Breaking Up is Hard to Do: Why Heartbreak Feels So Heartbreaking

I recently went through something that a lot of people my age have experienced: a breakup with someone I never even officially dated. It is a cycle: you meet, you spend hours together every week, you form a connection, you meet their friends, you two are acting like you are in a relationship, and then boom—they hit you with the “I’m afraid of commitment” song and dance.

Lately, everything makes me think of him. I notice every car on the road that looks like his, I am reminded of him immediately whenever I hear a Bob Dylan song. And when I hear someone talk about him, my heart pounds and all the memories come rushing back. All the laughs, all the anticipation and excitement of starting to fall for someone—everything.

It feels like the end of the world, going from all to nothing. That person cutting something off that could have been great, before it even started. I wanted to find out more, though, about why going through a heartbreak feels like the world crashing down through a psychological perspective. So, I decided to talk to Gary Lewandowski Jr.,Ph.D., Professor in the Department of Psychology, who specializes in the psychology of intimate relationships. I also wanted to find out if there was something more productive I could be doing, other than wallowing in self-pity and listening to Taylor Swift’s “All Too Well” on repeat.
“When you get into a relationship, you devote part of yourself to your partner and also take on many of their traits. We call this inclusion of other in the self,” Lewandowski said.

When you go through a breakup, it’s like you are losing a part of yourself. You two create your own inside jokes and your own sort of traditions, things that only the two of you will understand. Consequently, if the two of you break up, you sort of have to rediscover part of yourself, because you lost a part of your identity that was associated with them.

I keep finding myself feeling as though it’s wrong to move on from him. That letting go of missing him would somehow mean I don’t care for him anymore. That by holding on to all of those emotions tied to him, good and bad, there could still be a presence of him in my life. We’re also in the same class, so it’s just a little bit of torture on my part.

“Like above, it’s a bit related to the fact that so much of yourself is wrapped up. We’re social creatures so we also have a general fear of being alone,” Lewandowski explained.

It’s like, when I see him in class, I feel like I’m seeing someone who really got to know me, someone who I was truly convinced was going to be a part of my future. And that’s not what you are usually looking forward to in a communication class.

The part of the aforementioned “All Too Well” that has been hitting me the hardest lately is the beginning of the bridge: “Well maybe we got lost in translation/Maybe I asked for too much/But maybe this thing was a masterpiece, till you tore it all up/Running scared, I was there, I remember it, all too well.” If one of the people involved in this relationship is afraid of commitment with you, anything you ask for from them will be “too much.”

This can also mean that you two have different attachment styles. Lewandowski said, “People who are secure (comfortable being close and not worried about their partner leaving them) have the best relationships. They are most compatible with others who share their secure attachment style.”

Very soon into this “situationship”— as many Gen-Zer’s like to call a relationship that never had an official title—it never felt super secure, because he said that he was “weird” with relationships. I was comfortable opening up to him. We really clicked and understood each other, and it seemed as though he felt the same way. We could talk for hours with no awkward pauses. We shared our pasts, talked about our families and what it was like for us growing up. It felt like we were forming a deep, meaningful connection to each other.

But that one issue kept popping up: he was cautious of committing to anything more serious with me in the future. “There are lots of possibilities of why someone is afraid to commit to you,” Lewandowski said. They can be trying to work on themselves, they may have trauma from past relationships, or they may be holding out just in case ‘something better’ comes along.” So, it’s not you, and just because it never had a title on it doesn’t mean it was any less special.

Getting over that person that was special to you is the largest hurdle. It may take weeks, months, to get to a place in which you remember the good times and appreciate what you two had, but are not sad about losing them anymore. Lewandowski gave his advice for getting over a breakup: “Write about it, especially the positives. Avoid trying to go back or even looking back. A complete break is most often best. Staying friends is difficult, especially if there are any lingering feelings.”

It may be a nice sentiment, wanting to “be friends” but the truth is, you two were much more than friends, and it is difficult to be friends with someone that you know you want much more with.
It is hard to lose someone that you hit it off with so quickly and that you thought was going to be a prominent part of your future. You lose part of yourself and who you were with them. But, by taking it day by day, focusing on the positives of that relationship and not what made it fall apart, you can start to appreciate it and stop mourning it.

Because I’ve listened to “All Too Well” at least a hundred times since the “situationship” fell apart, the best lyric that ties together why breaking up hurts so much is: “You told me about your past, thinking your future was me.”