Even when I realised within the very deepest fibres of my soul that I had to let my person go, there I was in the pristine office of Dr Chloe Carmichael, a clinical psychologist I sought out for her experience in anxiety and break-ups, listing the reasons I couldn’t release him. I spent four weeks working with her as my coach, voicing my innermost thoughts and workshopping to reframe them, and learnt so much in that very short time. For anyone else who’s going through breakup, or considering one, I hope this helps you out, too.
Step 1. Make sense of the chaos
It was easy for me to dismiss the crappy things me and my ex had gone through, because there was still so much love. “When you have a pretty long and complicated past, then add sadness over its demise to the mix, your brain has a funny way of sugar-coating things,” Carmichael tells me. “It’s a defence mechanism to protect you from reliving the pain. But the irony is that it encourages you to hold on to a toxic relationship, which hurts more.” My homework? To create a timeline of our relationship, highlighting every moment that either brought us closer or drove us further apart. This would help me spot false truths (‘But he’s always treated me so well!’) so I could put the romanticised version of us to rest. “You can’t move on when you have no clarity on what you’re moving on from,” says Carmichael. Preach.
Step 2. Mourn their 'death'
“In a lot of ways, breaking up with a long-term partner is like losing a loved one, because you have to let go of a present and a future with them,” explains Carmichael. It wasn’t dramatic or weird to grieve to the fullest capacity (crying myself to sleep, hardly eating). The only problem is that when the person is alive, they can reach out and disturb the grieving process. Using Carmichael’s words (“I’m letting you know that I’m blocking you for now, not because I don’t love you anymore, but because I do”), I finally closed the communication door. That was the saddest part, the funeral to it all. “Feel the sadness, the missing him,” says Carmichael. “Just don’t mistake it for the idea that you belong together.” If there’s one bit of advice etched in my brain, it’s that.
Step 3. Fix your dating style
When Carmichael asks me about my dating experiences, I realise I haven’t had many. There were a few guys during off-periods with my ex, but none who I considered seriously. She urges me to read a dating book to put the bad experiences I’ve had in perspective and get excited about new ones. I skim a pile of how-to books and discover I’d gone about dating all wrong. My former approach: meet someone on an app or through friends, talk for a little, go out once, then swear off dating for months if it sucked – or talk to only that guy if it went well. The healthier way? Commit to a certain number of dates per month, with multiple people. Now’s the time to figure out what I really want in a life partner, by getting to know different types of men.
Step 4. Find your confidence
Letting my ex go left me wondering if anyone would ever love me as deeply. Was I smart enough, sexy enough, interesting enough? Carmichael – and my legend mates – remind me that ending an unhealthy relationship will give me the space to pursue activities that will enrich my life (like training for a marathon), making me all those things to the right person.
I digest a few biggie messages from the dating books I read, too. One: never let a near-stranger’s opinion make you question yourself. I always keep this in mind when I’m ghosted. And two: repeat, ‘I am the chocolate cake.’ Sounds silly, but equating yourself with an indulgence everyone wants can snap you out of the self-doubt rabbit hole. And you’ll start to treat yourself like the chocolate cake – the first step to true self-love.