Tips for Navigating Your First Big Breakup

Anyone can tell you that breakups suck. We’ve all seen them played out a million times in entertainment and real life, but when you actually go through one, you might still feel unprepared to deal with the wave of emotions that comes from no longer having a significant other. Whether you were the one ending things or you were on the receiving side, it’s hard to pretend like everything is normal after a big piece of your life is no longer present. Even if you’ve been in failed relationships before, there can be something uniquely difficult about trying to navigate your life after a big breakup, especially if it was messy or unexpected. Everyone has their own methods of coping, but here are a few tips for getting yourself back on track.

There is no “right” way to feel after a breakup.

This especially applies to the period right after your breakup. You may be feeling a lot of emotions: regret, relief, anger, and sadness, just to name a few. Maybe you haven’t had the sadness kick in, and it’s okay if that stereotypical “grief” doesn’t come. Only you know what your relationship was like, so don’t let someone else tell you you’re evil for not crying over it. On the other hand, it’s totally normal if the grieving period hits you later on. Also, no one is going to judge you for crying it out. It’ll feel much better than trying to hold everything in.

Keep a distance from your ex…

Even if you’ve decided to stay friends after the breakup, you should take some time for yourself. Having no contact with your ex will make it much easier to sort through your emotions. Continuing to regularly talk to them may make you want to get back together, even when you know deep down that you’re better apart from each other. This is the time to reflect on the relationship, using it to figure out what went wrong, what was right, and what you’ll be looking for if you decide to start dating again.

… But don’t keep a distance from your friends.

Friends (and family, if applicable) are there to help you through this bad time. They’ll be your shoulders to cry on, sources of distraction, and resources for advice. Plus, you might’ve been accidentally neglecting them if you were too caught up in your old relationship. Reconnecting with them will make you feel much less alone and remind you that you have a great group of people who care about you.

Be careful with the media you consume.

It can feel good to let yourself wallow in your sadness while playing some breakup tunes, but that’s not the best habit to fall into. Let yourself be sad, but don’t exacerbate it by constantly engaging in activities that will make you even sadder. Try not to keep bringing up painful memories or emotions—reflecting on the past is helpful, dwelling on it is not.

Channel your energy into something productive.

Writing is a great way to get your emotions out and start working through them. Pick up a journal or go back to that old fiction idea. Putting things on paper will feel much better than keeping it all bottled up. If writing’s not your thing, focus your emotions on your music, art, or whatever your talent is. Even simply going on a run or working out in general will help burn off some steam.

Put the reminders of your relationship away, but don’t get rid of them.

I’m a fan of the Lorelai Gilmore method of putting all the mementos from your first big relationship in a box and storing it away. Things may feel devastating now and you may be tempted to toss anything that reminds you of your ex, but someday, it’ll be interesting to take a trip down memory lane. Your first serious relationship teaches you a whole lot of life lessons, and down the line, you may want to think back on what you’ve learned from your first breakup.

Remember that even if it doesn’t seem like it right now, you will be able to move on from this bad breakup and be happy again. Above all, take care of yourself during this transitional stage in your life, and know that you will get better.