It is common knowledge that breakups are the heart’s equivalent to getting stabbed in the crotch with scissors. To the recipient of walking papers from a relationship, even the brightest, most sunshiny day can feel like a canker sore. And, barring the passage of time, there is no single effective cure for the gut-wrenching angst associated with heartache.
The typical breakup is comprised of a series of standard stages through which everyone progresses in roughly the same manner. However, the “actions” associated with each stage differ for men versus women. The male breakup recovery cycle is largely counter-productive in comparison with the female version – especially once “breakup anxiety” begins – in which case a routine breakup for either sex becomes a case-study in maladaptive social bizarredom. For the anxious individual, the symptoms and manifestations associated with the breakup stages are measurably more self-defeating, sadistic, lengthy, and, oddly – awe inspiring – than that of a split for the less anxious populace. And, though the phases for a breakup involving an anxious person can affect both males and females – it is far less socially acceptable in a man. This is the primary reason there are so few books available to men regarding breakups. You have to look no further than the breakup book covers and titles to validate this claim: “He’s Just Not That Into You“; “The Smart Girl’s Breakup Buddy“; and “Breakup Girl to the Rescue“, for example. The list is long, and each cloaked in pink, pastel, and effeminate covers. As general practice men go to bars and strip-clubs, hook-up with a random stranger, stalk their ex, or binge drink upon having a significant relationship terminated. But, once anxiety kicks-in he becomes an emotional crash-test dummy. Sulking within the aisles of a bookstore is just one of many places you might find this hapless soul seeking consolation. And, you can spot him from 50-yards: watery eyes; heart on sleeve; morose; slow talker; wreaks of pessimism; all while seeking asylum to mourn. He is the poster child for Kleenex, alcohol, and anti-depressants. And, he was recently … “me.”
Post breakup advice from a guy is seldom, if ever, helpful. “Man-therapy” is worthless – unless the man has “LCSW”, “MFT”, or “PhD.” following his name. After my very first breakup, my dad bluntly dispensed some advice while we worked on my Dodge pick-up. It was one short, memorable statement he made as he torqued on something important under the hood with some large torquing type of instrument. In referring to my ex, he said, “Son, there is nothing between her legs that you won’t find between another set – so, move on.” Sage advice. But clearly, my father assumed I was as shallow as my brother, whom rolled through breakups like a pimp with a titanium heart and sealed tear ducts. But, dad made a decent point – I have yet to discover some elusive North American rhinestone and sequins, vanilla-scented vagina – outside of a strip club, anyway.
There are basically three stages of any breakup. And, the following are how each plays-out for an anxious individual:
Stage I for the Anxious Breakup Victim is “Shock & Awe:“
This initial period feels like a cannonball fired directly into the abdomen, accompanied with a false sensation of, “I can totally fix this“. It is marred by feelings of inner turmoil, all-consuming grief, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, jealousy, lack of food or sleep, complete disregard for personal hygiene, and sprinkled with regular moments of irrationality. It is further accompanied by a sense of defeat that this was the single greatest partner you will ever have, that you will never meet anyone as good, and you will die alone with only a stray cat and a self-propelled Roomba vacuum to care for you. The downward spiral continues until you have plummeted into a dark abyss of self damnation. Sure, you’ve somehow recovered from previous losses, but this one is seemingly insurmountable. It is within this early state that you believe the resultant heartache will actually kill you. Furthermore, your current state of emotions feel worse than had your love interest actually died in a freak beer bong or hair straightener/White Rain aerosol accident. Had they actually died, you would not be picturing them naked in ritualistic Conquistador-type sex orgies. And, in the instance of their death, you would receive paid time off from work with copious sympathy from colleagues and peers. Not so with breakups. People quickly tire of your incessant whining and ideological droning about times past. The Serenity Prayer rarely makes a dent here – no matter how many times recited, or how aggressively. And, the hours begrudgingly whittle away like a constant panic attack with alternating chest and stomach pains. If this stage of heartache was our national security, it would be “DEFCON 5” – a most precarious state, in which appalling, regretful antics such as calling his or her mother to plead your case is not uncommon. In my most recent breakup, I phoned my ex’s mom in Idaho in an attempt to have her facilitate my planned reconciliation. When this failed, I sent a litany of texts and emails to my ex to argue my case and somehow win her back. And, after my pathetic writing campaign solicited little response, I went where no man – anxious or not – should traverse: a Tiffany’s jewelry store at the local mall, where I purchased a “Tiffany Novo” engagement ring, and vowed to make her happier than The Wiggles.
