In the words of the inimitable LeVar Burton, you don’t have to take my word for it–but these are the facts, as I understand them.
1. You will suffer from exhaustion. You want to sleep, but you can’t sleep without your beloved’s arms about you. You lay awake nights, thinking of her, hoping that she will one day return to your raggedy ass, well aware instead that she is having a fabulous time nursing her non-existent emotional wounds with smooth alcohol and a fine man in some tropical paradise. This thought prevents you from getting the rest you so desperately need, rendering you even more emotionally fragile than you would have been otherwise (which, for the record, is plenty). In the alternative, all you can do is sleep, which unfortunately, does nothing for your unprecedented level of exhaustion. But you should rest while you can; for another thing they don’t tell you are that being well-rested will serve you immeasurably well when it comes time for the rebound that is sure to impinge upon your near future.
2. You will find yourself emotional. You will hear Bonnie Raitt, or Passenger, or John Legend, or Macklemore (in which case, you have bigger problems than your heartbreak) on the radio and burst into 1,000 irrational tears. You will look at photographs of your beloved, doing sweet things, and remember him in a state of grace, or recall the joy that radiated from her face when she smiled. You will grow pensive, thinking on the way his mouth moved when he was speaking and how you’ll never get to kiss his perfect lips again. You will find sorrow in the mundane, in the ordinary, in the everyday. The memory of her beauty will leave you weeping. The smell of the undershirt he left at your apartment–to which his scent still clings—will send you into an emotional overdrive. So, yes: you will cry, a lot, or listen to a lot of Billie Holiday, or eat a lot of ice cream, or read and re-read your favorite Michael Ondaatje poem, ad nauseam, until your eyes are burning. Emotions manifest differently in different people; some people cry them out, others stuff them through eating, or drinking, or sex. Whatever your poison, remember: this too shall pass, but unfortunately, not yet.
3. You will engage in small acts of self-destruction. The possessive investment one stakes in having a broken heart is enough to destroy any otherwise rational human being, at least temporarily. I once did not eat a single morsel of food, so despondent I was at the loss of a man I loved. He did not love me in the least, which was the fundament of our relationship: I loved him so much, he did not love me at all, and we both spent a lot of time crying about this catastrophe. A person full of self-love would have shed no tears about the loss of such a man (who, not incidentally, suffered from a terrible admixture of alcoholism and depression, which rendered him incapable of the emotional availability a functional relationship required). I told him (nine or seventeen times) that I would take him back on any terms. And I did. And, shock of the century, it never worked.
4. You Will Lose Weight, Or Maybe Gain Weight. You will lose five pounds, or maybe ten. Or, you’ll gain five pounds, or maybe ten. This brings me to another, more important point, which is: Who cares. When it comes to a broken heart, your weight is immaterial, your appearance is immaterial, your personality is immaterial. Many times, women emerge from a breakup defiant, convinced that they will lose weight, get hotter, and get the ex back/have revenge sex/take over the world. Relax, comrades. You are hot enough already.
Contrary to your deluded expectations, there is nothing that you could have done to change the outcome here. The universe, as they say, is unfolding exactly as it should. What that means is that there is no failure, misdeed, or flaw on your part that drove her away from you. Unless you slept with your boyfriend’s brother, or killed his pet monkey, or stole his job (and if you did that, you suck, hi), there is nothing you could have done differently to keep him in your arms. What this also means is that there is nothing you can change about yourself to get him back. If losing twenty pounds will bring him back, everyone’s priorities are wrong (or maybe you just live in Los Angeles County), and he does not deserve you in the first place. In other words: you are perfect exactly the way you are, and when you recognize that your inner beauty is great, your spirit is wonderful, you are hilarious and beautiful externally, a man will come along who sees that, too. That’s all.
5. You will see and speak to ghosts. You will, at times, endure mirages of your beloved, although he is not there. Nevertheless, in your bed, you will feel him pressed gently beside you, his hairy torso scratching against your smoothly moisturized back. You smell him in your car, a smell that never goes away. You imagine the sound of his voice, calling to you that the coffee is done while you are in the shower. You hear him singing, and the timbre of his beautiful baritone lingers in your bones. In the street one day, you will see a portly white man with a handlebar mustache fedora and imagine he is the person you are still not really over–a bald black man who is cleanly shaved and wears a skull cap. They were both wearing jackets, you insist to yourself, well aware that you are rationalizing, firm in the knowledge that all attempts to dispel the sense that you have lost your mind are for naught.
