7 Mistakes Not to Make After a Break-Up (And What to Do Instead)

Break-ups are hard, and if you’ve just been through one, you’re probably inundated with advice right now. I find a lot of break-up advice is garbage, but some of it is actually useful.

In my mind, there are 7 things you absolutely should not do in the weeks and months following a break-up. Avoiding these behaviors, while difficult and often painful, will help you move through the grieving process faster. And that’s what we all want, right?

Clinging to hope. You know how the first stage of grieving a lost loved one is denial? Yeah, that’s totally a thing for break-ups too. You may have a difficult period of time during which you worry the break-up was a bad idea, deeply regret initiating it or taking the actions that led the other person to initiate it, and/or sit by the phone hoping your beloved will have second thoughts.

It’s okay to feel these things. It’s natural, in fact. But at some point, you will have to pivot toward believing the break-up was a good idea and is final. In trying to speed up this process, I’ve found it helpful to journal exhaustively about all the worries, regrets, fears, and false hopes I have surrounding the break-up – and then make a list of all the reasons it was a bad relationship and the person was unsuitable for me. Once that list is made, I always feel so much better about the break-up, whether it was my idea or not – and I also feel more clear-headed about what types of warning signs and incompatibilities I’ll need to look out for in my future relationships.

Suppressing your feelings. As with any type of grieving process, bottling up your emotions will just make them pop back up later at unexpected times, and often in unhealthy ways. It’s better to work through ’em while they’re fresh, so you can actually move the fuck on.

This might mean crying for hours or days at a time. It might mean telling the same story to various different friends 8 or 9 times until it starts to lose its sting. It might mean journaling for hours about all the ways your lost love wronged you, all the ways you feel you failed them, all the fears you have for your future. It might mean being unable to get out of bed for a few days because you can’t stop crying.

This all sounds scary and unproductive, maybe, but it’s actually very productive, because the faster and more thoroughly you get these feelings out of your system, the faster and more thoroughly you’ll be able to move forward with your life. So rage and cry and scream if you have to. Express your thoughts in writing or art or out loud. Explore all the many avenues of your pain. You’ll feel better on the other side.

Self-isolating. Now, I am writing this from the privileged position of having lots of social supports in my life, so your mileage may unfortunately vary. But keeping to yourself during an emotionally difficult time is never a good idea.

Reach out to friends, family, and any kind of therapy professional(s) you see regularly, if applicable. Tell them what’s going on. If it feels like too much work to notify people individually, you could put a general message on your social media channel(s) saying you’re going through a tough time and would appreciate some support.

If you know specifically what types of support you tend to need when you’re sad, it’s helpful to note that, too. There will be some people who want to help but aren’t quite sure what to do. For example, when I’m sad, I find it helpful for friends to take me to comedy shows, since that distracts me from what I’m going through – and I also find it helpful for people to bring me healthy meals and remind me to eat enough food and drink enough water, since my capacity for those things diminishes significantly when I’m depressed. Whatever you need, try asking for it – you might be surprised by who offers to help.

Maintaining contact with your ex. Oh, the prospect of it feels so delicious. Whether the text you want to send is a tender olive branch (“Just wanted to let you know I’m thinking of you and I hope you’re doing okay”) or a barbed thorn (“I’m fucking furious you would do this to me”), even the idea of reaching out to your ex can give you an evil little dopamine boost. There will be moments when it’ll seem like a very good idea – but it isn’t!

Do what you have to do to avoid breaking the cone of silence. Tell a friend what you wish you could tell your ex, just to get it off your chest. Write in a journal about it. Change their contact name in your phone to “DON’T DO IT” or block their number entirely. (I used a different messaging app to talk to my ex than I did for my other friends, so when we broke up, I put that app in its own far-away folder on my phone entitled “NOPE.”) Make a list of all the reasons it would be ill-advised to contact them, and refer to your list when the urge strikes. Ask yourself, “How will I feel after I send this text? If they answer? If they don’t answer?” Not great, probably.

There are a few valid reasons to text your ex in the aftermath of the break-up – to arrange an exchange of material goods, for example (see below) – but pouring your heart out to them is not one such reason. Someone can’t effectively comfort you if they’re the one who broke your heart, nor will it make you feel less guilty to talk things out with someone whose heart you recently broke. It just doesn’t work that way. Don’t do it!

Keeping mementos. This, too, is awfully tempting. Whether you want to keep their stuff for sentimental reasons (“Oh, but he got me this teddy bear for our one-month anniversary, and it was so sweeeet!”) or for bitter, petty reasons (“If you wanted me to return the gold bracelet you left here, you should’ve thought of that before you cheated on me, Silvia!!!”), it’s probably a bad idea.

