Heart-Broken: simply ‘Move on’?

Why telling somebody to move on from a breakup is unhelpful

Most of us in our teenage years will go through a breakup at some point. I can undoubtedly say that going through one is an awful experience. The questioning, crying, and loss of your favourite person is truly painful. Your shoulder to cry on is suddenly gone, and there is nothing you can do to change that. In these times, we seek comfort in those around us, hoping that they will offer good advice. But their first line of consolation is too often: “I’m really sorry that happened, you have to try to just move on.” Saying this to someone going through the motions, the ups and downs of feeling better and significantly worse, is insensitive. 

In the first few weeks of losing somebody who you thought would be in your life for a long time, they don’t want to move on. The thought is inconceivable. All they want is the one person they can’t have.

What people tend to forget is that moving on is the goal; it won’t happen immediately. It is unhelpful to state the obvious. Of course, that person will move on at some point, but it’s unreasonable to expect that to happen right away. The repetitive thought of “could I have done something differently??” and “should I have called them more often??” clouds the mind, and these thoughts need to be vocalised to complete the dreaded task of ‘moving on’. 

In my experience, there is a right way and a wrong way to discuss a breakup with a friend. Although some will say all the right things, others will not. By saying ‘just move on’, it seems that person wants you to forget about the entire time you were with that person. No matter how long you were together, that time is still valid. You probably have wonderful, unforgettable memories from that relationship, and learnt beneficial lessons through it. They shouldn’t be abandoned just because you aren’t with that person anymore. Not everything should be forgotten. 

As an outsider, it’s normal to be unemotional about somebody else’s breakup. Why? Because it isn’t happening to you, and that’s understandable. It’s easy to say, ‘Seriously, they were nowhere near good enough for you.’ Although this may be true, telling them to abandon all thoughts about their ex at this stage is unhelpful. The support system for breakups needs to change. 

So, what other responses are there to offer? To start, open up the conversation by validating their emotions. Letting them speak, cry and shout are all effective in working through their feelings. Hug them (if they are a hugger), and tell them that everything will be okay. Because it will be, no matter how much time it takes. And when they get to this stage, they would have told themselves that it’s time to move on. Allowing them to come to this realisation themselves is much more effective than telling them this when they’re at their most vulnerable. Let them talk until they have nothing else to say. Let them cry until they have no tears left. Make sure to remind them to eat, to get out of the house. Invite them out for drinks or a coffee sometime. These are all steps in the right direction. 

Breakups are a learning curve for everyone involved, but be the person that offers helpful suggestions instead of saying ‘move on’. Be there for them, support them. Because one day they will move on, just not yet.

Picture: Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash