Newsflash: You’re Not Special for Going Through a Bad Break-Up

Ice crystal

Ward Anderson wants you to know a bad breakup doesn’t make anyone a special snowflake.

I recently caught an interview with a woman on TV who managed to go from being a broke divorcee to being a self-made millionaire. It was impressive, to say the least, that she accumulated such wealth and success in the first place, but also because she did so while fast approaching 50 years-old. The person doing the interview praised this woman’s success and called her a “survivor.”

On another TV program I saw, a woman was interviewed about her new-found independence after going through a particularly nasty divorce. The show host screamed to the audience that the woman was “A Survivor!” The audience, of course, erupted into applause and cheers. Two days later, a friend of mine who lost half of everything he owns in a divorce told me he was “thankful to have survived it.”

Survived what, exactly? Divorce, I guess. You know, that rare disease that claims the life of untold millions every year for which there is no known cure.

No less than 27 times in the past year have I heard someone coming out of a bad relationship call themselves a “survivor.” As if awful splits are, somehow rare and something a random few people get through without succumbing to the Grim Reaper. Suddenly, going through a bad break-up has become synonymous with PTSD and treatment for Anthrax.

The truth of the matter is something no one wants to hear: You aren’t special because you made it through a bad break-up.

These days it seems we want to convince everyone that every single experience is unique and rare; that no one could possibly understand the hardships that come with the demise of a relationship. In reality, most break-ups are difficult, many divorces can get nasty, and about 99 per cent of all people involved in either (or both) manage to live through them. People go through them all the time. We’ve all been there.

Over half of all marriages end in divorce and a majority of all relationships end. The odds of that relationship ending badly (or depressingly) are pretty high already. After all, these things end for a reason. Something went wrong. It “broke.” It happens a lot. Patting yourself on the back for “surviving” it is just a slap in the face to those who actually deal with life-threatening situations.

You and the ex argued a lot and screamed at each other? That doesn’t make you the victim of domestic violence. That makes you a bad fit with your chosen mate. You lost a lot of money in the divorce? That doesn’t mean you were inches away from death’s door. It actually makes you pretty much just like most people who go through a painful split.

The problem here is not people’s feelings of self-importance; it’s the devaluing of certain words. Pre-9/11, we called a good athlete a “hero.” Calling someone who had a bad break-up a “survivor” is a similar kind of First-World-Problems hyperbole. But it belittles those who actually persevere and overcome true, life-threatening obstacles. Imagine telling the rugby players who resorted to cannibalism in order to survive that plane crash in the Andes Mountains that you’re on a similar level because you married a passive-aggressive jackass.

Somewhere out there, there are actual “survivors” of awful break-ups. Victims of abuse, marital rape, con-artist spouses, and those who can claim to have lost more than their pride and condo. These are the people who deserve to use the term “survivor,” not the person upset she had a bad relationship with the guy that lived in his parents’ basement until he was 30 and never learned to wash his own clothes. You weren’t on the verge of death; you just have bad taste in men. Same goes for my friend whining about losing his “Man Cave” because he married someone who couldn’t put up with his crap. It’s not like he had to endure four rounds of chemotherapy.

If you come through your break-up with your limbs attached, your skin unbruised, your body unviolated, and your future ahead of you, don’t label yourself a “survivor.” Instead, consider yourself pretty normal. Then consider yourself lucky that you don’t actually deserve that label we so glibly throw around these days. In order to wear it, you’d have to have suffered through something far worse than a jerk who got half your stuff and didn’t like your mother.

Photo Credit: Flickr

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Comments

  1. Yes and no. Are you “special” (another bandied term)-no. Did you “survive” a traumatic situation? Possibly. Unless someone tells you, it’s not good form to make such pronounced comparisons. A friend of mine who died from cancer told me to never make comparisons of this magnitude. No, I have not “survived” from a physical trauma. I overcame a difficult time in my life. Some of these “survival” stories are overblown and need to be called out as bull. But invalidating an emotional/psychological trauma doesn’t need to be demeaned because its not the same as the examples mentioned. They are not the same and that’s obvious. Pain doesn’t have to be physical to be survived. Getting over it is one thing but belittling an experience to make yourself sound superior? That argument makes you look less empathetic and kind of a jack ass.

  2. While it would be nice if we had a range of words of varying magnitudes to describe someone who’s come through a difficult experience, context does capture the difference for us already. We can read “cancer survivor” and “divorce survivor” and immediately we can understand the difference of magnitude involved.

    And I can’t help but feel that this ‘my pain is bigger than yours’ argument is harmful to empathy. There’s a lot of people who can’t see past their own pain to understand the pain of others. It doesn’t seem to matter whether their problems are bigger or smaller than those around them, they just can’t see past their own problems. To some extent that’s understandable, even if it is quite unfortunate, but it is something we, collectively, need to do better.

    I don’t see how diminishing the pain of others because it’s less than your pain, helps us to do that.

  3. Agreed

  4. I vote for just being compassionate and hearing the story behind the words.

  5. You are wrong.

    I SURVIVED my breakup. I also survived the mental institution I was put in as a result. I EVEN SURVIVED THE PTSD.

    I survived the crippling panic attacks, the suicidal thoughts, the complete mental breakdown and everything else that happened as a direct result. How DARE you even ATTEMPT to say I am not a survivor.

    The timing of the breakup made all the difference. It made took something that was bad and made it a thousand times worse.
    Some people just GIVE UP after a breakup. Some people quit their jobs, begin drinking heavily, taking drugs, engaging in risky behavior and YES, EVEN KILL THEMSELVES.

    So go ahead, tell me I didn’t survive. The only thing you’re accomplishing is making us believe you didn’t really think this all the way through.

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