When my friends go through a breakup, I find that I am often their go-to person for advice. This is humorous, because my romantic life is a disaster, but also makes sense, because with disasters, comes experience.
From age seventeen to twenty, I was in a serious relationship that I thought would turn to marriage but then didn’t. Following that, I went into a period of grief, and have since been in five or so failed mini-relationships (each of them lasting no more than a few months).
In each of these failed mini-relationships, I picked men who were wrong for me but still managed to get emotionally attached to them, which made each breakup painful. The reason I picked men who were wrong for me varies over the years. Early on, I was avoiding commitment from fear of being hurt, so I’d intentionally pick guys who I knew were moving away or presented some obstacle to long-term commitment. More recently it’s been laziness and a lack of options. I’ll date someone who I know isn’t “the one,” but go along with it anyway, until our fundamental lack of a connection leads to our implosion.
My friends come to me for breakup advice because I have experience and can speak in ways that emotionally resonate—not in platitudes and oversimplifications. Like: You’re better than him, girlfriend! Get back on the horse/wagon/bicycle/whatever metaphor for an object that moves when in fact you are suicidally depressed, and go get ‘em!
Except, I’m starting to realize that no matter how much advice you give a person fresh out of a breakup, they are still going to experience a rollercoaster of emotion. What you say has little to no impact on this rollercoaster, so maybe the best advice is just to outline this roller coaster for them in a diagram? That way they can see where they stand in their journey through hell and have a better grasp on their emotions.
Without further ado, here is my diagram of the breakup rollercoaster.
The X-axis represents time and the Y-axis represents emotional state, which I’ve indicated. I’ve also annotated the respective peaks and troughs, which I will elaborate on:
A: We all know what “A” is. A is sobbing to the point where you wonder if your eyes will ever clear of tears so you can have non-blurred vision for two minutes and reply to a critical email out of the thirty that you haven’t opened to confirm a same-day appointment. It’s flashes of “happy wonderful times” mixed with “NEVER AGAIN” axing through them like a guillotine. It’s a tumor of the worst sadness and pain, churning in your midsection, grasping at neighboring organs, taking them down into its cancerous tumbleweed.
B: B is a short period of time after the breakup (like forty-eight hours), when you become convinced that you are 100% over the relationship. The tears stop and your internal system feels cleared of the cancer, and you take a deep breath, thinking to yourself: “GOOD RIDDANCE.” You feel total clarity on why the relationship ended and you’re glad it’s over. You pull out that calendar and start opening those thirty emails and manically make a million plans as the new and improved “single you.” You send long emails to friends explaining how you recently got out of a relationship, but it’s for the best, thinking that you sound healthy and normal, when the subtext of your message reads: Please send help. You might even join a dating site, thinking that you’re ready.
C: This stage is the opening credits to Mad Men. Or the “Drop of Doom” at Six Flags. Sometimes it moves so quickly, you don’t even experience the travel time. It’s like telepathic transport. You blink your eyes and you’re back to misery. While C is not as painful as A, it’s much more confusing. The brain has difficulty understanding how it got here. It thought things were wonderful, and now they’re terrible, so it starts searching for a rational explanation. The easiest explanation is that the breakup was a mistake. The brain thinks: So there were major problems with the relationship BUT, we had these other special qualities. Qualities I may never find again. Maybe the problems aren’t as bad as we thought they were and we should get back together? Here is an opportunity for regrettable behavior. If you are in the unfortunate category of people who lack self-control, you could very easily end up at your ex’s doorstep, drunk, insane, and begging. Hopefully that doesn’t happen to you, because if it does, you kind of have to route back through the cycle again and start at A, but this time with more shame and self-hatred.
D: If you didn’t fuck up during C, then D is when you start having real clarity. You stop feeling the need to tell people so much that you are doing okay because you actually do feel okay. A little okay. You still make mistakes like stalking your ex’s social media or whatever else, setting you up for the E, G, I’s of the process. Or even if you don’t make mistakes, you’re still vulnerable to that pain. So if your ex posts a suspicious picture or some career accomplishment that suggests his life is great, you go to E.
E: Here you’re like, is this fucking over yet? You’re annoyed that you even got sent to this state, but you did, because that’s just how the breakup rollercoaster works. It doesn’t last long though until you bounce back up to F.
F: You’re ready to drink some margaritas, and by some I mean two, not twenty.
G: A low day. A Sunday when you guys would normally watch whatever AMC or HBO show was your ritual. You don’t necessarily miss him, but it would be nice to do that ritual with someone aside from yourself.
H: You’re almost there. Just a few more back and forths and you’ll equalize to normal.
Of course, there are a lot more things that factor into the breakup rollercoaster. Like dating new people, which can both speed and slow recovery. It speeds recovery when it’s done at the right time and with the right expectations. It slows if it’s a bad experience and then can push you from a peak into a trough. There are also relapses (as I mentioned in C) and all sorts of politics surrounding communication and social media interaction with your ex. I’m not a relationship expert—just a person who’s been dumped—but typically not engaging in any way possible is the best way to move from A to a letter further along the alphabet.
The point is that it helps to know the shit storm you have ahead of you. It’s not gonna get better, and it’s not gonna get worse. It’s going to do both of those things over and over again, but to lesser degrees, until it finally stops. If you try to analyze it each step of the way, you could very easily drive yourself insane, if not to exhaustion.
Just remember the rollercoaster. Ride it, hate it, be done with it.
Shirin Najafi is a writer living in Los Angeles. She graduated from Columbia University with a degree in economics and worked in investment banking before deciding to quit and become a writer. She performs the voice of a cat in some videos (www.magicalstew.com) and is currently working on her first novel.