Long Distance Calling for Ms. Heartbreak
June 8, 2010 4:25 PM   Subscribe

My 29yo sister lives 3,000 miles away in NYC and just broke up with her long-term, live-in boyfriend. She's devastated. I want to be supportive and present for her even though I'm far away. Aside from phone calls, what can I do from here to help her there?

She does not have many friends around as lots of them have gotten married and moved away recently, or are away for the summer. She's lonely and very, very heartbroken.

I'd love ideas on how I can basically send a stready stream of support to her from afar. There is no chance I will be in the US any time soon, so....

-- Book suggestions for the heartbroken?
-- A source for a cheery (though, yes, lame) new email thought I can send every day?
-- Ideas for a list of things she can do by herself or with the dog in the city after work that wouldn't be horrendously lonely?
-- A charity or cause for whom she might make things at home? She's not that crafty but I have a feeling she could use a hobby right now...
-- Any other ideas you have that I can feed to her to help her on a day to day basis.

I am willing to do anything short of getting on a plane. I will watch movies with her by phone if anyone thinks that's useful. Bring me your silliest ideas. Anything!

Possibly pertinent: She's in Manhattan, she has a dog, she has a job and she will be returning for her final semester of law school in September. She is also broke since her household just lost half its income and she's investing heavily in kleenex.
posted by DarlingBri to Human Relations (33 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
does she like scrabble? isc.ro = realtime games you can play together from across the country any time, with chat.
posted by availablelight at 4:27 PM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

This costs money, but it's a thought-if you call a florist you might talk them into making her a special care package with goodies in a basket which they will deliver-if she has special noms she really likes ask for them? Most teleflora or ftd florists have to sell "gourmet" baskets and the dirty little secret is they aren't really standardized-they have to go shopping for what they put in, usually.

I figure if folks can call me at work from Afghanistan and order stuff you may very well be able to do that with her local florist as well?
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:32 PM on June 8, 2010

Could you post her a care package?

Not one from a business, one that you put together yourself by hand.

- Light hearted, distracting books;
- CDs (no romantic content);
- Treat foods;
- Bath products;
- Anything else that you think she would like.

A good friend did this for me when I had a breakup in 2007, and I still remember it with great appreciation.
posted by Year of meteors at 4:54 PM on June 8, 2010 [4 favorites]

Do you have friends in the area who can go pick her up and take her out or watch movies and eat pizza with her and let her cry/be a mess?
posted by anniecat at 4:57 PM on June 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

Does she have a favorite coffee place or something in the city? Maybe you can send her a gift card from there which will provide her comfort and force her to leave her house each day.

And a book suggestion: "He's Gone, You're Back." Cheesy title ... some smart and funny things to say.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 5:00 PM on June 8, 2010

Does she have a game system? Is she into games? If so, play some games together - there's also network tetris clones, and scrabble, and risk, and boggle and all kinds of things like that. Games are a glorious distraction.

I'll second the care package idea. In addition to that, you might want to pick up a bunch of random post cards - silly, artistic, cheesy, funny, serious, whatever - and pop one in the mail once every few days.

Send her links in email to things you think will interest her, and then talk about them later. "So, did you read that thing on metafilter..."

If you're thinking she might like a hobby that produces something, grab a couple of relevant craft books and put together a care package that would help her learn - a few balls of yarn, some crochet hooks, and a good crochet book (I like this book. It has good pictures). If you're feeling particularly brave, offer to learn together - work on the same pattern for a time and then compare your work.
posted by lriG rorriM at 5:06 PM on June 8, 2010

If she has any time off this summer, why not buy her a cheap plane ticket home?
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 5:16 PM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Gift certificates to stuff to do. Distractions are key. Maybe some spa time or tickets to a show?
posted by otherwordlyglow at 5:37 PM on June 8, 2010

I've found podcasts to be wonderful for easing heartbreak loneliness, particularly for the despair that comes in the middle of the night.

