DWP: The Definitive Guide to Heartbreak
This is a special Dear Worrier Princess dedicated to first breakups and experiences with heartbreak. I was inspired by the following queeries, which sailed into my mailbox within minutes of each other.
Queery #1: My first girlfriend suddenly broke up with me. Having a hard time accepting this and accepting that it's really over-- I think because it's apparently about outside circumstances. this breakup felt super out of nowhere and we have not even talked about it at all so I'm left super lost and depressed. Basically, how can I get a grip and move on? She was the first person I really dynamically loved. When is the right time to start looking? And, how can I believe that I personally will find love again? I'm super skeptical-- both because I'm fat/poc in a super white school & because I really tend not to care romantically/clique with most ppl (meaning no real sexual attraction). Feeling lost, please help!
Queery #2: Back in August, I had an almost two year relationship end unexpectedly (for me). It was my first serious relationship, and it’s end caused a lot of pain for me. Combined with moving to a new city for college, and a family history of mental health trouble, it pushed me into a bit of a depressive tailspin. Recently, I was doing better (we love therapy!), but also writing and reflecting a lot about our relationship. Specifically, I was writing this long ass essay about love and feeling etc etc. Sillily, I decided to send my ex a letter as part of this writing process. I asked her if she’d be okay with me sending it before writing it, she said yes, it was all very good, responsible communication-y. Except, I just got her response, and I’m back into a hole I thought I was out of! She was very kind in writing it, but described her post-breakup state as being relieved, sans reflection, and mostly okay. I’m not really sure how to process this! I felt and feel SO much, and feel doubt on the validity of my own feelings, given her lack of them. How do I avoid going further down a spiral? How do I not feel silly and pathetic for being pretty dang emotional?
Let me start by affirming that your first serious breakup is a singular kind of hell. I was destroyed when my first girlfriend broke up with me. I almost left school for a year, just so I wouldn’t have to see her walking around campus with her new girlfriend. The only thing that stopped me was meeting with my dean and learning that leaving would mean forfeiting my financial aid. It was a dark time! I felt my heart physically rip. I remember lying on my extra-long twin bed and watching rain hit the window pane. I was like, so this is what all those songs and poems are about. I felt like I’d joined a special club for people who had loved and lost. In the decade or so since, I’ve weathered dozens of breakups. I’ve felt high levels of disappointment, rejection, and anger. I’ve cried on city busses in Portland, Philadelphia, and Brooklyn. Still, I will never be as unmoored or devastated than I was after my first breakup. Here are some reasons why:
When you’re in love for the first time, everything is THE MOST. Your love is the most profound. The sex you’re having is the BEST. No relationship will ever compare. Not to be a cynical dyke who has walked this earth for 100 years, but these feelings will pass. They will dissipate like dust in the wind and you will be free. You will love and date again and you’ll be a wiser, more grounded partner because you’ve done it all before.
Breakups can feel like an avalanche of rejection, criticism, and disappointment. The end of a relationship can also amplify trauma, internalized homophobia, body dysmorphia, and other demons that make us feel alone and undeserving of love. It’s easy to lose yourself in the negativity, especially when you’re still young and building your sense-of-self. I, for instance, used to worry that my exes were shittalking me or sharing all my secrets. The thought of being misrepresented or judged gave me acute anxiety. Now that I’m older and have a clearer sense of who I am, I remind myself that I can’t control what anyone says or choses to believe about me. I don’t allow my brain to “go there.” In a related and welcome development, I find that my breakups are less and less adversarial the older I get.
Virginity is NOT real. It’s a deeply harmful social construct. Still, having sex for the first time is an intense and emotional experience for many people (not everyone). Sex can change the way you spend time with your partner and express affection. It can put you in touch with your body in new ways. When you’re new to the rodeo, it can be difficult to know what a positive sexual experience looks and feels like. Are you okay with casual hook-ups, or are you someone who only has sex in a relationship? Can you have sex without catching feelings? Rebounding: is it right for you? These are just a few of the questions a big breakup will force you to confront.
I used to lose myself in relationships. I posted on first girlfriend’s Facebook constantly because I wanted everyone to witness our love. I wanted to move in together and merge lives ASAP. I’d felt so ugly and isolated as a closeted high schooler, I was drunk on acceptance. I’d never felt wanted or beautiful before. Now I love a slow burn. I want my romantic relationships to feel like friendships. I appreciate the times when I’m single for the clarity they bring. I no longer believe, as I once did, that a relationship will solve all my problems and validate me as a person. I feel like my life is brighter with a girlfriend, but only when the relationship is healthy and reciprocal. I’m motivated to get my browns done, wash my sheets, and cook dinner—things that I should be doing for myself, except I’m only human and motivated by sex.
When you’re reeling from a breakup, it’s tempting to compare yourself to your ex. Do they miss you as much as you miss them? Are they dating someone new…already? This kind of thinking will land you in a world of pain. It’s impossible to know because everyone responds differently to breakups. Some people are effusive and open about their struggles, while others put on a brave face. Some people can afford vacations and expensive self-care, or have supportive families-of-origin. It’s complicated! Instead of trying to gauge the impossible, be kind to yourself 24/7. Dance with your friends, clean your damn room, get a new haircut, adopt a pet. Do literally anything besides sitting around and wondering if your ex still thinks about you. For tips on emotionally disengaging and staying off your ex’s Instagram, check out this vintage Dear Worrier Princess column.
TL:DR you’re hurting now because you’re evolving. Maybe it seems like there’s only one fish in the sea, but you’re already sprouting legs and crawling ashore. You just don’t know it yet.
dear worrier princess answers your qs about love and strife in relationships in this complex and modern queer world.
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All illustrations for this column are done by Sid Champagne. Sid is a freelance illustrator based in Baltimore by way of the Gulf Coast. You can find them on Twitter @sid_champagne, or Instagram (more cat pics) @sidchampagne