Gifts they gave you are okay to keep, if you genuinely like the objects themselves and not just the emotional meaning with which they’re imbued – but you might want to tuck them away in the back of a closet or give them to a friend for safekeeping for a while, just so they won’t constantly trigger difficult emotions while you’re trying to get over what happened.

As for stuff that isn’t actually yours to keep, you should arrange a time to exchange possessions with your ex as soon as possible. The sooner it’s off your hands, the sooner you can stop thinking about it – and about them.

Jumping back into dating. Break-ups can unleash an avalanche of feelings: inadequacy, undesirability, hopelessness. Like an alcoholic sleuthing out some “hair of the dog,” you might be tempted to hop on Tinder or OkCupid and hunt for your ex’s immediate replacement. There’s a reason “rebounding” is such a ubiquitous practice!

I’m not saying this is never a good idea. For example, I had a one-night stand with a stranger five days after my most recent break-up, and it kind of reminded me that sex isn’t always that great so it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I took some time off sex and dating. But for the most part, I think it’s usually best to abstain from these behaviors for some time while you recover.

During that self-instated celibate period, give some thought to what you’d like to get out of your next relationship, what kinds of sex do and don’t fulfill you, and how you can tune up your love-and-sex behaviors to make them overall healthier and better. When you do eventually tiptoe back into dating, you could try some experiments to see if doing things differently produces different results – for example, what happens if you write what you’re looking for very clearly in your online dating profile instead of hedging with “chill,” non-committal vagueries? What happens when you put off sex until the second or third date? Or, alternatively, what happens if you listen to the desires of your body instead of your brain for a while? You might be surprised what you learn.

Idealizing your ex. It’s oh-so-easy to do. The grass is always greener on the other side, and the lover is always perfect once you can’t have them anymore. Don’t succumb to this illusion!

One of the most devastating parts of any break-up, for me, is the period when I still think I’ll never find anyone better. “He was so smart, so funny, so charming,” I’ll groan. “I’ll never meet anyone else who’s that compatible with me, who understands my kinks that well, who ‘gets me’ that much!” It’s valid and normal to feel this way for a while, but eventually, you’ll realize – or you’ll have to force yourself to realize – that this just isn’t true.

I find it helpful to combat this line of thinking by reminiscing on the past. Before you met your ex, there was probably at least one other instance when you believed you’d never meet someone great again. And then you met your ex. So it stands to reason there are lots more wonderful people you’ll meet in your lifetime. Plus, as you evolve and grow, the type of person you’re looking for will change, too. Your ex may be an ideal match for the person you just were, but they won’t be as good a fit with the person you’ll become next!

Make a list of your ex’s flaws if you have to. Or ask your friends what they disliked about your ex. (They probably kept this stuff to themselves while you were dating, so they might be extra excited to unleash a torrent of salt about your former beau now that they’re allowed to.) Do what you have to do to remind yourself that your ex wasn’t perfect – they weren’t even perfect for you – and there will be even more fabulous cuties in the future!

What do you like to do to get over a break-up?

The 10 Commandments of Successful Friendships-with-Benefits

My first-ever sexual relationship was a friendship-with-benefits. So you would think I’d be better at that type of arrangement than the average person, since FWBs have been part of my sexual menu for literally my entire sexual career.

Nah, man. I wish. I have fucked up FWB situations in all manner of ways: I’ve fallen in love with fuckpals or turned the other cheek when they fell for me; I’ve undervalued them, or else heaped all my sexpectations onto them; I’ve ended things unceremoniously or not at all.

These are easy mistakes to make, because we don’t have clear social scripts for how FWB relationships (or, as I sometimes like to call them, “copulationships”) are supposed to go. However, these days, I have a rotating roster of occasional fuckbuddies, all of whom I adore – so I’m feeling much more motivated to do things right. Here are ten guidelines I think will serve you very well in copulationships of your own…

Only do it if you both want to. You’d think this would be obvious, but it isn’t always! Sometimes, people agree to a friendship-with-benefits because they think they have to. Maybe they want a romantic relationship with the other person, and think being their FWB is the closest thing they can get. Maybe they like their friend as a friend, and don’t quite know how to turn down the offer of sex without also severing the friendship. Maybe they’re just not a casual-sex type of person, but feel a social or societal obligation to pursue it anyway.

