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How to be human: can moving cities help me reset after a breakup?

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Leah Reich was one of the first internet advice columnists. Her column "Ask Leah" ran on IGN, where she gave advice to gamers for two and a half years. During the day, Leah is Slack’s user researcher, but her views here do not represent her employer. You can write to her at askleah@theverge.com and read more How to be Human here.

Hey Leah,

I broke up with my ex in December. We lived together for 1.5 years, dated for 2.5. He bailed on the relationship when things got hard and we broke up because I couldn't carry the relationship anymore. He called me his soulmate, integrated me into his friends' group to the point that they really did become my friends and I love them dearly. The problem is that I don't want to see him ever. The city is small. The void in my life without him is apparent when I'm with my friends whether or not he is there. I want to move. I want to leave. Am I just running away from my problems or am I getting a clean break?

Also if I have a crush on a girl I'm friends with who I don't know if she's straight or not (but I'm assuming she is because she's never said otherwise? But is heterosexuality still the default? I guess so), should I say anything or just not mention it ever because I don't want to make things weird because I'd rather be friends with her. I don't know how to navigate this.

2 Questions

Hey 2Q,

I don't often answer two separate questions in one letter, and when I do they're usually somehow related. Your questions don't seem to have much to do with one another, but I've been thinking about both for a few weeks and I want to answer them. So I'm going to make it work.

Getting over someone you love is awful. There's no way to pretend it isn't. I refuse to be the person who lamely tells you it'll get better soon and you'll find someone else. It's terrible when you run into them a lot, whether in person or online. It's also terrible when you don't run into them and have to deal head on with the feelings of withdrawal. It's just bad! But the annoying truth is that it does get better. Maybe not soon, but eventually.

"I thought I'd never get over that person, and now I can't believe I ever dated them."

I have this little theory about heartbreak. It's not so much a break as it is a giant hole, the space where that person existed inside you. That hole rips open when they leave you (to be honest, I also felt this when my beloved cat died some years back). That's how it feels, right? Like a jagged gaping hole in the center of you that makes it almost impossible to breathe. Over time, the hole in the shape of that person (or cat, or dog, or whatever) heals over. Sometimes it heals faster than you expected, and even without scarring. You look back and you think, "God, I thought I'd never get over that person, and now I kind of can't believe I actually dated them." But sometimes it never fully heals up all the way, or it takes a long, long time. Occasionally you catch your finger in it as you're tracing the outline of the person inside your heart, and you rip it back open. Or you smell their scent and boom, you're gasping for breath. Hurt takes time to heal. It takes time and space. You have to find the space where you can be okay in your own city, no matter how small it feels.

That kind of facing-it-head-on healing is hard, but it can give you access to a deeper understanding of yourself. That understanding is what guides you. It'll tell you when you're ready to move for YOU, even if on the surface it seems like you're moving for a job or for a new relationship.

Your first question resonates with me on so many different levels. When I was 25, I was living in San Francisco. I was a bit of an emotional mess that year in general — I remember spending a lot of time smoking pot, lying on my living room floor listening to Kyuss, and feeling kind of at sea. At some point I ended up dating a guy who dumped me after only two months of dating. He dumped me right after I took him to see the Queens of the Stone Age Rated R tour. Like, in the car in front of my house, after the show. He also dumped me about a month after my dad nearly died. I decided I needed to get the fuck out of San Francisco, a city I wanted so much to like but never really did (and still don't, to be honest). I had to move to New York, because moving to New York would allow me to be the happy, amazing person I wanted to be.

You probably already know how this story ends. Moving to New York didn't magically transform me into someone cool or happy. Because of course it didn't.

Of course it didn't

Now! I'm not comparing me at 25 to current you. Not at all. I assume you're nowhere near the mess I was, and also I was dumped by a guy I dated for two months, not more than two-and-a-half years. No, I'm musing on this little story because it's where I started to figure out the thing I'm sure you already know, since you basically say so in your letter: You can't run away from your problems. You can't run away from yourself. Wherever you go, there you are. Yes, I know, that's actually the title of a book on mindfulness (one I haven't read, although I probably should). But the reason I know it without having read it is because of how true it is.

Sometimes you need to figure a thing out for yourself — like I did — no matter how common sense it seems or how clearly other people have spelled it out for you. That's an odd thing for me to say, because I'm an advice columnist. I'm literally in the business of spelling things out for people. I think most of those people are ready to hear what I have to say, since they wrote to me, but I recognize that ready might mean, "It will resonate but they won't quite be ready to fully get it, deep down." I think that's really why I sit here, answering people's letters. My goal is certainly to carve out a space on the internet for what I like to think is a sort of radical empathy. But really what I want is to help people untwist the problems that have gotten all tangled up in their heads, so they can look at them with less confusion or pain. I want to encourage them to start listening to and trusting their own voices. To get it, deep down.

So what does all this mean for you, 2Q? It means you answered your own first question, you just don't trust your own voice yet. If you really thought moving would fix everything, you would have done it without asking. Then you would have written to me to say, "I moved because I thought it would make me happy, but it didn't. Now what do I do?"

You can't control how she will feel or react

Speaking of that deeper understanding and how it can guide you, there's this girl you like. I will tell you the same thing I'd tell anyone in this situation, which is that liking a friend and telling them doesn't have to make everything weird. It often does, although it doesn't need to, but you can't control that. You have to think about what you want, what that inner voice is telling you. Do you feel like you want to date this person more than you want to be friends? Could you be friends with her regardless of her romantic feelings for you? Do you feel like this is a fleeting crush that will fade, or one that has grown and feels bigger than your friendship? If you feel like you want to give this a shot, and it's not something the two of you have discussed before (as in, you're not ignoring her in favor of what you want), then talk to her.

The most important thing to remember is this, and I will repeat it as many times as all of us need to hear it: You can't control how she will feel or react, or what she will say. All you can do is choose to tell her in the most open and respectful way possible, and then choose to be gracious no matter her response.

But even in this situation, listen to yourself. Are you ready to date someone? Are you ready for a possible rejection? Are you looking for something simply because it's anything other than what you're feeling now? You know all the answers. You just have to trust that you do.

Lx