After a bad breakup, you may feel that you never want to trust another soul with your heart ever again. For some, the sense of loss or abandonment felt after a breakup is similar to the feelings experienced during bereavement. When you lose a mainstay that gives shape to your daily life, even if the relationship was rockier or less functional than ideal, you may feel painfully bereft.
Put the Pieces of the Broken Relationship Together in a New Way
One of the most productive ways of getting through a breakup is through the process of reflection and meaning-making. When we’re able to take an objective look at what happened in the relationship and what our role in its development and undoing had been, we are actually doing healing work.
Rather than focusing solely on the dissolution of the relationship, focusing on the events within the relationship and personal development that was driven by experiences within the relationship, you can explore the ways in which you functioned in the relationship and ways in which events offered lessons that added to your own development. Being able to take this stance suggests that you will be less likely to experience depression or other negative effects of the breakup down the road (Frost, Rubin, & Darcangelo, 2016). Not only that, if you take responsibility for the breakup, and do so with compassion for yourself, you are even more likely to avoid significant breakup adjustment down the road (Zhang & Chen, 2017). Own your share of the breakdown and you’ll more easily move forward in life.
Are you ready to move on? Are you ready to date again?
First, ask yourself a very basic question:
Do I feel that I’m ready to date again?
When friends try to persuade us to get back out there, we should agree because we feel ready to give relationships one more shot or maybe because we feel ready to take a gamble—not because of “peer pressure.”
Other questions you might want to ask yourself:
How does my body physically feel when I think of saying “yes” to a date with a particular new person?
If you’re nervous because you’re excited about going out with this new person, that can be a good sign—you’re imagining a new scenario, not dwelling on what was. Butterflies in the stomach suggest that you may be attracted to this person, but if the thought of going out with someone makes you feel repulsed or cold-all-over, it’s probably not time to date—or at least not the person you were considering seeing.
Can I spend time with a date and not feel the need to compare this person with my ex?
If all you ever think about is how the new potential partners you meet stack up against your ex, you are not going to be able to truly see a new person for who they truly are just yet. If your ex was a horrid person who treated you poorly, then it makes sense that you assess the character and demeanor of new potential dates against the “biohazard baseline” that your ex represented. But if you’re thinking, “this person’s not as good looking/smart/funny/hot/intelligent/etc. as my ex," then you’re keeping yourself stuck in the past and in a space where you probably still see yourself as “less than” your partner and maybe in a space where you don’t yet believe you deserve a happy ending with a quality partner.
Am I able to objectively look at my past relationship and take responsibility for the part I played in its demise?
If you’re still looking backward and are unable to see clearly how the prior relationship unraveled or blew up, you’re not in a good space to begin even the foundational work of building a potential new relationship. We need to be able to look objectively at who we are in relation to others as well as how we are in relationships with others.
Ask yourself about the reasons that you’re thinking of dating again:
Am I going out with this person because I actually like them and enjoy spending time with them or am I going out to make my ex jealous?
If making your ex jealous is your reason for dating, it’s not yet time for you to date. You’d be sending out the wrong impression to your dates, and actually, you’d be taking advantage of them if their only purpose was to be a tool you wield to incite jealousy in your ex.
Am I going out with someone just to fill the void that the breakup created?
If you’re trying to fill a void, you’ve probably not completed the “solo inner work” that needs to be accomplished so that you can see yourself as a whole, complete person without the need to be attached to another to complete you. That void we feel after a breakup is painful, but we need to learn how to fill it ourselves without trying to “insert partner B into identity ME.” Taking time to engage in solo activities that you used to enjoy or those you’ve always wanted to try are some ways to fill the void. Making more time for your friends is another way to fill the “time void,” but you still need to attend to the “identity void.”
Am I going out because I need validation from someone that I am still attractive or likable or sexy or desired?
If you’re dating just for validation from another, that’s a red flag that you still need to do some work on yourself. When we’ve been half of a couple, we might have lost sight of who we were “as a single.” Our sense of self may have been torn down by the relationship if it was a difficult one or by the breakup if it was not what we wanted. Until you’re able to self-validate your inner worth, it’s a mistake to date others just to receive external validation.
Human beings crave the comfort of relationships that bring them a sense of connection, belongingness, and support. It’s normal to want to be a half of a couple, but make sure that you’re forming a “couple” of which you truly want to be one half.
Frost, D. M., Rubin, J. D., & Darcangelo, N. (2016). Making meaning of significant events in past relationships. Journal of Social & Personal Relationships, 33(7), 938-960.
Zhang, J. W., & Chen, S. (2017). Self-compassion promotes positive adjustment for people who attribute responsibility of a romantic breakup to themselves. Self & Identity, 16(6), 732-759.