Before entering a FWB situation – or while the formation of a new one is still recent – give some thought to your reasons for wanting it, or not wanting it. Ask your pal how they feel about the situation as well. As in all things sexual, you cannot overprioritize clear, ongoing, informed, enthusiastic consent!

Set clear boundaries and expectations. You might think everyone shares your exact definition of “friend with benefits,” but they don’t! It’s important to hammer out what each of you expects from the other, and from the friendship in general. Emotional support? Seeing each other weekly or monthly? Are you seeing other people, and if so, are you going to tell each other when you do? Are certain sexual acts off the table, because they feel too intimate for a casual relationship, or for some other reason? If you run in the same social groups, are you okay with people knowing the two of you are sleeping together, or would you rather keep it on the down-low?

All of these factors can complicate a FWB sitch, so it’s best to figure them out before they become a problem. If there’s anything you’re not sure about, ask. Better to risk seeming a little uncool and find out what’s up, I say.

Ask for what you want – and encourage them to do the same. One of the best things about casual sexual relationships is that the stakes are lower, so you might find it easier to be frank about your desires. If they’re fucking you, presumably they want you to have fun and feel good – so ask for the specific things that would accomplish that! This could be anything from a small adjustment in technique to “Wanna put this huge dildo in my ass?”

As always, be prepared to accept a “No” if that’s their answer, and try not to take it personally. Likewise, you should encourage them to open up about what they’d like you to do – it’s important to be a good sexual partner, even if the situation is casual!

Talk about any feelings that come up. Learn from my mistakes: if you develop romantic feelings for your FWB, it feels like the best thing to do is hide that fact from them. But everything will just get worse over time, and then you’ll have massive emotional chaos on your hands instead of a small blip of a crush that could’ve been nipped in the bud.

Personally, I think that if either party begins to have romantic feelings for the other, it’s best to take a break from sex – and maybe even from seeing each other – until that situation is handled. That can feel difficult bordering on impossible, but trust me: it’s better than full-on falling for your fuckbuddy. You do not want that. It is a mess. Communicate and come up with a solution before you get to that stage, if at all possible.

(Pro tip: this was a chronic problem for me until I met my current main FWB, who is emotionally monogamous to his primary partner and who is also just not the type of person I’d want to date, personality-wise. It can be difficult to find someone who you find sexually attractive, enjoy spending time around, and have no romantic desire for whatsoever, but trust me, it is possible. If I, a severely crush-prone sap, could do it, I believe almost anyone can.)

Keep putting in the effort. It’s easy to feel like you don’t have to try to “impress” your FWB, because they’re not a romantic partner. But that’s a bullshit attitude. They’re your friend, and they’re sharing a sexual experience with you. They’re worthy of your respect and good treatment. If you don’t think so, why are you sleeping with them?

Make sure your sheets are clean when they come over. Shower and groom yourself appropriately. Don’t rush them out the door when you’re done. Treat them like a hot date you’re trying to impress, even if they’re the goofy pal you’ve seen laugh beer out their nose a dozen times. Be worthy of the experiences you’re sharing; they may be casual, but they’re not worthless.

Value their mind, not just their body. If you’re both cool with an “wham-bam-thank-you-fam” arrangement, that’s a different matter. But at that point, they become less a friend-with-benefits and more just a booty call. Keep up with their life, their hopes and dreams, their ups and downs, if they seem to want to share that stuff with you. A solid friendship will make the sex better, too!

Be respectful and polite. Don’t be late to your meetups if you can avoid it. Don’t cancel plans at the last minute unless you absolutely have to. Answer their texts in a timely manner when you can. You know, like… a good friend?

Be a friend, even when times are tough. I’ll never forget the time my FWB came over a week after I’d gotten dumped, and told me, “I’m sorry you’ve had such a rough week. You don’t deserve that. If you just wanna cuddle and talk tonight, I’d be totally fine with that. I don’t want to rush you or pressure you into anything you don’t feel like doing.” Admittedly, I wanted him to fuck me, too – but that was partly because he’d shown his true colors as a genuinely good guy! With this simple speech, he proved he viewed me as a person, not just a series of holes to fuck.

It can be awkward to try to emotionally support someone who you usually only see naked, sweaty, and grunting – but it’s nice to offer. They might not take you up on it, but they’ll probably feel better about the copulationship knowing it’s with someone who has their back.

Cultivate compersion. Incase you haven’t heard, compersion is the term the polyamorous community uses to describe the opposite of jealousy: it’s the feeling of being happy for a partner’s romantic and/or sexual happiness with other people.

