how can i handle this breakup completely alone?
January 14, 2010 9:00 AM   Subscribe

how do you handle a breakup with no local support system?

This was me. Unfortunately.

As the more pessimistic among you predicted, we are done. And now I'm in the predicament of having built my entire life around him in this city. I feel like an ivy plant that grew against a wall and then the wall was knocked down.

I have never had a breakup without a huge support system ready and willing to schedule time with me and sit across from me in a room and talk to me. My now-ex was my only close friend here. I know other people in my program, but not well, and certainly not well enough to where I would be comfortable hanging out with them and then breaking into tears, which is likely for the next few weeks.

I have people to talk to on the phone, and online, but it's not the same as having people make specific plans with me that require me to leave my bed and my apartment. School days are fine because classes are plans. I am worried about a yawning expanse of a weekend that is coming up. I don't know what to do. How do people do this alone? What can I do to make my life here okay now? I solicited for visitors from my old city, but that is not a long-term solution.
posted by millipede to Human Relations (15 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
For now: Baby yourself. Treat yourself to a massage. Eat comfort food. Sit on the couch all day and watch movies. Get some good novels from the library. Find somewhere to volunteer for a few hours. If it's warm enough where you are go to a park and enjoy nature.

For soon: Find some new local friends who are not part of your grad program.
posted by mareli at 9:09 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm fully aware of how pathetic and nerdy this sounds, but after my last breakup I watched ALL seven seasons of Buffy. The first couple of seasons are really weird and dramatic, so that at least took my mind off myself when I was really down in the dumps, and later on the consistency of having a reliable 2 hours of comforting, familiar entertainment every night kind of took the edge off being alone. After a while, I just sort of naturally switched from being alone in my room watching dorky TV and wallowing to wanting to get out and have fun.

As a more long-term, sustainable, and non-anti-social solution, could you look into finding roommates, whether on Craigslist or through school? Even if they don't end up being your best friends, it always helps to have other people around you.
posted by oinopaponton at 9:10 AM on January 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

There are meetup groups that offer breakup support. Maybe you can join one of them over at
posted by anniecat at 9:13 AM on January 14, 2010

Response by poster: i should have mentioned: i also don't have a lot of free time--my main social activity with him was doing our work together. i'd LOVE to watch all seven seasons of buffy, but i don't really have the luxury of that amount of time. oh, buffy.

roommates is a great idea but i just signed a lease and it's a one-bedroom apartment that i like a great deal.
posted by millipede at 9:17 AM on January 14, 2010

It seems that when you started the program you leaned heavily on this fellow (he was the wall and you were the ivy), and now that he's gone, you're looking for other people to lean on. It will be better for you in the long run if you take this time to focus on yourself, to learn how to be comfortable being alone. Find an activity you'd like to do by yourself (movie, theatre, concert, museum, whatever) and get out and have some fun.

On preview, I'm confused- you don't have any free time, but you're worried about the "yawning expense" of the weekend?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:28 AM on January 14, 2010 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Having recently divorced and realizing that he was pretty much my best/only friend, I did the following while slowly building new relationships -

- Filled my newly free time with organizing the garage, going to the gym, watching movies, etc. I also got massages a couple times (on my birthday, on the date of our wedding anniversary - very therapeutic.)

- Worked through my angst in my journal. Sometimes you just need to tell your story. A journal ended up being a good way for me to do so when I didn't have a human to do it with.

- I made a point of NOT telling my story over and over and over to people who didn't care that much to hear it (meaning - everyone in the world but my mother.) It's hard to make new friends with people when you keep breaking into tears. Seriously, don't bring up the topic. If others bring it up to be nice who don't really want to know the whole sad story, just tell them, "I'm good, thanks for asking; Getting better everyday." And guess what? You will get better, every day. And you will have new friends and the friendship will be based on who you are, not on what you just went through.
posted by eleslie at 10:09 AM on January 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

When I was getting over a major breakup in a town we had just moved to where I knew nobody, the most helpful activity I found was volunteering as an usher for local theater performances. It gave me a sense of belonging to a team (the other volunteers and staff) with some responsibility (showing up early, taking tickets, giving directions to the bathrooms) but still pretty low-commitment (just an hour or two of work for each performance). Spending that front-of-house time being friendly and smiling was also helpful in a fake-it-til-you-make-it way.

