The Soho Sex Column: Why is my break-up hurting so much?
This week, our resident sexpert Olivia Petter gets real about heartbreak and why the end of a relationship can leave a deep wound
Friday 30 September 2022 By Olivia Petter Illustration by Martina Paukova
Before we get started, I have a question: when you told people about your break-up, what did they say? Did you get an ‘I’m so sorry’? How about a ‘he was an idiot anyway’? Or a good old fashioned ‘oh dear’?
I’ll bet you heard various iterations of the above several times. But I suspect there’s one thing you didn’t hear much, if at all. And that’s ‘congratulations’. It’s a shame, because it’s probably the thing you needed to hear the most.
There’s no sugarcoating the fact that break-ups are tough. In fact, I think they’re one of the hardest emotional experiences a person can go through. That’s not just because of the pain or that you can’t imagine your life outside of that relationship. Or that you just know that no one is ever going to love you again. No – it’s because everything we’re taught about break-ups is wrong.
The first thing to acknowledge is that the hurt you feel right now is completely normal. It’s a healthy part of the grieving process that you’ll be going through right now. And you shouldn’t try to run away from it. Trust me, it’ll only find a way of catching up with you. Instead, try to reframe your mindset.
Our late Queen once said that grief is the price we pay for love. And I think that logic applies here. You might no longer be with your ex, but the hurt you feel now means you were lucky enough to find someone to love deeply and authentically. The fact that your relationship is over shouldn’t tarnish that, nor should it mean you need to look back on your positive memories with your ex with any kind of bitterness or resentment. Cherish them and consider that your relationship lasted for the exact amount of time it was supposed to.
It’s a cruel myth to go into every relationship we have thinking it will last forever. How can it, when most of us will have several relationships throughout our lives? Of course, it can be sad when one comes to an end. Devastating, even. But it just means there’s something better for you waiting around the corner. That might be another partner or it might be something else entirely, like taking the time to focus on yourself, your career, your friendships, or any of the other things you might have neglected when you were with your ex.
Your pain will also be exacerbated by the rhetoric we have around break-ups. People will ask if you’re ‘over’ them yet. Frankly, I don’t know what that means. Are we supposed to just automatically forget the people we loved? Delete those feelings from our brains like we can old photos on Instagram? Of course not. And that’s OK. You don’t need to be ‘over’ your ex. What matters is that you find a way to peacefully move forward.
That’s why more people need to say ‘congratulations’ when we’ve broken up with someone. Because it is something worth congratulating: you’re out of a relationship that clearly wasn’t serving you, and now you can find something or someone that does. I’m sorry you’re hurting – and my god, I’ve been there. But it will get easier, I promise. In the meantime, try to feel excited about all that’s still to come. Oh, and congratulations.
The quick-fire round
What do you do when you feel like nothing will beat your last relationship?
Write a list of all the reasons why you and your ex broke up. What annoyed you about them? What annoyed them about you? What did you argue about? Our brains have ways of playing tricks on us when it comes to exes. It’s like we’re able to magically delete all of the bad memories and only remember the good ones, which means you’re essentially pining after a relationship that never really existed. Try to remember that you split up with this person for a reason. Write that list and re-read it whenever you miss them.
How do you orchestrate a ‘sex thing’ with someone you had a one-night stand with?
I would love to know more about the ‘sex thing’ you have in mind. It sounds fun. If we’re talking casual sex, it’s pretty simple. Just send this person a message saying that you enjoyed hanging out with them and you’d like to see them again. If we’re talking other kinds of sex things… I’d need more information to advise appropriately.
Got a question for Olivia? Please email email@example.com. All submissions will remain anonymous.
Olivia Petter is the relationships writer at The Independent and author of Millennial Love, which is out now in paperback with 4th Estate.