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Dublin: 7 °C Sunday 16 December, 2018
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Dear Fifi: How do I get the hell over an ex?

Dear Fifi don’t have to cuss in her raps to sell records.

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What a wonderful time! How changed and bright everything is.

Sometimes life feels like it passes in a blur, punctuated by peaks and troughs we retell and structure our story around. It’s hard to know what’s significant in the fray until it’s already been and gone. And so what’s truly rare about what just happened to Ireland is how palpably monumental it all felt. It was seismic. We are all living history, in real time, in vivid colour.

How special to do it with you all. Here’s to us!

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This week, I’m doing something for the very first time on Dear Fifi. I am going to answer several questions at once – all on the subject of getting over an ex. In order to ensure all of the letter-writers are still given their voice, I have put them all onto Twitter individually. 

There were six in my inbox on the subject. Click to read in full. This one from someone who is still friends with his ex after a year, but still wants to make it work. Another writes of being in limbo with an ex who is requesting space out of nowhere. This is about getting back in the dating game after a long-term break-up. Next a four year mourning period, which has echoes of this letter about an ex moving on after eight months. A similar thread runs through this letter, which is about holding a candle after six years.

Let’s do this. 

Anyone who has been through the breakdown of a serious relationship knows how hard it is. It’s not an exaggeration to say it is one of life’s bigger challenges – it’s a particularly strange kind of grief that involves no bereavement.

There’s no roadmap for how to navigate break-ups, because they’re all as unique as the relationship that preceded them. No two people are the same, and so it follows for relationships. You may be in the wrong, you may have been wronged, it might be mutual, the duration varies from long to brief and intense. That said, there is some universal wisdom that can help you through it.

Time

If you’ve freshly broken up with someone, I’m afraid you don’t want to hear this but it’s true: time is one of the only things that works. The pain will never be as freshly shocking every hour as it is at first, but it’s hard to see that when you’re in it. Honestly, time heals all. Trust that. It’s a cliché because it’s really fucking true.

At first, do allow yourself to cry when you need to. Feel it. Don’t rush out of the sadness, but equally don’t begin to dwell in it and get into a routine of misery. Allow yourself to feel the sadness for a while, but don’t let it hinder making positive steps forward. That’ll take work. Commit to trying to move on.

Talk

This is where friends come in. Let someone know how you are – no matter if it’s been a day or six years since the break-up. Internalising this kind of thing will not lead to healthy moving on. Thrash it out. Talk, talk, talk. That’s what friends are for. You’d do the same for them.

If you don’t feel like you can confide in friends or continue cry on their shoulder past a certain point, consider counselling. You’ll need to do a lot of talking about this to make sense of it in your mind – not everyone can do that with mates. That’s okay. Counselling can help.

Stay ruthlessly busy

Organise your life so you are busy. Consider pain points: did you always spend Sunday nights together? You must now build a new routine so that these don’t become periods in which you are upset or over-thinking the situation. Make plans. In fact, make fuckloads of plans. Say ‘yes’ to everything. Reach out to old friends and make new ones. Take up a hobby. Fill your time. Book a holiday. Read, go for walks, get up and out.

Alcohol

You know yourself. Might be better to avoid it – it might make you sadder or lead to ill-advised contact you’ll regret. (That said, if you need a fuck-off blow-out, do that. It can’t be the only method of coping though.)

Change your thought patterns

For some people, time will not be as effective as it is for others. You may have found yourself many years after a break-up still hung up on what happened or thinking ‘what if?’ about the person. Address this. Understand it’s rooted in unhealthy thought patterns.

If someone breaks up with you, you must take it at face value. You can’t make someone else want you back, no matter how hard you try. It is painful to realise this and really understand it, but realise it we must.

If it has been years and you still feel wistful for what may have been, consider writing a letter expressing how you feel. Leave that letter in a drawer for a week and then revisit it. Either send it or burn it. If you send it, accept you may be ignored. Accept you may be rejected. And then – with everything on the table and the break-up re-confirmed – try again honestly to move on.

The person you were in a relationship no longer wishes to be in one with you. The person you loved many years ago may not exist in the same form any more. Be ready to confront the feelings of disappointment that may emerge from failed attempts to re-connect. Take care of yourself.

Try not to obsess about what they are doing or how things are going for them in comparison to you. Concentrating solely on yourself will be more fruitful. Break-ups are a time to be selfish.

Be kind if you are in the control seat of a break-up by being honest and transparent about your motivations. You’re allowed to feel sad if you were the one who wanted to break up, but be considerate of how your ex is feeling. Don’t drag it out or be cruel if you can help it.

Cut off contact

If you have no shared responsibilities or children together, I think a long period of no contact is the best route. Becoming friends immediately is simply not realistic. Be brutally honest with yourself about your motivation for remaining in contact or ‘staying friends’. Are you hopeful for reconciliation? Are you pandering to them?

My argument for an absolute cease in contact (at least for a while) is due to the balance of power in relationships and break-ups. Even the most amicable and mutual of break-ups have one person who is less sure than the other and one who acts as an enforcer. More often than not, remaining in contact prolongs pain or actively creates resentment. It’s an excruciating thing to do at first, but again time will help.

Social media

Block. Explain what you’re doing and why if you like, so you don’t appear rude. Create a browser redirect for their social media so you can’t log out and look. Don’t beat yourself up if you look in moments of weakness, but try harder next time. You cannot extrapolate from their posts what is going on in their life, let alone their head. It’s futile to even try.

“I should be over it by now”

There’s no rule book. It takes different amounts of time for everyone. You may always feel flashes of pain when you think of certain events or conversations. You’re human. Forgive yourself for not being as strong as you wish you were all of the time.

However, if you feel this has gone on too many years – I would again advise looking into some counselling, and other ways of reframing how you hold this break-up in your mind.

And most of all – let go

Put all of your faith in yourself. You can get through this – because you can get through anything life throws at you. You have up to this point, right?

Don’t forget that you are a whole, wonderful person alone. Being in a couple is special of course, but so is the strong and lifelong relationship you will have with yourself. Being single is important because it enables us to concentrate unselfconsciously on ourselves, which is a good thing. See it as a rare chance to take. Seize the opportunity. Work on you. You are so worth it.

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Want to talk?

Confess a story, ask for help or just shout into the void for a bit and see if that helps. All welcome. Anonymity totally guaranteed always. 

Check out previous advice>

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