Think of how far you’ve come since you first began breaking up with people. Smirk as you remember the adolescent breakups, the ones where no words were exchanged. He just stopped coming to your locker between classes so you burned all the letters he ever gave you. Orange flames consuming glitter gel pen on folded notebook paper. High school breakups - long nights spent alone in your bedroom clutching your journal, wondering how you could become someone different from yourself. College breakups when you stopped suffering silently, and started drinking. Angry phone calls on the Fourth of July after too many White Russians, all venom and regret. Breakups where you threw cell phones out of moving vehicles, made dramatic declarations of devotion, only to rescind them the very next day. Breakups where you hid from your loved ones, sought no wise counsel, let angry bitter expletives escape your mouth, and gashed your own heart and theirs deeper than they needed to be gashed.
Thank the Lord that this time will be different. It has to be, because you’ve already made every mistake you could ever possibly make. This time heartache will not turn you into someone you don’t recognize. You have found the antidote: Cling to God, rely on your friends, do not allow bitterness, make a clean break, give yourself time. If all the wrong things made you despair, doing the opposite will make the heartache disappear. And you will make it disappear. You are a heartache magician.
Execute the perfect breakup. Once it’s over, really over, and there are no more words to say, sit across from him at your least favorite restaurant, the one you chose so you would never have to go there again. The one with watery beer and the food menu for dogs. Chat about the weather and his travel plans and the loud family at the table next to you. Insist that he take the last french fry.
Give him a care package for the bus ride home. Include all his favorite foods, at least the ones you know about. It’s a small kindness for all the times he made the 300 mile trip to visit. You are being very kind. Blame the distance, the long trips, and the disconnected phone calls. Tell him how sorry you are and how much you’ll miss him. Only say lovely things to each other.
After one hour has passed, place your hand on his from across the table, look dramatically into his eyes and tell him that it’s time to go. Here comes the clean break. Hug him outside the restaurant, the one that can turn to a pile of grease stained ash for all you care. Kiss him one last time and say, “I’m sorry.” Turn around and walk away in the rain without looking back. Congratulate yourself on not looking back. You are a heartache master.
Put the plan into action. Read your Bible with renewed vigor. Underline the passages that speak to your sadness. Find your new mantra in Psalms: "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, he saves those who are crushed in spirit." Memorize it and repeat it to yourself when the crying begins. Pray that all the right steps will keep you on the narrow path. Pray that you can sweep up your own mess quickly enough to find someone new, before everyone else in the whole world is taken. Pray for him. Pray that he is doing well. Pray that he is as enlightened as you are in the ways of heartache. Hell, pray that he would meet someone new and be happy. Ignore the lightning bolt that shoots through your innards at the thought of it. You will have no bitterness. You are a heartache martyr.
Call your friends each time you are lonely. Cry on their couches, use their tissues, eat their baked goods, let yourself be held. See them look at you with their sad faces, listen to them tell you that you are wonderful. Try not to disagree. Do not feel bad when you keep inviting yourself over week after week. You are not a burden to them. Repeat it to yourself - you are not a burden to the ones who love you.
Delete him from all your social media accounts, not to be malicious, only for the sake of a clean break. As your mouse hovers over his profile for the last time, remind yourself that seeing his life after you would only deepen the gash, and you are trying not to deepen the gash. Imagine that one click would pry open the lid and unleash the howling ghosts of the Ark of the Covenant. Imagine your face melting off in rivulets of blood and flesh to reveal your screaming skull beneath, emotionally speaking. Close your computer and walk away. Pat yourself on the back. You are a heartache ninja.
Allow yourself to wallow, at home, alone, with empty sleeves of Oreos and Netflix glowing in front of you. This is ok. No one escapes these breakup clichés, not even the heartache enlightened. When you are done wallowing, dust off the cookie crumbs and go for a run. Slowly at first and then voraciously. Gulp the air into your lungs. Cry while you run. Cry all the time. Allow yourself to cry. Don’t bottle it up - tell yourself. Bottling it up is the worst thing you can do, and you are doing all the best things.