In the campaign to win back the object of your desire, this stage will most often include regular and methodical text diatribes (aka, “terror texting”), along with emails and voicemails in futile attempts to recon the defector – while each time, vowing not to send another – only to do so within hours. This stage is rife with a fuzzy logic that there is just the right combination of words and dire pleading to get them to reconsider. Like reminding them that no one will ever love them the way you do. Sure! How could this not work? And, what if you add some tears? How ’bout a $15,000 engagement ring?! It is wise to keep a dose or two of Ativan, Xanax, or Klonopin readily available to prevent the inevitable emotional meltdown or impulsive purchase. I took some during a long mountain bike ride after my breakup, and passed-out midway on a remote hillside. At least I didn’t pedal to another jewelry store. And, offering to do everything now that you were unwilling to do while in the relationship is a colossal ‘red-flag’ to yourself. Pay attention to it. The color of desperation is ‘safety orange’, and people will only pass you by with a look of extreme caution.
Remedy for Stage I:
If you take away anything from this article, let it be this: Do not ask him/her to sleep with you one more time in the hope it will somehow woo them back. Walk away before you ever mutter this hopeless request. If you pose this question, you will be denied without even a sliver of dignity upon which to rest. Just think how bad Moses had it while wandering the desert for 40 years. If you plead unsuccessfully for reconciliation sex, the Gobi Desert will be paradise compared to the emotional banishment you will reap after proposing this request. Notwithstanding begging for breakup sex, The only souls who appear less fortunate than you during this state, are those exposed nationally on a “Dateline’s, ‘To Catch a Predator‘” documentaries. This is proof-positive that things can always be worse, and perspective is a very helpful tool at this juncture. But, just in case, stay out of internet chat rooms, and don’t keep a 6-pack of Mike’s Hard Lemonade and condoms in the car with you. It is also imperative to limit self-humiliation and to avoid further contact with your ex. You would not leave your mangled arm in a running wood-chipper, would you? An effective technique to implement at this early stage is deleting the object of affection’s number from your phone contacts list. Even better, is turning off the phone and keeping it in the trunk of your car. If – as in my case – the number is permanently etched into your mind from days of deranged dialing, then change the object of affection’s name within your phone to something repulsive such as, “Rotten Crotch”, “Skank”, “Lucifer”, “Man Whore”, “Douchebag” etc. This will limit moments of nostalgia and the certain romanticizing of his/her name. And, be proactive regarding the division of shared friends and alliances. This act may feel eerily reminiscent of 5th grade, where two team captains alternately select the best classmates for a game of dodge-ball – sans the gratification of legally pummeling your ex’s face with a rubber ball. Additionally, perform an exorcism of all relationship mementos: Emails, cards, photos, half-used massage oils, candles, Chinese love beads, concert tees, CD’s, the bedroom sex swing, etc. Despite how expensive, memorable, or impressively crafted, they must all be discarded. Jewelry is excluded, as it should go directly to a consignment shop, with the resulting cash used on strippers or facials. I still miss the beautiful desk globe my ex got me for Christmas – but, it looked much better at the bottom of my garbage can. The sheets we slept on – given to my landscaper to bundle yard waste and grass trimmings for disposal. My shirts she loved to wear – now used to wipe the mud and bugs off the front of my truck. Her toothbrush – perfect for removing hard-to-reach toilet algae from under the rim. Bath gels, shampoos, lotions, hair clips – all trash. I found that ridding of her hair was the final and most tenacious forensic leftover of which to dispose. I found it everywhere – for months. In my truck, all over my floors, in the dryer, permanently intertwined in my hair brush, in my sock drawer, adhered to my shower tile, clogging pipes, etc. It’s a wonder she had any hair at all, with a shed-rate of a Wookie.
Next, change all venues you regularly frequented together, such as gyms, bars, naughty shops, theaters, cafes, Pottery Barn, etc. You could probably use the change of scenery anyhow. And, no matter what month the breakup occurs, it will seem everyone else you know is in a happy, healthy, sexually charged relationship. Even your ugliest and socially stunted of friends will somehow secure mates during this time, then say asinine things like, “Hey, when you get a new partner let us know so we can double-date!” Ignore these dumdums. Look at them with pity as you would passengers on a doomed flight. They are headed toward imminent demise on account of their absurdity and lack of self awareness. And, skip rebound dating for now, under the presumption that “The quickest way to get over one, is to get under another.” This is a brief distractor and, invariably, turns into date-therapy and sound-boarding your problems on to some innocent philanthropist kind enough to get naked with this woeful, depressed version of you. Your sole focus is making it to the next phase while limiting any carnage to yourself or some unsuspecting prey from Match.com.