I recommend sending her an mp3 player pre-loaded with The American Life episodes and audio books (or whatever else she likes). Also put together some playlists that will suit the range of emotions that she will be going through over the next few months.
posted by bingoes at 6:06 PM on June 8, 2010

Best answer: Send her something in the mail regularly. Even if it's just a cheesy little postcard. I don't know what it is but getting things via snail mail is always so nice. When you're feeling let down and find something other than bills or an empty mailbox it just feels good. Some little thing in the mail every few days could be a real boost.

I also second the flowers. I was having a bad time and happened to mention it to my mom, a few hours later I heard a knock at the door and was surprised with a cheerful arrangement and a small box of chocolate covered strawberries. My mom lives 800 miles away, but at that moment I felt like she'd just given me a hug.

As far as the dog goes, if it's a good size dog you should see if there's an agility club she can join. They'd both get a challenge and some exercise, plus she might meet some nice people. I've also had a lot of fun with this cookbook of dog treats.
posted by TooFewShoes at 6:20 PM on June 8, 2010

Best answer: I got myself through two breakups (with the same guy! and we're still friends!) by watching the entire collections of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and How I Met Your Mother. They are worth buying for your sister. Buffy is not only wildly entertaining and from the genius universe that is Joss Whedon, but also extremely cathartic--nothing like watching the visual metaphor of the person you loved most in the world hurting you to the core because he's deep down a hell-demon, so you have to stab him through the heart with a stake for the sake of your own survival. Or the idea that as much as you'd like the couple-that-beat-all-the-odds of human and demon to work, while the different species/age (22 vs. 1050 yrs) wasn't an issue, his (human!) lack of commitment was. HIMYM was great because I got to watch people fall in love, break up, and it all seemed to be a part of some big narrative/picture that only the distance of time and the gift of perspective will reveal. So when I thought I lost the love of my life, I watched Ted struggle with Robin's commitment issues and be left at the altar all on the path of meeting "The Mother" and felt reassured that things would somehow work out ok, that I would love and be loved again, and that one day I'd find the man I want to marry. And you know, weirdly, just a couple months after the breakup, three days after signing onto OK Cupid, I met someone. And six months later we're living together, blissfully. And he wants to marry me. Two years with Mr. Previous, and he could never make up his mind. Captain Awesome said he knew that he'd want to marry me on our second date. I took a few months longer because I wasn't sure to trust my heart (do good things actually happen to me? what becomes of the broken-hearted? they find peace of mind, for one), but now I know that you'll never know when you will be able to move on--it'll just happen one day. If you're going to sit in a catatonic state in your pajamas and can't rouse yourself to shower or eat, at least you can be entertained.

My friends got me the poetry collection "To Hell With Love" and the book "The Between Boyfriends Book." The poetry book is full of beautiful, angry poetry from the greats, the second book is a bit fluffy. I got a friend some of those self-help type breakup books. Mostly though, they helped by talking to me and hanging out, even the ones I hadn't seen in a year due to dyadic isolation. I absolutely recommend listening to "Break Up" on This American Life, and depending on her personality, making her mix CDs. Does she like to wallow? Let her wallow, with the help of the Magnetic Fields and Bonnie Prince Billy's "The Letting Go." Does she want grrrrl power! Put some Christina Aguilera's "Fighter" and Beyonce's "Single Ladies." Buy her Norah Jones's "The Fall" album, which is an break-up album after her ten year relationship ended. Call her a lot. Tell her that no matter what time of day, or whatever time zone she thinks you're in, she can call you whenever she wants to call HIM. Find her things to do--look up stuff on volunteermatch.org, or the 826 NYC in Brooklyn is great (I volunteered at Jumpstart and 826 in my city; nothing like caring for others to make you focus less on your own pain). Tell her to look up things in Time Out NY to just get out of the house. Don't push her too hard to forget him and move on--let her grieve. But be super supportive and tell her that while grieving is a long process, moving on with her life should start in a few months. For now, she has the daily goals of showering and eating at least twice and leaving the house at least once a day (or every other day). In a couple of weeks, she could add exercise, activities, volunteering. In a couple months, she should consider dating again, or at least putting up a profile and basking in the glow of attention.