Assuming your friendship-with-benefits isn’t monogamous (and most aren’t!), your fuckpal will probably date and/or bang other people while seeing you. They may even end things with you to pursue something with someone else. While this can be painful, it’s also an opportunity for you to hone your compersion skills. I have even found FWB situations to be excellent practice for navigating jealousy in my serious romantic relationships. It’s a win-win!

If it’s over, say so. Don’t ghost or fade away; it’s weak and rude. If you’ve been fucking someone consistently for a while, you owe them an explanation if that has to stop. End it like you’d endeavor to end a romantic relationship: politely, compassionately, and definitively. Don’t leave them wondering why you keep canceling plans or won’t answer their texts; you’re better than that.

Have you had successful friendships-with-benefits? To what did you owe their success?

Devastated & Divine: A Week in Post-Breakup Fashion

On the day after her breakup, our lovely model Kate wears the same outfit she wore yesterday. 24 hours of crying, sleeping, and existential angst have rendered the ensemble charmingly worn-in – “heartbreak chic,” you might say.

Her green American Apparel tri-blend racerback tank is embellished with a chocolate stain from a Kitkat bar she bought because her best friend told her she needed to eat and chocolate was the only option that didn’t sound positively nauseating.

Adorning her black American Eagle leggings is a smattering of white hair from the cat belonging to her now-ex-boyfriend. The cat wandered in during the break-up conversation itself – sometime between “I don’t think we should see each other anymore” and “I still care about you a lot” – and though Kate mostly stayed strong, that was the one moment when she thought she might cry, because it wasn’t the cat’s fault she would never see him again.

Her turquoise Coach turnlock tote is stylish, yet roomy enough to fit a fistful of used tissues, a tearstained Moleskine journal, and a Kindle loaded with ebooks about the psychology of romantic rejection. The side pocket can even hold a plethora of condoms, as if she’ll have a need for those any time soon.

Kate’s royal blue heart-shaped sunglasses were a gift from a reader via her Amazon wishlist. Beyond just looking sharp, they also function as a shield to keep onlookers from realizing she’s just, like, constantly crying.

Her well-worn Frye harness boots are comforting and familiar, though now they are marred with the memory of how she clumsily crammed her feet back into them and practically tripped in an effort to get away as quickly as possible from the man who broke her heart. They need a shine, and maybe someday she’ll get to that when she’s no longer in a state of active distress.

Topping off the outfit is Kate’s Tarina Tarantino pink pavé heart necklace. Usually she wears a smaller purple and turquoise one, but the last time she had sex with her now-ex-boyfriend, he sidled up behind her afterward and fastened the purple pendant around her neck like the quasi-collar he understood it to be, and it was the last sweet and tender gesture he ever offered her – so, obviously, she couldn’t wear that one. Not today.

On the second day after her breakup, Kate wears a casually rumpled black tank top that was acquired at a local thrift store years previous and could probably use a wash. She defines her aesthetic goals today as “comfort” and “not wanting to fucking die.”

The red bandana tied around her head serves the dual purpose of concealing both her unwashed hair and her scalp infection, because depression is nothing if not glamorous. Red bandanas also symbolize fisting in the hanky code, a subtle, ironic sartorial nod to Kate’s ex, who would’ve been the first person to successfully fist her if he’d been decent enough to stick around.

Her red and black polka-dotted MeUndies boyshorts continue the color story from her red-rimmed, tearstained eyes. On her lips, Bite Beauty High Pigment Pencil in “Pomegranate” makes a bold statement: “I don’t intend on kissing anyone today. Or maybe ever again.”

On the third day after her breakup, Kate’s thrown on a black American Apparel tri-blend romper for her streetcar jaunt to an erotic massage downtown. The simple pull-on design and halter-neck ties make it quick to take on and off – ideal for getting naked on the massage table as well as navigating the bone-heavy apathy of depression. Easy-peasy!

On her radiantly unwashed face, she sports a pair of sunglasses she bought at a hotel gift shop the week previous, possibly the last purchase she made while happy. They seemed glamorous and eye-catching at the time; today they’re crimson-tinted armor. Pro tip: plastic frames are a smarter choice than metal ones while grieving, because tears don’t rust ’em!

Her heart necklace makes an appearance once again, because if a giant pink rhinestoned amulet can’t make her feel better, nothing can.

Ubiquitous Apple earbuds complete the ensemble, and rarely leave her ears these days, because what little emotional momentum she can gather is mostly enabled by the good-natured goofs of the McElroy brothers.

