The Best Break-Up Advice You’ll Ever Get

A few months back, an Autostraddle reader asked me on formspring for advice dealing with a breakup — my girlfriend of 2 1/2 years just broke up with me because she doesnt think she’s gay. we live together. i feel completely empty, and like i’m actually going to die because i can’t eat. i mean i have a lot of emotional problems already, but is it normal? — and I answered it, mostly by transcribing a letter from my friend Krista. She’d written it to me in the summer of 2003 when we were 22 and a boy had just broken my heart and I couldn’t eat, or think really, or do anything besides play computer games, do drugs, run, go to work, drink, and fight with him.

After I posted the answer on formspring I got a surprisingly significant amount of comments/emails about this letter and its supreme wisdom. Many suggested I share this wisdom with the world here on Autostraddle dot com.

So here we are, with this email that Krista wrote me during my Summer of Extreme Discontent which I still keep around because she was right and it was good.

This is part of it:

Even though sometimes the world seems about six sizes too small for our pain, the amazing shit is that no matter how deep purple the bruise is, no matter how dark and overwhelming and miserable and worthless it all seems the world will get a fraction of an inch bigger every day.

Really, every fucking day.

And you won’t notice it for a long time until suddenly, one day, it’s only five times too small for your pain and then four and then the world will just keep getting larger and larger in comparison to your shattered heart and eventually it will be able to hold it and then it will outgrow it.

And your pain will be just a speck in your world.

It is supposed to feel like the end of the world right now. That, my beautiful dearest Ris, is how you know that it was worth it. That is why it was one of the relationships that shook your core and after which you will never be the same. That is how you know that you are growing up and are experiencing shit rather than living safely in risk-free choices….

The world is supposed to feel as though it is ending and you are supposed to know only in the most dormant recesses of the backmost corner of your soul that it will not be like this forever.

You are supposed to feel acutely and lucidly that everything is over that your purpose for life is worthless and that not even cheesy pasta and molly ringwald movies are going to make you smile, and you are supposed to know opaquely and elusively and abstractly that everything is not over and that your purpose in life is so much huger than you can ever imagine and is still saturated with value and that you will eat pesto and read Stephen Dunn and live in Manhattan and have stacks of waffles at corner diners with girlfriends and spend inordinate amounts of money on bath products and sunbathe on the roof reading trashy novels and you will will will will will will will love again.

I did not think that I was going to be able to ever breathe without shaking again after J broke up with me, let alone successfully love and fuck again.

That is what you are supposed to think.

I cried hysterically for months.

I wept so much that I had stewardesses on planes ask me if I needed oxygen, I had waitresses refuse to serve me, I had strangers approach me with offers of help.

Then I stopped.

Then I started again and stopped again and started again and then stopped for good…

… I promise you will survive, and with more grace than you can now imagine and that you will have more grit and vision because of it.

Moral: Sometimes someone can crack open something that feels very safe and make you unreasonably vulnerable: you will live to tell the story of this shock.

That was nearly seven years ago. Krista got married last year and I went on to heal my little baby heart and have other relationships, and when I started dating my first girlfriend in 2007, the boy who broke my heart in 2003  wrote me and asked me who are you now, who is this person i see on the internet, what happened to you, you’ve changed so much, i miss your face and how we were, and I thought, you know what, you’re right. I have changed. I’m not the girl with the half-broken heart anymore. I’m really just not that girl anymore.

So, my dear brokenhearted girls who often email/formspring the editors of this website for advice on how to cope with your compromised heart — you will live to tell the story of this shock.

It’s worth adding that only about a year earlier, I’d been the one breaking someone’s heart and I asked Krista for advice then, too, and she was right then, too. Here’s a little bit of that, for the finale:

“We are trained in this Republican sappy fuck of a society peppered with Sandra Bullock movies that somehow his haircut and not liking the things you like are superficial and all that matters is that you love each other. THIS IS NOT TRUE. Loving someone and making a life with them are separate spheres, they have nothing to do with each other. When you find someone where there is both, that’s when you win. But they’re not contingent qualities.

You have to surround yourself with life that brings out what you like about yourself, not what’s easy. It’s impossible to do sometimes, but it’s something to strive for.”



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Riese is the 33-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York City, and now lives in The Bay Area. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are!

Riese has written 1784 articles for us.

78 Comments

  1. Thumb up 8

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    favorite part: “Then I started again and stopped again and started again and then stopped for good…”

    the aftershocks of a breakup are what are most unnerving, i’ve found. you think you’re over it, you breathe again, you find something/someone/everything/everyone bearable again…and then you cry – could be 10 days after, could be 10 months after – and you feel as if you’ve failed your healing heart because you’re shaking and pulling at the sheets again. but you quickly learn it’s a process of start & stop, start & stop…but you do stop, eventually, for good.

    and it’s such a comfort to read this and know that it’s not just a me thing, but an everyone thing. kinda knocks you on your ass, in a good way.

  2. Thumb up 1

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    absolutely beautiful. i think i might print this, fold it in four and carry it around with me until the edges are yellow and torn, just in case i need to re-read one day. i hope not too soon, or maybe never.

  3. Thumb up 2

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    Oh God I needed this too. My first girlfriend broke up w/me 6 months ago and most of the time I’m okay…had my couple little rebound flings, etc, but once in a while I sit in bed and I’m like “I WILL NEVER LOVE AGAIN EVER EVER.”

  4. Thumb up 4

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    I cried. Again.

    It’s been 5 months today (oh God why am I counting!?) since my first girl breakup. I know I’ll love again, but I’ve never experienced such hurt before.

    This has helped tremendously. I wish my friends were eloquent, dammit.

  5. Thumb up 1

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    Thank you so much for this… I’ve spent the last several months like this- not breaking up with a girlfriend, but breaking off ties with my best friend/the first girl I’ve ever loved because I cannot deal with all the scary shit she wants me to keep secret. It was just like your friend Krista wrote- with plenty of rebounds… But, the feeling of freedom you get after all that pain, after you move on, is unbelievable. Today, I’m planning to tell her father everything in hope that he can help her better than I can. I’m terrified. But I can’t just let things go on the way they are, and I’d rather lose her friendship than her.

  6. Thumb up 1

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    Thank you for this, so much. Last night, my heart was ransacked and my gut trashed by someone I should have let go of completely months ago for what is hopefully the last new time. It was my first relationship after years, the first person I slept with after some PTSD-inducing living nightmare of an experience. Whee, #sobstraddle.

  7. Thumb up 2

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    I literally just came on here to try to stop crying because I think, I am not sure, but I think my girlfriend just starting phase one of some kind of break up. None of my friends are answering their phones and I am considering calling my mom. But this helped. Even just remembering that everyone goes through this, and feels this way. Thank you.

  8. Thumb up 1

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    Thank you for postig this. I’m ~3 weeks out of the best relationship of my life so far, and this is the best advice I’ve gotten. Thank you.

    • Thumb up 1

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      Remember: Every relationship is going to feel like the best relationship of your life, but turn out not to be, until one, just one, truly is.

      I know, I’m paraphrasing Dan Savage. I’m going through this too, and I find thinking about the above statement helps, in certain moods.

  9. Thumb up 3

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    “Loving someone and making a life with them are separate spheres, they have nothing to do with each other. When you find someone where there is both, that’s when you win. But they’re not contingent qualities.”

    OMG yes. My first girlfriend and I were together for over 5 years, even when the last few years were pretty awful much of the time. But we stuck it out for a long time because we loved each other, and that was supposed to be enough. (we were 18-23, so that didn’t help either).

    And then after we broke up and I went through all of this shite, exactly as described, I met my wife. And she is someone I love AND can make a life with. And my Lord the difference is amazing. It isn’t the all-consuming “I can’t breathe if you’re not near me” thing I had when I was 18, but that was exhausting. It’s “I love you and respect you and you make me laugh and you’ll pick up the milk on the way home, right?” It works so so so well. So much healthier.

    So, yeah, love and compatibility are not actually the same thing. Unfortunately. But if you’re lucky you’ll find the person who gives you both.

  10. Thumb up 3

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    dina’s right, this advice is good for many kinds of grief. a close friend committed suicide last monday, it’s been the hardest week of my life. it seems like the mercury retrograde is presenting many people with tough challenging, things right now. with words like this, i’m at least reassured i’m not alone in the struggle. y’all are awesome. love and light to everyone hurting now- <3 <3 <3

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      so i was just clicking through this awesome article and your comment caught my eye…i have lost 7 friends to suicide, it’s somewhat of an epidemic in my affluent, drug mecca of an area. if you ever need to talk, i’m here, and also, there are tons of survivors of suicide loss (thats what they call those of us left behind) support groups out there. also, i have a whole stack of books on the topic that have helped me a lot. sending support and encouragement your way <3

  11. Thumb up 1

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    Thank you so much for posting this for us to read. I find myself like so many others above, in the healing stages. Krista has given sage advice that many should take to heart right alongside of that broken heart. I’m looking forward to that place of grace and grit she speaks of. I hope that she knows her words have been pronounced and resonating to many.

  12. Thumb up 1

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    I recently fell for someone, hard enough that I’ve decided to move up to San Francisco (I’ve lived in/near Los Angeles all my life) because I am absolutely not letting her walk away. I’ve never felt this way about anyone before – and something tells me that if she decides she doesn’t want me after all, I’m going to suffer heartbreak like never before.

    So thank you for this – I may need it. (But here’s hoping I don’t!)

  13. Thumb up 1

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    “We are trained in this Republican sappy fuck of a society peppered with Sandra Bullock movies that somehow his haircut and not liking the things you like are superficial and all that matters is that you love each other. THIS IS NOT TRUE. Loving someone and making a life with them are separate spheres, they have nothing to do with each other. When you find someone where there is both, that’s when you win. But they’re not contingent qualities.

    I’m drowning in FUCK YES right now but had to shout out that particular quote <3

  14. Thumb up 1

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    I rarely listen to anything that I read on the internet but the second I started reading that first letter from krista I sat up. What a brilliant friend, my Krista is in Berlin right now and things are hard sometimes, and I’m currently in the first girl relationship of my life and I feel so wary at times of it’s end, and just of everything, but your friend has helped me to realize that time’s the thing. And the relationship will have it’s time, and if it’s right, and we can have both then I won’t have to go through that top part, but I might, and if I do I’ll make it out.

    So I bookmarked this

  15. Thumb up 1

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    My break-up advice: I’ve just gone through my first one, and talking to my mom, friends, etc. was great. But talking to a counsellor was AMAZING. The best out of everything, besides lots of exercise, and kittens. I’ve seen a counsellor for a few things, but this was the most helpful. If you’re in school and you can see one for free, or through some other means, I really strongly suggest it.

    Also, go visit the SPCA (you can totally just go in and hang out) or volunteer with something. Kittens/cute kids help.

  16. Thumb up 1

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    I love this and needed this
    It doesn’t only apply to break ups either. I was just feeling like crap about everything in my life and the letter was a total pick me up. “This too shall pass”
    Thanks

  17. Thumb up 1

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    I love this so much and it really has helped me through my situation and I just sent the link to another friend as well

    Sending Autostraddle some love from Vancouver Island up In Canada
    XOXO

  18. Thumb up 2

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    I read this and found it lovely a month ago, but didn’t relate much as I wasn’t at the time going through a breakup. Now that I am, I’m finding it not just wise but also comforting and helpful. Thanks for sharing.

  19. Thumb up 3

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    this was needed.
    this is a good counterpoint to all the things I’ve heard from friends/loved ones
    I feel so pressured to push through my heartache, to feel like i’m “better off” without, but it’s heartache for a reason

  20. Thumb up 2

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    This is so important:

    “Loving someone and making a life with them are separate spheres, they have nothing to do with each other. When you find someone where there is both, that’s when you win. But they’re not contingent qualities.”

    It is so hard to think of it that way. I always thought that love would be enough, but one of my good friends told me the other day that her hardest breakup was one that unraveled for almost a year, because both of them kept thinking that loving each other was enough. it wasn’t.

    I just got broken up with halfway around the world and I’m terrified to get on a plane and fly home alone. The flight attendant scenario made me laugh, and made me feel like it will be okay, I won’t be the only person ever to sob on a plane by myself.

    I’m so grateful for this post — I kept googling “coping with a lesbian breakup” but i got nothing. I shoulda thought to come straight here :)

  21. Thumb up 2

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    I was telling one of my best friends last night that I didn’t think I could live through the heartache and I felt like shit and I thought I made a mistake, and she sent me the link to this article. I am so thankful that she showed this to me and that you wrote this here for everyone to read, because it helped me realize that I’m supposed to feel this way, that this feeling that the world is ending means that it was worth it, that I’m growing and experiencing things and learning from them. That I don’t have to feel pathetic about feeling heartbroken. I also realized that “loving each other and making a life with them are separate spheres.” That you really do need both to make a relationship work, and sometimes they seem like mutually exclusive qualities, but when they overlap, then it works out.

  22. Thumb up 2

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    Thanks for this….going thru the throes of breaking up and can’t stop crying…. never thought it would end this way. Thanks for the advice. I think I will survive……….

  23. Thumb up 2

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    Thank you. Thank you. Didn’t know I needed this when I came looking (for something NSFW) today. STILL getting through a ‘break-up’ 2 years ago that became a barely-survivable divorce. . .and losing the life I had with my children to this purgatory known as partial custody. He’s getting married this week, though the divorce is not quite a year old and my kids are calling to say they want to spend an extra night with me, but I’m going to school in hopes of someday having a job that pays the bills and I start an internship on Monday that I have to commute an hour each way to – and none of this fits the life I was going to be having at 41!! But I met a woman who makes me laugh and lets me cry and would have brought me flowers at the airport the other day, but her cat would eat them once we got to her house, so can I please let the thought count? And, yes. Yes, I can let the thought count. Because sometimes that’s all that matters – that they thought of you (or remembered to pick up milk on the way home). And that’s how we get through. Someone actually remembers to bring milk home, or doesn’t buy you flowers because it would make the cat sick and eventually everything will be alright. Thank you, AS!

  24. Thumb up 3

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    Ditto the Thank you. I am going through both a divorce and a break-up. I did the wrong things – trying to start and finish two different things at once and now I must recover and pay attention to me. But it sucks and hurts so badly…nothing ever hurt me like this breakup with her.

    And the loving someone and making a life resonates so clearly. With him, there was love but a lack of intimacy. We had a life but it was facile and set-like.

    With her, love and life abounded BUT couldn’t really flower because grief over the other ending couldn’t happen. Now, a la Edna St.Vincent Millay, “Where (she) used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling into at night. I miss you like hell.”

    Thanks for the reminder that all is as it should be…and that these feelings too, shall pass.

    I’m just sick of crying in the most inappropriate situations!!!

  25. Thumb up 1

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    There is an amazing and hilarious book that just got me through a painful breakup quickly! It’s called: “it’s called a breakup because it’s broken.” Change the he’s to she’s and follow the book’s advice. It seriously got me through some rough moments and helped me move on.

  26. Thumb up 3

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    I first read this back in October, when my girlfriend and I of eighteen months broke up. It helped tremendously. Since then, we have tried to make it work; however, on Saturday night I walked in on her with the girl that she originally cheated on me with. Thank god this post was still up–it’s one of the first things I did when I got home.

  27. Thumb up 2

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    This post provides me so much solace. I come back to it regularly when I’m feeling like I’m just not strong enough to handle it anymore.

  28. Thumb up 1

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    I have read this 100 times in the last week. It’s the best, most comforting advice I’ve been given, though I seem to be stuck in the “the world seems about six sizes too small” and “the world is ending” phase.

    We were together a year and a half. We fell hard and very fast. We bought puppies and made life plans. She moved in after the first year. Life was blissful. Sure, we had our trials and tribulations and living together came with challenges, but I had never been so happy. Coming home to her everyday was the best part of me day and there didn’t seem to be a fight or challenge that wasn’t worth it, because we were growing and learning together and we were in love.

    Unfortunately she didn’t see it this way. The burden of our growing pains was not a foundation for her, for us to grow from and grow up together. They were a reason we couldn’t grow anymore, right now.

    I guess it was somewhere in July, though I’ll never be sure, that she began to check-out. I noticed the distance but she always said it was due to stress and we continued to buy furniture, plan trips, and she even asked to look at rings. She was over-compensating, or trying to convince herself she still felt in love, while I actually thought she was in love. She ended it 2 weeks ago and is in love with someone else.

    Nothing has ever hurt so much before in my life, I’m amazed I make it to work everyday. I think the it’s so true though, that “Loving someone and making a life with them are separate spheres, they have nothing to do with each other. When you find someone where there is both, that’s when you win. But they’re not contingent qualities.” I have to believe that each day the world will get bigger and have more space for my pain. She’s my best friend, but she isn’t the right partner for me, and I can’t obsess over someone who doesn’t feel the same way about me anymore.

    Thank you so much for this article. It helps keep everything in perspective and keep going.

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      Like lots of others, I keep finding myself back here on this page.

      I first found it by searching the site for “breakup” — surely, I thought, Autostraddle will have some wisdom to help get me through the unimaginable horror of breaking up with the person I love and causing her that kind of pain. It helped.

      And then I rebounded. Once with someone who liked me a whole lot more than I could have hoped for and made me feel loveable again. We talked. We kissed. It was mature. The timing was right. And it ended perfectly when we were both just ready for it to end.

      And then I rebounded again. This time with someone I loved immediately — who maybe I loved before our first kiss. She is charming. She wooed me. And then one day she wasn’t there anymore. And now it’s been months and I keep hoping to get to the part when my “pain will be just a speck in my world” but I’m not there yet. I see her at a bar — hell, I see her online — and it’s like getting sucker punched.

      But I have faith in time, and faith in the wisdom on this page, so I keep coming back to it. Thank you for sharing.

  29. Thumb up 4

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    I literally came to Autostraddle because I too thought, they have to have something about a break up. And here it is.

    My girlfriend of a year and a half just broke up with me last week. I’m having the hardest time in the world right now. Can’t eat a thing. Can’t stop thinking about her and can’t stop loving her or wanting her back. While she seems a okay moving along and hanging out with her friends and looking like nothing is wrong. But reading this has definitely helped. Thank you for sharing…

  30. Thumb up 2

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    I am one month out of a twelve year relationship an have been searching for any support that is out there. That touched my heart and provided a moment of hope. Thank you. It is just the moments right now

  31. Thumb up 2

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    Your friend Krista is a very wise woman for articulating these truths, and you are very compassionate for bringing them to the masses, Riese. Thank you.

  32. Thumb up 1

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    Thank you this is such great advice. I just got out of a 3 year relationship and she claims she “fell out of love with me” and wants to be single for a while. Which is understandable but still sucks. Anyways this post helped a lot. It would be so much easier if the people we love loved us back but I know that this will work out and I have to fight the urge to text or call her. Thank you and please post more of this kind of stuff!

  33. Thumb up 2

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    So, I don’t want to repeat what everyone has already said.. My first gf broke up with me 8 days ago.. I still feel like my world is crumbling as we speak. I feel like I’ve reached out to everyone I possibly can, and I still feel like no one has any idea how I feel. I want this process to speed up!!! I want to stop crying already! I want to stop thinking of her.. us.. our life.. If this is love, I’m not sure I’ll ever want it again, especially if this is the outcome. :(

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      Whit, time goes slowly when you really need it to speed up. There is no way to make the pain go away quickly but there are ways to lessen it. Friends are who you want to be around at the moment, both to distract you from dark thoughts and to make sure you don’t make too many bad decisions out of grief. Things may be slow to get better but it will happen. My first gf broke up with me over a month ago, and today was the first day I felt like eating again.

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    I hope to god some of this is true. My gf left me after nearly three years, and the situation was horrible and complicated, which made me more intense. We barely spent a minute apart in those three years, and I was scared to be gay, scared to love her, scared to show her how much I loved her. I made her unhappy, feel unloved, because I was scared I wasn’t good enough for her, and that she’d leave me. I have been unwell my whole life with severe depression, and she made me feel the first genuine love, passion and happiness I had ever felt in my entire 34 years. I was jealous, possessive and needy, and I blew it. She cheated on me, and I found out because I went looking for reasons not to trust her. I keep trying to kill myself because I can’t cope with the searing desperate self hatred, and missing her every single second of every single day. It’s been two and a half months, she’s changed her number, as I freaked out seeing her with the PUSSY MAGNET written across her chest. I am destroyed and I don’t know how I will ever ever ever get over this. How does anyone survive this? She went from worshipping me to not caring whether I live or die. I just want her to love me. It’s all I want and she won’t. ow can I cope?

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    Recently I had my heart broken and didn’t know what to do with myself. My friend suggested to search internet on ways to deal with it and to find a perspective. This article is a life saver – it opened my eyes on things I already knew, just had them blurred with tears. Now I have it printed and framed on my bedroom wall – just a reminder of how I felt then and how I look at it now.

    THANK YOU!!

  36. Pingback: Cutting Cords | one check or two?

  37. Thumb up 0

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    Still relevant. This is some of the most comforting and spot-on advice I’ve received about break ups, on the internet or in real life. The other thing that gets me by is something that both my ex and my friend have told me since the break up: “You are a normal human being having normal human feelings.”

  38. Thumb up 1

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    From Hyperboleandahalf, about dealing with lost love:

    ” Love is wonderful in that it can never be wasted or used up. We can never replace the people … we have loved, but the love we feel for them can be expanded. I like to think of love as being stretchy. It is easy to feel guilty when you [find new love] – like somehow that means you love your old friend less. But when you think of love as being stretchy and able to expand, you can see that there will always be room for everything. You can love as much as you want.

    I just wanted you to know that I’m thinking about you, and I understand. No matter how much this hurts, you’re not alone.”

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    I wrote a comment on here just under a year ago, when I was going through one of the most traumatic and horrendous times of my life. I never heard from my ex gf again, and my heart still beats with love for her every day, but this article IS genius and everyone needs to embrace every word. I no longer hurt myself, or focus on suicide, or try to destroy myself. I just know that I was so damaged I couldn’t let anyone love me, because I couldn’t understand how anyone could. I’m nowhere near moving on, but I feel much stronger, and although I hope one day she thinks of me…..I know if she doesn’t, i’ll survive. My heart will be shattered, but at least i’ll have some sticking tape to hold it together. I love this article. Also, I want to meet Dina, she clearly rules.

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