Relationships are a huge part of our lives no matter how “empowered” we are. And although having a boyfriend or not having one is in no way a reflection of your value, it does not mean that the loss of a relationship does not hurt.
The days of Ben and Jerry’s binges and long nights crying into a pillow are over. In recent years the idea of the breakup, and how one should treat a breakup, has had a vast makeover. Revenge bodies as inspired by Khloe Kardashian and rebound hotties are the new post-breakup traditions.
As strong, empowered 21st century women we are not suppose to let men get us down. Men are not suppose to define our identities or our happiness. Sometimes this is taken to far out extremes where we are often taught through vague, innocuous terms that men are disposable. We are suppose to be so empowered that men have no effect on our well-being. And yet sometimes that is not always an accurate reflection of reality.
The new breakup mentality is to “get over him” as swiftly and seamlessly as possible. Women are no longer suppose to cry over men or experience grief, rather they are encouraged to either shove their feelings under the rug and present a facade of un-bothered chill, or participate in often unhealthy behavior such as using alcohol and partying as a coping mechanism, or hook up as a way to feed a veneer of empowerment. This “get over him” mentality is highly problematic in that it does not allow for, or encourage women to properly grieve, and instead suggests “band-aid fixes” and instant gratification to fill a void.
I think of lot of this lack of healthy grieving has to do with undefined relationships. With so many relationships in label limbo, ie friends with benefits, hookups and “things” that never really leave the “talking” stage of relationship development, lots of women have trouble justifying their own pain. They feel that because he was not their “real boyfriend” or it was “just sex” that they should not really be sad over him. They convince themselves that because it was not a “legit relationship” that they should be able to just move on quickly and “get over it.” Worse, they think that entering into a similar arrangement with the next guy will fill the void.
These are dangerous messages that many mainstream women’s media outlets promote. Women are repeatedly fed the idea that pleasure seeking and instant gratification are replacements for grief or counseling. Moreover, much of women’s mainstream media perpetuates the idea that empowered women move on quickly and don’t get hung up on feelings.
“Feelings” in particular are an entity more and more women are looking to avoid in the dating arena. Ironically, what exactly is dating without feelings? Feelings have been labeled a death sentence for the “empowered” women who is not controlled or hindered by emotions or the high price of bonding and becoming vulnerable with someone. To the modern dater, feelings are synonymous with vulnerability and a lack of control of the situation.
Rather women are suppose to engage in casual sex sans feelings, something that is not really a reality for most women. The result is a lot of women who don’t end up feeling “empowered.” Instead they feel depressed, lonely, and unfulfilled. Much of said negative feelings has to do with the fact the relationship or lack there of was not properly grieved when it ended.
Unfortunately the culture does not provide women with the tools to understand why hookup culture leaves them feeling this way. Hookup culture and mainstream media gives women the impression that hooking up is sexy and fun and empowering, and then leaves women confused and insecure when it is not all that it is promised to be.
Women are often berated and belittled for being the more “emotional” sex. This is the often cited reason for why there has yet to be a female president or why women can’t be in positions of power. While this is an unfair and degrading assessment of womanhood that many female leaders are working to break down, society still maintains the connotation that feelings are “vulnerable” and “weak”. Instead of allowing women to express their femininity and be celebrated for it, we tell women that in order to stand a chance in a man’s world and be taken seriously they have to disavow themselves from being “emotional,” “needy,” “clingy,” or just plain too “romantic” as if those are to be avoided like the plague instead of misunderstood components of the feminine psyche. What if we saw expressing emotions and feelings as wise and empowering instead of weak? How then would our view of women and hookup culture differ?
Moreover, if “feelings” are the enemy then we are more likely to treat others with inconsideration and a lack of compassion. Teaching ourselves that it isn’t cool to “catch feelings” promotes a dating culture that is unkind, aloof, and unsympathetic, and results in far more heartbreak. Even if it isn’t “cool” that doesn’t make feelings any less legitimate or irrelevant.
So if men are expendable and feelings are “uncool” we are left with a cold and un-compassionate hookup scene. We are left with a dating world where men are at a huge advantage and women do not have the tools or information to properly grieve relationships no matter what they look like. Does not sound very empowering to me.
Contrary to mainstream messaging, grief is an integral part of moving on and finding future healthy relationships. We need to be able to allow ourselves the full spectrum of human emotions in order to process and move forward. There is no benefit to bottling things up or seeking out dangerous emotional behavior in the hopes of covering up our hurt. Although the self care industry will have us believe that retail therapy and body scrubs will alleviate stress or unhappiness, the truth is that mental and emotional self care cannot be purchased. Grief is a long, arduous mental process that requires times, patience, and the support of good relationships.
The first step in the process is recognizing the hurt and legitimizing it. No matter whether it was a fling or a hookup or a one stand stand that has now ended in less than favorable terms, that hurt matters and is legitimate. It should be handled with grace and patience.
Some of the best things you can do for the grief of a relationship is to talk to a friend, exercise, do something fun that does not have to do with partying or alcohol or mind-altering substances, and get lots of sleep. It is important to allow yourself to feel the pain and say to yourself that it is okay to be upset. It is not you who is weak for feeling this way, it is the culture and it’s mentality of “get over it” that is damaging.
I think this highlights an important trend in our society, that we value emotional stoicism and having the appearance of “having it all together” more so than we do actually doing the work that grief requires of us to get ourselves “together.”
I want to challenge women to help one another to properly grieve relationships, and allow one another to be upset without feeling weak or inferior for doing so. True empowerment comes from supporting and encouraging one another. It is also important to note that it is okay to seek out professional help, our friends cannot always be responsible for helping bear our burdens and sometimes counseling or therapy is necessary. This does not make someone weak, it means they are wise and introspective to seek out help when they need it.
While the current dating culture is full of misinformation and un-compassionate attitudes, we can seek out positive behavior in ourselves that prioritize growth, wisdom, introspection, forgiveness and healing. It is also imperative that we recognize negative and problematic messages in our culture and take steps to instead seek out truth. When we stop to ask ourselves why the culture might promote certain ideas and whether they are helpful to us is the first step in breaking free from negative influences and learning to be discerning consumers of information.