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How to Break Up With Anyone
Letting Go of Friends, Family, and Everyone In-Between
By Jamye Waxman
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Not all relationships are made to last forever. Sometimes what starts as a beautiful friendship or productive partnership turns toxic, or one-sided, or unhealthy-and the best solution for both parties is to end it. In How to Break Up With Anyone, relationship expert Jamye Waxman has written a much-needed guide to every step of a non-romantic breakup. Drawing from her own experiences, Jamye provides strategies for disengaging from a friend, family member, community, or even former version of oneself, addressing both practical and emotional concerns. While ending a relationship can be painful, Jamye’s positive message focuses on the ultimately liberating aspects of putting unhealthy relationships to rest.
Chapters include: Breaking Up Versus Taking a Break, Best Friends Forever No More, Breaking Up With Family, Kissing Community Goodby, eRelabeling Your Sexuality and Gender, Breaking Up With Your Career, Breaking Up With Anyone Else, Being Broken Up With. How to Break Up With Anyone provides the tools for anyone to initiate a breakup, the encouragement to get through it, and the wisdom to recognize that they don’t have to settle for anything less than productive, healthy relationships.
Covering a variety of relationships, How to Break Up With Anyone is a timeless resource for people of all ages.
Non-Romantic Break Ups 101Non-Romantic Break Ups 101
All sorts of relationships have expiration dates, not just romantic ones. Breaking up isn’t always about falling out of love or deciding that this person isn’t “the one.” Especially since being “the one” and falling in love aren’t options in all types of relationships in the first place.
Once it’s decided that a relationship with your mother, brother, best friend, cousin, gender identity, church, temple, cult, boss, business partner, acting coach, dentist, trainer, or even your own leg (or any other entity) is not working out, so begins the process known as breaking up.
There are lots of reasons people in non-romantic relationships break up. Sometimes they end because you’re not happy or fulfilled. Sometimes they end because being around a certain person makes you go numb. Sometimes you just can’t do it anymore, or you don’t want to.
You already know the reasons people usually have for breaking up. But when the relationship doesn’t involve romantic feelings, it can be way more difficult to explain the break up to anyone—including yourself. Especially when you’re still trying to justify your reasons for ending a relationship internally (For example, why did you finally get up the eggs to end the relationship with your sister?), or to explain the break up to other people (How do you tell your mother that you’re not talking to your sister any longer?). Most people don’t expect you to break up with someone you’re not getting horizontal with.
It’s also difficult because you’re about to end a non-romantic relationship in a world that values new beginnings, or at least multiple second chances. We live in a society happy to “never say goodbye” or, if we have to say goodbye, then we hope to say, “Hello, again,” someday. When we refuse to fistpump to the theme song of “Everything is AWESOME!” we may find it takes a lot of convincing (both of ourselves and others) to go with our gut. Still, sticking to our gut is essential, because break ups, while not popular by choice, play an important role in our ability to choose how we live our lives.
The good news is, people are starting to talk openly about their own experiences around non-romantic break ups. Take, for example, the Boston Marathon runner who wrote a break up letter to her amputated leg.1 Using humor to offset a pretty sucky situation, she showed us that we could laugh about some of the things we have to let go of. Then there was the Philadelphia sex educator who wrote an article about breaking up with her dermatologist.2 Her letter revealed that sometimes it’s not a person but technology that gets in the way. No matter who or what we’re breaking up with, we learn there are many other people who have broken up before us.
What Does Breaking Up Mean?
Before we get into the intricacies around breaking up, let’s define the actual term. When you think of breaking up, what comes to mind? Is it having to split up various “assets,” including friends and family? Or deleting a phone number from your cell? Does it involve blocking someone on your favorite social media site, or pretending the person never existed? What about voodoo dolls and magic potions—are those a part of breaking up for you?
TERMS FOR BREAKING UP
Going our separate ways
A rupture in the force
The definition of breaking up varies, just as the acts around breaking up do. It gets particularly cloudy when the relationship involves breaking up with more than one person or thing, or when it’s one person breaking up with their own gender or orientation. In the simplest terms, breaking up is the ending of a relationship.