Later that day, blissed out and supple-skinned from coconut oil and orgasms, Kate slithers into a dark red Forever 21 tank top and tiny black H&M shorts for an evening at the local sex club. As she slings on a vintage Danier leather jacket and looks at herself in the mirror before leaving the house, she feels her first glimmer in days of something like happiness. Maybe she’ll flirt with a stranger tonight. Maybe she just won’t cry in public. Either would be a victory.

On the fourth day after her breakup, Kate’s ex is coming by to pick up the last vestiges he left at her house (a book and some bondage rope), so obviously she has to look good, even though she’s not actually going to answer the door because she’s either an emotional masochist or a massive coward – who can say! This is truly the ideal outfit for today’s activities: hiding under a blanket while rain pours down outside, and then trekking to a doctor’s appointment while blinking back hot tears. Busy lady!

Kate’s zebra-print fit-and-flare dress from H&M clings to her depression-dwindled curves in a manner that just screams “Help, I keep forgetting to eat, because my life is in shambles!” The wild-animal motif is an ironic twist, given that she’s barely left her house in days. So-near-y and yet safari, am I right?!

Today’s lipstick choice, Annabelle Twist-Up Crayon in “Vamp,” is the exact shade her mouth would be if she bit into the throats of the people who’ve wronged her and gnawed mercilessly until their pathetic heartbeats skittered to a stop, not that she’s planning on doing that or anything.

Her hair, still not washed, has achieved a strawlike texture that some people buy expensive salt sprays to achieve, probably.

On the fifth day after her breakup, Kate’s comfy-cozy in a Hole Punch Toys T-shirt she got on a road trip to Minneapolis. Wearing a sex toys shirt and headed out the door to write about sex toys at a café, she’s reminded of her competency, her talent, and the friends she’s made along the way. It’s perhaps too much to read into a T-shirt, but hey, when one is mind-numbingly depressed, one takes what one can get.

Her cheap H&M shorts are covered in dirt, food stains, remnants of her own sexual fluids, and the aforementioned white hairs belonging to the cat of her ex. She really needs to wash them, but when getting dressed feels difficult, it’s hard to part with something so sartorially versatile and easy to throw on for even as long as it takes to do a load of laundry. Plus she keeps thinking about how you could probably clone the cat using its hair. Not that she has access to that technology at present.

She’s finally washed her hair, but it’s been tossed up into a laissez-faire topknot, because today she can’t even.

Later that night, getting ready for an ill-advised OkCupid date, she slips on a lace bralette in “Lacklustre-Libido Lilac” and a Henley tank top in “Terrified-to-Try-Again Teal.” Her black velvet Forever 21 skater skirt creates the illusion of put-together elegance to impress her date, while really just existing to be comforting and comfortable. Joke’s on him.

Hours later, in a near-stranger’s downtown apartment, her Animal Hair internal clitoris necklace keeps falling into her mouth while she’s trying to give a blowjob to an unfamiliar dick. She notices herself falling back on the muscle memory of techniques her ex liked, purposely choking herself on this cock in a masochistic manner that is probably lost on this vanilla boy. It almost makes her cry, and then she almost cries again later when her one-night stand sees her necklace and asks, “Is that the Special K logo?” Her ex would have recognized it. And then he would’ve demonstrated his knowledge on her actual real-life clitoris. Ah, to date a proper sex nerd again.

On the sixth day after her breakup, Kate is so over it (over existence in general, you understand; definitely not over the breakup) so she pulls a hole-ridden, stretched-out, pilling Forever 21 V-neck tee on over her braless boobs. Free the Nipple, Free Women From the Shackles of Convention, Free the Chronically Sad Girl From this Mortal Coil, and so on.

Her berry lipstick creates the illusion of a confident, self-assured woman who has her shit together. Haha. Hahahahaha.

Her black faux-leather flats are practically worn through on the bottom, owing to the many long walks she’s taken recently, when it felt like she would fall into the earth and disappear if she ceased to constantly move.

Her wrists and throat are sparingly spattered with the Tom of Finland fragrance from Etat Libre d’Orange. On her skin, it registers as gentle, feminine, graceful and loving: all qualities she can’t quite remember, and hopes to rediscover in herself.

Today’s Tarina Tarantino heart necklace bears the image of Alice, as in Adventures in Wonderland – a figure with whom Kate strongly identifies, particularly now, as she’s a little girl traveling through an alien terrain without a Daddy to make sure she’s okay. She aspires to reach Alice’s level of confidence in that final courtroom scene someday.

