If you’ve got a friend who’s just come off the break-up boat, here are a few tips for what never to say.
1. “F*ck your ex. He’s an assh*le!”
A statement like this may be well-intended, but fresh off a breakup, it makes us feel like crap. Now we’re not only brokenhearted, but apparently, we’re idiots for feeling that way about someone others thought was never worth it.
Even when our hearts are broken, we often we still love those people. Hearing you bash them hurts, and it makes us immediately defend their good qualities, which is the last thing you want someone who is trying to get over his or her ex to do.
It also makes us wonder if you felt that way all along, even when you were pretending to like them.
And, if so, how can we ever trust you again when we want your opinion on the people we’re dating? (Unless, of course, you were loudly singing that anti-anthem throughout our relationships. In that case, you might consider investing in tactfulness lessons.)
Hurling epithets doesn’t acknowledge the real feelings behind painful breakups, and it can feel like you’re ridiculing us or belittling our past relationships.
There will be plenty of time for healthy deconstruction of the relationships later, after we’re out of the acute grieving stage.
But even then, offer your opinion only if asked. And if you do, offer it very gently.
Getting over an ex is a lot like overcoming an addiction.
No one can do it for us, and it won’t “take” until we’re ready to kick the habit. If you push us into it before we’re ready, it guarantees failure.
And, of course, if you spit all your venom on our exes and we do get back together, you’re now the enemy.
2. “Oh, no. He was such a great guy!”
Never say this. If your friend lost a job, would you tell her how fantastic the company was? If she got kicked out of a club, would you tell her all about the epic night she missed?
3. “There are plenty of fish in the sea.”
Please, don’t ever say this. It minimizes what these people were to us, and it makes it seem as if love is interchangeable.
Would you console a friend who’d lost a beloved pet by telling her there are so many more animals out there she can go right out and adopt?
Of course, there are others out there we could love.
The idea of a single soul mate for each of us is so astronomically unlikely, and there are many people for each of us with whom we could create happy, healthy partnerships.
But pointing that out in the acute stages of grief doesn’t lessen what we feel, and it comes across as the annoying platitude it is.
Telling me I didn’t want the special anyway when the restaurant says they’re out of it doesn’t trick me into thinking I didn’t want it. For the love of sweet Raptor Jesus, let me mourn my lost fish of the day.
And, yes, I probably will enjoy something else just as much when I am ready to make an alternate choice from the menu, but don’t push me.
4. “Being single is better anyway.”
Oh, really? What happens when we start dating again, or get into other relationships? Do you change your tune then? Again, if you do, you have compromised some trustworthiness.
A friend isn’t someone who tells us what she thinks we want to hear; it’s someone who’s honest but tactful.
She has a true opinion we can count on, but she keeps a level, objective head we can trust.
Also, judging from the fact that she was just in a relationship, presumably your friend wanted to be in one.
Maybe, she doesn’t think being single is better, or maybe she wanted to be “tied down” in a committed relationship.
Don’t mock other people’s feelings or desires, especially when they are at their most vulnerable from going after them.
5. “He’ll come crawling back.”
This is like telling someone whose loved one has just died, “Well, now he’ll always be watching over you.” Maybe he will, and maybe he won’t. We don’t know. (And neither can you.)
But when we’re mourning the loss of people’s presence in our day-to-day lives, I don’t want the pallid promise of false hope.
There’s a chance we will get back together; a lot of people do. But telling us that when we’re heartsick over losing those people isn’t going to make us feel better, and it won’t allow us to start healing.
It’s slapping Band-Aids over severed limbs and telling us they might grow back.
6. “I totally know how you feel.”
Unless you have body-snatched us and are living inside our heads, you do not know exactly how we feel.
It’s not just like what happened to you because we and every single individual relationship on the face of the planet are unique.
Don’t turn us into a generalized statistic, and don’t top our stories with your own when I’m in the throes of a broken heart. I don’t care about yours right now, and I need to heal mine.
And I need you to support me while I’m doing it. I will gladly talk all about your horrible past breakup later, when I don’t want to stick forks in my eyes.
So, what do you say?
There are countless positive, helpful ways you can show your love and support to someone going through heartbreak:
“I love you.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“I wish I could help this hurt less.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“How can I help?”
“Want some ice cream?”
“You should stop drinking now.”
“Give me your phone.”
“Get off his Facebook page, honey.”
“Let’s go to a movie, out to eat, shopping, etc.”
Grief is like any other emotion; there’s no shortcut, and there’s no evading it. You simply have to go through it.
Just sitting with someone and letting her feel what she feels may seem useless, and it may make you feel helpless and impotent, but this time isn’t about you.
The hardest thing is not to try to “fix” someone’s pain while she walks through the valley of the shadow of death. Just be there, and do nothing.
Sometimes, that’s the greatest gift of friendship you can offer.