You Need Help: How Do I Move On From My Ex the “Right” Way?

Q:

Hello!

My girlfriend and I broke up about 2 months ago and I’ve been struggling to move on the right way. We got together like two weeks before the pandemic started and lived for a year together in lockdown (we’re fortunate enough to live in a country where the situation is now fairly under control)- I still really love her but we both emerged from last year with a lot of general anxiety and we couldn’t really figure out how not to be with each other in the same ultra intense way we were during lockdown. She broke up with me to focus on herself for a bit- and to be honest I probably needed the same thing, so I don’t have any hard feelings towards her. Down the line, I would really like to get back together with her but I don’t want to string myself along indefinitely so I’ve been trying hard to move on in the meantime and hopefully if it’s meant to happen then it will.

I know the “right” way is different for each person, but I can’t help feeling like maybe I’m not trying as hard as I should. I think for the most part I’ve done ok- I’ve taken up some new hobbies and spent time with friends and have taken up basically every opportunity that’s presented itself to meet new friends- I’ve even gone on a hinge date. But I’ve been feeling quite exhausted by meeting new people and I really do not feel ready to be with anyone new right now- either casually or seriously. Whenever I want to give in to the desire to just be myself for a while and just hang out with my current friends I start feeling like I’m not doing it “right” – how do I give myself permission to just do what feels right to me and take my time without feeling like I’m falling behind or failing in some way? I’m so worried that if I don’t do the things that people tell you to, like get under someone to get over someone etc then I’m not trying my best to move on—even though the thought of doing that makes me feel really uncomfortable.


A:

You’re struggling to give yourself the permission to do what feels right for you, so I’m here to give you permission to do what feels right for you.

You say that you know “the ‘right’ way is different for each person” in the wake of a breakup, but I would take that one step further: There is no right way to move on from a breakup, period. Sure, there are some coping strategies that are healthier than others, but you have to figure out what feels good for you without worrying too much about doing anything right. It sounds like you’ve tried one approach: putting yourself out there and meeting new people. That can be great for some folks after a breakup, because it provides distractions but also allows a person to grow in new directions. But it sounds like it’s not working for you.

So why keep doing it? Literally ask yourself that question. In fact, if you start pressuring yourself to do something in the coming months because you feel like it’s what you SHOULD be doing, hit pause for a second and actually write down why you feel like you should be doing it. If the answer is like “just because” or “because other people say so” then don’t do it! Do things because you actually have real reasons for wanting to do them.

The whole “getting under someone to get over someone” thing might work for some people, but it’s also one of those things that people just sort of say a lot without it really meaning much. You don’t have to date anyone right now. You’re not falling behind or failing in some way. In fact, I’m honestly impressed with how you’re handling your breakup. Hell, I’m famously bad at handling breakups. But that’s also what I’m trying to say: It’s not about being “bad” or “good” or “right” or “wrong” when it comes to breakups. It’s about doing what feels the best for you. It’s about doing things because you really want to. And if something isn’t working, then try something else!

I know that you want to get back together one day with your ex, but I think you’re doing the right thing by trying to move on, because there’s no guarantee that you’ll get back together. Obsessing over What Ifs would actually hold you back from living your life. You’ve made the choice to move forward, and I think that’s wonderful. It just sounds like you’ve maybe been moving a little too fast and a little too much instead of being more in tune with your emotional needs. It’s okay to slow down, to take time to figure out what you want, to lean on old friends. No one is going to grade you on how “well” you’re doing at moving on, so try to think less about what others might think and focus on what you’re thinking.

I know this sounds weird coming from someone giving you breakup advice, but take all breakup advice with a grain of salt. If you have friends telling you to do things that make you uncomfortable—like “getting under someone to get over someone”—keep in mind that your friends are just bringing their own breakup baggage to the table. What works for them isn’t going to necessarily work for you. A lot of people have a lot of opinions on how to move on from an ex—and breakups in general—but in reality, it’s such a complex and personal thing. The only way you’re actually failing yourself is if you ignore your feelings. Also, you can’t hinge moving on on others. Dating new people and making new friends isn’t a shortcut toward moving on. I’m granting you the permission to just listen to yourself and go from there.

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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Miami. 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 305 articles for us.

2 Comments

  1. Everything about this situation touches me in all the parts of my recently broken heart. My relationship of 2 years ended similarly, and has been kind and unkind at moments, leaving me uncertain about what my healing should look like. I’m still not over it, but I’m working towards a more hopeful future. All my love, stranger! I hope you find the path that best suits your healing.

  2. My relationship of almost two years ended a couple of months ago. I’m still very much broken up about it. Meeting a new girl has filled me with such anxiety that I don’t even want to think about hooking up with someone.

    And yes, absolutely agree with the “What works for your friends won’t necessarily work for you.” part.

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