February 24, 2008 catherinetownsend

Five Stages of breakup grief


When I’ve been dumped, I’ve noticed that my friends tend to fall into two categories. There are the angry break-up music fans, who advocate blasting Alanis Morissette non-stop and burning voodoo effigies of my ex-boyfriend. Other girlfriends advise me to “let it all out”, which involves tears, ice cream and maudlin music that seems to confirm my fear that I’m now doomed to die alone and be consumed by my flatmate’s feral cat once he runs out of food. Since break-ups are somewhat like bereavements, I experience a whole range of emotions and my iPod playlist reflects this. Stage one is Denial, which is like when accident victims wander around in shock.

This inability to accept reality leads to optimism, so the first post-break up night is often spent out with my girlfriends, dancing in a glittery little number to clichd tunes such as the M People’s “Moving On Up” or Cher’s “Believe”. I pound sambuca shots and flirt with the fit Swedish bartender with thighs that could crack walnuts.

But I stop at flirting, since I’m still operating under the illusion that I’m in a relationship. It’s only a matter of time before my ex-boyfriend calls… right?

The next stage, Anger, is usually accompanied by a five-alarm hangover that makes me feel there is a tiny little man stabbing out the back of my eyes. I blast Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and the Violent Femmes’ “Kiss Off”, and rant about my ex’s shortcomings.

I may even call that bartender and have hot, angry sex with him, following the old adage that “you’re never over someone until you’re under someone else”. Still no word from the ex… but I don’t care! I was way too good for him, and wouldn’t talk to him even if he came crawling back!

Stage three: Bargaining. OK, I’ve calmed down now and am ready to take responsibility for my role in the break-up. So I initiate irrational banter with the universe: if he will just come back and make the pain stop, I promise that I’ll give in to all of his demands. On the playlist: Toni Braxton’s “Unbreak My Heart”. Yes, I’m that pathetic.

Once I realise that I have no control of the situation, stage four, Depression, hits hard.

I find that only country music can accurately capture the black hole I’ve fallen into, so I turn to tunes such as Patsy Cline’s “I Fall to Pieces” or Johnny Cash, who wrote in “Flushed From The Bathroom of Your Heart”, “In the garbage disposal of your dreams, I’ve been ground up dear/On the river of your plans, I’m up the creek/Up the elevator of your future, I’ve been shafted/On the calendar of your events, I’m last week.”

Depression can linger far beyond the crying-on-the-sofa phase. Real heartbreak is paralysing, because it makes us numb and terrified of taking a risk again.

So, months later, when I do meet someone nice who asks for my phone number and I feel the fear kicking in, I turn to a bloated cowboy in a Stetson to get me to stage five: Acceptance.

When Garth Brooks sang in “The Dance”, that we have to take risks in life because “I could have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance,” it made me cry.

But I also realised that I would much rather regret something that I’ve done than something I didn’t do. So I got my ass off that couch, dried my eyes and called the guy back.

Because, as the final lyric of “Closing Time” by Semisonic reminds us, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”


Comments (14)

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