimes may not feel like a lot. But it’s so much better than the alternative of letting one ex’s bad behavior rob you of your trust, close off your heart, and block the possibility of being blindsided—but this time, by love.