Interview: Alexandra Franzen on Break-Ups, Hope, and Surviving

Alexandra Franzen is one of my favorite writers on the planet. Her voice is relentlessly upbeat, incisive, and clear as a bell. She’s inspired and uplifted me countless times, whether she’s writing about how to say no, how to achieve a goal, how to become a better writer, or anything else.

So I was heartened when I saw she had a new book coming out called You’re Going to Survive. It came along at a time when I needed that exact message, badly: I’d just had my heart broken and was figuring out how to feel better and move forward. (I don’t know why I wrote that in the past tense. I’m still feeling that way, honestly.)

You’re Going to Survive is full of stories about real-life people and their real-life problems – and how they kept going, even when it seemed like they couldn’t possibly. In this book, authors, chefs, lawyers, musicians, web designers, and Broadway performers (among others) describe one of the worst moments in their entire career – moments when everything went catastrophically, heart-poundingly, mood-ruiningly wrong – and how they got through to the other side. Spoiler alert: they all survived their hardships. And you can survive yours, too.

I wrote to Alex to ask her a few questions about the wisdom of her book as it pertains to break-ups. Here’s what she had to say…

What are your best tips for surviving a break-up?

My last break-up was a little over four years ago. It was pretty intense. I’ve had about five major break-ups in total, including breaking off an engagement with my college sweetheart.

In the past, here are some things I’ve done after a break-up:

– Call a friend while hiding under my covers in bed.
– Cry until it feels like my eyes are going to fall out of my head.
– Write super intense poetry.
– Thwack a punching bag at the gym.
– Get a hair cut.
– Get my cash washed.
– Get a Tarot card reading.
– Get a new vibrator.
– De-clutter my home.
– Buy myself some flowers.
– Flirt with people just to remember what it feels like.
– Pack all of my possessions into the back of a VW beetle and move to another state.

Every person is different, and every break-up is different. So, I would say, do whatever you need to do. There are no rules.

Personally, I’ve tried to view each break-up as an opportunity to clear space in my life—both physically and emotionally. Bye, old clothes! Bye, old commitments on my calendar! It’s a new beginning.

We often hear that “time heals all wounds,” but is there any way to speed up the process?

There’s a woman named Christina Rasmussen who studies grief, loss, and reinvention. She’s written books on this topic. She says, “Time doesn’t heal. Action does.”

I totally agree. To heal and move onward, we can’t be stagnant. We have to take action.

After a break-up, I’ve found that really small action steps—like making my bed, or getting nice bath salts, or opening the window to let in some fresh air—can seriously improve my mood. Small, loving actions can make a big difference.

Any tips for dealing with feelings of unworthiness, undesirability, unloveability, etc. after a devastation like a break-up?

Once, I went through a break-up that totally rattled my ego. I felt like I wasn’t interesting or attractive enough to hold his attention. Even though I’d been the PERFECT girlfriend—I mean, I cleaned his entire damn house and bought groceries and tolerated his cat even though I’m seriously allergic!—somehow, it wasn’t enough and he wanted to date other women.

I was crushed. I felt so rejected and confused. I remember feeling like, “I want answers. I want him to explain why this didn’t work out. I need him to explain why I’m not enough. I need to hear this from him. That’s the only way I will feel ‘closure’.”

I told all of this to a friend of mine. She said to me, “But what if he never gives you the closure that you want? What if he can’t explain, or won’t explain, or refuses to meet up with you to talk? Is there some way that you could give a feeling of closure to yourself?”

I’ve never forgotten what she said. Because the reality is, with many break-ups, the other person can’t—or won’t—give you the answers that you crave, or the feeling of closure that you crave. You need to create that feeling by yourself, for yourself. This might mean doing a ritual (like burning old letters) or re-writing a story you’ve been telling yourself inside your head about what happened and why. Ultimately, the only person who can really give closure to you… is you.