Other things I did: spent some time each weekend finding lots of cheap or free local activities and putting them on a calendar. I had a whole folder of bookmarks for events at local theaters, film series, town meetings (go and very seriously take notes on the garbage commission or something, just once!), tourist events, etc. I didn't force myself to go to all of them, but having the list all prepared meant I didn't see empty expanses on the calendar on holiday weekends (for this weekend, lots of cities and towns have organized volunteer programs on Monday, which you might look into). I joined a non-audition community chorus -- two hours a week with people who were singing for fun, again in a social and low-pressure environment (this particular one was a women's group of all different ages, which was basically a ready-made support network). The local folk dance was another source of welcoming ready-made community, plus helpful exercise.

I can't recommend participation in community activities -- completely unrelated to your program or your school if possible -- highly enough; not just for the immediate present, but as a stress-relief/outside perspective throughout grad school.
posted by nonane at 10:15 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I wonder if this break-up might not end up being of tremendous benefit to you. First, you are not completely alone, you'd have the same feeling even if you had a support system around you. You're friends are still there for you to lean on, just not physically there. I'm also willing to be that you'd still have that "alone" feeling even if they were physically present. You might have modified it to "no one around me understands what I'm going through", but it would still come from that same root source. My point is that not having a support system there for you is a red herring, it's just self pity grabbing the lowest hanging fruit. Self pity right now is perfectly fine, but just realize how it's presenting itself. Regardless, you will get through this, you will. It will suck for a bit, but you will get through it. When you do, you'll still have your own apartment, you'll have made progress in your program, and you'll realize that this city has interesting things to offer you. You'll also likely find that you're made of sterner stuff than you gave yourself credit for. And this will benefit you going forward in future relationships as well. You'll enter your next one knowing you can survive its demise, which will give you the wisdom and strength to nurture a healthy one, or to walk away from a bad one.
posted by forforf at 10:16 AM on January 14, 2010

I think you will have to just start making your own routines, almost like you just moved there. If your main activity is/was doing your work, find a pleasant place to do that, and bonus if you do that around other people you might want to talk to. A coffee shop, student center/library place, outside if it is nice enough.

If you want some structure, plan to do your work at certain times on the weekends, the same as you would if you had to go to class. Do you know anyone else in the program who might want to meet up for studying?

I like the idea of finding a community outside of your school program, but I will confess that I am not 100% sure how to go about doing that. I guess starting with nonane's suggestions makes sense.

You can get through this, and sometimes it is better to do it on your own, to work through it and handle it yourself and emerge on the other side a little bit stronger.
posted by KAS at 10:35 AM on January 14, 2010

Immerse yourself in your work, it will distract you and the great work you do will make you feel good about yourself. (You might be doing this already). I agree about finding a pleasant public place to work, especially on the weekends.

In some cities there are groups of people who get together to do work in cafes or libraries. Maybe this would be a way to get a dose of socializing without having to dedicate a lot of time?

I also agree with the suggestion to make a schedule to force yourself to leave the house. Even if it's just little stupid tasks like the laundromat, buying trash bags, whatever, schedule it early and follow it up with reading in a cafe, and then a visit to a museum, etc. If you're creative, give yourself little creative assignments that involve leaving the house.

If you need to vent and have nobody to vent to, write it all down. You don't have to (and maybe shouldn't) read it right away but it's a good way to get it all out of your system.
posted by beyond_pink at 1:27 PM on January 14, 2010

I would recommend getting out and doing things where you're meeting new people. Volunteering is great for this, but you could also try hobbies, hiking groups, meet ups, church groups, etc. Just something where you're getting out of your house and meeting people.

This has the effect of (a) getting you out of your house and (b) getting your mind off the break up.

