The Art of Crafting Lemon Drops

Heartbreak

The best ways to move on after being dumped in a relationship, by the categories of the dumps

Are you feeling a little nervous about your relationship right now? You’re not alone.  Time Magazine (Time.com 12/22/13) says most breakups happen in the two weeks before Christmas.  A study of Facebook shows the same it as tied with Spring (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2616821/Facebook-statuses...).  

It makes sense.  You’re with someone almost perfect.  And you’ve mostly enjoyed them.  And now it’s time for gifts, meeting Uncle Colin, group pictures, the meaning of that midnight kiss, and suddenly… it’s too much.  So one of you opts out.

Now I’ll confess, I have never been dumped in the middle two weeks of December.  But I’ve faced some other charmers.  Valentines Day?  Check.  My birthday?  Yep, check.  And a lot of the other 340 days as well.  Enough to speak with authority on the big defriendings.

Now nothing makes a big spill feel good or easy.  In even the softest landings, you still suffer the pain of discovering the design flaws of that idealized relationship.  But you can get better faster, if you know what to do. 

Here’s how to turn each type of that misery into something sweeter – how to convert a dropped lemon into lemon drops.

1) The Mutual

The Mutual is the kindest of breakups.  This is where you both realize it’s not working, and accept it.  Ideally it is also amicable, but even when it’s not, it leaves a surprising aftertaste of peace.  For as your stupid mind runs to the “But wait, was I wrong to…” thoughts, there’s always an answer of “No!  She agreed!” 

Recovery from a Mutual breakup is thereby the easiest and quickest of the bunch.  Getting together with friends, talking about it in a kind way (“He’s a really great person, we just weren’t the right match”), giving yourself a couple of days to catch up on all the stuff you put off when you were spending every available moment with them, even the unlikely hope that soon you can become the best of friends. 

And, of course, beginning to date again – though beware: rejection by someone new right after a Mutual Breakup can discharge the same feelings of worthlessness that the other Dumps provide on their own.

2) It’s someone else

Not the worst of breakups, but the one we spend the most time fearing.  The “Dear John” letter/phonecall/email/text/i.m./tweet that reports that you aren’t as desirable, or worthy, as another person.

Whether your replacement is a hottie from a bar, a coworker you’ve always suspected of encroaching on your territory, or the ex she wailed for nights was the worst person she’d ever known – face it, you’re going to feel like that growth in the back of the refrigerator your last roommate left – or was it the roommate before? 

A Freudian psychologist will tell you that you’re re-experiencing the early childhood trauma of the parent you worshipped showing preference to someone else, like a sibling or their spouse.  (Note: Hearing your feelings are analogous to an Oedipal 2-year-old’s does wonders for your ego.)

You will, guaranteed, come up with terrible solutions: Argue with her about why she’s wrong to choose that creep!  Prove your worth to win him back!  Expose the interloper as the phony she is!  Kill one or both of them, and/or yourself! 

These all inspire terrific movies and country songs, but in real life, naah, not worth it.  Face it, flighty as he might act, your ex actually thought hard about this decision, so he’s either right or stupider than you’d ever thought.

            The best solution is to move on.  In fact, do everything you can to step forward in your life.  Traveling is great, if you can: visit long-lost friends, hike, fulfill that dream of touring the Taj Mahal – and let those changes of scenery free you from the oppression of the familiar.

            And have faith.  You will get over her; everyone does.  No matter how rocky the path there.

3) “It’s Your Fault”

Remember when you were a kid and you didn’t get something you wanted, and a stern adult replied, “Well it’s your fault.  If you hadn’t X, you’d be getting to do Y.”  So you felt lousy for the punishment, but even worse for being stupid?

This miserable pattern is probably the most common dump. “You flirted with him, so I’m done with you.”  “You forgot my birthday – I’m deleting your phone number!”  “ What do you mean you lost my kid?!”

