Break-ups suck. It’s an inescapable fact. They turn the wisest of us—even your sage yoga teacher who meditates every day perched upon the petals of a lotus blossom—into goblin-like creatures, hunched over and bellowing about the misery of our shriveled, broken hearts. (Accurate description, no?) As introverts, we’re hit especially hard by these circumstances. Our groups of friends and connections are very intimate, so it’s pretty difficult to watch circles of trust grow even smaller while attempting to bid adieu to an important part of your life.
But I’m here to say that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. You’ve loved and lost, but this is a transient state. You will not be down and out forever, however much you feel like subsisting on nothing but ice cream and packages of Oreos. (And no, this is not a cliché. Oreos help with the pain—it’s a scientific fact.) You’re probably crying over your keyboard right now, so I’m going to give you some pointed reminders. You might need to repeat them to yourself ad nauseam until you feel better. Are you ready? First…
In especially important matters of the heart, my brain can spin the situation out of control. Dating becomes less, “Hurray! The potential for love and companionship and a rad travel buddy!” and more, “Everything’s on the line! This is life or death, people!” If this happens on a good day of dating, imagine what it’s like during a break-up. (Compound the anxiety times a million, and you’ll be in the general vicinity of my state of mind.) The amount of energy I’ve spent trying to decide if I should reactivate an online dating profile could power a small city. And all that it requires is the click of a stupid computer button.
Break-ups are the time when you have to tell yourself to CHILL. THE. F**K. OUT. And look, I get it. This is the simplest advice, but it’s far from easy. Your heart is fractured into pieces; you’re crying in the bathroom at work; and it requires all your strength to get off the couch and shower. When I ask you to dig down deep and find the resources of willpower already beneath whatever little you’ve got left over, I know it’s a big ask. I know you’re trying to grasp onto anything that’ll make you feel better. You think if you can form a plan, you’ll spare yourself a little pain. (We’ll get to that in a bit.) But there’s time. There’s time for all these kinds of decisions, and it’s certainly not a day when you can’t remember the last time you washed your hair.
So please, calm down. Go wash your hair. Take all major life decisions off the table. All you’re responsible for right now is feeding and clothing yourself, and doing the bare minimum not to get fired. Maybe remember to pay your rent too.
You know what you’re not responsible for at the moment? Being a particularly great friend. You’ve got at least a month of cancelling plans on a whim, crying at the bar, and talking non-stop about the demise of your relationship. You will be annoying, but this is your right for a small window of time. I hereby endow you with the permission to be irritating.
You get to tell all your wonderfully doofy, well-meaning extrovert friends to cool it. You know the ones. They’ll say, “You need to get under someone to get over someone!” and create dating profiles for you without permission and try to drag you to every party known to man in order to shove you in front of anything with a pulse that seems relatively unattached. Bless these friends. They’re so lovely. They want you to feel better. They want you to be happy. They don’t understand how hopelessly clueless they’re being. And it’s not your job to educate them right now.
Sure, on a normal day, you may pause and say to yourself, “Oh, Marcia! She doesn’t understand I’m an introvert who doesn’t want to karaoke. She’s trying to draw me out of my shell!” (We’re introverts, Marcia. We like our shells, okay?) You know, on a regular ol’ day, you may even consider singing with a large group if you can stand in the back. But today? You get to tell Marcia to shut up and back off.
Don’t let anyone rush you through your heartbreak. (Which brings us to the next point…)
Remember all the pain I referenced earlier? You poor thing. I wish I could hug you through the computer. You have to feel this pain at some point, and I’d suggest sooner rather than later. Trust me, later gets super messy. (Says the person who has been known to cry in the middle of a dance floor at 3 a.m. six months after a break-up has gone down. I speak from experience. And yes, alcoholic beverages were involved. Of course they were.) During most of my break-ups, the majority of my friends have not understood that I actually wanted to be alone. They’re confused because, after all, it seems contrary to the most commonplace relationship advice, which is to surround yourself with people. Replace the time you were spending with one person with all the other people, and you’ll be okay, right?! Er, not exactly.
For us introverts, our social interaction tends to be measured and thoughtful. We can be a little more sensitive, and we’re careful about choosing who gets our limited attention and resources. When it comes to romantic connections—when it comes to that special person who gets the top priority pick of our time (whoo, boy!)—we’re cautious. And now, even though you were ever so logical about your selection, it didn’t work out.
And the person on the other end of the equation, the one who broke your heart, may not even get it. They might not understand they were the lucky recipient of your focus or appreciate that it was a big deal for you to start a romantic relationship. So you have to grieve their absence, yes. But you have to grieve the miscommunications too. Even if your break-up was thoughtful, kind, and mature, your special sparkly person doesn’t get replaced overnight. This is true of any break-up, no matter who you are, but if this loss seems profound and devastating in a way you can’t quite describe to family and friends? It’s okay.
Take the time alone to process and grieve until you can explain it. Free yourself from other people’s expectations and timelines (because there’s nothing worse than seeing a friend mentally calculating whatever rule they have for how many days it should take you to get over someone). In order to build the story of my relationship and its demise, I need to process the situation first. I need to take stock and find comfort in the activities I love—reading, yoga, solitary hikes—before I can face the barrage of advice that’s about to hit. Because guess what?
Ah, balance! You tricky son of a gun! There will come a time when you’ll have to talk about the break-up, and it’s appropriate to start listening to that advice. Meaning everything I just told you—all of this stuff about chilling out, processing, grieving, taking time for yourself, and not worrying much about being a great friend—it has an expiration date. (I mean, eventually you’ll want to reconnect with Marcia. She really is a good buddy, and you guys have known each other a long time.) But I want to stress to all you introverts out there: it’s okay if your expiration date is a little further in the future than you’d like it to be.
However, you do have to put this break-up behind you. (Remember, you still have to go on dates.) The good news is that as introverts, we are built with a lot of quiet fortitude. While some of your friends might think you’re moping about, all sad and sulky in your apartment, really what you’re doing is healing. You’re stockpiling lessons; you’re thinking about your behavior; and you’re considering different choices. You’re taking care of yourself so that when another shot at the big L-O-V-E rolls around, even though you’ll be scared out of your damn mind, you’ll jump on that bandwagon again.
So, sure. You’re hurting right now, and you need to take a break. But you’ll have the strength and courage to love again. I know it. Tell that to your silly little mind until it listens (and it will eventually, I promise), and you’ll be okay.