Good luck....
posted by bananafish at 1:40 PM on January 14, 2010

I recommend a break-up support group. It's a place where you can share your story and feelings with others who empathize because they're going through it too. It really helps to be able to talk about it with people who understand. And it helps to see first-hand that your emotions are appropriate for your life right now. Then comes the healing. And then, when you're feeling better, you can find activities to participate in and make new friends. All this will take a while, so be patient and keep working at it. And don't be hesitant to find a good therapist if you feel you could benefit from one-on-one counseling.
posted by exphysicist345 at 6:10 PM on January 14, 2010

Best answer: The people above have a lot of good ideas.

After my last big breakup (of a very long-term relationship, in a city in which I alone remained of all my college friends), I had an entire summer gaping threateningly ahead of me. Thinking about how to fill all that time was both terrifying and overwhelming.

After I realized that sitting around the apartment moping was not going to do much for me, and that when I moped all I wanted to do was mope a lot more, I ended up feeling a lot better when I made a point of making an agenda for the next day before I went to bed, even down to really silly stuff- whatever tasty fruit I was going to eat for breakfast, who I was going to write a letter to at the coffee shop, what time I was going to bike to the library and work on X.

The key points were what things I could insert in my day that I would look forward to (raspberries! a quick walk on the beach!), what kind of physical exercise I would get, what tasks I would enjoy having accomplished, and (most importantly) how and when I was leaving the apartment. But I'm kind of a dork like that- structure helped me a lot. Maybe it's not a bad idea for the first scary weekend or two.

In terms of long-term planning for making life livable in a city where I was friendless, as an introvert who had kind of isolated herself with her ex, I found that I had to be a lot more proactive than I had wanted to be about making and maintaining connections with people. I joined a hiking group. I volunteered at the library. I also instituted for myself a say-yes-once-to-anyone policy...if someone I didn't know very well asked me to a party, or for coffee, or to work on a project, I said yes just once unless I had a real, compelling reason not to go (not just that I was mopey and don't like people). I hung out with some lame and boring people on occasion, and went on some terrible dates, but also made some good friends I wouldn't have otherwise.

I'm sorry that it sucks. Know that it will get better.
posted by charmedimsure at 11:44 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

One thing that I do when I am upset (I am a pretty taciturn guy if it matters) is to try and focus that energy on being productive. In my case that means working out when I get stressed (stupid new years resolution people crowding up my gym...), but you could try and dive into your classwork, or really force yourself to be more proactive about making new friends. You are dealing with a lot of emotions right now, try and channel them into something that you will be proud of when you look back at it.

Good luck, you know it will get easier.
posted by BobbyDigital at 8:40 AM on January 15, 2010

I just went through an awful "breakup" a little less than a week ago. It's been five days, and right now I'm pampering myself, cleaning my apartment, building a desk I bought at Ikea, watching cooking shows and trying out recipes...basically anything and everything I did before I met this guy, but that got co-opted by the excitement of the relationship. It's amazing how much you can forget who you are when you're in a relationship. Actually that's probably why it didn't work out...hmm.

Anyway, the more you let boredom set in, the more your mind will wander and you'll think about all the "what ifs." This thing is over, dwelling on it is toxic. I'm not saying you need to completely banish what happened from your mind, in fact it's really important to process what happened so you don't make the same mistakes, obviously. Just try to gently wean yourself off of these thoughts. You don't necessarily need other people or specific plans to do this. In fact, no matter what kind of support system you have, it won't amount to much unless your strength and happiness is coming from within. I know that sounds corny, but it's really true. Self-sufficiency is appealing, and will draw other people to you. In the meantime, while you're really hurting, it sounds like you do have people you can reach out to and talk to (this place included --even though we're strangers, we all want to help you!)

I resolved to get out of the house and exercise at least once a day. I haven't been able to motivate myself to do more than go for a walk, but actually I think walking is the best possible exercise right now, since I have the opportunity to sorta put the pieces together while I get those endorphins. It's better on your joints too.

As for long-term advice, I definitely agree with everyone above...use whatever tactics work for you to put yourself out there more.
posted by maggymay at 4:26 PM on January 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

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