A positive way of looking at a break up is as an ending that allows you to begin again. Whether it’s ending a once-valued relationship that no longer holds the same value or a relationship that’s causing you pain, it is the process of letting go. It’s a shift in how we think about the boundaries of our relationship, and it’s the permission we need to change a relationship that isn’t working for us anymore.
Breaking up isn’t only the definition of splitting up, it’s also a plan put into action. It involves making choices and changes so you can take care of yourself and move forward in your life. It involves learning to build your own invisible fence so that you can protect yourself and set clear boundaries. This figurative “fence” ultimately gives you more freedom and space to move around as you wish.
Breaking up is about taking matters into your own hands and doing what you need to do to feel the best you can feel in a given situation. Ending a relationship forces you to learn to let go, and it teaches you to trust your gut. Once the relationship is dissolved, you can applaud yourself for having the courage to ask for what you want and the confidence to believe you deserve to get it.
Still, breaking up is not a walk in the park. It can take the same emotional toll as deciding to put your pet to sleep. While it’s generally a tough decision, there’s often a good reason to do it. Often, breaking up can feel scary, and not just because you’re removing the bad to make room for more good. It can be scary because change is unpredictable. But change is one of the only constants in life (the others are death and taxes). Like those constants, especially when it comes to breaking up with someone who’s breaking us down, we can evade it for a while, but we can’t actually avoid it.
Non-Romantic Break Ups Feel Taboo
The first relationships we think of when we hear that someone has just gone through a break up are usually romantic, and generally include going through a divorce, separation, and division of assets and custody. We assume it’s about a lover, spouse, girlfriend or boyfriend, a once-beloved snugglepuss, cuddle bunny, babe, or honey. This connotation makes breaking up with anyone else—a friend, family member, therapist, or business partner—feel like a dirty little secret, like it’s not supposed to happen and if it does then you’ve done something wrong. But what if you’ve actually done something right?
When you think about how often breaking up is referred to in research and in media, you’ll find that it almost always involves a “failed” romance. And because break ups have only been talked about in terms of romantic relationships for so long, it can feel like any other type of relationship can’t or shouldn’t be “broken.” It also feels like these non-romantic types of relationships aren’t supposed to get to a place where we need to make the ending “official.”
Most non-romantic relationships are supposed to come easily, even naturally, or we get out of them easily and naturally. If we have to break up with someone who we aren’t swapping spit with, we may beat ourselves up for not making it work. We may think we’re being selfish because a “true” friend is supposed to be selfless. And because they aren’t penetrating our orifices, we sometimes fear how the situation will look to those looking in.
FROM FREEDOM TO FAILURE
I asked my “friends” on Facebook to share their thoughts throughout the book. Here they share their own definitions of breaking up. Here’s what breaking up means to them:
“‘Breaking up’ usually means ‘goodbye.’”
“Anything from rejection to feeling insecure, denial, and fearful. Depending on the specifics of the relationship.”
“An ending to something foundational, clearly. A monumental change that cannot be denied.”
“Usually one person feels absolutely sick while the other feels hideous guilt. Rarely is it mutual . . . and even when it is it’s still usually horribly painful.”
“It’s a mixed bag of feelings, including relief, unrealness and disassociation. It’s also a sense of self-care, self-preservation, and self-determination.”
“Break ups should be a mutual decision to end a relationship because it is no longer mutually acceptable. They don’t need to be angry, sad, or upsetting. We are adults. Getting dumped or dumping someone is not the same, it is not mutual and there are often really hard feelings there. Break ups are okay, dumping/being dumped sucks . . . both are necessary.”
“Dissolving a partnership. Can apply to a romantic relationship or marriage. Can also apply to business relationship. Not always sad! Can be very positive. People grow and move in different directions. Life is change.”
“That fine line between freedom and pain.”
