In therapeutic circles and with well-meaning friends, you’ll hear the advice: you just need to be alone or you need to just take some time for yourself after heartache. You might hear the opposite as well -from your friends and your mom- you just need to get back out there and meet someone!
You’re not surprised that I’m going to say BS to both of those approaches, right?
First of all, you’re HURTING.
Getting back in the saddle is almost always the wrong approach. Remember the beginning of Romeo and Juliet? Romeo was gaga on Roseline and his buddy suggested, “you just need to meet another chica.” He did. That night. And he winds up dead by the end of that adventure.
Go there if you have a death wish, I guess. I’m not sure why anyone would pattern their love experience after Romeo and Juliet. But it’s tragic, all right. And it has some lovely, artful declarations of passion and devotion. I’ll give Shakespeare that. Good one.
For those of you looking for a saner love adventure, please keep reading in Modern American English:
When you’re HURTING, you don’t need to punish yourself.
So many people, systems, and sometimes even practitioners will suggest a time frame or course of imposed quarantine for the heartbroken or lovelorn. You’ve probably even heard experts advocate an imposed period of mourning: one year for each 4 years of the relationship. At minimum: no dating for at least a year.
Does this make you tired even listening to such advice?
So much is going on for you that rule setting, framework impositions, giving yourself a deadline or rigid structure is probably the last thing you need right now.
You might need comfort, some tenderness, and fun.
If that sounds simplistic, that’s because it is. And simple is good. You can work with simple. You can move through simple. You can let simple guide your choices.
Find comfort. Give yourself some comfort.
Is it comforting to go to the movies or eat a gourmet meal or spend time outside.? Do those things. Is it painful too? I know it can be painful to do everything when your heart is hurting. Choose the activities that ARE the most comforting. That can mean sleeping in. It can mean working out like a maniac. It can mean paying for a massage. It can mean going to the sauna or getting some heat and light therapy at a tanning booth.
And yes, I know, in moderation. I’m not advocating skin cancer activities, etc. Notice I’m NOT saying drink alcohol. That usually makes people feel much worse when they’re hurting already. It’s a depressant! I’m also not saying smoke cigarettes. THAT is not comfort; it’s a great way to AVOID feeling anything and therefore it won’t get you THROUGH your pain. This is also probably not the time to try to FORCE yourself to give up those habits (if they are regular habits) either.
You do not need to do this by yourself either. It’s okay to find someone to enjoy comforting activities with you.
Find tenderness. Spend time with people you know love you. If your other relationships have been neglected, rekindle them. Get in touch with supportive family and friends.
If your family and friends do not know how to be tender and supportive, don’t spend time with them. Avoid them. Minimize exposure while you are vulnerable.
And pay attention. Surely there are kind people in your realm. Notice small tendernesses: when clerks are friendly and sweet instead of all-business, when that infant in a stroller smiles at you, when someone at work asks how you’re doing. Notice. And count it as tenderness.
Create tenderness in your life as well: hug your dog. Force your cat to snuggle. (Yah, good luck with that.) Get outside yourself and BE TENDER to others. Smile at strangers. Ask your friends how THEY are doing.
Be tender with yourself. Be gentle. Be kind to yourself. Part of this is learning to ask helpful questions and abandon stupid ones, I explain it in context here in this podcast on midlife dating basics.
Find FUN. I love William Glasser’s outline in Reality Theory of the five basic human needs. He says and I agree we need: survival basics, love & belonging, power, freedom, and FUN!
You do not have to have fun all by yourself. In fact, though it’s possible, having fun with others is even better. Plan fun. Give yourself permission for fun. Take time for fun!
Notice when you’re enjoying something, anything. Laugh at a comedy. Watch some silly animals. Join a mutual-interest Meetup group. (Google this if you don’t know what I’m talking about; they are everywhere!) Play. No matter if that looks like online gaming with strangers, planning a stupid board-game night with your nieces, or going on a rock-climbing date with that girl you’ve talked to ten times at the gym, do it!
The next relationship is not going to save you. Nor do you have to quarantine yourself from engaging with objects of interest and attraction for a specified period of time. But DO find and create comfort, tenderness, and fun! These are never a waste of time and before you know it, you will be in good shape to LOVE again.