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Grab Your Coat, It’s Breakup Season

9 ways to handle a fall breakup.

mountainwoman55 / flickr
Source: mountainwoman55 / flickr

This is the time of year that Americans pack on a few pounds. But a quiet majority are losing weight — on average, an entire partner.

Fall is summer’s hangover. During summer we’re often busy with vacations, events, outings, and cruising through the long, action-packed days of our relationships. Any musings about whether or not we want to stay with someone are filed away for later appraisal. Come November, when some set the clocks back, a disproportionate number set their relationships back — to "over."

Sometimes all that holds a summer connection together is a Labor Day trip to Sea World. Enough distraction can make the most dysfunctional tryst last too long. Often a willing, warm body is better than the quest for a new one.

And for those longing for a summer wedding of their own — or at least an engagement — the end of summer brings the realization that it won’t happen for another calendar year. Therein buds the seeds of relational doubt.

“Of all my mistakes, you were the mistakiest.”

People take this time to end things because the idea of spending another holiday season unhappy is unbearable. According to social media status updates, the first seasonal breakup peak, coined the “Spring Clean,” goes down in March. But the biggest love purge falls about two weeks before the winter holidays.1 Fall is love’s laxative. At least grab a turkey leg on your way out.

Dumping someone over a holiday like Thanksgiving is harsh. And doing it over the December holidays makes you diabolical. But it yields classic tunes like “Blue Christmas” (Elvis), “Another Lonely Christmas” (Prince and the Revolution), “Last Christmas” (WHAM!), or the lesser known classic “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis” (Tom Waits). The list of holiday breakup songs is long, each marinated in tears and mulled wine.

Breakups suck. So does starting a new year with someone best relegated to the annals of boyfriend/girlfriend history. And if you don’t do it by the New Year, you’ll be a Valentine’s Day dumper, which results in unsavory karma. So if you’re not willing to stick it out through the candy hearts and edible undies, then you’ve got to detach in early fall. Many of us (i.e., men) are too oblivious to take note of any relationship discontent. We’re busy waxing our snowboards and putting on a high-caloric winter coat.

“… We interrupt this relationship to bring you football and snowmobiling season.”

I’d love to convey all the scientific attributes to the fall peak in breakups, but love doesn’t make sense. Neither did the Pilgrims. Nonetheless, the coming season is a check-in marker: Do I want to spend the New Year with this person? The Holidays can be quite stressful on romantic relationships due to time constraints, high expectations, financial strain, and how to politely decline turkey bacon or fruitcake. Celebrating meaningfully is hard to do with someone you’re ready to break up with, or who’s ready to break up with you. As devastating as the timing and blow, it’s better to know.

Dating apps typically report January as the biggest spike for new members. And the first Sunday in January (aka, “Dating Sunday”) is the most active day of the year, driven by a mix of New Year’s resolutions, loneliness, and the catharsis of swiping right.

If things must end now, at least you’ll have a couple of months to grieve before reinventing yourself, full of verve, in the New Year. There are other upsides to a fall breakup. There’s a good chance you'll have family and friends on whom you can lean over the Holidays. Misery loves company and family.

And though you may be asking yourself with whom you’ll play Naughty Santa or kiss at midnight on New Year's Eve, remember that you probably haven't always been part of a love duo during the Holidays. You still reveled in merriment, and the cockles of your heart were independently warmed. But there are tactics to get you back there.

How to Keep Your Post-Breakup Holiday Swagger

  1. Be Down to Forgive (the other "DTF"). Forgiveness is simply giving up the hope for a different past. They may not deserve your forgiveness, but you deserve peace. Forgiveness takes only one person: you.
  2. Change small behaviors to change your moods. If you change small post-breakup behaviors, it will change your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. This is paramount in helping you to feel less anxious, worried, depressed, or experiencing an intolerance of uncertainty following a split.
  3. Volunteer. It’s the perfect time to start a giving tradition. And you might meet a hottie at the warming center with a heart as big as yours.
  4. Make movement a priority. Set aside the Halloween candy, candied yams, and powdered rum balls, and hit the gym or trails. Consider a 5k or 10k Turkey Trot or a snowshoeing trip.
  5. Fill your social calendar. Not with binge-drinking events like Oktoberfest or SantaCon, but substantial time with people who matter. Lean hard into social endeavors.
  6. Do the opposite of what anxiety or breakup depression is driving you to do, like texting your ex. Observe your emotions, rather than acting on them, to prevent regretful actions. Opposite action helps regulate emotions by intentionally going against what the emotion is driving you to do.2 And textual healing is not a thing.
  7. Closure is optional. In the throes of pain, the shortest route to ending heartache is seemingly with the source. But it's not. It's within you, not your defector.
  8. Don’t date just to avoid being alone. This is a brief distractor that turns into sound-boarding your woes onto someone else. Your sole focus is limiting carnage to yourself or some unwary prey from Tinder or Bumble.
  9. Seek outside professional help if your emotions are starting to interfere with daily life functioning, including work or sleep. There’s no shame in the support game.


McCandless D. (2014). Knowledge is Beautiful. William Collins.

Linehan, M. M. (2014b). DBT Skills Training Manual, Second Edition (Second Edition, Available separately: DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets, Second ed.). The Guilford Press.

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