Also, let us remember the wise words of Dita Von Teese: “You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there’s still going to be somebody who hates peaches.”

It’s so true. Just because someone isn’t interested in being with you, that doesn’t mean you are undesirable! It just means you’re a delicious peach and they happen to want a banana or a pear. They’re allowed to have their preferences—just like you.

How can you be brave enough to “get back out there” when your heart’s been broken?

I know a woman who was single for a really, really long time. She was really frustrated, and she was beginning to wonder if she would ever meet someone.

One day, she got invited to meet up with a few people and have brunch. She was going to say “no,” because she’d already eaten breakfast that day. But she felt this funny intuitive feeling that urged her to go, so she decided, “OK, I guess I’ll go anyway even though I’m not hungry.”

She ended up meeting her husband at that brunch. It was totally unexpected and out of the blue. They’re madly in love and have the sweetest, most amazing relationship.

I think about my friend’s story a lot, especially when I’m feeling discouraged.

The truth is, whether you’re searching for love, or searching for something else, like a new job, the path to getting there might be really surprising and unexpected. A spontaneous gut decision—like getting brunch, taking a road trip, or making an online dating profile—might lead to something incredible. Personally, I feel “braver” when I remember that the possibilities are truly limitless, and today is always a mystery, and anything can happen.

So, get out there, and keep your eyes and ears and heart open, because who knows what tomorrow might bring? Or what today might bring? Today is not over yet!

What do you wish someone had told you after your last really awful break-up?

“Hey, guess what? You’re going to meet the love of your life about two months from now. Just hang in there. You won’t believe what’s coming next.”


Thanks so much to Alex for her words of wisdom! If you’re craving more, be sure to check out her website and preorder her new book, You’re Going to Survive. (And remember: you are going to survive.)

The Departed Dominant & the Jilted Submissive

My collar is too tight. I keep tugging at it, loosening it, shifting it against my sweat-slick throat. It doesn’t feel quite right, because my submission doesn’t feel quite right. It’s been five weeks since my dominant dumped me and my submissiveness still doesn’t feel quite right. I’m simultaneously sympathetic to my own cause and furious I’m not over this shit already.

“This is the first time I’ve worn a collar since my breakup,” I tell my best friend, realizing only as I say it out loud that it’s true.

“How are you doing with that?” Bex says, their brow furrowing because they understand the gravity of what I have just said, in a way a vanilla friend might not.

“I’m doing okay,” I respond. Still tugging on the collar even as I try to let it lie.


Whenever someone breaks my heart, I become outraged I let them touch so many things in my life I cared about. Like a bad apple in a barrel, cruel lovers ruin whatever they come into contact with. I can’t watch Steven Universe or listen to DVSN anymore; I can’t order from that one Thai place we used to frequent; I can’t even enjoy media featuring characters who share his first name. It’s all painful and I’m furious it’s painful.

But what hurts even worse is the places he touched that are buried deeper in me, more central to my heart than my entertainment preferences: my sexuality, my sensuality, my submissiveness. I let him own me while he was my dominant; it’s unfair he still gets to own part of me now that he’s gone. I want those parts of me back, but that’s like trying to make dirt-trampled slush back into clean white snow.


I miss my bruises. I miss my bite marks, scratches, and hickeys. For the first several days after the breakup, I think this thought at least once an hour and cry every time.

Holding my ghost-white forearm out in front of me while sitting on my friend’s bed, I splutter, “There’s a bite mark here. You can barely see it. Soon it will be gone, and I’ll have none left.” My friend is listening but I might as well be monologuing to myself; I’m so absorbed in my own internal drama these days.

Later, I tell Bex the same thing via text. I’m repetitive when I’m heartbroken. “You’ll get more,” Bex suggests.

“I don’t want more from anyone else.” It feels true when I type it. It feels like it will always be true.

“You will one day,” Bex replies. “Or not. And that’s okay too.”