Stage II for the Anxious Breakup Victim is “Death-by-Analysis“:
This white-knuckle period of time is infused with just enough “What’s wrong with me” self-loathing to completely derail any chance of near term recovery. As the rest of the world seems to pass by on the giant teacups at Fantasyland, you publicly disintegrate into a plume of smoke and debris. It feels like a vapid waste of life that varies in length – though, always too long – and wreaks havoc on the synapses, short circuiting the neurons while your exhausted brain runs endless scenarios trying to solve the severed bond piece-by-piece in some macabre “CSI” type of relationship re-enactment. I wish this stage upon no one. The gestation further involves painstakingly dissecting every past conversation, event, moment, expression, and nuance of the relationship in a futile attempt to construct a reconnaissance and recovery strategy. It is a dark period where guys copiously violate many statutes of the “man code” through constant unsolicited contact, drunken weeping, the making of mixed CD’s, and “un-friending” their love interest from Facebook, only to panic from their cyber absence and sending a new friend request days later. I deleted my ex twice during our first month apart, then sent follow-up requests to add me back. She went along with it – but, clearly out of pity. Pathetic? Yup. This insidious stage takes a hold just as you feel you could not sink any lower, and upon realizing the breakup was probably all your fault and that he/she is really never coming back. It is kind of like breaking-up all over again. Each day you awaken yearning for a mere 1% reduction in sorrow and heartache, and more than 4 hours of sleep. This assumes you get any sleep at all, with that constant reel of self-berating thoughts streaming your conscious like the scrolling news ticker on CNN. Immediately after my anxious breakup, I avoided my bedroom entirely and slept on the living room couch for the next two months. Additionally, I spent all of my time outdoors and ‘on-the-go’ in an attempt to stay distracted till I was physically spent, then I would down a couple of sleeping pills to ensure unconsciousness for a few hours. I felt like a strung-out street junkie. I avoided my memory-tainted bedroom altogether. Her aura hung in there like a fat, lazy demon – always looming, while unresponsive to exorcisms. And, oddly, one whom sadistically hid her scrunchies and hair-ties throughout the night for me to find later. Her ghost was a bitch.
Remedy for Stage II:
To counter the morbid feelings inherent to this stage, it is imperative to spend time outside, get regular sleep, eat right, and exercise. Seems basic enough, right? Not so much. Because, by this point you’ve probably succumbed to considerable weight loss. Wean off the liquor and Mylanta, and introduce your body to some calories in the form of broth, dry toast, and perhaps graduate to an actual fruit smoothie. And, wash it all down with some heavy metal. Because no matter when you breakup, you will hear only sappy, dismal love songs on the radio to feed your anguish. Richard Marx, Air Supply, The Commodores, John Waite and the grocery store Muzak play-list – all ready to drive a rusty stake into the tiny piece of heart you’ve got left. I found that even my local weather channel would play morose, tantric background instrumentals while illustrating the pending cumulus cloud patterns on a forecast map. There is often no mental escape except the unexpected solace brought on by the death metal genre. You won’t find any pantywaist power ballads on the Sirius “Heavy Metal-XL 40” channel, for example. So, embrace your inner head-banger and savor some Goatwhore, Fleshgod Apocalypse, Hatesphere, or Napalm Death. Sure, it feels a tad Satanic and insubordinate at first. But, this audio ecstasy greatly facilitated my own recovery … at least while commuting. And, rather than sulking into the lump of moist waste that John Mayer and Maroon 5 will produce, death metal will usher you to the “healthy” angry stage of a breakup. As for television, it’s a semi effective distraction. But, watch only sitcoms or episodes of “COPS“. No dramas, no sophomoric “Bachelor“/”Bachelorette” series, and no episodes of “Cheaters.” Though, I have occasionally found solace from watching “Cheaters,” simply through the “misery loves company” premise, and that nationally televised ‘train wrecks’ overshadowed my own pain and grief.