Cry in the morning when you wake and when you drive to work. Cry for about an hour each way, depending on the traffic. One night, while you are brushing your teeth, begin to cry so suddenly that you inhale toothpaste. Feel your throat burn and your eyes start to water, which is strange because you were already crying. How does your body even know the difference? Wonder if your throat will ever stop burning. Look up “toothpaste throat burn” on your phone as you lie in bed that night. Don’t worry - this will all be funny one day. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, he saves those who inhale toothpaste. You are a heartache comedian.
Let two months go by. Decide that this is an acceptable amount of time for a mature adult who has followed the steps to be healed. As you know, the true sign of being healed is to be friends with your former love, as if nothing but sunshine ever passed between the two of you. See him online. Push aside the aching misery and write, “Oh, hello. So glad I happened to catch you here.” Press send. Search his response for hints of veiled despair to match your own. Find nothing but upbeat optimism and genuine interest in your life. Feel something inside you snap, like sitting on a broken kitchen chair that has no business being at the table anymore.
After ten minutes of polite conversation, ask him abruptly if he thinks that the two of you made a mistake. See his answer, same as it always was: No. No mistake was made. Hear the snap again, the cracking sound of wood separating along the grain. Tell him that you miss him so much you would do anything to make the feeling go away. Ask him if there was anything you could have done to make things turn out differently. Ask all the pitiful questions a strong person does not ask. See his answer again. “No.”
Now that the legs have broken and you are lying face up on the floor with shards of wood beneath you, now that you have failed at everything you set out to do - be free. Fall into all the same pits. Don’t answer your friends when they call. Hide alone in the dark with a box of cheese crackers. Secretly wish him bodily harm and a life of longing and impotence. Hold a match to his letter. Let the bitterness in. Let it smash through skyscrapers and crush cars. Let it shatter everything in its path. You are a heartache Godzilla.
Don’t give yourself any more time. Meet weird interesting people online. Sit across the table from a man wearing a wooly fur coat with gold buttons on a Sunday night in a dingy bar and watch him drink three pints of cheap beer and three whiskeys in the time it takes you to finish one IPA. Marvel at how wrong he is doing this date. Talk about all the god-awful boring people there are in the world. Talk about how stupid it is to talk about the weather. Be gleefully bitter. Laugh a lot. Feel awkward and uncomfortable and fluttery. Think with delicious spite that this one date is more entertaining than your entire last relationship. Feel guilty for thinking it, because he was always so kind to you.
Sit alone in your apartment staring at words on a page. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, blah blah blah. Launch your Bible violently through the air and against the opposite wall where it slides down to rest in a crumpled heap. Know exactly how the book feels smacking up against that brick wall with nowhere to go but down.
“I really tried to do this right.” Say it out loud to yourself. Cross your arms like a petulant child. Watch the words flap away into the open space in front of you. A moth on its way down, cutting a slow erratic path. Watch the words crumble to dust. Look at the poor disheveled book and feel a tiny seed of tenderness creep into you at the sight of it. Hear the silence around you reply, “You did all you could, dear one.” And then, “you can do nothing apart from me.”
Pick up the crumpled heap from the floor, like feeling your own tired bones lifted by a great force. Brush the delicate gold rimmed pages back. Sit and read without expectation. Do not read to heal yourself. Do not read to forget about loss. Do not read to plot your next steps. Do not keep track of time or chapters or progress or steps. Read to find the one behind the voice that speaks to you. See words other than the brokenhearted: “The earth is full of his unfailing love.”
Continue to read, writing your thoughts in a journal as a conduit to the one who hears them. One day, look up and see a cup of steaming black coffee on a smooth wooden desk and mist covered pine trees beyond an expanse of gently rippling water. “Those who look to him are radiant.” Wonder how you could have once felt so unloved.
Read the title of this essay again - How to Get Over A Break Up. Realize the strangeness of that goal, like circling the base of a mountain instead of reaching the summit. “Eye on the prize” if the prize is bloody knuckles and missing teeth. Scratch out the title with three quick, straight strokes and write in its place: How to Be.
Step One: Seek God.
Step Two: Don’t worry about doing it wrong.