Have you ever had a friend break up and felt yourself at a complete loss for words? It’s hard to know if you should mention their ex, pretend like the relationship never happened, give them space, ask questions, or what! You want to help, but without experience, you don’t know how to make it better.
A couple years ago, I was in a serious relationship for the better part of a year. The breakup was a best case scenario, ending amicably and mutually, but even so it was still one of the more difficult things I’ve ever had to process. With much trepidation, I thought I’d bare my soul a little and tell you what helped or did not help through that time. This is based on personal experience, so keep in mind that different relationships and personalities will make people process things very differently. One size does not always fit all.
Do let your friend grieve. Losing a boyfriend or girlfriend that you loved feels a lot like dealing with death. The emotions are very similar, but more awkward because our culture tends to be very hush-hush about breakups. I had a friend tell me recently that she used to get annoyed at me after I broke up, because I was reclusive and dull for so long (my words, she used kinder ones), and she didn’t realize I was grieving. It’s true, it took me a long time to process the feelings accompanying the breakup, probably much longer than most people knew. So give your friend more time than you think they should need. Be gentle and encouraging, but…
Don’t tell them someone better is coming along. Not yet. Not for a long time. That’s like telling a kid whose puppy just died that you’ll buy them a new one. They don’t want a new one. They want to be sad for what they had.
Do mention their ex. My relationship was a big, thought-consuming part of my life, and suddenly that was gone. I wanted to discuss my difficulty with my best friend, but oh wait, that used to be my boyfriend. I’m so lucky to have friends who didn’t look at me sideways when I talked about him though. Tucking away those memories in a locked vault for fear of looking clingy is stifling. So ask the breakupee about her ex, but be sensitive. If your questions make your friend clam up or tear up, better back off a little. Also…
Don’t pretend you’re best friends with someone just because they suddenly have interesting gossip to share. If you weren’t good friends previously, for heaven’s sake don’t pry.
Basically, be a friend like the ones I had. They were so kind to me- buying me flowers, singing along to loud breakup music with me, giving me hugs and understanding and care, asking the right questions (mostly 😀 ) and sticking by me even while I was gloomy for months. In short, be empathetic. Did you know that breakups can cause physical pain? Ask questions, but don’t probe too much. And be patient, someday your friend’s sun will shine again.