For Your Consideration: Changing Associations After a Breakup

for your consideration

Welcome to For Your Consideration, a series about things we love and love to do — and we’d like to give you permission to embrace your authentic self and love them too.

Never have I ever put forethought into a drastic hair change. Be it an undercut, blunt bangs, highlights, or full color, the one area of my life where I let impulsiveness and spontaneity in is via my hairstyle. If you’re contemplating doing something dramatically new with your hair, I’m either the best person to come to or the worst because I’ll always say yes. I’m a New Hairstyle Enabler; there’s no such thing as regret when it comes to hair in my book, and there’s no better way to physically express inner turmoil than a radically new look! It provides control, even if you’re internally unraveling, and it signals to the world that, yes, you’re going through something, but you’re still HOT and able to make CHOICES. Or maybe you get your hair cut or dyed for perfectly stable reasons like wanting a new look for no other ulterior motives — can’t relate!

This is, however, not an installment of For Your Consideration about impulsive hair changes. Or maybe it is! Are you thinking about doing something? You should go for it.

I underwent my latest hair change very recently, calling upon a brave friend to assist. She asked what I wanted, and even I didn’t know. Just something different. So I bought several options at three different CVS stores around Brooklyn, including two boxes of bleach. Whatever color I was going with, I needed to start with a blank slate. I needed to strip my hair of its color entirely so I could put something new, bright, extreme on top. Tabula rasa but make it fashion.

Wouldn’t it be nice if I could apply this process to other things in life? To places, too? Wouldn’t it be nice to strip them of their current color and add a new one on top? Because almost everything I see right now is colored by the affair, by the breakup that followed too long after. “You’re wearing your affair lenses again,” my therapist tells me. Yeah, well, I don’t know how the fuck to take them off.

(I lightened my hair once in the middle of her affair, before I knew but after I’d already had an inkling. But it wasn’t enough, just a three-shades lift with some red thrown on top. This time, I went full bleach.)

At times, the list of specific things that have been colored (poisoned, really) by my two betrayers feels impossibly long and far-reaching — from the movie Disobedience to Hayley Kiyoko’s music to the beaches of the Rockaways to a restaurant in West Village to the entire goddamn country of Norway. Then there are the broader things, like patches of grass, rocks, the blueish light of dawn, the whole concept of dinner. People tell me that certain associations will change over time, dull with distance, and I know from experience for that to be true. I also know that some will never change, not really.

I sway between wanting to preserve every memory of this relationship, to keep it in a jar that I can open and close whenever I want, and wanting to wipe it all, bleach it out Eternal Sunshine-style. Neither option is healthy, I know. Neither is even possible. The memories will stay, and they’ll pop up whether I want them to or not, because brains retain and run amok.

Avoidance is often the easiest solution. Don’t go back to that restaurant. Don’t drink that cocktail you used to share with two straws. Don’t listen to that song that you know is going to fuck you up. Don’t turn down that particular street; walk the long way instead. But Big Breakups suck in how much they touch everything all the time. It becomes impossible to untangle anything from the context of heartbreak. This lemon? Reminds you of her. This broken chair on the sidewalk? Somehow, it makes you nostalgic for what was. This random story a friend is telling about a time they got lost on vacation and ended up at a weird bar full of grandmas? You better believe you can find a way to segue back to the breakup. There’s always the one friend who snaps, who questions how you could possibly still be talking about it this often, this much. And they’re wrong, but they’re also a little bit right, because you’re starting to annoy even yourself. But it’s also okay. It’s okay to be insufferable right now.

Avoidance is easy, but it’s a temporary solution for what feels like a permanent problem. You have to learn to change the associations. I’m learning bit by bit. A full bleaching might not be possible, and like my friends have cautioned me, some associations will always linger, even if they eventually become maybe the third or fourth thing you think about when you step into a certain place or hold a certain thing. I thought I had to avoid every place and everything our relationship touched for forever. I thought I had to chop it all off and keep on chopping so it could never grow back. A friend gently suggested a different way. Maybe you just need to do the old things in a new context, with different people, she nudged.

So I went back to that bar with someone else and felt something else, mere feet from where I’d first caught the ex kissing someone else (“don’t worry” / “it’s nothing” / “we’re just friends” / has there ever been a creative cheater?). And I didn’t think about it, not right away at least. I changed the color, and it didn’t feel like a loss. It’s not a blank slate but an altered state. Having friends around helped. Scream-singing “Wanna Be Missed” on a dance floor with a group feels a hell of a lot better than listening alone, on repeat, in bed. I can share that drink with someone else. My next trip to Norway will be for me and me alone.

We rewrite histories of people and places and things all the time. Of ourselves, too. It seems like the most obvious advice in the world to tell someone going through a breakup to overwrite old memories with new ones, but it’s also hard as fuck to figure out from inside it. It’s still hard, even though I’m doing it more and more. But it feels surprisingly good, a relief, a crucial part of that nebulous, nonlinear healing process that has subsumed me. And in the meantime, I’ll keep bleaching my hair.

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Orlando. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 837 articles for us.


  1. Love this! My friends have been very patient and kind about “re-doing” hikes, concert venues, etc. with me. Now it actually makes me smile when a first date suggests a place or activity that reminds me of heartache. Let’s go there and do that!

  2. Thank you! New stories for old places full of memories are somehow surprisingly easy and simultaneously very hard to write, I feel? And maybe, certainly, one day, the (my) ex will remember wistfully a place, a song, a thing and you (I) won‘t and she’ll be sad that you don’t and you won’t be glad that she did and you didn’t.

  3. I love this. Just this weekend I went back to where the breakup began with my first girlfriend as I do whenever I visit the city we visited for a day before it was over.

  4. I know this column is born of pain, but your writing is amazing and I really love your words.

  5. Would like to added lasagna, sand pipers and the entire country of Portugal to that list thank you and thank you again.

  6. I made the mistake of bringing the person I *knew* would break my heart to my very favorite coffee shop/hang out space…I still go there but it still gives me the sads, looking forward to the day when I have enough new memories to sufficiently overwrite that experience!

  7. I read everyone one of these and relate to it in varying degrees but rarely comment cause it becomes difficult to word.

    Relate really HARD to this one on many levels.
    Some of the association changes I have done were really big and didn’t consciously realise some it at the time but holy shit I do now.

Comments are closed.