“It is the realization of our ultimate fear, that of being alone (or unlovable). There is a hopeless and helpless feeling that goes along with the realization.”
“It depends on how I feel about the person. It can either mean heartbroken or sweet, sweet freedom.”
“It’s the loss of all the dreams and ‘plans’ you had when you were with that person. Not always the loss of the person, but the loss of the ‘idea’ of who you were in relation to that person.”
That’s because when we begin these relationships, we don’t think that they will end. When we first start dating someone, we wonder if it will last, or if that person is the one. We check in with ourselves and gauge our level of interest as things progress. We don’t usually begin these “other” relationships by Google stalking or getting drawn into the lives of our non-romantic buddies. We don’t obsessively text, call, and refresh for new updates from them on Facebook. So, when these non-romantic relationships are working, we don’t think about a possible expiration date. But when they don’t work, things can get uncomfortable. And because we don’t wonder if we’re always on their mind—it feels a little awkward when we have to intentionally get them off our minds too.
It’s different when a relationship is romantic. Then, we meet someone and (hopefully) slowly introduce them into our world. They, in turn, bring us into their world. Meeting their friends and family is a big deal because they are their friends and family—not ours.
During the time we date them, our worlds begin to collide and, if the relationship lasts long enough, some of their friends become our friends too, and vice versa. When it’s over, the people we weren’t friends with aren’t around anymore, and those we did become friends with can (hopefully) easily separate us from our ex. After all, we came from different worlds in the beginning, and we go back to different places in the end. So, we can feel free to share our break up with our social circle—the social circle we had before our ex-boyfriend or girlfriend ever came into the picture.
However, you may share a social circle with the person you’re breaking up with in a non-romantic relationship. That makes both ending the relationship and talking about how you feel about it being over a really challenging experience. When your best friend becomes your business partner and then the two of you break up, or you stop talking to your mother but remain close with your sister, the whole removal process gets messy.
Because non-romantic break ups are way less talked about, you may not know where to turn to talk about what’s happening, especially when it’s not just “someone.” It may be your family member, a business partner, or a best friend. But a break up with a community, career, or a religion can feel really isolating too. So can a break up with your former self.
On top of all that, there’s talking about the reasons we’re ending these relationships. In long-term romantic relationships, someone may do something wrong that puts the kibosh on the union. They may cheat, lie, have a hard time saying “I love you,” or refuse to introduce you to their family. Perhaps you just don’t see yourself with them any longer. In most romantic instances, you can come up with obvious reasons why you’re breaking up with someone.
Even if your best friend lied, or your mother was a cold-hearted bitch, having to explain these things to another human being is more difficult than having to explain how an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend did something that took you over the edge.3 Because a lot of the time, when it comes to non-romantic relationships, the attachments are still there, even if we aren’t attaching to them anymore.
What if you’re relieved to end a relationship because it was flat and unfulfilling? How do you handle that explanation? While it’s sort of like falling out of love, in that sometimes it just happens, that’s not exactly what happened. And still, saying “I fell out of love” feels more justified than saying “the relationship was boring.” That sounds like you didn’t try hard enough to make it work.
There are also common experiences people have after a break up with a lover. We know that in romantic break ups, our heart is oftentimes “broken.” You don’t have to explain that to anyone—it’s a given. But what breaks for you when you end another type of relationship? And what do you call the experience of your sadness and loss? In therapeutic terms, it can be called disenfranchised grief4—a term used for the grief experienced when we mourn losses that aren’t seen as acceptable in society (like the loss of your stepdaughter in a divorce or a best friend in a break up).
Once it’s over, feelings take time to subside and thoughts take time to process. Physically, you may feel that pit in your stomach or that ache in your heart. Psychologically, you have to deal with the loss of a person, or thing, who may still be very much alive but no longer a part of your life.
Whether or not there is a specific reason to end the relationship, other people (be it your family, friends, or spouse) may not understand why you’re making such a big deal over ending a non-romantic union. And that can make talking about the end of the relationship feel more like a high-drama mini-series than a way for you to cope with your decision.
When it comes to non-romantic relationships, there’s no rulebook on how to get your swagger back. With a romantic break up, you get tons of advice—“The best way to get over someone is to get under someone else,” go out, or hang out with your girlfriends—but non-romantic break ups don’t always have the same support system in place. If you end it with your mom, you may not be able to turn to your family for support. If you end it with your bestie, you may not find support from your other friends. While support systems will shift, a non-romantic break up can feel lonelier and more isolating because you’re not sure where to turn, especially when you just ended things with the only community you’ve had.
Plus, these people don’t get replaced, not in the same way your ex can. Yes, some people adopt a new “parent” when their parent sucks, but in general, when you find a new best friend, there’s a different bond, one that isn’t exactly the same as your last best friend. And yeah, romantic partners aren’t exactly the same either, but you are going to do a lot of the same things with them—like date, have sex, and cuddle.
Even if it doesn’t quite feel “right” to end a relationship with the other people in your life, breaking up doesn’t have to feel taboo anymore. It’s like therapy. Not too long ago, going to a therapist was never talked about. Nobody wanted to admit to going to a “shrink” or any other professional that could help them sort their head out. If you needed head help, you were crazy, right? Wrong. Nowadays, it’s cool to have a therapist. And not only is it cool, now there are multiple TV shows about therapy, including HBO’s In Treatment, VH1’s Couples Therapy with Dr. Jenn, and Showtime’s Web Therapy. So, just like therapy is about helping our head, so is breaking up. And breaking up is also about helping our heart (and soul). Maybe someday soon we’ll be seeing more TV shows about other kinds of break ups.
Why Does Breaking Up Hurt So Much?
Sigmund Freud, the founding father of psychoanalysis, called suffering an inevitable part of life. But that doesn’t make me feel any better about dealing with the pain of a break up. And although I don’t feel as alone when I listen to Neil Sedaka sing “Breakin’ Up Is Hard to Do,” it doesn’t make the process any easier.
There’s at least one scientific component to all this pain. In 2010, researchers from the University of Amsterdam published a study on the impact of social rejection on the heart.5 The research, focusing on the functioning of the autonomic nervous system, found there was a measurable, and sizable, response in how the parasympathetic nervous system processes rejection. By measuring beat-by-beat heart rate changes, the researchers found that the sympathetic system (your fight-or-flight, or in some cases fight-flight-freeze, system) took several seconds to get the heart racing. This happened while the parasympathetic system (your conserve-and-preserve response) worked very quickly to slow down your heartbeat. They hypothesized that social rejection and the feelings of hurt that affect the parasympathetic nervous system also play a part in slowing down the timing of the heart beat for a short while.
What that means in terms of break ups is that it actually hurts your heart to go through a break up. That’s evidenced in the considerable delay in the return of a normal heartbeat in response to social rejection. And whether you’re rejecting or feeling rejected, there’s a sense of loss either way.
Isolation and loneliness can increase our stress levels and make us more susceptible to pain. Especially when breaking up with one person means breaking up with other people too. It can feel like losing a part of your identity or your family. If you think of it in terms of losing a limb, you need to learn to operate without a part of you that you may have relied on for your entire life. And without physical therapy (in the case of the limb) or without the resources (in the case of the break up) we need to feel safe and healthy, this whole process is going to take a lot longer to recover from.
In less scientific research, you can’t overlook the emotional pain of letting go of the expectations, desires, and plans for the future of a relationship that no longer exits. Breaking up is a loss of dreams and plans. Whether it’s no longer spending holidays together, discarding a particular pronoun to describe your identity, or leaving the office or community you helped build up, it hurts to let go of the dreams and ideas of what you thought it would be like. While it helps to embrace where you are, it can be painful to get to that place.
Sometimes breaking up can make you masochistic, like when you spend a lot of time beating yourself up about the break up. You may second-guess your actions. You may question your decisions. These things can take an incredible toll on your self-esteem. If you are the one doing the breaking up, you may be embarrassed or annoyed that you stayed in the relationship as long as you did. Or you may wonder if you were too harsh, or impulsive, in your decision to end things.
