Ask Professor Foxy: How Do I Get Over A Really Hard Break Up?

This weekly Saturday column “Ask Professor Foxy” will regularly contain sexually explicit material. This material is likely not safe for work viewing. The title of the column will include the major topic of the post, so please read the topic when deciding whether or not to read the entire column.
Dear Professor Foxy,
I’m a lesbian in my 20’s going through a break-up with my girlfriend of nearly 4 years… and I am feeling so overwhelmed and lost right now. I really just need some guidance, and not the 5-steps-to-getting-over-your-ex kind of self-help. In the past few months, what was once a (more or less) healthy and egalitarian relationship has turned into a wreck.
Communication issues and baggage that we have built up over the past few years turned really sour when she slept with someone else in February. Things were very up and down the last few months, and my pain is still very raw. It hasn’t helped that I keep financially bailing her out when she is late on rent or bills, and she is slow and unpredictable about paying me back. But things took a turn for the worse when I found out in May that she had gotten in a situation with her student loans and stolen money from my bank account using my debit card. I was, understandably, pissed. She is still living with me until at least June, just because neither of us can afford to financially break up till then. But my growing resentment of her actions coupled with my deep love for her and really raw pain (that leads to everything from sexual tension to crying), is making this break up so difficult. I want her, but I don’t trust her. I love her, but I resent her for taking advantage of me. When we talk, one of us turns into a crying mess or gets angry, accomplishing little. If we have to break up, I want this to be peaceful and simple, but it has been nothing but painful and frustrating for me.
Our lives are so inter-mingled — we live together and financially have become tied through things like leases and cell phone bills. We moved about 9 months ago, and though I love the new city I live in, I don’t have much of a support system here. To complicate things even more, I have been in a very high stress contract job that is about to end — thankfully — but is leaving me with even more stress looking for a new job. The only sturdy tie I have to anything or anywhere right now is my master’s program, which my state is looking at cutting due to budget cuts. My ex-g/f is going through the same problem — a high stress job that she wants to leave, and much more severe financial stress than mine — which I feel compelled to emotionally and financially support her through because that’s what I’ve always done.
She has been a huge part of my support system. I feel like I am just floating aimlessly in this city, not willing to move back but not knowing how to move forward and set down personal roots without her. When my car broke down this week, I couldn’t even function. Every part of my life — finances, my relationship, my job, school — is crashing down around me. There’s so much on my plate that I can’t fathom any of it, and the person I turn to for help is a huge part of the problem. What do I do?
Feeling overwhelmed,

Dear Broken,
I get it. Trust me, I get it. This is a really hard time for you, but you will get through it and you will be stronger for it. This is not pat advice; it is the mantra that can you get through. If this one does not work for you, figure out one that does.
Break ups are rarely peaceful and easy. There are feelings involved and they don’t get wiped away. You still love each other. She broke trust in two major ways, you can’t ignore that.
You have a lot to do and some hard times to get through, but you will. Here are things to ask, do, and work on. There are others, work on it for yourself and talk to your support system, what do they suggest?
You’ve made a lot of commitments to her. It is time to make some to yourself. You need to stop focusing on her and start focusing on you. Here is my checklist (these are a floor, not a ceiling):

1. What makes you happy and distracts you? Good books, coffee shops, bad reality TV, crap magazines, feminist theory, running, yoga, walking, wandering?
2. What inspires you? Quotes, art, movies?
3. Don’t beat yourself up. Falling apart over the car makes sense. When our worlds are hard and messy, feel so much bigger.
4. Are there things you sacrificed to live with her? Focus on that now. What do you wish you had more time to do?
5. Talk to your friends who have been through this before. Both the hard break-ups and the upcoming unemployment. Talk to them: how did they get through it? Let them know that you are going to need them.
6. There are many things you cannot control in this situation, focus on the ones you can. How do you untangle? Make a list, rank from easiest to hardest.
7. Stop bailing her out. As cruel as this sounds, her problems are no longer yours. However, your pattern of bailing her out is a way of repeating old mistakes, causing issues, and remaining unhealthily connected.
8. Where is your support system? Can you go there even if it is just for a visit? If not, how are you checking in? Set up regular times to talk.
9. Move as soon as you can. Stay in the city or don’t. What feels best for you? Until then, what can you do outside of your house? Parks, walks, coffee, museums?
10. Take care of you. Eat well, sleep, exercise. Make a schedule for you and keep to it.

Break ups are unavoidable and in the end, can be positives. What goes wrong in one relationship teaches us about us and about what we need next. You don’t need to do what you’ve always done – this is your time for change. Roots and a new life will happen.
You are going through a hard time. One step at a time: it really is the only way through. And you really will get through.
Professor Foxy
If you have a question, send it to ProfessorFoxyATfeministingDOTcom

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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Join the Conversation

  • hellotwin

    I went through a rough break-up about a year and a half ago in which I was basically dropped for another woman. Finding things to keep one occupied and interested is really important, as is taking care of oneself. Also, it’s important to feel the feelings that you’re feeling, not to stifle them. They can pop up later and be even more powerful, especially things like anger. It has definitely been a HUGE learning experience for me and although feelings, both negative and positive, still surface from time to time, I am happy with the direction my life has taken since then. One day at a time…

  • paperispatient

    The main tip I would make based on personal experience is not to rush into another romantic relationship in the hopes that it will lessen your pain. It’s really difficult losing someone you thought would be in your life in the foreseeable future, but I once made the mistake of thinking that a distraction in the form of another guy would help me get over an ex; and while I don’t regret that relationship, when it ended I had even more baggage to deal with because I’d put off fully dealing with the emotional fallout from the first breakup. It’s really easy, when you’re feeling vulnerable and alone and desperate, to want to find another person to fill that void, but I think it’s important to see how you can stand on your own and be enough for yourself, on your own. It’s hard, but it’s also extremely rewarding and satisfying when you finally get to that place.

