The end of a romantic relationship is a universally difficult experience. To state the obvious, a breakup means saying goodbye to someone you love and who you likely spent more of your time with than not. There is an acute sense of loss both on a day-to-day basis and in life overall. The end of a relationship also forces us to reflect on painful, more existential ideas such as: Will I be lonely? Am I going to end up alone?
On a brain level, research has shown that we actually experience the pain of a breakup similarly to physical pain. Furthermore, it seems that our brains experience being in love much like a drug addict experiences using their drug of choice. When we break up, we go through cravings not dissimilar from the way a withdrawing drug addict does.
These are the universal aspects of breaking up. What about breaking up when you and your now-ex are both part of the LGBTQ community? To say the least, it is a complicating factor. While I sometimes hear my clients talk about avoiding a whole slew of places and events within our community in an effort to avoid an ex, the norm does tend to be that no one wants to opt out of community events and queer spaces because of a recent breakup. What this means, though, is that the number-one rule of a breakup — don’t see your ex for at least several months after the end of the relationship — likely cannot be abided by.
As you are probably able to predict, the more an ex remains a part of your life in the early stages of the breakup, the more prolonged the time spent healing will be. That being said, the value of a strong, cohesive community, especially during times of emotional distress, can provide an antidote to feelings of isolation and alienation, which can also ward off unwanted experiences such as depression or symptoms thereof.
So, what should you do if/when you run into your ex in the early stages after breaking up? First, it’s important to know that you are reasonably too emotionally raw and vulnerable to tolerate such an interaction. As such, be kind to yourself. You are allowed to feel hurt, to cry and to wish the run-in never happened. In terms of the actual interaction, be brief. Get in and get out as quickly as possible. In times like these, ego can sometimes get in the way of our ability to make good choices: “I don’t want her to think I’m leaving because of her” are easy thoughts to stumble upon, but what’s more important is respecting your own needs. It also makes sense to have a general game plan. What will you need after running into your ex unexpectedly? Time alone? The support of friends? A massive cry? Be prepared to give yourself what you need, free of shame and guilt. Feeling the full extent of your emotions is crucial to healing.
Since we may not be able to avoid the dreaded run-in, it is beneficial to try to insulate yourself from other sources of pain to the best of your ability. In the social-media age, we all know how easy it is to creep around and see what your ex is up to. Don’t! Unfriend and unfollow or even block if you need to. Now is not the time to know what they’re doing and whether they’re seemingly suffering as much as you. This is especially important because social media is an incredibly good forum for displaying a slanted version of reality. The less you know and the less you see, the better off you are. This includes real-life interactions as well. Discourage friends and fellow community members from updating you on anything related to your ex and practice self-control as best you can by not asking.
The end of a relationship is a big deal. If you think you should be tough and try to move past your feelings, you’re wrong. Pain is a necessary function of healing and the best thing we can do for ourselves is simply make good choices, rely on support systems and know that the pain doesn’t last forever.
Kristina Furia is a psychotherapist committed to working with LGBT individuals and couples. She owns Emerge Wellness, an LGBT health and wellness center in Center City (www.emergewellnessphilly.com).