Good luck! You're a wonderful sister.
posted by dhn at 6:29 PM on June 8, 2010 [8 favorites]

There's some good advice in this thread. (full disclosure: I was the friend going through the shitty break-up.) Getting things in the mail is nice, and knowing that there's someone halfway across the world who cares is even nicer.
posted by coppermoss at 6:58 PM on June 8, 2010

Send her a really really great new curl-up-in bathrobe. It's a lifesaver.

Other simple lovely things to displace painful reminders with things that are 'her own' not his-and-hers.

Go to a health food store (or elsewhere, I'm sure) and get a pack of empty pill capsules (clear gelatine things that come apart to put medication in). cut strips of paper to roll up and fit inside, and make messages.* Cheers. Jokes. Expressions of shared outrage. Encouragement. Reminders of all she's done and means to others. Reminders there's a future. Love. Join the halves gently so she can pull apart to open. Stick into a bottle with a good personalized RX label. Tell her to take and read as often as needed and call [your number] if she needs immediate attention. Mark for indefinite refills. Mail. [*You can type a page of these up, and cut to the right size afterward.]

If she needs money, and you can give some, do so, but only as much as you can give as a gift and not a loan, which are killers of relationships. If she feels that puts her in a dependent position tell her to pass on the favour to someone else when she is able.

Keep phoning and listening.

What a great sister you are!
posted by Bet Glenn at 7:00 PM on June 8, 2010 [5 favorites]

Does she need a new email buddy? :) I'm going through a horrible breakup right now too. So far, just the occasional daily phone calls checking in on me are uplifting. Let me second the podcast idea as well. They break the silence and keep you engaged and your mind focused which keeps the sad thoughts from creeping in.
posted by CwgrlUp at 7:22 PM on June 8, 2010

N-thing the care package. A friend did this for me while I was out-of-country and going through a break-up and it was the loveliest thing ever (purse, chocolate, book from home-country). There are lots of great ideas here, but ultimately, it doesn't even matter all that much what's in it. Also, I have to agree that watching an entire series of a good tv show can help. Six Feet Under got me through the worst of my break-up - totally engrossing and full of sympathetic characters' problems to cry about rather than / in addition to one's own.
posted by kitcat at 7:23 PM on June 8, 2010

It's juvenile, but could you write her some silly poems about how great she is and how much her ex-partner sucks? Stuff that begins in the vein of...there once was an asshat named _____________.? If it makes her laugh, it could do a lot of good.
posted by kitcat at 7:29 PM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Get her a membership to Film Forum! It's kind of artsy, so it'll make her feel good about herself, and it'll get her out of the house, but it doesn't mean she'll have to talk to anyone if she doesn't want to, and she watching movies is an excellent way to get away from your own problems for a little while.

On the cheaper side, tell her that if she needs to spend some time in a bad mood, the Metropolitan Museum is excellent. You can stare off into space endlessly, walk around, find quiet spots for crying, and it's air-conditioned. Donation entrance, classical statuary, the occasional lumpy sofa. It is a moping paradise.
posted by Sara Anne at 7:31 PM on June 8, 2010

Best answer: I've recently taken up running: there is a free group that meets at the Nike store on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6:30pm and Saturday at 9am. They are friendly and there are all pace groups and distances (including a two mile run/walk where you run two minutes and then walk one minute - which is where I started out.) I haven't seen any of the unpleasant competitiveness that can happen in sports groups (ultimate frisbee, I'm looking at you) and they have a nice set up where you can change and leave your stuff safely while you run.

They say that exercise is as good for you as therapy - and this is free.

I'm also a big proponent of the Nerf gun. They have suction cup darts which will attach to such smooth surfaces as the glass on picture frames and the television. You can get one at any of the Target or Target-like stores.

Care packages are always good.
posted by sciencegeek at 7:48 PM on June 8, 2010

I have always had success sending chocolate. Nothing says I care, I miss you and support you like a few pounds of chocolate.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:29 PM on June 8, 2010

It's juvenile, but could you write her some silly poems about how great she is and how much her ex-partner sucks? Stuff that begins in the vein of...there once was an asshat named _____________.? If it makes her laugh, it could do a lot of good.