My heart folds in on itself then, crumpled and dissolute. What if they’re right? What if this prophesied nightmare comes true and I never find my way back to my submission? What if I left my kink in that man’s hands and he still has it and he’ll never give it back?

I bend over in front of a mirror and stare at my ass, dappled with bruises from a scene with a one-off hookup last week. I stare and stare at the wine-dark marks and feel blindingly angry that these meaningless splotches still linger while that bite mark, that one last precious vestige, is nearly gone.


Relationship psychology fascinates me, and so do sex toys, and one intersection between the two is the intriguing question: who keeps the sex toys the two of you shared when you break up?

My toys are mostly mine, purchased with my own dollars or acquired with my professional clout. But them being technically mine and mine alone does not stop them soaking up meaning from past relationships. There’s the metal hanger rail I can’t bring myself to use with anyone but the man who pried it out of a hotel closet for me; the silicone dick extender I got to fulfill a specific partner’s fantasy and likely won’t use again; and now, the multitude of kink implements that remind me only of the dom who debuted them on me.

How long will it be until my favorite paddles no longer feel like his? How long until I can use my shiny new wand vibe without thinking of how he, at my request, tied me down and held it against me until I squirmed and screamed? Will I ever be able to repurpose the wooden dowel he bought for me at a hardware store, sawed and sanded down to size, and used to smack stripes onto my skin?

A week after the breakup, he drops by to return the nipple clamps I forgot at his house. I’m filled with bitter rage – Yeah! He SHOULD give those back to me! I bought them with my own money, dammit! – while also knowing it might be a long, long time before I want to use them again. I hold the clinking clamps in my sweaty palm and tear up, thinking: You damn fool. Crying over nipple clamps.


I move into his neighborhood – not on purpose, just a cruel coincidence – and develop a crippling fear of running into him. I won’t leave my building without first slipping on a low-key disguise: sunglasses, headphones, modern shields against creeping invaders. I add extra blocks to my walks so I won’t have to take streets I know he frequents.

What am I so afraid of? He did this, he fucked this up; I don’t have to be ashamed. But I’m scared that if I see him, he’ll still feel like my Daddy. Or worse, I’m scared that he won’t.

I pass by his house and (insanely) want to knock on the door. My phone beeps a text tone and (insanely) I wonder if it’s him, wanting me back; wonder if I should text to ask. A distant ex sends me a long-overdue apology out of the blue, and (insanely) I consider seeing him again. I don’t do any of it, and (insanely) I very, very much want to.


I try to make everyone into my dom, because I feel unmoored without one. I say self-effacing shit until friends have to command me to shape up; I pretend my to-do list is a written decree from a bossy babe; I spend more time around my parents because there is no one else now to make me feel small and cared for. When texting with casual beaux and Tinder randos, my once-flirty banter tricks like “Is that an order?” and “Make me!” become, instead, thinly-veiled desperate pleas.

But just as a tree falling in the forest is inaudible if there’s no one there to hear it, a bratty submissive is just an aimless failure if there’s no one there to rein her in. When I make silly decisions, like skipping meals, forgetting my iron supplement, and putting off my work until late at night, no one scolds me or spanks me or throws me a stern look. No one tells me to straighten up and fly right. I am neither punished nor rewarded for anything I do. I must be a Goddamn Adult and supply my own motivation. I can barely remember how.

In navigating this sudden crisis, I am reminded of the existentialist philosophy classes I took in high school and university. When existentialists came to the ultimate conclusion that there is no God, no watchful deity, no inherent meaning or purpose to life, at first they felt deeply anxious and upset. It was like being cast out of an airplane with no parachute, reeling, not even certain where the ground lay. But soon, they came to realize: one can make meaning out of one’s own life. One can select a purpose, a direction, a vision for oneself, instead of waiting for some distant God or Divine Right Order to do it. What was terrifying at first becomes empowering as you sit with it and think it through.

