Elephant in the Room: How to Love Yourself Again After a Breakup

Screen Shot 2013-04-25 at 9.45.16 PMDear Cora,

I’m 23 and I’ve only had one “romantic” relationship. We met through a mutual friend after I moved to a new city for a job, and we hit it off really well. He called me pretty, brought me flowers, and I was excited that I may finally have a boyfriend. However, it took us 6 months to get beyond the “flirty friends” stage and get our feelings out in the open. Then it all went down hill. He would cancel on me because he was sick, tired or busy. When he did want to hang out, it was only last minute, usually late at night. When I asked him what we were doing he said I was a great girl and he liked me a lot but he was busy and didn’t know if he had time for a relationship.

We stopped talking after that; until I went for my annual physical and found out I had HPV. Due to the strong link between HPV and ovarian cancer I needed a biopsy and several other cancer screenings. Knowing there was only one person it could have come from, and wanting to do the right thing and protect other women he might sleep with, I called the guy and told him. He was upset and felt bad for me, but was even more worried about himself. So for the next 3 months, I went through a series of cancer screenings and tests, and held his hand while he freaked out that the HPV might have gotten to his brain because he’d been having a lot of headaches. Everything turned out fine. My bad cells were benign and it turns out HPV doesn’t usually cause brain infections which manifest as headaches. I never saw him again, and our texts got fewer and farther in between until they stopped all together.

Cora, this is the only relationship I’ve ever had and it ended with the guy going crazy and me feeling like that I was never much more than a “booty call” to him anyway. After such a bad ending how do I get back out and try to do this again?

Left and Lonely
Dear Left and Lonely,

The first and most important thing you need to know is that by acknowledging that you even want to go back out there after this experience you’ve already conquered the hardest step. It takes a lot of courage to get back on that horse and you’re braver than most of us for even trying. For that, I am so proud of you.

The heart of most romantic tragedies is based on the pain we experience when we love someone more than they love us in return. It’s one of the most horrible feelings, yet one of the most universal. A little while ago, I found myself in the middle of one of those lightheaded-palm-sweaty-all-consuming crushes. Every time he said I looked nice or complimented me I wanted to melt into the floor. I gathered up all my courage to tell him how I felt, ready to take the plunge and so excited for all of the potential wonderfulness… I landed face-first on the hard cement floor of failure. He felt the same, just about someone else.

I called my mother to relay the story between heartbroken sobs. After telling me that I was a smart, funny, amazing girl she added, “Maybe you could use this as motivation to lose some weight.” I know she meant it to be encouraging, and technically she wasn’t wrong. His someone else was indeed a smaller elephant and maybe if I were slimmer my other attributes would have been easier for him to see. In reality, my mother was just answering a question that so many of us have after such a palpable rejection – why don’t they love me?

But it’s the wrong question, Left. He chose someone else. Your “boyfriend” refused to make you a priority in his life. Why should we care about their opinion? Your trepidation about getting back out there comes from feeling like you weren’t good enough for this one particular person, and you’re worried that means you won’t be good enough for anyone else either. Don’t give his opinion that much weight. By the sounds of how he treated you after your diagnosis he was doing enough thinking about himself for everyone involved – don’t add to the clutter. Why he doesn’t love you doesn’t matter, because he doesn’t matter.

I have a different question for you Left – why do you love yourself? That’s what I want you to think about instead. Write down three things you love about yourself and then I want you to think of activities that bring out those qualities.

Do you think you’re smart and love debating or trading opinions with others? Join a book club. Are you an animal lover? Volunteer at an animal shelter or get a pet and start hanging out in dog parks. Do you think you have a great sense of humor? Take an improv class or go to comedy shows. Sites like meetup.com or even Craigslist (but please be careful here) are great ways to find groups who share your interests.

Remember you’re not doing something like taking up yoga because you want to look like that girl in the Lululemon pants you see at Starbucks every morning – do it because you love the practice. This isn’t about self-improvement but self-fulfillment. Indulge in activities that make you feel better about you, not that make you think you’re more appealing for someone else.

Fall in love with yourself again Left and Lonely, and you won’t believe how quickly and easy someone else falls in love with you, too.

Best wishes,

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avatar-NO-BKCGRNDSubmit your questions, troubles, and predicaments to Cora via editor [at] intent [dot] com or in the comments section below. The Elephant in the Room advice column will be published every Friday – a blend of humor, compassion, and wisdom specially tailored for our Intent audience.