Dealing with a College Breakup
If you haven’t broken up with your high school or freshmen college sweetheart yet: brace yourself. Dealing with a college breakup is an inevitability most face as one of their maturation points during college. With the holidays or a summer break between semesters just around the corner, break up season is looming. You’ve been away from your “old life” for months now, readjusting to new friends, new schedules, and most importantly: your new identity. And while some relationships are meant to last forever (like family, or your closest best friends from childhood) others will naturally drift away from you. And that’s OK!
Break ups have phases you’ll naturally move through, and if there were ever a perfect time and place to go through the motions of heart ache, it’s college. While the five stages of grief (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance) will be the lengthier version of what you experience, we’ve boiled it down to three stages. Here’s how to understand and navigate through dealing with a college breakup.
Phase I: Denial & Anger, aka “Freedom”
The first phase of a break up is the what makes our insides yell, “FREEEEDOOOOM!” No longer do you need to text your partner what party you’re hitting up, or update them with benign details of your day.
When you’re in college and have a breakup, especially if you’ve been dating on your same dorm floor, it may be harder than in other cases because of how often you’ll continue to run into the same individual. Not to mention that your social groups will have a high likely hood of containing the same individuals, so you’ll run into eachother (or eachothers friends) more than you’d like right after the breakup.
Don’t start any negative gossip or convince your group of friends to shun your ex. You’re most likely going to run into them and their friends again, so it’s best to accept that while you may be very unhappy and upset now, a year from now you’ll be glad you didn’t burn any bridges.
Do your best to keep space and distance from the other person. While this may be tougher in the dorms, you can make an effort not to go to the same events, study sessions, hangouts, etc. for the first few weeks after the breakup. This will help your relationship definition reset from being significant others to simply being classmates.
You are free to go wherever, and do whatever you want. And if we’re being honest, “doing whatever” usually means hooking up with one, two, three—maybe the whole dorm floor, of people you’ve had your eye on since orientation. Because guess what? You finally can. And it feels great until…
Phase II: Bargaining & Depression, aka “Reality”
Phase Two. Reality hits. The random hook ups don’t text you like your ex, the pillow talk is…completely nonexistent, and some of them just turn out to be garbage people. You start questioning whether you should get back together with your ex and label the last few weeks as “a necessary break to make the relationship stronger.” It’s going to be tempting, but refrain. In this phase, you’ll reflect not only on the good memories, but you’ll also give them a pretty filter in your mind, making them seem better than they actually were. All this reminiscing will consume your mind and emotions for a while, but remember: there was a reason you were together, and a reason you broke up.
When the reality of your break-up sets in, you feel like the world is ending. There is a void in your life, an area that before you invested your own love and time into that is no longer present. The feelings are very similar to dealing with loss, as you probably created your own story or alternative ending where you and your partner are happily ever after. Yet here we are, faced with a reality that we don’t always want to accept. Music can provide a great escape – whether you listen to stand up comedy to cheer you up, or emotional break-up songs to validate what you’re going through is normal.
We may ask ourselves how we can change to have the other person like us, or try to plea and bargain with them that ‘we’ve changed’ for the better. In reality, the healthiest relationships do not require a one sided bargaining: it should be mutual support and pleasure.
Phase III: Acceptance, aka “Life”
Phase Three: Life. No matter how much you diversify your Google Search you’ll get the same cliché: the only thing that truly heals a broken heart is time. But there are ways to make that time pass quicker, and lucky for you college is going to make it feel like you walked through a time warp. There are tons of clubs to join, events on campus, new people to meet, and a wild social scene to jump in and out of. No matter which way you turn, there will be new ideas and experiences that will take your mind off the memory of your Twitter-famous Promposal that plays on loop in your head.
It’s accepting the new reality that you are no longer with the other person, and accepting that their feelings for you are not the same as yours for them, that will be the hardest for you to understand. The first thing you need to do is keep your space and cut communications with the other person, so that you can mentally disconnect from the old relationship and allow a new definition of friends or strangers to form.
In this time, its key to connect with friends and find hobbies that interest you personally so that you can grow and develop yourself in this time of distress. From music like piano, guitar or karaoke to sports like biking, surfing, or soccer, there are a lot of opportunities to invest your time that can help you relax and grow.
When you’re going through a college breakup, it’s time to put things into perspective and address some realities. You must realize that your life is just beginning, and you yourself are just maturing. The person you are during college, versus the person you are four years out of college are generally quite different. This means that who you are, and the person you’re dating could be very different come graduation at senior year. Even the first few years of entering the workforce outside of college can lead to stark changes in you or your partners lifestyle and preferences. Usually when you’re in college, you also don’t think of the long term topics that usually manifest themselves in a mature relationship – things like preference for children, health conditions, life goals (where to live), economic goals, co-habitation requirements, etc. This post isn’t meant to discourage you from finding love; quite contrarily it’s meant to provide guidance on how to cope when heart break strikes.
These moments will not only enrich your college career, but they’ll also begin to define you as a person, which will one day lead to meeting the person you’re actually supposed to end up with. Your two roads traveled have now split; whether they converge again in the distant future or if you find a new, better road, only time will tell. For more advice on dealing with anxiety or depression that may come from a breakup in college, check out our tips here.