I have to make my own meaning. I have to be my own dom. I know this. And one day I will figure out how to do it.

 

This post was sponsored by the amazingly generous folks at SheVibe. As always, all writing and opinions are my own. Check out their selection of restraints, spanking implements, fetish wear, and other kink products!

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?

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.

Sadsturbation: Hobby of the Heartbroken and Horny

One night, in the throes of a mind-numbing depression, I nuzzle my nose into my boyfriend’s chest. He tells me he’s feeling out of sorts as well, and sex is off the table tonight. “You are more than welcome to masturbate, though,” he adds.

“Nah, I don’t want to do that,” I reply instantly. I don’t mean it as the guilt trip it probably sounds like; it’s just that masturbation holds no appeal for me now, while sex still does. Partnered sex, when I’m depressed, is like visiting another world – a world where my selfish problems are distant and unimportant, where everything boils down to connectivity and sensuality, and where my pleasure is useful to someone other than myself. Sex is a mutual joy that brings me out of my self-absorbed misery and into the light of another person’s gaze. I can be someone else when I’m having sex, someone who isn’t depressed, if just for a little while.

We don’t have sex that night, and we don’t masturbate, either. We connect physically in other ways – touching, kissing, cuddling – and it feels like almost enough.

In the morning, I hold his hand while we walk dazedly down the street, and I confess I haven’t masturbated in over a week. A long time for me. “I think tonight I’m gonna get high and party down with my Hitachi,” I say, noticing immediately how much the idea does not appeal to me, while also recognizing how necessary it is to my wellbeing.

“I’ll help. I’ll sext you,” my partner replies, and I want to cry because it is the most selfless thing I have ever heard.


Many people report that when they’re depressed, their libido goes away. Mine rarely works that way. It goes deeper underground, maybe, or I get distracted from it for a while – but it’s always there.

But masturbating while depressed is a task and a half. It’s like trying to go ballroom dancing with an anvil chained to your ankle. Sure, you can do it. But it’s probably gonna be fucking miserable and you’re gonna feel exhausted the whole time.

When I’m depressed – whether due to situational factors, biochemical factors, or both – I often think of masturbation as a medicine I must force-feed myself. It won’t be pleasant or fun, in the way masturbation is “supposed” to be. But it’ll shift my neurotransmitters just enough, lift my crushing depression just enough that I can get out from under it for a little while.

The entire process may feel unappealing from start to finish – but at the very least, it’ll remind me that my body is capable of pleasure. Even if the pleasure is muted. Even if I feel undeserving of any pleasure at all.


Sexual fantasies are supposed to be fun. What happens when they aren’t anymore?

What happens when the person who fucks you most reliably in your fantasies is also the person who broke your heart? What happens when thinking about them makes you cry, but you can’t get off without thinking about them? When your precious, elusive orgasms hinge on replaying memories that make you want to weep and hurt yourself and give up on love forever?

Sometimes you find distraction tactics, workarounds. You mentally replace the object of your affections with a beloved celebrity or fictional character: Jim Halpert, John Watson, Rosa Diaz. You seek out new porn or erotica to repopulate your sexual fantasies with people and situations that don’t hurt. You cultivate a crush on a fresh new human, a crush for the sake of crushing.

Other times, though, you wade headlong into your heartbreak. You spritz on the cologne of the person who wrecked your heart, murmur to yourself all the dark hot things they said to you, and try to fuck yourself like they did – in that sweet special way you worry no one will ever fuck you again.

In discussing the ends of relationships, we rarely mention the unique pervy grief of missing the way your lost love fucked you. In losing them, you are also losing that particular flavor of sex you loved so much. Maybe no one else will do those particular things to you ever again – or maybe they will, and it’ll just be different; better, even. But sometimes, for the time being, you just have to mourn melancholically for that particular flick of their wrist, that one thing they could do with their tongue, those magnificent words they knew how to whisper at the always-perfect moment.

