Dealing with a breakup is scary and confusing. When we’re heartbroken, we tend to make some not-so-great decisions: hooking up with strangers, blaming ourselves or even seeking revenge. The good news is that we can learn from these mistakes! And even though breakups are never easy, they can be more or less painful depending on how we handle them.
We talked to dating experts and students alike about some common post-breakup mistakes to help you avoid them in the future.
1. Trying to stay in contact with your ex
Mark Sharp, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at The Aiki Relationship Institute, warns that “even if there is potential for a friendship after a breakup, there almost invariably needs to be a period of time” before you two can be friends.
“I kept in too much contact with my ex, since our constant communication was an addiction, and therefore, it took me longer to let him go,” says Heather, a junior at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Although it’s tempting to keep texting your ex just to check in or for a casual conversation, it will only make it harder for both of you to move on. “There are still feelings of connection that lead at best to confusion, and at worst, to significant hurt and conflict,” Dr. Sharp says. You could be delaying the pain when you should actually try to accept and deal with it directly. Bottom line: deal with your own grief first before considering being friends with your ex.
That being said, perhaps you and your ex are part of the same friend circle, you have class with him or her or you just run into him or her a lot. In this case, “you can simply be polite and smile when you see them,” says Carole Lieberman, M.D., psychiatrist and author. However, you should try to avoid your ex as much as possible until you’re ready to move on.
Sometimes you’re so attached to a relationship that you want to keep more than just the reassurance of staying in touch; you want your ex back. According to Dr. Lieberman, “The most common mistake people make after a breakup is chasing after the person to try to get them back, from making promises to change into their dream partner to outright crying and begging.” This type of desperate behavior could actually backfire, convincing your ex that they were right to break up with you in the first place.
Mind-set issues at play here “include an over-attachment to the relationship, a belief that love is supposed to last a lifetime or a belief that your ex ‘belongs’ to you,” says Kim Olver, a relationship coach. If this sounds familiar to you, it’s time for you to move on.
If you do decide you want to win your ex back, the only way is in fact to show them that you have moved on to bigger and better things. Dr. Lieberman advises: “Use the breakup as a wake-up call to change things about yourself that you don’t like” and go from there. If they want you back, good. If not, you’re better off without them.
2. Wallowing in self-pity for too long
Everyone knows that the remedy for a broken heart is wailing your heart out to Adele, watching The Notebook for the umpteenth time and demolishing a giant container of cookie dough ice cream, right? Not if you do it for so long that it starts to take a toll on your life.
When UCLA sophomore Caroline’s high school boyfriend left her to go to college, she was devastated. “All I remember is being super sad and not wanting to go out and do anything,” she says. “I felt like my friends didn’t realize how upset I was, so I distanced myself from them and just stayed at home all the time.” It wasn’t until six months later that her friend convinced her to go out and have fun.
Dr. Lieberman suggests that if you’re still stuck in the rocky-road, can’t-get-out-of-bed, crying stage after a month or so, you should consider going to therapy to help you get over your heartbreak.
Looking back, Caroline feels like she wasted her time feeling sorry for herself, when her relationship with her ex hadn’t even been that great. If you find yourself in this situation, remember that, according to Olver, “For as much pain as you are experiencing, there is an equal amount of positivity.” Look for the lesson or the opportunity that this difficult situation brings, because “it doesn’t remove the pain, but it will balance it out so you can get through it with grace and your self-esteem intact.”
3. Doing anything else in excess
“A guy broke up with and I ran home to my room in boarding school, got completely naked and ate a whole pint of Ben & Jerry’s under my covers,” says Gabrielle, a sophomore at Smith College. “I just sat in the dark under my duvet, crying, holding his sweater. For some reason, I needed to be naked, in the dark and eating.”
Dr. Sharp warns against anything done to dull the pain that you will regret later. This could take the form of “drinking or eating too much, shopping unnecessarily, etc.” Instead, let yourself heal for a bit and then rebuild a healthy lifestyle. Don’t let your schoolwork or your social life suffer!
You might also behave recklessly if you feel like you missed out on the full college experience by being in a relationship. After Caroline and her next boyfriend of three years broke up over Christmas, she came back to school wanting to hook up with everyone. Although she knows now that that wasn’t the best frame of mind for her, she says “it was exciting to be single and free to talk to whomever.” Now, Caroline feels like she is finally in a better place. “I need to just figure out my life and learn to not need a guy to be happy and to know that I don’t have to hook up with everyone and anyone,” she says.
Strive to find the right balance between making the most of your college years and not giving into rash behavior you’ll regret later. Be happy with who you are, and the right person will come along for sure.
4. Jumping into a rebound relationship
We know that rebound sex is not the way to fix a broken heart — but what about rebound relationships? Dr. Sharp has seen many students “rushing into a new relationship too quickly, or jumping back into dating or a casual relationship just so they don’t feel alone and uncomfortable.” It’s perfectly natural to miss your ex and the affection they gave you, but replacing them ASAP is not the solution. Your new fling is most likely not right for you, and someone will end up getting hurt. Think about your new SO’s feelings—would you want your new SO to still have feelings for someone else?
Worse yet, if the breakup hurt your self-esteem, you could be “getting into a rebound relationship with a dork who you really look down on, because you think he won’t leave you,” Dr. Lieberman says. This is unfair on him or her and not the solution for you—just a terrible idea all around.
5. Giving up on relationships altogether
So you thought you and your ex would be together forever—until you two broke up. What are you supposed to do now? Olver cautions students against “the belief that no one will ever love you again, or you will never love anyone again.” This is simply not true; there’s not just one person in the world for you, and you’ll realize it soon enough.
“When I went through a tough breakup, I took it out on myself,” says Laura, a sophomore at Boston University. “I convinced myself I was an ugly person inside and out, which (in the midst of high school) destroyed my self-esteem, and therefore, my self-respect. It took me time to heal and learn to appreciate myself.”
When a relationship doesn’t work out, it can really damage your sense of self-worth. Olver explains that “we often hinge our self-esteem on our relationships: if my guy kicks me to the curb, it must mean there’s something wrong with me, right?” No! It just means they weren’t getting what they were looking for out of the relationship. And if you’re not right for each other, you’re better off parting ways.
“Remember, you are perfectly perfect all by yourself,” Olver says. “You are a wonderful woman in your own right. You do not need someone to love you.”
6. Bad-mouthing your ex
Another negative way of coping with a breakup is to bad-mouth your ex in an attempt to hurt them like they have hurt you. But other times, bad-mouthing your ex is a way of justifying why you broke up with him or her.
When Jen, a sophomore at UCLA, left her boyfriend, she was angry at herself for not seeing “why I was insane for dating him and why he was the worst match for me, ever.” So she spent a couple of days recalling all of his faults in her mind. Although this did help distract her from her feelings, it didn’t make her feel better about herself. Be the bigger person and focus on yourself and what you want, as opposed to everything that’s wrong with your ex.
The best way to cope is always to love yourself first and allow relationships to flow in and out of your life. Some will last a lifetime, others won’t, and that’s perfectly okay. If you stay strong and confident, you’ll soon be ready for the next person who comes your way!