6. You will rationalize with a precision generally reserved for sociopaths. You never really loved him anyway. (Oh, but you did.) You did not want to be in a relationship, because you need to be single for spring break in the DR. (You are lying.) You should have sex just one more time, to get over him (this doesn’t work) or to prove to him how good you are together (yes, but only in the sheets). You can still be friends, after all, and that is what counts, because you weren’t meant to be as a couple does not mean that you should leave one another’s lives indefinitely. (Only it probably does.) You won’t have sex with her. (But you might.) You can have sex with him, just as a sort of goodbye, it won’t impede your ability to move on in a healthy way. (It will, honey. It just will.) And the most painful rationalization: Everything will be okay, as long as I don’t see her again. So I just won’t see her again. Ever.
7. You will see her again. You live in the same one-horse town, and you will run into her again, at the library or the bar where he tends on the weekends or on the local bike path. And maybe you have the luxury of imagined distance, by virtue of living in a city of millions, or on opposite coasts, and cling to guarded hope that you will successfully avoid one another indefinitely. But geography does not matter; you could move to Siberia and she in the American Southwest; your bodies will cross in time and space, and there is nothing that you can do about it. Other than cry. And there is a small chance that with the passage of time, you will no longer see her with love in your eyes or nostalgia in your heart but with a gritty sureness that you never cared for her to begin with. So there.
8. You might sleep with him again. I’m not saying that I’ve ever done this myself (I most certainly have not), and I’m not saying that you should. What I’m saying is: you might. You shouldn’t, but you might. You will walk into it with a falsified innocence, a sense that you are just giving her a hug that lingers a little too long, a kiss on the forehead intended to be endearing, a small touch on the back, a gesture of kindness and goodwill in spite of your recent folly. You might accept what you hope will be a tepid hug, but find yourself lingering a bit too long, inhaling the heady admixture of his skin commingling with the Drakkar Noir your middle school boyfriend also favored. You will be done for. It’s best to avoid these situations wherever possible, but if you must engage in breakup or post-breakup sex, get in, get out, and get it together. Oh, and this goes without saying, but for the love of yourself, use protection.
9. You might sleep with someone else as comeuppance. This one is a no brainer. You shouldn’t do it, but you probably will. The same rules apply as with ex sex: use protection, and do not get emotionally attached. If you think that this is easier said than done, you are right. But this is sex, not love, and there is no wedding canopy above your head (and if there is, that’s a little strange, but who am I, Mazel Tov). In short, rebound sex is practically inevitable, and it can even be cathartic, in its way. The key is: you have to be reasonably sound and stable of mind when you engage in the rebound so that you don’t engage in a literal sort of erotic transference whereby you transfer all of your emotional baggage and unmet psychic needs and heavy drama from your relationship onto this woman who is just supposed to be a source of release for one night, or afternoon delight, or what have you.
The alternative is crazy, which is to say: if you are thinking about your next relationship, do not have rebound sex. If you are thinking that if you just have another boyfriend, you will forget about the last one who broke your heart, do not have rebound sex. If you are having “revenge sex” (i.e.: sex to make your ex feel badly), don’t do it, this is passive aggressive, unfair to your new sexy friend, and just bad form. So take careful stock of your emotional inventory before you go whoring around, and I said it before but it bears repeating: use protection. It is bad enough that you’re mending a broken heart, you do not want to deal with an STI or an unplanned pregnancy on top of everything else. Trust me.
10. You will find work as a revisionist historian. You will revise your history, in ways large and small, so you can convince yourself: she was a terrible person, you are better off without him, or (worst of all), you might have been meant to be. I am especially predisposed to this practice, so I understand, believe me. In the right lighting, my mind’s eye can turn your average ax murderer into a generous and gentle soul: He was just misunderstood. For my own part, I love all histories, especially revisionist histories, but then, these are the only kind I know. And in due time, the dust will settle, and you will find clarity. Maybe the revisions will reveal that you were ill-suited to one another, ill-matched, a temporary distraction from the things and people and circumstances that really mattered. But, you never know: maybe something more is still between you. And maybe when the revisions are all that’s left, the record will reflect that you loved one another, however imperfectly, and that you were open, even when you were fearful, and that through the depths of your fear, you never ceased to be brave.