If you or your friend has ever gone through a breakup, you know the drill. Cue up the Taylor Swift Spotify playlist, stock up on cartons of Ben and Jerry’s, choose a movie from the “vengeful, cheesy romantic comedies” queue on Netflix (our personal favorites are John Tucker Must Die and The Other Woman) and have at least three boxes of tissues ready. If you’ve never had this horrible coming-of-age experience, we can assure you it’s not fun. Helping a friend deal with or get over a breakup can be difficult, especially if you can’t relate to the random bouts of crying, dozens of drafted text messages or loud rant sessions. You may attempt to comfort her, but there are a list of things you shouldn’t say to avoid making her feel worse.
1. “Who did the breaking up?”
Why does it matter? The mental and physical separation from a significant other is a stressful situation for both the dumper and the dumpee. Whether your friend suddenly got broken up with via text (what a jerk!) or felt the need to end the relationship, she faced a range of negative emotions. Autumn Dube, a senior at Emmanuel College, says, “‘Who broke up with who’ is never a great question to ask. It doesn’t matter who made the final decision to end the relationship because chances are both partners are feeling the hurt. Yes, one maybe more so than the other, but that doesn’t mean either partner wants to divulge the whole ending to their side of the story. Ending a relationship can be an overwhelming decision and outsiders need to respect that.” Besides a probable lack of sleep and appetite, she also probably doesn’t want to be reminded of the exact moment of the breakup.
2. “I thought you guys would get married.”
She might have had the same thought. You witnessed the two of them eskimo kiss in public, discuss the first names of their future children and bicker about stupid things only to make up two minutes later. Maybe they were high school sweethearts and tried the long-distance relationship in college or met in college and were inseparable from then on out. Everyone thought they would make it work, but it’s not your job to remind her of what could’ve been. “When all your friends think the relationship is going to last forever, it’s hard to hear them say the same thing in the past tense,” says Sneha Singh, a freshman at the University of California, Davis. It’s important to help her focus on the present or future instead of the past.
3. “There are plenty of other ones out there.”
Yes, that is true. There are 7.5 billion other people in the world, but your friend can’t focus on anyone else. While there is the chance of a rebound and realization of regret, many times she won’t want to think about the possibility of seeing another person. If she was dumped, she will mostly likely still care for her significant other. It may take her months to start singing Adele’s famous mantra, “Never mind, I’ll find someone like you.” You can have a backup Tinder account ready, but don’t expect her to be ready to mingle right off the bat. “Yes there are plenty of other people to fall in love with,” says Courtney Martere, a senior at Marist College, “and chances are you will find another love of your life one day. But a person who is going through a breakup wants that one person, so stating the obvious about all the people in the world really isn’t going to do anything for their broken heart.” She may swear off significant others for a while and take advantage of the single life. She’ll step out of her comfort zone when she’s ready.
4. “I never liked them anyway.”
It’s not hard to look back at a broken relationship and spot all of the red flags. It’s even easier to judge the glazed over mistakes as an outsider, but it’s not your place criticize your friend’s ex-significant other. Even if she “takes a Louisville Slugger to both headlights” Carrie Underwood style or throws darts at a blown-up photograph of them together, it’s still better to stay neutral unless she insist you try your hand at at a bullseye. As a friend, your job is to simply be there for her and offer support. According to Dr. Christie Hartman, author, scientist and dating expert, “Badmouthing a friend's ex is tricky. You do it to be supportive or to help, but what can happen is that you insult someone she once liked/loved. To some extent, that's insulting her for her choices or taste in men [or women]. Even if [he or she] a jerk, most everyone dates a jerk (or many) before learning to choose better men [or women]. Also, there's always the chance they'll get back together. Overall, it's better to criticize specific behaviors rather than badmouth him [or her].” There’s the possibility she may become defensive of her ex if you start calling him or her names.
5. “You’ll get over them eventually.”
Somewhere down the road, your friend will be able to speak about her ex without a detectable negative emotion in her voice. In the midst of a recent breakup, however, it’s crucial to let your friend feel how she wants to feel. Elise Most, a freshman at Stanford University, says, “I think it’s important not to say anything that diminishes or invalidates the emotions, or lack of emotions, that someone going through a breakup might be experiencing. Don’t tell her that she did something wrong or that the breakup was her fault. Your support as a friend will make a huge difference in her recovery.” And she’s absolutely right. Everyone reacts differently to situations and you wouldn’t want someone to downplay your emotions, would you?
6. “Why didn’t you guys try to work it out?”
There’s a reason the relationship burned out, but you can’t make the assumption that your friend didn’t try to make it work. There’s also the possibility that she didn’t want it to work out. Perhaps the relationship lost its spark or she suspected her partner of cheating. Gianna Lescas, a first-year student at the United States Air Force Academy, agrees: “It’s pretty aggravating when a person judges you for wanting to end a relationship. If you aren’t content with the significant other, then the right decision is to break up because relationships take commitment and without full devotion, the relationship will just fall apart.” It’s easier and better in the long run to be straightforward if you think a future together isn’t foreseeable.
7. “Being single is way more fun.”
Because some of us didn’t date in high school, we can attest to the plentiful freedoms that come being partner-less. You have the chance to fall in love with yourself, find a unique identity and eat an entire pizza by yourself without a care in the world. “Even though it’s true that being single is way more fun, no one coming out of a relationship really wants to hear that right then and there, especially if they were the one who got broken up with. I think the best thing you can do is just be there for them and let them transition to being single on their own terms,” says Micki Wagner, a junior at the University of Missouri, Columbia. The transitional phase of a breakup is difficult to endure because the security of the relationship is now gone. Your job as a friend is to try to fill that void and provide comfort and security, not remind her of her new Facebook status.
Going through a breakup is a natural part of growing up, a part that sucks but has to happen. Whether you're the person dealing with the breakup or knows someone going through one, it's a tough situation. For those of you in the friend role, saying whatever comes to mind isn't going to help her get over the relationship faster. Tiptoeing around the uncomfortableness of the ordeal and holding the tissue box out with grabber tool won't work either. Our advice: Be physically and emotionally available when she needs you.