One week after her breakup, Kate steps into a pink and turquoise Leg Avenue lingerie romper, ordered off Amazon back when she was happy. Her then-boyfriend would’ve liked it; it’s emblematic of the little-girl persona she often assumed around him, her Daddy. Maybe that’s the only reason he ever loved her. Maybe it’s the reason he left.

Her black ASOS skater skirt covers the lower half of the romper; the thought of going full-on little girl felt aggressively upsetting, so soon after being jostled from that role. Tonight her aesthetic is more akin to that of a grown woman who will someday tiptoe back into cathartic regression – when she once again has a partner she trusts to take her on that journey. Singlehood requires a fierce independence she feels she can’t cultivate when she’s little. Later tonight she’ll curl up with a carton of ice cream and a comedy podcast and allow herself to be gleefully small, but not where anyone can see her.

In her hot pink Kate Spade satchel, she’s got some business cards to pass out at the sex-themed variety show in which she’ll be a resident sexpert tonight. During the on-stage interview about vibrators and dildos, she doesn’t mention her breakup once. It’s the first time in a week that this recent heartbreak hasn’t felt like the central fact of her existence. Afterward, she even tipsily quasi-flirts with a cute co-performer. It’s not much, but it’s something.

Around her neck, she wears that Tarina Tarantino amulet again. It jangles and glitters when she gesticulates, casting candy-pink rainbows. Sitting on her chest all week, it’s come to feel like a part of her. Like a shield for her heart. It won’t guard her from future heartache – nothing can, not even staying inside her apartment, silent and uninvolved. But for now, she can pretend that she’s safe.

Heartsick & Miserable? Ask Yourself This One Question…

I read something recently that blew my mind, and if I may, I’d like to blow yours too.

In Lisa A. Phillips’ book Unrequited, she writes – having studied unreturned romantic obsessions, including her own, for ages in order to write the book – that it is important to ponder what an unrequited love is trying to tell you about your life.

When you are painfully obsessed with someone who doesn’t love you back, Phillips writes, you’re not really obsessed with that person – you’re obsessed with what is missing from your life, which this person has somehow come to represent in your mind.

I read this simple insight while flying back from D.C. to Toronto and actually gasped aloud on the plane, drawing stares from nearby seatmates. I couldn’t help it. It felt like Lisa A. Phillips had just shined a spotlight directly into my soul. I felt simultaneously called out and cleansed. Halle-fuckin’-lujah.

I thought back to the worst unrequited love of my life so far – an innocent-crush-turned-crushing-heartbreak centering on a person I met in 2015 and tortured myself over throughout 2016. While he’s indisputably charming, smart, funny, and lovely, so are a lot of people I meet. The question had haunted me for a while: why did I fall in love with him? What enabled him to get inside my head and absolutely break me? What made him feel so vital to my happiness on a basal, gut level?

I think it has a lot to do with when I met him, and what kind of person I was then. At that time, I had been single for nearly a year, having broken up with my long-term partner in 2014 – and I hadn’t dated anyone or had sex with anyone during that entire year. I was cripplingly insecure, uncertain, and shy. I worried constantly that no one would ever love me or want me again. That anxiety kept me from going out and socializing, which, in turn, kept me from meeting people who might want me or eventually love me. It was a self-perpetuating cycle of self-loathing.

And then along came this boy, dazzling and bright. He swept into my life with all the loud self-assuredness I’d later come to love about him. We went on two not-explicitly-romantic dates and I was immediately smitten: it had been a long time since I’d met someone this funny, confident, and effervescently charismatic. He made me laugh harder than I had in ages, with seemingly no effort. I felt glued to his words. He activated a lightness in me I didn’t know I could still feel.

On top of all that, he made me feel entirely focused upon. His attention was a laser, and when he focused it on me, I suddenly felt important and desirable – two feelings I’d lost sight of in my year of loneliness and celibacy.

As we became friends-with-benefits and then actual friends over the following year, I noticed myself falling into an unhealthy emotional cycle. It mirrored – and often triggered – the ups and downs I experience as part of my bipolar disorder. When I was around him, I felt starry-eyed, ecstatic, elated, like nothing in the world could possibly be wrong and I’d be happy forever. Nothing could touch me. But when we said goodbye – whether it was for a few days or a few months – I crashed, hard. The light he brought into my life had been extinguished, and I didn’t know how to reignite it myself. It felt like he contained all the humor and happiness I’d ever experienced, and I wouldn’t be able to get any of it back unless he was there with me.

