Since the beginning of the year, two of the people closest to me have been on the receiving end of that gut-wrenching, “I don’t think we should be together anymore” conversation. I’ve felt particularly helpless to ease their emotional pain and give them helpful, encouraging words since I’ve never had a true breakup experience. Sure, there were periods of on-again-off-again and that one summer when I had to “find myself,” Lily Alldrin style, but besides these bumps in the road, Spencer and I never had a breakup where I felt it was final and had to try to get over him.
Luckily, I ended up finding this great resource from Psychology Today about the seven (not five) stages of grieving after a breakup, and instead of sending my best friends a link to a self-help book, I trusted in the power of the novel. I feel like I’ve come up with a pretty good list of books that will help them (and maybe you!) through each stage of the difficult process, according to psychologist Suzanne Lachmann.
1. Desperate for Answers — As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
At this very early stage, you’re probably looking everywhere for answers to millions of questions—What went wrong? Could you have changed anything? Why is it over? Is it over?
Faulkner’s Modernist masterpiece As I Lay Dying is the perfect read for you right now. With all the questions that spring from the stream of consciousness writing, you’ll realize that not everything can be answered, and sometimes things happen that are out of your control. You have to keep on keepin’ on anyway.
2. Denial — Persuasion by Jane Austen
Who hasn’t reveled in that blissful stage of denial? I personally think it’s an important step in the recovery process because it gives you a reprieve from the grieving process. So take your time, and read Persuasion while you’re at it. But then remember that Austen was a fiction writer, and you are not Anne Elliot, which is a good thing because now we have great things like women’s rights.
3. Bargaining — The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Hester Prynne might have been in the most one-sided relationship in the entire literary canon, and that’s exactly what you risk entering in the bargaining phase. I know that it’s necessary to recovery, but try to remember that a relationship is a two-sided organism that grows between two people and that can only flourish when both of those people are giving it their all. You can’t save it by yourself, and it will only cause you more frustration if you try.
4. Relapse — A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
Hopefully you don’t have anything like a Stanley in your life, but when you start having moments of weakness and desires of convincing your ex to take you back, read this play and picture Marlon Brando at the bottom of the stairs, yelling “STELLA!” Stella made bad choices, but you are not Stella. You are a strong, independent woman, and you don’t need a Stanley in your life.
5. Anger — A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen
In this case, anger is good. It means you’re getting over fear of the relationship being over, and you’re starting to remember how important you are. You matter, just like Nora mattered, which is why A Doll’s House is the perfect play for you to read right now. Get angry at Torvald, get angry at Nils Krogstad, even get angry at Nora if that’s what you need. You matter, and your anger will empower you to act on it!
6. Initial Acceptance — Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
You’re finally starting to get over him. You can feel it in the little things, like how you don’t feel the urge to text him every day. But there are still those occasional moments of weakness, which is why it’s time to dive head first into Anne of Green Gables. Isn’t Anne great? With her smarts and her quirks and her endearing lack of knowledge about boys or relationships? Better yet, remember how you were when you first read about Anne? You probably had that same free, hopeful spirit, and you can feel that way again. You deserve to.
7. Redirected Hope — Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
You did it! It may have taken you a few weeks, months, or maybe even a year, but you’ve finally gotten over him. Now it’s time for something new, and whether that’s a new relationship, job, or simply a different outlook on life, who better to take you there than Jane? She’s empathetic, she’s tenacious, and she’s exactly what the doctor ordered for starting off a new chapter of your life. Congratulations, you rock.
What books would you suggest to get through a break up?
P.S. If you’re looking for some beach reads with substance, I’ve got your back.