Although I have experienced a few times the shock to the system, the period of adjustment, the loneliness and all the rest of the emotions that go with the end of a relationship, I've had my heart badly broken just once - and it was so bloody awful it had quite an impact on me and made me much more empathetic towards others who go through it. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. But I got over it, and went on to be 'better off without him', as people tell you you will be (and no, of course you can't see it at the time!)
When I thought about it in some depth, I realised there were a few things I did that really helped me get through it. So I thought I'd write about it in the hope that even one of them might help someone else who's going through it now.
I met Nick when I was 30, and we were together for 6 years, living together for 4. In 1996 he left me for someone else, though I'd suspected he was going off me for about a year. I had never been so completely in love with anyone before, and did not feel that strongly for anyone again for quite some time afterwards. When he left me I collapsed; I remember actually falling against the wall when he finally drove away. I couldn't eat; I really couldn't, I retched when I tried. I couldn't sleep. But in stronger moments I kept telling myself, every day I live through this is a day closer to getting over it. I remember looking out of the back door onto the sunlit garden on the 3rd day (it was a Monday in late May) and thinking, it's like this now, but it won't always be.
I'll start off with something positive - I lost the stone (or possibly more!) that I'd piled on over the past year and went blonde again (he'd liked me dark) - suddenly I looked and felt more attractive, and that did wonders for my confidence. Even in my depths of despair I found myself trying clothes on that previously I couldn't get into, and thinking, wow!!! This is usually the first good thing about any break up.... now, the rest of it....
About two days after he left me, I had a phone call from his mother, herself a veteran of many relationships. We'd never been particularly close but we liked each other well enough. She told me these things, which I took on board, and I'm so glad I did:
Don't take him back, if he asks. He will find the shock to the system of the break up hard too, and may have a few 'oo-er' moments, but unless he can really show you that he's made a genuine mistake, he'll probably do it again some time, because the things that made him want to leave in the first place won't have gone away - and then you'll have to go through this all over again. (Incidentally, Nick started playing around behind the back of my successor after 3 or 4 years, too - I just thanked my lucky stars I was out of it!)
Get out and start living your life again as soon as you possibly can. Every day you do this is a day you're building up your new life apart from him/her.
I'd also like to add these few words of wisdom of my own, because they're things I did that helped me - look, I won't keep doing the him/her he/she thing, okay? If you're a chap reading this, just read the 'him' as 'her'! I can't comment on what it's like when you have children, because I don't have any, and this is nothing about the practicalities of a break-up - just the way to help mend a broken heart.
Watch the drink. Everyone drinks a bit more when they're heartbroken; what I did was drink enough to blur the edges a bit but not enough to get totally slaughtered. On the one time I did, in the company of a friend who had a drink problem and wanted me to drink with her, using "it'll help" as an excuse to get me drinking as much as she did, I felt much, much worse, and then had to cope with the hangover depression in the morning, too. Also, you run the risk of making those late night drunken phone calls that make you feel such a prat the next day.
At the beginning, you're in shock. All your friends rally round. In some ways this is the easy bit. Give it two weeks down the line, though, and they'll expect you to be pulling yourself together a bit. This is when the grief bit sets in, and sometimes you have to go through this alone. Don't bore your friends witless. If you show them you're helping yourself, they'll be more likely to help you, too. I had terrific, supportive friends, but they had things going on in their lives, too; I couldn't expect them to 'be there for me' all the time.
Rebound relationships - I'm in two minds about them. I started one 6 weeks after Nick left, with someone who was totally wrong for me. 2 months later, I had to work out how to evict him from my life, too ... I don't blame myself for this, because he was an idiot, but I don't know that I should have got into the situation in the first place. On the other hand, it turned my focus away from my broken heart. So I'd say don't do it if a) you're just using the person, because it's not kind or b) it's someone who exhibits the sort of behaviour from which you would usually run a mile! But a fling never hurt anyone, and can buck up your spirits. Unless intimacy with someone else is likely to make you cry because it's not him, of course, in which case you're not ready for it.
This is a cliche, but it really works. Think about all the bad things about them. Nick was unreliable, late for everything, and a compulsive gambler. He was horrendously untidy. His gambling went in phases, but when he was 'on one' I would spend hours in casinos; it was the only way I got to spend any time with him. Once he left, though, all this was over. Hurrah!
Even during the first month, when your pain is at its worst, you will have whole half hours when you don't feel quite so bad. Use these times to do something that will help you in the long run - things like packing up any of his remaining things and putting them away somewhere where you can't see them - thus, the sight of his favourite soup bowl will no longer set you off on another crying jag when you're in the next 'my life is over' phase!
Your favourite sad records. Play them and cry. Everyone has the ones that work for them - for me it was Aerosmith's 'What It Takes'. It's a bit of self-indulgence (especially coupled with the aforementioned carefully controlled drinking) that can help, just a little.
Note: I met up with 'Nick' again in August 2013, having not seen him for 10 years; he got in touch with me through a mutual friend. We still got on like a house on fire, but then we always did. I really noticed, though, how I'd sort of 'moved on' but he hadn't - he was still starting up relationships without thinking about anything but momentary gratification. He was currently single, and sleeping in his brother's spare room. When we met we were 29 & 30 - we're now in our early 50s. It was really nice to see him though! At one point he said to me "I think our relationship ended because it was so intense at the beginning that it couldn't have remained that strong". I said, "No, Nick, our relationship ended because you started shagging someone else."
And who says women aren't the practical ones???!!