Breaking Up Is Hard to Do With Dignity

by Hallie Haglund

Six months ago, I wouldn’t have said I thought my life was awesome. I was definitely thinking it, but I would never have said it. That would have made me sound like an asshole. I had a sweet job, I was living in a ridiculous apartment, and I was sharing it with the boyfriend of four years I thought I was going to marry. Then … stuff got less awesome. Six months shy of my thirtieth birthday, our relationship ended abruptly, I had to move out of his (ahem, his parents’) apartment, and I still had my sweet job, but he worked there too, making it slightly less sweet on a day-to-day basis. I was sad and I was jarred. It felt like that party in college when I was dancing with a guy and the girlfriend I didn’t know existed threw a beer can at my head. Not only did it hurt, but I looked really, really stupid.

I was ashamed that I hadn’t seen it coming, but I was also ashamed that the breakup turned me into what I most feared: a cliche. A lonely heart approaching thirty, just a wine spritzer and a skirt tucked into my nylons away from rom-com heroine status. Slowly, though, I began to realize something, cliches are cliches because a lot of people find them to be true. During my earlier twenties, I’d watched in horror and pity as many of my older girlfriends ended relationships on the cusp of that numerical milestone. I know I keep dwelling on thirty, but don’t try to tell me thirty is nothing. Thirty is still a big deal! People may say thirty is the new twenty, but those people are all over thirty.

After three paltry months of being single, I’d like to posit a theory. Cliches should be treated homeopathically, with more cliches. Dealing with a break-up should be cliche jiu jitsu. It should be like hydroplaning, for those of us who didn’t grow up in New York and actually learned to drive. Rather than slamming on the brakes to avoid crashing into the image of yourself twenty years from now with a mustache and a child’s barrette pinning back your wiry gray hair, just let that car coast. Lean into everything that you think is going to make you the lame recently single girl you don’t want to be, and this my friend, this will set you free. Here’s what I mean:

Cliche number one: Everyone knows what the cashier at the liquor store is thinking as you pay for that cheap bottle of Merlot in your exercise clothes. He’s thinking you’re going home to get drunk alone because you can’t handle your feelings. I say, drink alone for as long as it takes! Why? Because it will help you sleep! Unless you have a sweet pharmacology hookup, it’s going to be sad in bed, with all that quiet and dark and hours and hours to think about how everything’s going to be different than what you imagined. Even if that body next to you used to seem like a really heavy camping backpack you weren’t particularly looking forward to getting scoliosis for, you’d worn it close, passed off some of your body heat. It was part of you, so it’s natural to mourn not only it, but at least a couple of degrees celsius of you that “it” made off with. And don’t just drink alone, drink around people! You’ll probably say a lot of embarrassing shit, but you’ll also figure out who your true friends are. They’re the ones who didn’t ditch you at the bar when you were talking to a support beam you thought was a person. And if you’re worried about becoming an alcoholic, let me assure you: if you’re really meant to be an alcoholic, it’s going to happen anyway. Live it up while you can!

Cliche number two: When you see a grown woman with cat hair all over her work clothes, you can’t help but imagine her cracking open a fresh can of Friskies in her studio apartment, squirrelling away a few quarters change from the purchase to put toward a singles’ cruise to Jamaica. And you know when she finally makes it to Jamaica, the first thing she’s gonna do is get cornrows. Screw it, get a pet! Preferably a cat. Yes, you will become the crazy cat lady. Who cares? If you’re more of a dog person, get that cat a leash and walk it around like a dog. Just don’t get a dog. You’re very vulnerable right now, and dogs are a BIG responsibility. Yes, you will discover the seedy underbelly of fellow cat women at work who constantly group-email pictures of cats in human wigs, but … they won’t seem seedy anymore! They’ll be your people! Know why? Because they have known something you are only just beginning to understand: animals love you, with uncomplicated, unfaltering joy. And you deserve to be reminded that you are worthy of that kind of love, no matter how many times you checked your ex-boyfriend’s text messages and then yelled at him while pretending you’d done nothing wrong by violating his privacy. If a cat seems like too much, get a snake. If a snake is too much, get a fish. But if you kill that fish, give up. You don’t deserve to be loved.

Cliche number three: When someone posts on Facebook all the time, it’s because they don’t have any real friends to call, text, or actually meet up with in person. Post on Facebook ALL THE TIME. I know you used to think the people who did that seemed so pathetic and lonely. Guess what, you’re lonely! You won’t be forever, but the person you used to spend all your time with isn’t there anymore. So even though they’re very small, those stupid “likes” — or better yet “comments” — people post when you put up that picture of you hugging a cute dog? They’ll make you feel like someone in the universe SEES you. It’s okay to want to be seen, just as long as you don’t do it forever, I mean those people who constantly post on Facebook are fucking losers, am I right? But seriously, loneliness isn’t the most humiliating of all emotions. Being desperate is. And you’ll be that to. Which brings me to…

Cliche number four: When you see a recently single friend making out with some stranger in the middle of a bar, you never think she’s doing it because she wants to, you think she’s doing it because she’s sad. Who cares? Throw yourself into the arms of the next available taker. Can’t you both want to *and* be sad? You’re going to be in pain regardless, so why deny yourself a welcome distraction? You may think you need time before getting physical with new people. Your friends might even say, ‘you’re damaged goods, you’re all fucked up, you need to heal.’ They are right. But what they don’t understand is that you’re treating a hemorrhaging heart wound, not high cholesterol. I promise, you will get to the point where you’ll get sick of going out every night, where you’ll actually opt to stay home and write down your thoughts on your own current crisis, you’ll start going to the gym again and eating when people don’t force a plate of fries in front of you. But until then, let people be as kind as they want to be. With their tongues. In your mouth, pervert. If you wanna go further, it’s your life. But since you’ve already got a lot to deal with, I recommend making decisions you’ll only mildly regret.

And finally, cliche number five: broken, damaged people always want to give you advice on how to live your life in order to reassure themselves that they’ve gotten past being broken and damaged. So give LOTS of advice. Tell your friends to break up with their shitty boyfriends, tell them they shouldn’t get married without living alone at least once, hell, write a whole piece for a website about how to get over the thing you’re still trying to get over. Breaking up is kind of like food poisoning. You feel terrible, you puke, and then you feel a little better. Getting your feelings out is the puking part, which is all advice is, really, just not quite so smelly. And if it helps someone in the process, well that would be pretty cliche, wouldn’t it?

Hallie Haglund is a writer at The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. But she writes other stuff too.