Before I met my now husband, I went through a fair amount of breakups. Occasionally, I reflect on these ill-fated relationships of mine. I line them up in my imagination like seashells, studiously inspecting the cracks and holes in even the smallest husks as I ask myself, “What went wrong there? Why did this once living, breathing relationship die?”
These are the questions I probably should have been asking myself in the wake of each breakup, but that wasn’t quite possible, because as soon as one relationship ended I’d wait approximately one menstrual cycle before throwing myself into the next ultra serious romance. I was a textbook serial monogamist who simply refused to be single for long. In retrospect I have no doubt that I moved too fast and that I would have saved myself (and even some of those men I dated) some anguish by taking the adequate time to heal after each failed romance.
But how much time is enough time to recover from a breakup and what should you be doing during it? Can casual hookups be helpful, or should you abstain from amorous activity altogether for a while? How can you know that you’re ready to date again?
We consulted a number of therapists to learn what they recommend for newly single people who perhaps aren’t so thrilled about being single.
It’s important to take time to detox and unpack your baggage
The main reason we need time after a breakup is so that we can reflect, recharge and as Kiaundra Jackson, LMFT, puts it, detox.
“My rule of thumb after someone has a breakup is to have a period of detox,” says Jackson. “This is where you take time for yourself. You do not date. You do not have flings. You do not do anything that would be contradictory to your healing process.”
The goal of this healing process is to “unpack and deal with any baggage from your previous relationship(s) before entering into another,” Jackson explains. “If you don't address those things head on, you will be bringing the same baggage, issues and drama into your [next] relationship. This is where people have a hard time understanding why the same issues keep occurring.”
Grief plays by its own rules and timelines
In addition to taking the time to detox and unpack our baggage lest we bring them into the next relationship, we also need to take time to mourn.
“The process of dealing with a breakup is comparable to grief,” says Dr. Tricia Wolanin, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist. “It's the death of a relationship, hopes and dreams for the future. The person we are losing was [a big part of] our world and therefore has taken up so much of our mental and heart space.”
Jackie Krol, LCSW, notes that every person grieves and heals at their own pace, while Elena Jackson, LPC, finds that how we respond to “failure, rejection and abandonment” also plays a role in the mourning process.
Because grief is so subjective and the issues we leave a relationship with are so varied, it’s impossible to slap a definitive timetable on how long it will take before we’re over a breakup.
“There are some schools of thought out there that say you should be single twice as long as you were in a relationship. Or at least the same amount of time," says Kisha Walwyn-Duquesnay, LPC-S. "But there really is no magic number. You should take as much time as you need to heal, and that’s different for everyone.”
Other factors, like how long you were together and at what stage you were in your life may also play a role in your healing timeline.
“For example, a one year, long-distance relationship for a 21-year-old, may not need as much recovery time as six year, cohabiting relationship for a 34-year-old,” says Walwyn-Duquesnay.
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Casual hookups can be more trouble than they’re worth
How much time you need will depend, but know that you will need time, and that even an ostensibly carefree hookup should be off the table for a bit.
“I advise against casual hookups because they just blur emotions,” says Ibinye Osibodu-Onyali, LMFT. “[They’re] a distraction from the pain of a breakup.”
Dr. Dani Moye, Ph.D., adds that casual hookups can bring their own “emotional disruption,” stating, “It’s all about preserving yourself, energy, and sense of well-being so that you can enter the next relationship with clear focus and intentionality.”
Hopping on to Bumble for some easy fun sounds harmless, but you could end up getting stung, and then you’ve got to deal with that pain on top of the turmoil from the breakup.