  • stillill

    What about the people who don’t get through it? The ones who are permanently broken and never recover? It happens. Maybe that’s an issue that is beyond the scope of a relationship/sex column, but “positive thinking” platitudes can ring pretty hollow to those who have had serious difficulties, who have told themselves that they will get through it, who have done all the right things, only to have the years drag on while they remain hopelessly mired.

  • Melissa

    If you are in school they often have free counseling services. You can always go in just for someone to talk to!

  • Comrade Kevin

    I’ve been there myself. What helped me was writing it all out, both musically and on paper. As I looked back at it later, much more objectively, nine months after the breakup, I saw a distinct progression. While in the middle of it, it’s difficult to see the forest through the trees, but hindsight provides a sense of perspective not present in the heat of the moment.
    It also helped to find a very fantastic therapist, who walked me through every step of the process. She told me the first session we had that what I was processing was going to take six to nine months to work through. I was skeptical at first because I was feeling totally raw, but she was right.

  • lyndorr

    I just broke up with someone because of financial trouble he has had and it felt really good to end it. But I still miss having him around. I have to re-learn to enjoy my alone time basically. I find it helps to think of things to do so I can stay occupied. Is there anything you’ve been wanting to do but relationship issues were keeping you from doing? Today I biked 20km, something my partner never wanted to do and somehow I never did it when I was with him.
    I also find it helps to view little things as accomplishments. I start setting tiny goals for myself and being happy for myself when I achieve them. Hey, I bought food. I made supper. I cleaned. And for you, I applied for a few jobs. Start small if possible. Don’t be afraid to think of yourself. Is there anything cheap you can use to reward yourself with? A nice bath? A good book? A TV show?
    I agree with point #1 (and all others). It can distract me to wander around the city and not know where I’m going to go or what I’ll see that I’ve never noticed before.

  • gothicguera

    My mother has this saying “mejor sola que mal acompañada”. It means it is better to be alone than in bad company. I would think it is better to get this woman out of your life, the sooner, the better. Please turn to friends(or others) for help and cut this woman off. Make sure she moves out when June comes. I know this sounds harsh but it sounds like she is just leeching off you. Cut her off (if possible) and please seek legal advice and tell them that she stole money. She is not worthy of you and you are better off with people who want to help you and not harm. Keep in mind she hurting you.

  • CassieC

    Sorry, Foxy, but I don’t think that generic breakup advice cut the mustard in this case.
    Broken needs to know that her (soon to be ex) girlfriend is using and manipulating her in all possible ways: financially, emotionally, and that “love” is not going to help in any way. Broken needs to get out as soon as possible, or kick her ex out as soon as possible, and detach from her financially and emotionally. This will make Broken’s life 100% better (trust me: being free from the whole mess will make a bigger difference than you can imagine), and moreover will be the kick in the ass Broken’s ex needs to get her life in shape and take some responsibility for herself. Right now, you’re in co-dependent hell. You’re not helping yourself or your (ex)girlfriend. You need to get out.

  • xenu01

    I don’t know what city you’re in, but I had a whole bunch of things (relationship problems, unemployment, family issues dredged from the bottom, support network across the country, no close friends here, etc) all kind of bubble up and make my life hell about three months ago. I googled “sliding scale counseling” because I used to volunteer for an organization that did something like that back in high school.
    Ten minutes later I was sobbing into the phone to a perfect stranger. The next day I was seeing a therapist for $30 a session, which is the extent of what I can swing with my savings right now, and with my partner’s support, I’ve been seeing her once a week since. I would really suggest seeing a therapist as the first step.
    Because of having someone to talk to, I have made a lot of changes in the way I perceive my life. I’m dealing with some very real PTSD and anxiety issues, and I’ve had some wonderfully fruitful discussions with my partner which led to us attending Debters Anonymous meetings regularly as well!
    I also suggest going to a (free as well!) CoDependents Anonymous meeting.
    Sometimes all you need is just one little piece of driftwood to keep afloat, and before you know it you’ve assembled a raft!

  • daytrippinariel

    I’m in this exact situation right now. After a relationship I had been in for about 3 years I jumped into another relationship after the guy broke up with me. Now, I’m dealing with the breakup from the second relationship and realizing a lot about the emotional baggage I have been trying to hide from by being in a relationship. While I don’t regret the second relationship–I had a lot fun while it lasted and before both of our emotional problems killed the relationship–I’m realizing it wasn’t the healthiest idea and that now I have a lot to work on to make myself strong and independent once again. Had I not jumped into another relationship and dealt with the first break up I would already be there.
    Still, it’s a learning experience, and sometimes we go with our emotions instead of what will be better for us in the long term.
    The best thing I’ve done, even though I’m not out of the forest, is to cut off as much contact I possibly can with my ex. I still run into him because we’re both part of a local community thing, but we don’t acknowledge each other and don’t talk. I asked him in an e-mail not to talk to me and to ignore me in situations where we see each other and it is definitely for the better. Your situation sounds more complicated, but I really encourage you to move out and cut off all contact with her until you can heal or you won’t get the emotional distance you need.