Breakups are the worst (which is probably one of the most obvious statements ever). You might feel like shit. Even if you were the one to wanted to break up, it’s still difficult to adjust to the change in your life. You’re moving on from one chapter of your life onto the next, and you most likely won’t have that person in your life anymore. Everywhere you look, there are reminders of your ex. From the pictures on your desk, to your couple-y Facebook profile pictures, to the ticket stubs from all the movies you watched together. The best way to let yourself heal is to get rid of it. All of it.
Here are a few steps for removing evidence of your ex so that you can allow yourself to heal properly:
1. Burn the evidence. Not literally (unless you think it’d be more cathartic to literally burn the stuff that reminds you of him).
Gather all the objects that remind you of him.
Wash all your clothes or bed sheets, anything that might have his scent (this might be a little extreme, but our brains associate memories strongly with smells, so getting rid of his scent might help get rid of painful triggers).
Put everything that reminds you of him in a box.
You don’t have to throw these things away or burn them or get rid of them completely. If you think you might want to look at these things again in the future, you can always keep them in storage, in your garage, with a friend, or at your parents’/grandma’s/whoever’s house. Just not somewhere nearby. If it’s at the back of your closet or under your bed, symbolically, it’ll be like that relationship (and the negative/sad emotions associated with it) is always there with you, and you won’t be able to move on as easily without thinking about it.
2. Unfollow him from everything on social media/networking sites, if you choose not to unfriend him or if you’re still on good terms. If you’re not, just unfriend him on everything (or even block him). No harm, no foul. He probably won’t really care, and if he does, it’s only Facebook, so in reality/in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter.
3. Unfollowing also means no contact. No texting, no chatting, nothing. The less contact you have with him for the first few weeks or months after the breakup, the better. This no-contact doesn’t have to be permanent, though. If you think you can be friends again later, that’s great. But it’s easier to cut off communication early on (even if it’s temporary) so you can give yourself the space to heal, without him coming back into your life and ruining the progress you’ve made.
4. Delete all the pictures and change your statuses to single. This seems a little tedious, but if you don’t make these small changes ASAP, they’ll serve as little reminders in the future that you aren’t a couple anymore. It’s best to rip off the band-aid and get these things done quickly.
5. Tell your close friends/family members about the breakup. It’s better to do this sooner rather than later, so that they all know and can be there to give you love and support, if you want it. Also, it sucks to have your friends keep asking about how you and your boyfriend are doing, long after you break up. It’s just another reminder that you two broke up and can trigger painful feelings.
6. Fill the space that he left behind with things that are all you.
Fill physical space — after you take down the things in your room/place that remind you of him, replace it with things that you like: things that make you happy, inspire, or empower you. Pictures of your friends or siblings/parents instead of pictures of him. A poster of your favorite movie, quote, or piece of art. New bedsheets if your old ones remind you of him too much.
It’s important that you don’t just fill the physical space, like replacing old pictures of him with new ones on your desk, but the space in your heart and your everyday life. If you used to hang out with him after classes on Tuesdays, find something new to do. If you used to have lunch together every day, find new friends to eat with. If you need to, schedule a different friend to be with you every day, so that you won’t have that empty space in your schedule to think about your loss/this change. If you used to go with him every time a new movie came out, find someone else to go with — a friend, your siblings, or even a new/another guy (if you’re up for something fun and casual and won’t feel like it’s too fast to hang out with a new guy).
There are unlimited people around you who can be there for you now that he won’t — he is not irreplaceable. Even if you don’t have that many friends to replace the space he used to fill, then this is a great time to make new ones! Join a club, take a class, volunteer, or talk to the person sitting next to you on the bus or while waiting in a line. Ask the girl sitting alone in a coffee shop/cafeteria/dining hall if you can join her, and strike up a conversation about books, TV, music, or other hobbies, and you might just find a new friend in her.
7. Have some kind of ritual/ceremony for moving on. For example, write some vows to yourself about what you want your life to be like after this relationship. You could also take all the stuff you have that reminds you of him (as mentioned earlier) and say goodbye to them as a way of moving on from the past associated with those objects. It may sound dramatic, but sometimes these actions are necessary — do whatever it takes so that you can move on in a healthy way.
About a year after a major breakup, it helped me to make a video collage of the old pictures and video clips of us together. I arranged them chronologically with songs to represent the changes and stages of our relationship. When I finished it, I felt a sense of catharsis from making sense of all that had happened between us, through this medium of storytelling. After watching the video a bunch of times and being able to look at the big picture, I was able to let go of a lot of the resentment I had towards him, remember that there were lots of good times too, and move on with my life with less regret. This method might work for you, and even just writing it as a story works well too.
Getting over a relationship isn’t only about forgetting about a person — it’s about moving forward and accepting that this part of your life is over. Whether it was one of the best periods of your life or months filled with tears and fighting, you owe it to yourself to give yourself the time and space to mourn the relationship. As you get rid of or put away things that remind you of your ex, take the time to appreciate the memories associated with those objects. Even though you don’t want to see the dress you wore the first time you went out to dinner together or the cup he always used to drink from at your place, someday you might look fondly on them and those memories. Don’t look at these rituals as ways to trash everything about your ex and the past relationship, but as a way to get rid of mental triggers for the time being, so that you don’t spend this emotional time over-analyzing your ex or the relationship. Breaking up is sad beans, but you don’t have to be. Get rid of the bad triggers, and in time, you’ll be a stronger and happier person by letting yourself heal properly.
Note: I use male pronouns referring to the “ex” throughout this article (without intending to be gender exclusive) but feel free to switch them to female pronouns if you are/were dating a girl!