Learning to Break Up

A shame-free approach to ending relationships

Sex-Ed-MAIN.widea-breaking up

Sex and breaking up have more in common than you might think.

Both take a certain level of self-awareness, acceptance and communication to get your needs met.

Unfortunately, we do a sub-par job of teaching people how to develop these skills. So most of us awkwardly stumble through both, often feeling hurt and unsatisfied.

About a month ago, I ended a relationship I had been in for six years. It was a messy, painful process to end a partnership that was mostly positive and transformative.

The best advice, for me, came from my mom. She passed along something she had heard a while ago in a workshop. The thing about breaking up, she says, is that it cracks your heart wide open to give and receive love in new ways.

Hearing this advice was exactly what I needed in that moment. But here’s the other thing about breaking up: Everyone needs to hear something different or go through a different mourning/growth process.

Most examples of breaking up that we see show people at their worst. And while that is the experience for lots of folks, I wish we had a wider variety of breakup models available.

We’re changing and growing throughout our lifetimes, and I think it’s more of a shame to deny happiness to yourself and your partners because ending the relationship is challenging.

As I was trying to figure out the best way to disentangle my life from someone who was very deeply integrated, I looked for resources about how to manage a breakup as gracefully and ethically as possible.

Some of my favorite tips from QueerFatFemme.com:

  • Don’t listen to those who have timelines for how soon you should be getting over your heartbreak or moving on to a different stage. It’s your process, not theirs.
  • Do what feels right to you about getting laid. Hook up on Craigslist, go to a sex party, or just stay celibate for a while. It’s your timeline, and don’t feel pressured to do anything other than what feels right for you.
  • If you’re still friends with your ex on any social networking sites, stop that! Unfriend him/her!

Most “mainstream” breakup advice offered ideas like, “Don’t talk about it too much because you don’t want to bring your friends down too,” or “Keep it in your pants otherwise you’ll do something you’ll regret.”

We don’t give people the skills to deal with a breakup without shaming themselves or acting out toward their ex. And then there are threats like revenge porn, which is when people non-consensually post/distribute naked photos of their exes. It’s actually a big enough problem that a state legislator is talking about trying to pass a law about it next year. All this made me think that we need more and better information on breaking up without breaking down.

I reached out to people on social media about how they do breakups, and I received profound advice on how to take care of myself.

People suggested I pay attention to my feelings and needs and figure out what I wanted for healing and moving on. For example, I felt guilty for wanting to go out with friends and on dates. I felt that what I “should” be doing is moping and mourning. Societal norms and media have lead me to believe that if I’m not suffering, it means I don’t care.

Another fantastic, empowering resource was Zoë Femmetastica’s breakup survival guide on QueerFatFemme.com.

While breaking up might seem like (and actually be) one of the most painful things you’ve ever done, it provides ample opportunities for growth and self-examination.

The beauty of the situation is that you get the opportunity to honestly look at what you want, who you are and what you want to be.

This column was originally published in the Santa Fe Reporter on Dec. 2nd 2014.