And the trouble was, he didn’t always want to be there with me. He didn’t love me. He valued our friendship, but that’s all it was to him. I wasn’t angry at him for not loving me back, because I understood that he couldn’t help it – but I was profoundly sad, because it felt like he owned the key to my happiness and he would only lend it to me on a limited, conditional basis.

What I wish I had pondered more deeply is this: what was missing from my life? And how could I give that to myself instead of relying on him?

I think this concept was what eventually enabled my healing process to begin, though I wasn’t consciously aware of it at the time. My crush made me laugh more than anyone else I knew, so I started spending more time with funny friends, upping my comedy podcast intake, and cultivating my own sense of humor even further. My crush made me feel focused on and valued, so I sought more friends who made me feel that way, and also chose to focus on and value myself by amping up my self-care regimen. My crush made me feel sexy and desirable, so I started flirting with people more and going on more Tinder dates to generate more of those feelings (and got comfortable cutting ties with people who didn’t meet my standards in this way). The sex with my crush had been devastatingly good, so I tried to get better at asking for what I wanted with other partners so my sex life would improve overall – and I mixed up my masturbation routine to make it more fulfilling. Basically, I looked for holes my crush could no longer fill for me, and I filled them my damn self (vagina joke only partly intended).

It wasn’t until I started seeing my last boyfriend that I felt entirely divested of that old unrequited love, but I think the work I’d done on myself had laid the groundwork for me to meet such a wonderful person and accept him into my life. If I’d still been stuck on my old crush, I don’t think I would’ve been able to open myself up to someone new. It would’ve felt pointless, because how could someone new possibly be better than the person I’d been stuck on for over a year? But by divorcing that person from the joys he brought me, I became able to see that other people could make me happy, too, if I let them.

I wish I could go back in time and explain this revelation to my past self. Maybe it would save her a lot of heartache. But I think it’s more likely she wouldn’t even listen to me. That’s the nature of unrequited love: other people can spout lessons and truisms at you ad nauseum, and you won’t believe them; you have to learn these things for yourself, experientially. You’re always convinced your world is ending until it isn’t anymore.

What do you wish someone had told you about unrequited love when you were going through it?

7 Ways to Love Someone Who Needs Words of Affirmation

I remember when I first encountered the concept of love languages. I read about it on Gala Darling’s blog, where she hyped this idea as “one of the most useful — and simple — things [she’s] ever learned to help strengthen romantic relationships.” As I delved into researching the love languages, I quickly came to agree with her.

The basic idea of love languages – as laid out by Dr. Gary Chapman in his book on this concept – is that we all have one or two ways we predominantly express love, and that we tend to also feel most loved when we receive affection in our native love language(s). Some people express and receive love in different ways, but in my experience, most people show their feelings for you in the way(s) they would like you to show your feelings for them.

I’ve taken the love languages quiz a few times over the years, and it’s always confirmed what I already know: my two dominant languages are “words of affirmation” and physical touch, in that order. (Incase you’re wondering, the other languages are acts of service, quality time, and gifts.) Touch is important to me – as you might have noticed from all the mushy, starry-eyed things I write about sex! – but words are even more crucial to me. (Hell, that’s probably part of why I’m a writer.) When I like someone, I tell them so – and I don’t really believe someone likes me unless and until I hear it from them, in their own words. Ideally frequently!

When I’ve felt unappreciated in past relationships, it’s often helped to explain this concept to my partner(s). Once they grasp just how important words actually are to me, they can (and often do) adapt their approach accordingly. And I can shift the way I express my feelings to better suit their love language, too.

If you’re dating someone whose love language is words of affirmation and you’re not so good at expressing yourself verbally, don’t worry – I’ve got some suggestions for you! These work for me, and I can’t guarantee they will work for you or your partner(s), but they’re at least a good starting point. Here are some ways a partner can make a person like me feel loved and appreciated with their words…

Tell them what you like about them. You may think it’s obvious and goes without saying that your beau is smart, funny, attractive, and so on, but if their love language is words of affirmation, they need to hear this from the horse’s mouth! Try to use unique, deliberate language, rather than generic compliments that are likely to go in one ear and out the other.

Examples:
“Your lips are so pretty. Every time I look at you, I just wanna kiss ’em.”
“When I first met you, I was drawn to you because of how confident and self-assured you are.”
“I love that you’re so smart. Our conversations are always so interesting and thought-provoking.”

