If I could invent a pill that would cure heartbreak, I would be a rich woman. Some of my clients will even jokingly ask me for one in the weeks and months following a breakup. And many have the same questions for me, their therapist and personal breakup coach: “how long is the pain going to last?” which is quickly followed by “how soon can I get back out there?”
Knowing my stance on giving yourself enough time to heal from heartbreak, my newly-single friends will often shy away from telling me they’ve begun dating again. “…don’t kill me, but I’ve got two Match dates lined up this week…” (cue my loud sighing)
We all know deep down that dating too soon after a breakup is a bad idea. So why do we do it? The pain of a broken heart activates the same parts of the brain as clinical depression. It causes us real, physical suffering that can last weeks or months, and the lure of new romantic love is one of the strongest antidotes. We long for those butterfly feelings, the giddy excitement of feeling desire and being desirable.
And on a deeper level, we fear being alone. For some, a breakup may trigger powerful fears of never finding that special someone to build a life with. It may lead to feelings of urgency: if I wait too long, what if all the good ones are taken?
With these very real fears in mind, I’ll bet some of you may be thinking (if we’re really being honest), is it really so bad in the first place to get back out there right away? Isn’t it natural for me to want waste no more time in finding the love of my life?
Of course. Connection is a basic human need. But fulfilling it is unfortunately not a numbers game like applying for jobs. When we lose a job, we immediately update our resume and start pounding the pavement. With matters of the heart, it’s just not that simple.
By now you might feel the impulse to shout at your computer screen “just give me the number of weeks it’s going to take!” One week for every year of the relationship is one of the most common healing time prescriptions. But I promise, there is no magic formula that will guarantee when you will be ready to open up your heart to someone new.
So what are the risks of reactivating that dating profile too soon? Here are three listed below. These also double as signs and symptoms that your emotional wounds still have more healing to do before a healthy new relationship can take shape:
1. Speed Dating
Now I’m not saying there’s not any merit to those structured singles events that have you sitting down with ten guys for five minutes at a time. What I am saying is that if you are consistently going for quantity over quality week after week, you are probably not quite ready to get back out there for real.
When my newly single clients come into my office and say, “ugh, I’ve been on five dates in the last two weeks, and each one was worse than the last”, I tell them to take a deep breath and give themselves at least a week or two off from the dating scene (and hopefully more).
Keep in mind something that I like to call the two thirds rule. Typically, when emotionally healthy, we will not be into approximately two thirds of the guys we meet. That leaves one third that we should be feeling a little giddy about, hoping that he calls the next day. If you notice that you are rejecting more than two thirds of the guys you’re meeting, you probably have your guard up. You aren’t over your ex yet and not even Ryan Gosling could come anywhere close to your heart.
2. Euphoric Recall
The rose-colored glasses have not yet come off. Your ex is still on a pedestal. Unless there was a major betrayal that allows you to fully write off your ex as a no-good, cheating jerk (or if you were the one who broke his heart), many of us have the tendency to cling to the good memories of being loved and supported, and push away memories of the red flags we are embarrassed to admit we either missed or ignored.
Euphoric recall is normal and expected in the early stages of grieving a failed relationship, but until your ex topples from that mental pedestal you have him on, you won’t be able to fully move on. And until the rose-colored glasses come off, you run the risk of history repeating itself if you don’t take the time to reflect on why the relationship failed in the first place.
3. Active Grief
The tears still overwhelm you at unpredictable times, and with the smallest of triggers. Your ex comes up in conversation regularly, and your friends still feel like they are walking on eggshells around the topic of your breakup.
Here’s where it gets tricky: being ready to find someone new is not about never thinking about your ex. I have seen women try to suppress their grief in the hopes of moving on more quickly. They will line up those Match dates right away as a distraction from the pain, and become incredibly frustrated when the grief inevitably sneaks up on them. Here is where they will ask, “Why won’t these thoughts just go away?”
You need to allow yourself time to move through the stages of grief. Feeling anger and deep sadness is normal when our hearts have just been broken, and giving ourselves the space to sit with these emotions is healthy. Though we all will wrestle with the impulse of stuffing those pesky emotions down as deep as possible. A friend of mine’s mother once told her that when dealing with any painful emotion, it’s best to pack it up tight in a box and bury it.
But the deeper we bury our emotions, the longer they will fester and linger in our psyche, threatening our well-being long after we could have been back on our feet.
So while the grief over your breakup is still active, distract yourself with family and friends, good books and bubble baths, not a string of new guys who won’t be able to get anywhere close to your heart right now anyway.
And I promise, soon the tears are going to come less often, and days will go by without any thoughts of texting him. And just to repeat: being ready to find someone new is not about never thinking about your ex. There will come a time when the grief becomes inactive, when hyperventilating sobs several times throughout the week will give way to a glistening tear once in a blue moon when your song comes on the radio.
When you are able to allow that glistening tear to fall without it derailing the rest of your day, you will know you are ready to get back out there. And someday you will be thankful for giving yourself the gift of true healing, because it will have helped you find the man of your dreams in the following ways:
You Will Choose a Better Partner
When euphoric recall has subsided, you can start being honest with yourself about your relationship patterns. Do you tend to choose partners who you know, deep down, aren’t right for you?
Maybe you have a thing for the “bad boy” or the workaholic. Maybe after 6 months of dating you start to panic when you become too vulnerable, and you go into sabotage mode. We all have our baggage that challenges us in relationships. None of us, married or single, are immune to bad habits in our love lives. It is the ability to unpack that baggage and learn from it that makes all the difference.
When you give yourself time to heal from a breakup, you are able to reflect on what you truly need in a partner, as well as your part in your past relationship failures. This takes courage and hard emotional work. But if you are willing to take the time to unpack your baggage now, you just may save yourself another heartbreak.
You Will Be Emotionally Available
When you have done your healing and reflecting, your heart will be open to receive the man of your dreams when he crosses your path. You’ll find yourself passing over the bad boy and the workaholic in favor of a partner who is truly ready to journey with you to new emotional heights.
Finding love is not just about locating the right man. It’s also about readying ourselves for long-term commitment. If we are still suppressing anger and sadness from past heartbreak and not growing from our painful experiences, we risk not recognizing when a chance at true lasting love may be right under our noses.
When we have the courage to truly grieve our breakups instead of constantly being on the chase for our next distraction, we come to realize that the bigger risk is to box up that sadness and bury it.
Because on the other side of grief is the relationship you’ve always dreamed of. Take a deep breath girl, because if you don’t, it just may pass you by.