When my first serious boyfriend told me it was over, I was so surprised I began to pace. He’d coldly withdrawn from my touch all morning, but I’d falsely assumed he was just hungover. He and his roommates had thrown a party the night before. I distinctly remember I was late to it, because the way he sprinted across the yard to greet me like a long-lost Labrador is forever etched into my mind. That’s what memories do when you replay them over and over, looking for signs you might have missed: they fossilize.
The smell of beer wafted through his dilapidated college apartment and then my hair, a few minutes later, as I left in a sobbing hurry. One can only spend so long pacing, sighing and whimpering under the gaze of a stone-faced 20-year-old who just isn’t sure. When I realized he was really serious, I ran. And then I cried on the street like I’d never cried before.
A few days later, my mom and sister came down from San Francisco, a three-hour drive, to convince me there was life beyond my bed, that I didn’t need to drop out of school and that my life wasn’t actually over. I remember how comforting their presence felt as we walked and talked until our legs and throats were sore. I cried at lunch, on the street, in a Best Buy, to my boss. I was a disaster.
I journaled furiously through all of it, from the first cut all the way through to the healed wound: feelings I felt, realizations I had, advice I found particularly helpful or profound. By the end, I had something of a sappy breakup manifesto on my hands — one I ended up saving and sending around for years to help similarly heartbroken friends. That’s when I learned there is a certain unspoken community to heartbreak.
Although none of my consequent breakups hit me quite as hard — nothing stings as acutely as believing you’d lost the only person who would ever love you — each one showed me a new and special kind of pain, from disorienting regret to a slower-burning grief. The only way through any of it was time and absorbing the wisdom of that compassionate community, who showed me that heartbreak and love maintain a kind of symbiosis.
In a small effort to immortalize that unspoken community, I asked a bunch of people about the best breakup advice they’ve ever received. If you find yourself in that dark place now, let their answers below serve as a little bit of light. And if you have your own breakup advice to share, please add it in the comments. Let’s build a little manifesto of our own.
“If you don’t let yourself feel the pain, you won’t heal, or even worse: you will forget how to love.”
“I have a tendency to backslide. One time, post-third-breakup with a dude, a friend reminded me that breakups don’t happen for no reason — so she suggested I write down those reasons. Making a pragmatic list of why the breakup made sense helped so much.”
“Don’t feel like there’s something wrong with you because you’re not crying yourself to sleep at night. Sometimes so much of the heartbreak is happening while you’re still in the relationship and feeling alone.”
“My mom gives really excellent, specific and zen heartbreak advice for all sorts of different ailments, so much so that I wish I kept records of her quotes over the years. Because I don’t have them written down, and because this is more vague breakup territory, I will still credit her for introducing me to Peggy Lee, and Peggy Lee’s ‘Is That All There Is?’ specifically.
A refrain: ‘Then I fell in love, head over heels in love, with the most wonderful boy in the world / We would take long walks by the river or just sit for hours gazing into each other’s eyes / We were so very much in love / Then one day he went away and I thought I’d die, but I didn’t / and when I didn’t, I said to myself, “Is that all there is to love?”/ Is that all there is? Is that all there is? / If that’s all there is, my friends, then let’s keep dancing.’
You have to listen to the song to get the full effect. It’s kind of depressing, I guess (so are breakups) but it’s also a reminder that, even when you don’t feel like it will, life truly does move the fuck along!”
“This Dear Sugar column in its entirety has by FAR been the best advice I’ve ever received. It’s stuck with me across a multitude of relationships, serious and not: ‘Go, because you want to. Because wanting to leave is enough.'”
“When I went through my first bad breakup, my dad told me the story of his first relationship. He said, ‘When the bad times outnumber the happy times, it’s time to leave. While it may seem like everything right now, that’s your nostalgia talking. When you get your frog self out of the metaphorical frying pan, you see how life does go on, and how much space your relationship filled. That space can now be anything you choose.'”
“I am permanent, and everything else is temporary.”
“My friends was consoling me after a breakup about six months ago. We were sitting in McCarren Park and I told her how lonely I was feeling. She reminded me that people have been feeling this way since the beginning of time, and that so many people have expressed it through art — music, paintings, books — and to look to those for peace of mind. It helped me feel less alone. Then we drank two bottles of rosé.”
“Post-breakup is a time of grieving. Don’t sell that short. Allow yourself to mourn the loss of not only the person but your previous life with that person.”
“Staying with someone because you’re afraid of being without them is the wrong reason to be in a relationship. There’s so much more to you than when you’re giving half of yourself to someone else.”
“Why would you want to be with someone who doesn’t want to be with you?”