Two tools I return to in my saddest masturbation sessions, time and time again, are the Magic Wand Rechargeable and marijuana.

Weed can make me horny when seemingly nothing else can. It lifts the pressure of my sadness slightly, just enough to let arousal flow in. I might still be aware of the heartbreaks weighing on me, but they seem less impactful – like how weed makes physical pain feel like pleasure to me. I am aware that it hurts but, absurdly and blessedly, I do not mind.

The Magic Wand, on the other hand, gives me the distance from my genitals that I seem to need when I’m depressed. When the very idea of sticking my hand into my panties feels distasteful, when even contemplating my own heat and wetness and skin feels unsettlingly intimate, a wand vibe can save the day. I just turn it on and press it against myself through layers of fabric, and it does what it’s made to do – no nauseating touchy-feeliness required.

Sometimes my third go-to when cryin’ and jerkin’ it is reliable porn – reliable in the sense that it almost always turns me on and helps me get off. For me, this category is basically limited to Heather Harmon‘s POV blowjob videos. But even Heather, in all her dependable beauty and skill, sometimes makes me sad when I’m sad already. I contemplate the rumors that she divorced her husband, which would prove once and for all that even terrific sex full of care and love cannot always save a relationship. Or sometimes I just stare jealously at Heather and Jim’s sexual rapport, profoundly bitter I’ve never felt as connected to anything as Heather seems to feel to her husband’s dick.

Look, porn is great, but sometimes I just need to turn off my brain and focus on the vibrator thrumming against me. Orgasms don’t have to be about anything. Sometimes they can just happen, unmoored and isolated from any mental stimulus. Sometimes that’s the exact type of orgasm I need, or the only kind of which I’m capable.


Though my partner’s explicitly offered to help me get off by sexting me, I’m too anxious to ask directly – knowing he’s not in the sexy headspace that could make sexting a fun thing for us rather than just for me. I ask for it in a way that feels safe. “If you felt inclined to tell me some hott things to help me in my quest, I would be amenable to that,” I hem and haw.

“Has your quest already begun?” he asks, and we’re off to the races.

He guides me through a sext-a-thon that feels more meditative than sexy – like when a yoga teacher asks you to visualize a waterfall, an ocean, a bold white light spreading through your body from the inside out. “Imagine me putting my hands on you, kissing you,” he texts. He doesn’t need to describe how he would kiss me if he was here; I already know. “I’m going to slide my hand between your legs, over your panties. I can feel you getting wet already.” He’s right. I am.

In sext-land, he chokes me, fucks my face, pushes his fingers inside me. I can see it, feel it, and it’s some semblance of something I deeply need. Hot tears drift down my cheeks and dry on my lips as I pant and moan. He is so sweet and selfless to type these words of salacious encouragement into his phone for me, when I know he doesn’t feel like it. He understands that this sexual interaction is more than sexual to me; it’s life-affirming, mood-lifting, intimacy-building. It’s a “sexual favor” in the sense that it’s sexual and a favor, but it’s so much more than that.

“I know you’re going to come for me like a good girl,” he writes. “Turn that toy up higher.”

I crank the wand. I’m surprised at how close I am, in almost no time at all. For a week, arousal’s felt like a jewel in a locked treasure chest – and here he is, handing me the goddamn key.

“I’m so close, daddy,” I tell him.

“I want you to come for me, princess,” he writes back.

I do. It’s delicious and deep. I feel something shift in my brain – something small but important.

“Mm, I did it, daddy. That was really nice,” I type. “Thank you.”

Good girl,” he responds, and for the first time in days, I feel like I might actually be a good girl. A girl whose brain isn’t swimming in depression. A girl who believes in herself, and can accomplish things. A girl whose daddy wants her to be happy, and who can therefore soldier on.

I set my Hitachi down, put my phone away, wipe off the tears half-dried on my face, curl up contentedly, and go to sleep. Maybe I’ll be okay after all.