Get Over It

A 12-step program to heal even the most pathetic cases of heartbreak.

(Illustration by Kim Rosen)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Ethan Gilsdorf
June 29, 2008

I have eaten heartbreak, and I have caused heartbreak. I've been unexpectedly dumped by my high school sweetheart, and I've undone a decade-and-a-half relationship. I have sat on the floor of a once happy cohabited home and divided a CD collection into his and her piles. I consider myself an expert on the subject.

Recently, it happened again. I sailed into love, only to drown in the treacherous waters of indecision, torment, and grief. Not to mention a nasty case of irritable bowel syndrome.

But there are ways to ease the pain. What follows is my 12-step plan to move past despair and ride into the rosy future of your next romantic disaster.

1. Confirm you have the ailment. If it's your first heartbreak, expect physical symptoms such as tightness of the chest (or nausea), loss (or gain) of appetite, and watery eyes (this is also known as "crying"). If you find yourself plotting revenge sex, then you're probably heartbroken. Imaginary conversations with the heartbreaker are also common, as is an avoidance of music by Air Supply and Barry White.

2. Get perspective. Heartbreak is nothing new. It's mentioned in the Bible, Shakespeare, and bathroom stalls everywhere. In the Led Zeppelin song "Heartbreaker," Robert Plant laments, "The best years of my life gone by, here I am alone and blue. Some people cry and some people die by the wicked ways of love." Wicked indeed.

3. Get angry. In that classic 1969 song (above), Mr. Plant takes the first baby steps towards demonizing his ex: "Heartbreaker, your time has come, can't take your evil way, go away, heartbreaker . . ." He revels in the "I hate you" phase. So should you.

4. Write your pain. After your anger has subsided from a 5 million-degree roil to an I'm-under-control simmer and you're out of Kleenex, it's time to write breakup poems. Do not compare love to a wilted flower. Do not send them.

5. Stay sober. It is not advisable to substitute beer for your loss (unless it's really good beer).

6. Don't drink and communicate. If you must imbibe, avoid phoning your ex after midnight. And drunken texts and e-mails such as "i missss*%# u!" or "WHHHHYYY???" linger in inboxes. No need to add to the body of evidence used to grant the restraining order.

7. Keep yourself occupied. Work hard, get out of the house, or take up a new hobby such as painting Warhammer miniature figurines or visiting every nail salon in town. Staying busy does not mean reading the collected history of your five-year e-mail correspondence. Delete it now.

8. Get exercise. You can't sleep your way through heartbreak. By "sleep," I mean both hiding under the covers and pursuing a master's degree in Meaningless Sex. Flex your muscles in another way.

9. Don't be creepy. No "checking in" (a.k.a. stalking). Do not lurk in the woods after dark, hoping to glance your old lover through the window of the house whose bed and mortgage payments you once shared. This results in ailments worse than lovesickness: poison ivy, Lyme disease, and self-loathing.

10. Dematerialize the past. The presence of physical reminders only prolongs the agony and magically wards off new lovers. Place mementos such as photos, lingerie, and joint credit cards in a box and hide this in your basement. Burning special items also has a cathartic effect. (Note: Stay clear of fumes from latex bedroom toys.)

11. Break off all contact. For at least one year. Or one month. Or one week. Repeat as often as necessary.

12. Be patient. Time heals all. Make it pass quickly. This is easily accomplished by inventing a time machine and traveling several millenniums into the future.

Remember, if you don't at least try to get over your heartbreak, then you'll be trapped forever in a limbo fantasyland of false hope, and you'll obsessively pine for future reconciliation. And if you're a glutton for punishment like me, that's exactly where you like to be.

Ethan Gilsdorf is a writer in Somerville. Send comments to

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