While we're encouraged to get through a breakup by binging, staying sober might be a better option.
Instead of doomscrolling, watching tv, or drinking, try reading a fun book or learning a new recipe.
This is an adapted excerpt from Tawny Lara's "Dry Humping: A Guide to Dating, Relating, and Hooking Up Without the Booze."
Breakups are one of the most devastating losses we can go through. Ending a significant relationship can feel overwhelming, even when you're the one who calls things off. If relationships are filled with love, meaningful moments, and inside jokes, then what fills a breakup? For a lot of people, it's booze. Taking time to evaluate how alcohol intersects with dating, sex, and romance also includes mindfully mourning the end of a relationship.
I spoke with quit-lit icon Holly Whitaker, the author of "Quit Like a Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed With Alcohol," about the benefits of processing a breakup without alcohol.
"Nothing is more destroying for me, and harder to manage or navigate, than a breakup," she told me. "If I were to drink through it, I would make it such a big mess — but then there's the other part of it, which is that the value of being alive is that we can feel so much. I know even though I don't want [the pain] to be happening, that it is really, really precious ground and that I can face it. I choose to be there for myself when I'm most in need, to feel the fullness of the experience that a human being can have. It's lucky." Just like liquid courage provides fleeting confidence, drinking through the pain is temporary, too. In fact, you often just end up with a killer hangover to go with your broken heart.
As with dating, it takes a lot of intrinsic courage to resist the cultural pressure to opt for these temporary fixes. Not only are you encouraged to meet dates and sexual partners in bars, but you're also expected to grieve those relationships in the very same environment. We've all seen the movies where the protagonist goes through a breakup and their BFF drags them to a bar to get wasted and flirt with someone new — maybe even to hook up with a random person. This is usually the cheesy part of the storyline where the BFF character says something like, "The best way to get over someone is to get under someone else," then winks while handing the protagonist a shot, gesturing to the hot person who happens to be looking their way.
Why portrayals of breakup recovery scenes in Hollywood lack nuance
The 2019 Netflix film "Someone Great" follows music journalist Jenny, portrayed by Gina Rodriguez, around New York City for a day as she processes a breakup. We see Jenny and her friends day-drink while wandering the city. Jenny drinks whiskey from the bottle with two straws, dancing to Lizzo one minute, then crying the next. We later see her mixing champagne with green juice, a sort of breakup mimosa.
In the 2008 movie "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" we see Jason Segal's character, Peter, mourn his breakup with the eponymous Sarah Marshall by comedically binging "girly drinks" such as cosmopolitans and piña coladas, then crying himself to sleep — only to wake up and order rum with his breakfast.
I wondered if alcohol is needed to make those scenes relatable or funny, so I chatted with documentary filmmaker and Notre Dame professor Ted Mandell. He co-developed a course called "Drunk on Film" where he and social psychologist Anré Venter examine the psychology and seduction of alcohol onscreen.
"Drunkenness as comedy is a go-to narrative device," Mandell told me. "Absolutely those film scenes could be alcohol-free ... but the physical comedy would be lost. And the comedy is what's numbing the pain in these two films. If you want your audience to laugh, just write a scene where your protagonist gets drunk. So it's really about how the director wants the audience to feel." Still, there's no reason the director couldn't use a breakup scene differently, Mandell suggested.
"Wouldn't it be cool if staying sober in these situations was a narrative moment? A scene where the protagonist is confronted with alcohol, the friend takes them out to forget about getting dumped, then they reject the alcohol?" Now that's a nuanced scene I'd love to see onscreen! Perhaps I, too, used drunkenness as a narrative device to help me get through the hard times, before I learned how to take life one day at a time.
Try replacing drinking with healthier habits
It's natural to want to quell the pain or discomfort as you mourn a great love. You take ibuprofen for a headache and antacids for a heartburn, so what do you take for a heartache? To grieve a devastating loss without turning to booze, resist numbing behavior and instead opt for distraction.
Instead of: Doomscrolling for hours
Try: Reading a funny or lighthearted book
Instead of: Drinking mindlessly
Instead of: Hiding in bed
Try: Preparing a relaxing bath with music, candles, etc.
Instead of: Binging trash TV
Try: Binging trash TV, but doing it with a friend
Excerpted from "Dry Humping: A Guide to Dating, Relating, and Hooking Up Without the Booze" (Quirk Books, September 19, 2023). Reprinted with permission from Quirk Books.
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