“If the relationship was a good one, knowing ‘it will be okay’ can be surprisingly unhelpful initially, because sometimes the idea of moving on seems sadder than wallowing. But there will come a time where that won’t feel true anymore, and you’ll remember the relationship fondly. This grief will change you, and that’s not something you can rush. The only way out is through. Heartbreak will initially feel like loss, but there is so much to gained from it. Breakups have preceded some of the most transformative eras of my life.”
“‘Either you break up or one of you dies. Those are really your only options.’ -My roommate when I was 25.”
“If you focus on yourself, everything else will fall into place.”
“Some women think they have to be really unhappy in order to exit a relationship, but sometimes simply being unsure is a good enough reason to go.”
“While processing my last breakup, when I was maybe 75% of the way through grieving, I stopped and reflected on why we broke up. It was enough time to not be overwhelmed by emotion, but not so much that I couldn’t remember the details. I asked myself: Why did we really break up? How did I contribute to that? Why did I engage in those behaviors? How can I grow from this? It honestly was a great opportunity for growth.”
“Happiness is inside of you, not in your ex.”
“Friend to me: ‘I’ve never been in love and don’t know what it feels like to be truly heartbroken, but you’re my friend and I hurt when you hurt. I’m coming over to offer love and hugs but know I will not know what to say. Let’s fumble through this! I’m bringing my heart to break alongside yours and a shit ton of Malbec.'”
“The best breakup advice that I’ve ever gotten was that it’s okay to be selfish sometimes. You have to do what’s best for your life and whatever is going to make you a better person.”
“You have to be sad until you’re not sad anymore. Everyone goes through things differently so don’t compare the speed of how you’re not getting over the relationship to how someone else got over their relationship.”
“When breaking up with a long-term partner, the best advice I got was to make it a clean cut — no communication of any kind after the breakup. While I felt a great and tragic loss, it also made the process of rebuilding after the relationship much easier because I didn’t have his direct presence in my life to muddle my perspective.”
“You were okay before him and you’ll be okay after him.”
“I found the most helpful advice I ever received was that it’s perfectly okay for two people to just not be the right fit for each other. That doesn’t make either of you wrong. That advice brought me forgiveness and self-acceptance I didn’t expect to discover while going through a breakup. It kind of took the pressure off of questions like: ‘What could I have done better?’ And it ended the agony of talking about how ‘terrible’ he was with my friends because I didn’t actually believe it and it didn’t make me feel any better.”
“It’s not your shit. Don’t let their shit be your shit.”
“My grandma reminded me when I was going through a recent breakup that, ‘There is enough hate in this world. Do not waste your time speaking an unkind word about it. Move on and speak kindly.’ Have I followed her advice perfectly? Heck no. But she’s completely right. It’s hard but talking ill of him hurts me too.”
“It’s okay to cry and it’s okay to feel sad now, but you should not forget the suffering you had while you were still in the relationship.”
“My friend told me over the summer: ‘Where you are and who you are is no mistake. No man will ever determine your self-worth nor who you will become.’ She helped me remember the good things in my life that I had been ignoring to nurse my heartache. It was an ‘everything happens for a reason’ sentiment that felt much more personal.”
“The best breakup advice I’ve ever received was to remember that I was a person before my relationship and I would be a person after my relationship ended! I found it really helped me put myself back together after I felt like my world had collapsed.”
“Dive into your post-breakup life with the same passion you had at the start of your relationship. You’ll be over it in no time.”
“My mother once told me after a particularly bad breakup that no relationship while you’re young should be hard. She said if it is, it isn’t right and you should end it. Because marriage and having kids and raising kids and saving money and managing money and buying a house and caring for your family, sick parents, pain-in-the-ass kids when they’re teenagers and being stupid are hard, but a young relationship shouldn’t be. It should be fun and easy and only make life better.”
“‘It will all be okay in the end, and if it’s not okay, it’s not the end.’ It’s hilariously cliched but it helped me rationalize that whatever eventually materialized was for the best!”
“The best advice that was given to me after a breakup was to not waste my time crying about someone who did not appreciate me, but rather to get excited to explore new relationships and adventures in life.”
Barbara Jean, 56
“‘You’re too young. You’ll have plenty more heartbreaks.’ Advice from a friend who’s a decade older.”
“Best advice I’ve ever received after a devastating first breakup at age 22: ‘Take him off the pedestal you have him on. If he was that perfect and loved you, he wouldn’t hurt you like that.’ It forever changed how I viewed the breakup and helped me get some much-needed closure.”
“My best friend told me, ‘It’s just going to suck until it doesn’t.'”
Collage by Louisiana Mei Gelpi. Photo by Leonard Mccombe/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images.