Breakups are incredibly complex and necessitate many layers of healing to fully, completely move on. When relationships matter– truly, deeply matter– there’s no off switch when you agree to call it quits. Love and memories still remain.
Throw intense emotions, a restructuring of your schedule, a loss of physical intimacy, possibly the loss of your ex’s friends and family into the mix and a one-size-fits-all answer to how soon is too soon to move on becomes almost impossible to figure out.
Moving on takes time
When you’re in the eye of the storm, feeling all the feelings, it’s understandable to seek a fixed and certain time limit on the grieving process.
I get it. I know the feeling. Being with your sadness is an act of courage. It’s natural to question how long the process might take. However, my intention is not to provide solid answers or a timeframe.
Instead, I wish to share a few tips that, in my personal and professional experience, have yielded a healthy approach to moving on.
What is “moving on” after a breakup?
I’m a lucky guy. I’ve fallen in love numerous times. Yet, break-ups never get easier. However, I’ve learned that regardless of what led to the end, if I valued and cared enough to establish a consistent, intimate relationship with someone, those feelings of love wouldn’t simply go away.
Perhaps this sounds obvious. But as years have gone by, I’d attempt to sanitize my feelings, as if moving on meant feeling completely indifferent towards my ex. Naturally, framing it this way led to lots of frustration because the love still remains.
My first full relationship ended 10 years ago. I still love her. Another relationship ended four years ago. I still love her. Another ended three years ago. I still love her. Another ended just under a year ago. I still love her too. See the recurring theme?
It’s a non-linear, illogical process
The difference is although I love my exes and want the best for them, I no longer crave to be close to them or wish to rekindle a romance.
Would I like them to be involved in my life to some degree? Perhaps. But I accept that this isn’t always practical. And I accept and have gratitude for the times we shared.
If love remains then what does moving on mean?
Well, firstly, moving on is a gradual process. It isn’t linear. It doesn’t make sense. I can have days following the breakup where I feel completely fine but then, experience a rough day years after it happened.
Matters of the heart aren’t logical. They’re completely absurd. Don’t waste too much time trying to work it all out. The importance is to allow yourself to feel.
However, over time, there’s less emotional charge to the memory of an ex. The love — a calm, soothing unconditional love — remains. But there’s no giddiness, ferocious sadness or grief at the loss of what once was. Instead, I find happy memories cause positive reflection.
Consequently, I notice storylines around “what could’ve been” settle in my mind. In the aftermath of all breakups, I struggle to see the reasoning. Even when I know it’s the end, part of me wants to plead and bargain, to just find a way because surely love is enough, right?
After some time, this bargaining fades and I reach the final stage of grief, which is acceptance.
What about meeting someone new?
For many people, including myself, the process of moving on may appear to be concluded when we meet someone new. A word of caution on this topic: meeting a new person after a relationship is a tricky territory.
It isn’t always a bad decision. But when meeting someone soon after a break-up, it takes a little soul searching to uncover our motives. Does it come from a genuine, healthy place?
The most important aspect of moving on is healing.
In the past, I’ve moved into new relationships to avoid feelings of pain. I’ve tried to fill the void by meeting someone new. This is an approach that avoids processing and acknowledging pain, and will cause issues to resurface down the line.
It must be said though, that it is entirely possible to grow and heal with someone else, if your new partner is understanding and accepting, and awareness is brought into the healing process.
That’s a far cry from falling into a new relationship and denying any aspect of pain that remains from a fresh breakup, essentially using the love and attention of someone else as a mechanism to enhance self-worth.
Developing a strong sense of self
I’ve previously written about the importance of retaining independence in romance and avoiding Cupid’s Timeline. If the relationship you’re leaving was healthy, then it’s entirely possible you’ll leave with a fuller, whole sense of self. However, codependent traits can seep into any relationship, even with the best intentions.
For example, after I’d done a lot of work around codependency, I met someone whose chemistry seemed to ignite the shadow part of myself I naively assumed I had healed. But I’d done the work away from relationships.
I was aware of certain tendencies. But it was only after meeting this person that these behaviors and emotional patterns got triggered. Therefore, I needed to confront them in as they occurred in real-time and not in meditation or reflection.
Break up the pattern
I learned that if there’s conflict in a relationship, I have a tendency to project my emotions onto my partner. I expect them to take joint responsibility, as if I were entitled to it. Healthy relationships are supportive, but my emotions are my responsibility. And unless I build and strengthen my ability to process them, the pattern will repeat over and over.
For example, let’s say I feel really sad after a breakup. A reflex of mine is to project my sadness onto a partner, for them to make me feel better. After losing my partner, I struggle to process this sadness on my own. Then, I meet someone new, and all of a sudden I feel better and the sadness eases.
Without consciousness, I can move from one relationship to the next as a mechanism to handle sadness without ever confronting it. Again, mutual support is essential in loving relationships. But if I always require someone else to process my sadness, anxiety and feelings of insecurity, I will always fall into codependent relationships.
This can lead to addictive or poor decision-making when looking for future partners.
So how soon is too soon?
To conclude, there’s no definitive timeline for moving on. But it’s important to consider the key points of healing from a heartbreak. It is a process that involves forgiveness, processing grief, acceptance, and re-building independence.
Honesty with ourselves is required to really check in with how we feel about the loss of someone who, no doubt, has had a big impact on our lives.
I know how difficult it is to be with the pain. The impulse is to run, escape, find something to soothe. However, to really grow through a break-up, and move on in a healthy way, we have to sit with the pain, and learn from it.
I’ll leave you with these words from Pema Chödrön in When Things Fall Apart:
Most of us do not take these situations as teachings. We automatically hate them. We run like crazy. We use all kinds of ways to escape — all addictions stem from this moment when we meet our edge and we just can’t stand it. We feel we have to soften it, pad it with something, and we become addicted to whatever it is that seems to ease the pain.
Breakups suck, there’s no doubt. But if you have the courage to confront your pain, the process of moving on will act as a huge catalyst for your personal growth.
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