After Jaime’s boyfriend ended their four-year relationship last fall, she was devastated. “I remember just kind of folding in half in the kitchen one night, sobbing, because there was nothing else to do,” she says.
But soon after, Jaime noticed that she started feeling better a lot more quickly than she expected. She moved into a new place and found that she had a lot more focus and creativity at her job and in her writing. “I hadn’t realized how much energy I had been putting into keeping the relationship afloat until that weight disappeared from my shoulders,” says Jaime.
Breakups are tough, but the period after them can be a time of great personal growth, says a study by Gary Lewandowski, Monmouth University psychologist and co-founder of the blog Science of Relationships.
Many newly single people agree:
Chris was 28 when his six-year relationship ended. “But my social skills were stuck at 22,” he says. Being on his own, he realized, gave him the time and space he needed to become a true adult. “At the time, I felt like I had died, but years later I realized that I needed the freedom to learn better social skills, to have experiences, and to learn what I truly wanted and be more confident in that,” he says.
Before Arlene married, she was very outgoing and loved to socialize. After marrying a homebody husband and having a child, her world shrunk to the size of her small family. “I hardly ever did things for myself and lost touch with friends,” says Arlene.
Then she got a divorce. “I was lost. I was scared to be alone and I was scared to find new companionship,” she says.
To cope, Arlene started exercising and taking on challenges like ziplining and tightrope-walking. She quickly found herself getting increasingly happier. “I always thought as a mom focusing on myself was selfish, but now I realize I am a much calmer person when I take the time to nurture and take care of myself. I now make time to exercise, go out with friends, try new adventures and date. Through this experience, I also learned what I want in my next partner. I want someone active, who will challenge me and embrace my true self.”
Lauren also lost herself in her last relationship. “I used to rely on my boyfriend for everything, from choosing where we ate to where we went on vacation,” she says.
But after they broke up, she was inspired to quit her job, sell all her possessions, and travel the world alone. She quickly realized she was a lot more capable than she had given herself credit for. “When you can figure out what to do when your bus breaks down in the middle of rural Cambodia, not much ends up intimidating you,” she says.
Cleo was also compelled to make a big move after a split, taking her two sons across the country to the West Coast after she discovered that her husband was having an affair. Since then, Cleo has climbed Mt. Rainier in a blizzard, swam from Alcatraz to the shore, and given her boys many happy memories. “I have changed in every conceivable way,” she says. “The most profound change is that I am deeply happy and delighted to be alive. I feel like a got a Ph.D. in how to be fully present in love. It took an affair and 49 years to get here, but it all feels like perfect timing.”
For Rich, a Valentine’s Day breakup felt like the worst thing that could have happened. Then he started volunteering, going to the gym, and eating a healthier diet. “The period following the breakup gave me time to think about who I was and who I wanted to be. After the initial sulking, I became more motivated to be productive,” he says.