Tell them stories. For a person who values words, stories are often also important. Narratives help us arrange information in our heads and understand things better. You might think it’s pointless to tell your lover a story about your relationship – after all, they were there, too! – but they might find it thrilling and affirming to hear your perspective on something the two of you experienced together. It’ll help them get inside your head and see themselves through your eyes.

Examples:
“God, I was so nervous before our first date! You looked so cute on your OkCupid profile, and you seemed so much smarter than me. I practiced introducing myself in the mirror for like twenty minutes beforehand and changed my shirt three times…”
“Remember the first time we had sex? I was so excited to see you naked for the first time, and to learn how to get you off…”
“I remember the exact moment I realized I’d fallen for you. It was when we went on that date to the aquarium. You looked so stunning in the cool blue light, staring up at the jellyfish…”

Talk dirty to them. I’m not sure if a person’s “love language” is always also their “sex language,” so to speak, but in my case, it definitely is! A linguistically-oriented partner is likely to love it if you whisper in their ear about what you’re gonna do to them later, pay them a vulgar compliment while yanking their clothes off, and monologue filthily at them while you fuck. They’ll enjoy it not only while it’s happening, but also later, when they replay your words in their mind while masturbating, or breathlessly record them in their journal…

Examples:
“I can’t wait til we get home so I can throw you down on the bed and lick your sweet pussy until you come in my mouth.”
“Your cock is so perfect. It hits all my spots and feels so right in my throat. How did I get so lucky?”
“God, your tits look unbelievable in that dress. Bet they’d look even better smeared with my cum.”

Tell them about your dreams and fantasies. This, again, helps them get inside your head and understand how you perceive them and how you feel about them. Whether these are sexy or sweet (or both!), they can give your darlin’ a verbal glimpse into the deep pool of love you have for them in your heart.

Examples:
“Fuck, I had the hottest dream about you last night. You were sucking my cock in an alley, and then…”
“I was just thinking about how nice it’ll be when we move in together next year. I can make you coffee every morning, and we can cuddle in bed every night…”
“We should take a trip to Newfoundland together! You can drive and I’ll navigate. We’ll stay in a little B&B on the coast, watch the sunset every night, and have lots of quiet writing time…”

Give them words they can read and re-read. Texts. Facebook messages. Tweets. Old-fashioned love letters. Whatever your preferred medium, words in a tangible form are nice for a verbally-oriented person to receive, because they can (and will) treasure those words for a long time. As a bonus, this is a great approach if your partner struggles with anxiety or any other mental health issue that messes with their self-worth: when they’re feeling unloveable, they can go back in their screenshots folder or letterbox and read proof to the contrary. (Or you could just say more nice things at them!)

Examples (actual texts from my screenshots folder):
“I like you a lot. You’re very pretty and smart and funny. And you’re a very good girl for me all the time.”
“You’re beautiful, hilarious, have a contagious, sincere laugh, you’re kinky as heck in all the right ways for me (so far as I know), you seem to have an adventurous spirit, and your mind is sharp as fuck.”
“I almost tripped on the sidewalk and cracked my skull. Because of how much I want to sink my teeth into your butt.”

Say nice things unprompted. To a verbally-oriented person, what makes words of affirmation exciting is the knowledge that you wanted to say these things, that you are saying what you authentically feel, and that your feelings were strong enough that you just had to verbalize them. To that end, don’t always wait until your partner compliments you to compliment them back; you’ll take their breath away with spontaneous expressions of love.

Examples:
“Hi babe. Just wanted to tell you how gorgeous you are and how much I adore you. That’s it. Hope your day’s going great!”
“Jesus Christ, your butt in that skirt. Do I get to fuck you tonight? ‘Cause I really, really want to…”
“Has anyone ever told you you’re hilarious and brilliant? ‘Cause you are.”

Tell them how they make you feel. It’s all well and good to tell someone how attractive and wonderful they are, but that stuff’s all about them; your partner wants to hear about you, too. It’s exhilarating to know how you affect someone, and a verbally-oriented person will absorb this information best through words. I love seeing my appearance or behavior elicit a huge grin or a huge boner from a partner, but it’s even nicer if they verbalize what they’re feeling!

Examples:
“I still get nervous butterflies every time we meet up for a date. Hell, my heart’s beating kinda fast right now.”
“Pretty sure that selfie you just sent is giving my dick a heart attack. I need a cold shower. Or a dickfibrillator.”
“When I think about the fact that you’re my boyfriend, I get so happy and grateful, it makes me want to cry.”

What’s your love language? What are your favorite ways to flatter and uplift someone who digs words of affirmation?