Modern Dating: Moving On

Part 2 of 2:

When you’re in a relationship, the person you’re with makes your heart beat faster, your pulse race, and your smile seemingly permanent, according to studies done by Helen Fisher, PhD, biological anthropologist.

“That someone takes on special meaning to you and you focus on this individual because the dopamine system has been activated,” said Fisher. “Reward neurons send a constant rush of dopamine, enabling us to ride a lover’s high that makes us feel an almost unnatural level of happiness, creating a craving that needs to be constantly satisfied. And for a while, that craving is satisfied.”

But then one day, it’s all over.

Alanna Groesbeck (12) remembers clearly the day she and her ex-boyfriend broke up. It happened on a Saturday night, the weekend before the start of this school year.

“It was both sudden and not sudden, because there was that three-day period where we talked about breaking up,” Groesbeck said. “It wasn’t like it had never crossed my mind that it could happen, but it was also something that I thought wasn’t going to happen right then, so it did surprise me.”

In the midst a break-up, people tend to become shadows of themselves—obsessing over their ex-partner’s social media, isolating themselves from friends or family, spiraling into a dark hole of wondering what it is they did wrong or how their heartbreak could’ve been prevented. The months of amplified amounts of dopmaine, serotinin, and oxytocin sets you up perfectly for that.

In addition, as people go about their lives, anything they encounter can act as a subtle reminder of the relationship or bring out buried memories. The toughest adjustment is re-structuring your life after the loss of the person according to relationship counsellor, Ammanda Major.

For Groesbeck, the little things affected her the most.

“It’s moments when I would expect to call him every night or when I would be in the car driving certain places or when I would get the urge to send little texts like ‘thinking of you,’” Groesbeck said. “All of a sudden, all that stops and you don’t have that person that you can really rely on.”

These symptoms are a result of separation anxiety, which causes a shift in behavior due to neural changes or other factors, as well as pain that can only be rivaled by traumatic events such as the loss of a child, according to psychologist Dr. Susan Quilliam.

It’s easy to get stuck in a cycle of loneliness and heartache, but a breakup can provide the perfect opportunity to reinvent and improve oneself.

“Initially, it was a lot at once because I had also just quit my job the day before and I was like ‘Okay, I don’t really know what to do right now’,” Groesbeck said. “There were definitely times where I was like ‘this sucks,’ but I eventually decided that this is going to be a time in which I find out more about myself, go out of my comfort zone.”

Facing your heartbreak head-on, dealing with whatever you’re feeling appropriately, and taking refuge in thing you love will ease heartache.

Groesbeck did just that. She found purpose in poetry, something that she’s always loved, as well as deciding to audition for Westview’s Got Talent, something she’s always wanted to do. She also decided to go to Homecoming, something she and her ex-boyfriend were originally not planning to attend.

“You don’t have to compromise anymore,” Groesbeck said. “One of the best parts of a breakup is rediscovering yourself and taking the opportunity to learn how to be yourself by yourself and fix things you’ve always wanted to fix but ignored because you were in a relationship.”

The aftermath of a relationship can be a transformative experience, what seems like the end may actually be only the beginning. Finding purpose in hobbies or a particular passion, investing in those things, and learning to be happy by yourself will put you on the path to be happy with someone else.

“We have a mechanism in our brains designed by natural selection to pull us through a very tumultuous time in our lives,” Brian Boutwell, professor of behavioural genetics, said. “It suggests people will recover; the pain will go away with time.”

A break-up tears at your heart, at the fabric of your being. Living through it is not easy, especially when it may seem like wreckage is the only thing left behind. But that pain is not meaningless. Heartbreak is not meaningless.

“Invest in becoming the person that you want to be in a relationship,” Groesbeck said. “If you’re looking for someone who’s smart or funny or capable, work your hardest to be those things too and that way when the time for love comes again,  you’ll be ready, and it’ll be right.”

Life gets better. And someday, the pain will subside, the heartache will fade, and life will be what it once was before you were in that relationship. And maybe, one day, you’ll find yourself unable to stop smiling again.