I would hold off on this until you see some indication from her that she's ready for silly name-calling. When I broke up with my last ex, I knew deep down that he had been just obnoxiously awful for me, but it took me a while to be able to hear that, because it just made me feel stupid and ashamed for putting up with it for so long. Not rational, but still.
posted by sarahsynonymous at 8:36 PM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Oh my gosh, these are amazing suggestions! I will take time to go through them carefully in the morning, but I just wanted to say thank you - she's really distraught and I really want to be there for her and this just makes me feel like there's stuff I can do.

Please keep them coming.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:00 PM on June 8, 2010

I know you say this is not feasible for you but do you have anyone else in your family or a dear friend of hers who can visit? Any connections in the airline business who could perhaps arrange a buddy pass?

A similar LT break up happened to me. I was absolutely devastated and unconsolable. I'm lucky, I have four sisters but all overseas. It was hard to talk to them due to the time difference. I did not want to burden my friends. It's just not the same. My youngest sister threw caution to the wind and flew from London to be with me (here in NYC) for a week. To this date it is one of the kindest and most cherished moments I will ever have. It was amazing. I felt bad at the time that it was too extreme, however it was exactly what I needed and I will never forget it.

On another note. Shortly after, I started dog therapy training (pet partners) with my pup at the ASPCA. Not only was it good for my dog and I, I met a great new friend who opened the door to a wonderful new social circle.
posted by sequin at 9:36 PM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nthing the suggesion of online gaming (especially real-time with headsets for chat) if she's into it.

Also, what about video chat? Being able to see each other through the webcams might help her feel more connected.
posted by ambulatorybird at 9:40 PM on June 8, 2010

I agree with the people suggesting that you send her a barrage of real mail. Not necessarily anything complicated or serious: just a stream of postcards, drawings, silly little things.

She's in a difficult spot as a solo dog owner with a full-time job. There's only so much she's going to be able to go out and do in the evenings, but she'll need some social time. I'd suggest something specifically involving the dog; someone above suggested agility classes, and someone else suggested running, which the dog might enjoy too.

When I was in a similar situation, badmouthing the ex wouldn't have helped me at all. It would have made me feel profoundly uncomfortable. Chocolate wouldn't have helped either.

I don't know whether you were serious about some variant of "watching movies by phone," but I'd have loved that, and Skype might even make it realistic if you can straighten out the timezone problems. The best breakup movies for me were suspenseful, unsentimental, and visually exciting. Normally I'm indifferent to political thrillers, but they were exactly right back then.
posted by tangerine at 9:50 PM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My mother bought me "how to survive the loss of a love" when my grandma passed away (we were very close). It helped me immensely - there is some excellent advice in there. I've since lent it to several friends going through break ups and deaths. And it's available in interwebs form!
posted by bellbellbell at 11:46 PM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Like sciencegeek, I'm also a new NYC runner. There are lots of us out there in the parks every day (especially early morning/early evening). If she has a pair of sneakers and some gym clothes, it's a pretty cheap hobby, a great way to get in shape, and it makes you feel awesome.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:36 AM on June 9, 2010

Response by poster: You guys are a powerhouse of breakup recovery support.

I'm in Ireland, she's in NYC, my parents are in NJ. As much as I want to go, I can't - we don't have the money and wishing isn't going to make it so. But I have arranged for my sister to go to NJ for the weekend with the dog so she's not alone; the parents will provision her with the books (all of them!) and gift cards (great idea!) as suggested.

On the plus side, we're only five hours apart so I can call her every day when she's home from work very easily. I have free VOIP calls, which also makes watching movies by phone possible, so I'll try to set that up. Playing games online together is also brilliant; she's not that internet-y but I can probably get her to play Boggle or something.

I have sent her a bunch of teeny tiny gifts off Etsy - a candle, a badge, a bath bomb - to arrive through the week by mail. I will send postcards like so many of you suggested. I sent the first Stupid Daily Email, with the link to How to Survive the Loss of a Love from bellbellbell.