There are two subcategories of “It’s Your Fault,” each with a different recovery method.

            a) Right: In the first, you agree that you screwed up.  So just do what you did as a child: change to improve yourself. “I’m going to use my phone’s calendar to remind me of important dates.” “I’m going to cut down on my drinking.”  “I’m going to develop better grammar.”  Just doing this will help you feel better.

            It can also help if you believe that changing this quality will bring your ex back.  Maybe like the end of Grease, where both of you have evolved into what the other wanted?

            But then if you don’t reconnect?  Well, you still earned higher self-esteem from that new skill, to help with your next relationship.  So move on.

            b) Wrong: I’ve been dumped by a woman because she thought she might make me angry – who ran instead to a man who beat her to hospitalization; I’ve been dumped for being too romantic and loving; I’ve been dumped for having left a house number off of a list of directions.

            But actually, I haven’t; those absurdities were only the reasons they gave for the drops.  

Ah, such angels!  There is no kinder gift for a dumpee than for the dumper to blame his actions on an obvious lie.  Once the farewell-recipient gets her head together, she can instantly dismiss the new ex as either delusional or a liar, find a sense of self-worth (though the time required for that head-togetherness does vary), and move on towards refreshing sanity.

4) It’s not you – Really!

The cliché “It’s not you, it’s me” sometimes – rarely – is true.  As one dumper told me, “I can’t take the pain any more of looking at someone perfect for me, while feeling nothing!”  You each have tried, been good to each other, communicated, one of you is in love… and it still doesn’t work.

Let’s not mince words; living this one is pure hell.  Unlike “The Mutual,” you wanted the relationship to last; unlike “It’s Someone Else,” the other person hasn’t chosen an idiot you can scorn; unlike “It’s Your Fault,” they’re not blaming you.  You just have to suffer and grow through not having tripped their trigger.  And no surgery, situps, or sensitivity-training will fix it. 

Believe it or not, even this case offers two bits of good news.  First, if they hadn’t left when they did, you know they would have later, when you were even more attached.

And second, whatever you require afterward, in order to return to your available self – is deep stuff you’ve needed to learn for a long long time.  So jump into therapy, or start meditating, or begin a long conversation with your dog, and grow. 

And pray you’ll never have to go through this one again.

5) Pure Hatred

Some breakups explode with such rage and loathing that they don’t fit any of the above categories.  These volcanoes of resentment require years, usually marriage, to build.  And the ex doesn’t just say something’s your fault; he will despise you to your core, and express it at every possible opportunity.

If you’re the recipient of this fury, run like hell.  Rational discussion and negotiation?  Not in her vocabulary.  And if you’re stuck with a connection, such as children, just bend over backwards to be agreeable, so as to avoid conflicts whenever possible. 

Being hated burns.  Like any other chronic pain, you just need to find a way to live with it, as it will never completely go away.  But understand, the more you can avoid contact and confrontation with this abhorer, the more joy you can find in your life, elsewhere.

A few other suggestions for all of these: 

Any self-comfort is fine, if kept to a minimum.  One night out with martinis and a listening friend can be very healing; more than two in a row is asking for a future of 12-step meetings.  One carton of RockyRoad might fill some of the empty spaces in your heart, but the next one will create new full spaces around your hips.  Treat yourself, but don’t create a new problem. 

(There’s one exception to this rule: a pet.  A dog or cat won’t put weight on you or damage your liver, but can bring endless joy and comfort to your heart – and even serve as a role-model to help you build a new self.)

And last but not least, always remember: the goal for any dumpee is to realize you’re better off.  That shining dodged-bullet day does come, when you feel deep-down, “I am so lucky!”  And the true Lemon Drop, when you realize that each dump brings you one relationship closer to the beautiful soul who’ll stay, and who you’ll want to keep. 

So blow a kiss goodbye, and greet a new year loaded with possibilities.

Douglas Green is a psychotherapist and writer.  His book The Teachings of Shirelle: Life Lessons from a Divine Knucklehead, is now available at Amazon and other online booksellers.

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