Hopefully, you have already done so; if not, stop sending flowers and/or gifts and recoup some losses – mainly your dignity. Stop idealizing, and
begin reducing your love interest’s grandiosity by confirming with family and friends that he/she was not that attractive, and will only get uglier/fatter/dumber/ or herpes now that you are not together. Friends usually have your best interests in mind, and make convincing liars. In my case, however, my male friends only added to my distress by stating that my ex was doing some other guy at random moments – and, probably – multiple guys. And, even though she was not sexually adventurous with me, she is certainly now an amateur porn star, while pulling ecstasy-induced all-night sexcapades. She was a former gymnast after all. In my mind, she made the “Kama Sutra” read like a beginners guide to yoga. And, whom will I be with now?? A girl can have sex at anytime with nearly anyone she chooses. Whereas a guy must constantly troll and toil at it – or, pay. It’s a disparity of nature. And, I was hideously cloaked in desperation and insecurity. Retail therapy often helps women within this state-of-mind regain some self assuredness. Many spare no expense when purchasing their way into temporary bliss. New clothes are not as cathartic or therapeutic for an emotionally wounded straight man, however. Retail therapy for a guy means a muscle car or a new truck with thousands in aftermarket modifications, followed by a serious bout of “buyer’s remorse.” This is precisely how I acquired a new $45,000 lifted, customized 4×4 truck. The high lasted about 60 hours, and until I had to fill the gas tank for the first time. Women also tend to splurge on new hair styles – also something that is wasted on men. Well … not on this anxious man. I once got a hair weave following a breakup, at an African American salon called the “Hair Kingdom,” simply because my ex loved long hair on guys and my nappy blonde hair would only curl and get bigger as it grew, until I looked like a giant microphone. But, the Hair Kingdom stylist hooked me up, and I walked out with a straight, foot-long, blonde mullet. It was the late eighties, so this was perfectly acceptable. I looked like any effeminate member of Poison, Motley Crue or Winger. That horrible decision lasted for one week. But, only because the anti-itch scalp spray could not save me from the constant scratching I performed using a dinner fork where the extensions were tied against my scalp because – realistically – my hair was far too short for a weave. What is more disconcerting is that I even sucked at growing a proper mullet. I may be the only guy on record who has bought a mullet that was not part of a “Joe Dirt” Halloween costume.
The Final Stage (III) for the Anxious Breakup Victim is “Reattaching Genetalia“
Congratulations! You are beginning to feel some emancipation from your emotional purgatory. Liberating, isn’t it?! It is this stage where you no longer wish scabies and STDs upon the ex whom so callously discarded your heart. You do not feel as physically repulsive as before, and you actually have some real marketability to leverage now that you’ve given-up the pastime of wallowing in anger and self-defeat. As a dumpee, you are on the right path if you think the guy (Alfred Lord Tennyson) who said, “It is better to have loved and lost, than to never have loved at all” could be right – but is probably still an insensitive jackass. Thankfully, the visceral imagery has stopped, and no longer do you fondly muse over your ex every minute of each day – maybe once every 30 minutes or so. But, what a glorious reprieve found in those 30-minute windows! A couple of months ago, the loss seemed insurmountable and definitely fatal. You have even moderately accepted that – depending on your ex’s “promiscuity index” – he/she has been naked with someone you despise. Somewhat unsettling to know, but no longer a deathblow. And, you can watch as the season changes and know that you are not going to perish from a bleeding heart. On the upside, you’ve even lost enough weight to rock those skinny jeans. But, don’t.
Perhaps the best part of this phase is that you have stopped idealizing the relationship and see it for what it was: A two-party ‘shitshow.’ All of their annoying behaviors – the reason you should have broke-up in the first place – were in fact irksome – not endearing. In my scenario, I clearly recall not wanting to be with her anyway. Her shrill cackle of a laugh was reason enough to flee the relationship. In the end, I did not want to hurt her, and I still loved our time together … when she wasn’t laughing. After she was gone, I came to realize it was solely the friendship I missed … and, the yummy egg sandwiches she would make for breakfast. Use this time to accelerate gaining distance from the person and the past. It really is okay that your supposed “perfect” relationship is irretrievable. It’s a delusion that if you had back, would end in the same twisted wreckage. You may even consider going on a date and not verbally vomiting the name of your ex. There is a limitless frontier of “strange” showcasing itself within bars, grocery stores, salsa clubs, festivals, concerts and even at traffic lights. Intersections are not my preferred venue. But, everything is fair game now that you’ve removed your head from your ass and rediscovered your innate potential. What is important is that you get out there and take some swings, or jabs, or cracks – or, whatever your preferred sports analogy. Your individual success will hinge on how high you set the bar. Anyone with low enough standards can post some impressive numbers. My recommendation? Start high and adjust accordingly. Hooking-up with an ogre on your first attempt may qualify. But, anything that you have to muscle out your back door under the cover of night, or chew off your own arm to avoid waking, does not count. So, save yourself the extended shower and bad conscience.
Finally, it is important to note that is within this final stage of your recovery that your ex will fortuitously make a reappearance. This assumes you followed the aforementioned recommendations, and their reappearance is not in response to a court subpoena for your criminal stalking trial. The moment your ex senses you have moved on, will be the moment they can’t stand knowing you have. The sick irony of this, however, is that they will absolutely not contact you prior to you getting over them. It’s yet another cruel discrepancy of nature. Plan for this momentous day by readying yourself for the moral high-ground. Quiet confidence speaks volumes here. There is no need to remind him/her what they lost in you, because This isn’t about you. It’s about their own fragile and bruised ego, and the fact they only care that you have managed to somehow prevail in their absence. It’s one of life’s oldest traps to test your mettle. Keep moving forward – preferably with someone else.
Remember, “It’s Called a Breakup Because it’s Broken.” I read that on a neon pink breakup book cover somewhere …