When we are through the hysterical constant sobbing phase, I will suggest running and Pet Partners at the ASPCA, those are brilliant ideas.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:24 AM on June 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm going to second that TV show suggestion. Right after a break-up, even reading a self-help book is just too much reminder and requires a lot of mental effort. TV shows, especially good ones with at least 3 seasons are super, super helpful. I got into Bones, which has the right mix of comedy, procedure and a little bit of unattainable romance that really helped. Buffy and HIMYM are also immensely helpful for the reasons mentioned above. (David Boreanaz as a lovelorn character is good for the soul.)

I actually wouldn't suggest the "he's a jerk" vein of comfort, especially if she's feeling really emotionally distraught. Knowing that people think your ex is a jerk doesn't always make you feel better, because then you feel like you're wrong for being upset. (Trust me on this.)

In a few months, would it be possible for her to visit you? A change of scenery, some time in a foreign land and sight-seeing can also give her a starting point for a happier her. That would be better after the hysterical crying stage is over, because it's no fun to cry on vacation. However, the not-always-crying-but-still-sad stage is perfect for a fun, happy, carefree vacation ...with pubs.
posted by inmediasres at 7:43 AM on June 9, 2010

Oh man. This sucks real bad for her— been there. I live in NYC, and I know dating here can be excruciating. Oh, and facing being single in NYC again also sucks. (I remember crawling into my depressing, shoebox-sized room, and curling into the corner of my twin mattress with 18 Bagel Bites and the entire boxed set of The West Wing. Bad news.)

When I got sick of crying, I signed up for trapeze. TRAPEZE! There's a class in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, on Wednesday nights that are $30 for a three hour session, last I checked.

The tingling fear and feeling of literally flying, coupled with the almost immediate gratification of landing that catch or trick... well, it was priceless therapy. Physical therapy for emotional crap, if you will.

Do you think you could call down there and buy her a few classes?

Also, if she's broke, it might help to be sent some of the "luxurious basics" that she might not have the cash for right now, such as nice-smelling shampoo, some Burt's Bees lip balm, and maybe a pedicure set. Nothing fancy, really— just special things that she needs. Drugstore.com and Beauty.com are awesome for that.

Memail me if you want more info on the trapeze thing, if the website ain't cutting it.

Really hope she feels better!
posted by functionequalsform at 8:22 AM on June 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I don't know why I blanked on the DVD box set idea - that's great, especially since I can dispatch a parent to pay for it :)

If she's not up to picking a show, what are the best suggestions? We're 10 years apart so I'm not really confident. Six Feet Under sounds good to me, but... is that a safe bet?

And yes, to address everyone's concerns, there will be no silly name calling.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:34 AM on June 9, 2010

Best answer: This might sound silly, and I'm not sure if this is feasible because of your respective locations, but this is one thing I did for my cousin while she was studying abroad. I bought a bunch of silly style/ 'women's interest' magazines and grabbed a bunch of post-its and went through the magazines page by page, writing little comments on the post-its (about the magazine's stories, photos, ads) and sticking them on every page or two.

She said it was like having me read the magazine with her over the shoulder, and it was goofy and comforting.
posted by rachaelfaith at 10:12 AM on June 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Totally dispatch your parents to pay for a box set of HIMYM seasons 1-4 or the box set of Buffy. Also consider other light, entertaining, cathartic fare like Freaks and Geeks or god help me, Felicity. That will speak to her generation. I'm exactly your sister's age, and I also went to law school. Law school is such a grind, that it makes everyone but the most hardened souls crave levity and escapism. I mean, I loved The Wire and Mad Men, but Six Feet Under is....not good for post-breakup. Nate is the most viciously narcissistic character ever, and the characters on the show don't inspire confidence that you can find functional love again. Box sets are key. I can find almost any show on the internet, but in my post-breakup state, where I was dragging myself out of bed only to lie on the floor in front of the TV in the living room, I really appreciated being able to pop in DVDs with ease. To this day, I'm thankful my friend let me borrow Buffy, and I don't regret the $60 I paid for HIMYM.
posted by dhn at 11:51 AM on June 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

My So Called Life. Seriously. :)
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:40 PM on June 9, 2010

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