Holidays & Heartbreak: How to handle an inconveniently-timed breakup


Thanksgiving is the landmark holiday for failure in my love life. If a breakup is going to happen, it usually does before then.

When my college boyfriend and I broke up on a Tuesday in August after eight months of dating, I desperately wanted a flight home before the holidays. Between my inconsolable sobs on the phone, my parents tried to convince me to stay put until Thanksgiving. Their advice was apt but painful: shelter in place.

"Hang in there, babe. Things will get better."

It reminded me of a time when I was 12 and my mom handed me a lukewarm can of Diet Coke after I'd just smacked headfirst into my friend running through the sprinkler. There was a mountain-sized bump on my head, and a can of pop was all she had to deal with my injury until we got home.

Time felt like that pop can held to my forehead. I had no earthly idea what to do with it. Time refused to shape naturally around my heartbreak or to numb it. It was lukewarm and obtuse, and all I could do was let it sit in my lap like dead weight while my head throbbed.

The unhappy news of my breakup, which I would soon share with extended family across two food-filled holidays, was almost too much to bear. I wanted to embrace the Christmas lights going up, the warm kitchen conversations on cold evenings, but instead there was this black, gaping hole where my hope used to be. I felt disqualified from experiencing joy.

After recollecting what had been, and the unknown of what lie in the future, my heart's deepest questions sounded like this:  

"Will I ever have the opportunity to form my own family traditions with someone? Will I remember this time as a scar of my past, or a mark of better things to come? Will the joy of the holidays sink under my unmet expectations and disappointments?" 

You may be asking some of these questions too, especially if you are newly single. Navigating the unexpected disappointments of life isn't easy. Life will deal you a bad card sometimes. But You will learn how to outmaneuver her. Resilience is won in the act of the gut punch. Nobody likes it, and everybody's trying to hide how hard it is. But if I can equip you with one important lesson post-heartbreak, it's this one— know your fight.

1. Know your fight

If you can't name what you're up against, you will never overcome the agony that heartbreak presents to you. What weaknesses or insecurities has this relationship's ending exposed in your heart? Are there recurring themes of rejection in a particular area? Do the same insecurities haunt you? 

Getting honest reveals a deep hunger to grow and learn so that the next go-around you'll be a little more prepared. You won't be so knocked down and unable to get up the next time heartbreak rolls around. You'll know your tendency to go for the emotionally unattached yet mysterious guy, or the guy who spends time with you like it's a Jenga puzzle and he can pull a piece of your heart out on loan whenever he wants it.  These are my fights: chasing down love I feel I have to earn, even if it damages me. Take time to learn things you may have missed along the way. The work will make you brave. 

2. Know you're a fighter

 In the end, only you can live your story, and that requires you to own all pieces of that story, including the heartbreak. 

One of my favorite quotes from Mike Tyson is this one. He says "Everyone has a plan, until they get punched in the face."

Survivors have the best stories. It's no wonder we give them all the book contracts and the Hollywood movie scripts. They are the ones we learn from. Their stories are the ones we honor. They have the no B.S. guide to figuring things out the hard way, and we can't help but fall in line behind them, wishing to learn their secrets. No gritty life lessons ever came from the absence of pain. Use the pain.

3. Find your cornerman (or woman). 

You're in a fight to know what's good for your heart, and at times, to unapologetically pass on someone who isn't adding value to your life. This time requires a coach, a guide, someone who has been on the ropes before, and can give you some pointers. To avoid passing your time in commiseration, find someone who is a bit ahead of you on the trail (i.e. not your friend who is still ranting about her ex). 

Maybe it's a good author you stumble across, a counselor, or just a trustworthy, level-headed friend. Above all, this person needs to speak truth to you (regardless of how hard those truths are to hear). Let them stand at your back when the blows of insecurity and despair are thrown, calmly speaking the next steps into your ear. Let them guide you to your next move, never pushing, but gently instructing. 

Most of the time, we don't get to choose how our hearts get broken, and I don't know if it would make it better if we did. So when you find yourself assailed with questions over the holidays from relatives who can barely remember your name, questions of why things went south or who said what, in the end, you can be sure that those details don't matter much.

Your job is to focus on winning your hope back from disappointment. That is your fight. Saving face is not your fight. It's hope. That's what you stand to gain. So stop overanalyzing the losses.

Focus where your heart's victory lies. It's easy to get fatigued by having to explain things over and over again or getting repeatedly stuck in conversations with people who aren't really listening. Share details only with those equipped to help you process it. And politely say to the rest "I appreciate your concern, but I'm keeping my focus on what's just around the corner".

I was all emotion and no logic after my first breakup. I thought it was the end of all hope, but it was really just my first time in the ring with heartbreak. So in this significant moment of your life, I am honored to be in your corner.  I know you can do this.