Then there’s the matter of feeling dependent. We are all dependent on others. This dependency starts at birth, and it’s not always unhealthy. In fact, it’s a natural, normal way of experiencing other people. Still, when we break up with someone, we have to learn to undo some level of dependence. When people are intertwined in our lives, we have to find a way to delicately remove ourselves from their web. And sometimes, when our history goes back pretty far, getting out of the mess can take a lot of time and preparation. You bring them into your inner circle of family and friends, and then one day they aren’t there anymore.
With all this pain, there is some pleasure. It does get easier, and you (most likely) will feel better. Plus, you are giving yourself a huge gift—growth. You are making this choice for a reason, and you’re finally taking action to move forward. Don’t look back. Change is in our nature, and change doesn’t have to feel bad. In fact, you may both agree that ending things is the way to go, making the whole process amicable.
Still, if it’s taking more time than you want it to take, you can always talk to a therapist (remember, that’s not taboo any longer). As famous German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said: “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Or, if it doesn’t make us stronger, it teaches us that we can survive.
“As humans we mourn the loss of things, good or bad. But when we ‘lose’ or let go of what zaps our energy and depletes our emotional reservoir, we become empowered to fill the void with better-feeling experiences and relationships. In this lifetime, we have only but one task: to choose. The choice isn’t between staying in a relationship or breaking it off. It’s deeper than that. It’s choosing between clinging or letting go.”
—YVETTE BOWLIN, AKA THE DECLUTTERIST
Break Ups Aren’t Always Forever
Some relationships end and then begin again. In a number of non-romantic relationships (especially ones with family and close friends), you can reconcile. I reconciled with my best friend and my sister. And while we got back together after time apart, the break ups helped us to alter the relationships. We’ll explore this further in Chapter Four, but for now, rest assured knowing that even in romantic relationships, 50 percent of young couples try again.6
That’s because sometimes it’s easier to find the common ground needed to work it out after you shake up the foundation. It can be easier than in a romantic relationship because there’s usually no sex involved in these relationships (of course friends or business partners may slip up). And without sex, it can be less complicated when you’re trying to overcome some of the emotional baggage, making it easier to pave the path to a new place in your relationship.
Breaking Up Is Taking Care of You
You may not be ready to shout it out loud, but say it with me: in the words of Twisted Sister, “We’re not going to take it anymore.” And by not taking it anymore, you have made the decision to change your life and put your needs first. You’re putting your big girl panties on and communicating with the people in your life about what is, and isn’t, working. That’s all part of the process.
Even if you’re just in the beginning stages of thinking about breaking up with someone, it gets better—although it does take time. And if you’re reading this right after being broken up with, I know that may not make you feel better. But down the road, you’ll know it’s true. A break up is a shake up. It’s a relationship earthquake, and when things get rocked, it takes time to rebuild, but eventually you do. Your foundation is still there, even if the rest of your world feels like it’s in a million little pieces. And while it doesn’t get better overnight—sometimes it takes weeks, months, or maybe years—one day, possibly when you least expect it, you’ll feel good about doing what you felt needed to be done. You’ll feel stronger because you gave yourself permission to grieve. You will thank yourself for being able to break it off, when there may have been easier options.
In the next chapter, we’ll get into the ins and outs of breaking up. But, however you go about the process, there are ways to help you take care of you right now. You can exercise, eat a tub of ice cream (which may make you feel bad later on, but sometimes you have to live in the moment), make lists of things that make you feel good, take a trip, get a massage, cry, dance, dive into your work, go out—whatever it is that makes you feel and deal is a good way to take care of you.
While there’s been a lot of talk about the sad and hard parts of breaking up, it’s also healthy to remember that breaking up can feel amazing, especially once you break on through to the other side.
CONSIDERATIONS FOR THE BROKEN UP
- On Sale
- Sep 22, 2015
- Page Count
- 256 pages
- Seal Press