Julie Klausner gave some advice on a recent podcast of what not to say to a friend going through a breakup: “Don’t say, ‘Now’s the time to learn a new language.’ ” If, while going through a breakup, someone told me that while I may have just lost the love of my life, at least it affords me an opportunity to brush up on my Portuguese, I would kill them, and then myself.
When comforting friends after a breakup, people reach for platitudes because it’s so hard to figure out what to say – trying to look on the bright side or consoling them that it was no great loss often seem like the best way to comfort. But often these well-meaning truisms only hurt or annoy the grieving friend, who, remember, is hearing these things from everybody.
Following is a list of things to try to avoid saying to a heart-broken friend.
“I never liked him anyway.”
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It doesn’t matter what you thought of their ex. It doesn’t. Not right now. The point is, your friend did like him and possibly still does. A friend doesn’t want to hear how you always thought she was sort of pretentious, that he was always awkward at parties or whatever else may have been secretly annoying you about the relationship. Respect his or her right to be hurting over someone you didn’t necessarily love, and stay quiet about it – especially because there’s always the chance they’ll get back together. If your friend starts venting about the recent ex, then fine – just don’t join in too enthusiastically.
“Ultimately, this is going to be a good thing for you.”
This sentence might be 100 percent true, but you’ve got to let your friend figure it out by living it rather than spouting it off to her while she’s wrapped up in a blanket on the couch surrounded by tissues. There’s a moment in most breakups where it really does seem like the most depressing, traumatic thing that’s ever happened, and no amount of “but this will be good in the end” is going to convince her or make her feel better.
“You can do so much better.”
No one wants to hear that their friends think they were dating beneath them. Besides, dating better or dating worse is not the point: The point is that your friend is no longer dating that person, and maybe he or she still wishes he or she were. Again, let all venting about the ex come from your friend, not from you.
“Now you can concentrate on your career.”
At this point, most people know that it’s extremely possible to have a great relationship and a great career, so pointing out to your friend that the breakup is an opportunity to work on a career insinuates it’s an either/or situation. Maybe he or she wants to concentrate on his or her career and keep dating that person. Maybe he or she was already concentrating on the career; maybe the career is going great, and it’s just the sudden lack of relationship that’s sending him or her into a tailspin. The truth is, when your heart hurts, thinking about work may temporarily distract, but it won’t actually make you feel better.
“What you need is a girls/boys night out.”
Ugh, no, what I need is to take a nap on my bathroom floor and listen to the Dixie Chicks for a few hours. Nights out are great, but that’s later in the breakup recovery process: People might have to go through a lot of wallowing before they’re ready to hit the town again. Unless an insane/unhealthy amount of time has passed, let your friend be the one to suggest a night out to you once he or she is good and ready.
So what can you say? These gems are simple, to the point and universally inoffensive:
• I’m here whenever you want to talk.
• Breakups are the worst thing in the world. The worst thing. I am so sorry you are going through this.
• I know you want to be alone right now, so I’m sending you a care package of cool/distracting stuff, and I’m on standby for whenever you want to hang out.