How Can I Go Back to School When My Heart Is Still Broken?

Breakups are Painful

Not to be dramatic, but… breakups are hands down one of the more painful experiences we can go through in life. No matter the circumstances, the end of any relationship is heartbreaking. Whether it’s a friendly breakup or a messy one, there will be tears, angsty playlists, and late-night scrolls through old pictures on social media. The two most important medicines for quickly healing a broken heart. Time and distance. Being physically away from the person you used to love for a considerable amount of time can really help close up that wound and give you a chance to put yourself back together.

But what if you don’t have that luxury? What if you have to see them? Like… they’re in your math class or your lunch period or on your row in band? That’s tough. How do you deal with having to see your ex at school? Whether you broke up yesterday or two years ago, there are a few ways to cope with the awkwardness of being around whoever broke your heart.

Do You Have Closure?

First! Closure… that elusive moment when you finally achieve that feeling of peace about something in your heart. You understand why it happened, or at least you’ve accepted your situation and are ready to move forward. This is going to be an important ingredient of comfortably returning to school with your ex. So, ask yourself, “Do I have closure?” If you, have it, great. That means you’re at peace with the way things ended, and you’re ready to go about your life without this person. Without closure, school could feel a little claustrophobic. Is this one of those breakups where one person or the other thinks there could be a second chance? Or do you both feel confident about that chapter of your life being over? One thing’s for sure: going to school together is going to be especially tough if you’re not on the same page.

How do you get closure if you don’t have it? There are a couple of ways. You could work with a counselor or mentor to come to terms with the end of your relationship. This is a great way to achieve a sense of closure without having to interact with your ex.

Talking to someone who will listen with compassion, not judge you for your feelings, and can offer expert advice may be what you need to feel better. Another way to find closure is to talk to your ex. You could ask them to meet you for a cup of coffee, have a civil conversation to break the ice of returning to the same school, and establish that there are “no hard feelings” about the past. Proceed with caution! If you don’t sense that your ex is ready to talk to you, or if you still get extremely emotional about the breakup, it may be better to pursue closure on your own.

Have You Allowed Yourself Time to Grieve?

Second! A breakup is a loss. Loss is hard. Even if you only dated for a short time, or never said the word “love,” you gave a lot of time to this person. If you haven’t allowed yourself to cry, it’s time. If you haven’t allowed yourself to have a night or two or seven when you crank up the breakup playlist and dance it out, do so. Invite your friends over and watch a movie that will make you cry, then immediately watch another one that will make you laugh. Point being: Give yourself time to heal. You don’t have to rush back into dating, or act like you have it all together. If you walk through the doors of your school without processing your feelings, chances are those feelings will bubble over at the most awkward time, in the most awkward place.

Set Yourself Up for Success

Now for the practical tips. Closure and grieving are great, but they can take a while, and you need to be able to attend school in the meantime. If you’re heartbroken and don’t want to rack up absences avoiding your ex, here’s what to do:

  • Distance yourself from your ex and their friends when possible. This is especially tough if you and your ex share friends, but hopefully you have a friend or two who you can trust to eat lunch with you at a separate table or see movies with on weekends. If you were sitting next to your ex in class, move seats. If you were supposed to go to a concert together next month, give away the tickets. If they hang out in front of the school every morning, start using the back door. It may sound silly, even petty, but minimizing the number of triggering encounters you have each day may help you cope with being at the same school until you feel better.
  • Focus your energy on new activities or groups at school. Join a new club. Ask one of your clubs if you can take on new responsibilities. Find something new to get involved in that you never did with your ex. That way, you have something to do that’s fun, engaging, and won’t remind you of them. Now’s the time to try things you never thought you would! Audition for the fall play. Ask to write for the school paper. It could be the start of a lifelong love.
  • Avoid dwelling on heartbreak or anger in conversations with friends. It can be tempting to sit around with your friends and badmouth your ex or judge their activities, but nothing positive comes from that.
  • It can also be tempting to constantly check their social media to see how they’re doing without you. It’s not good for you to let your mind get stuck in the “breakup loop.” Get busy with something besides wallowing in the pain. Your pain is valid! But you’ve grieved (see above), and you’re torturing yourself by dwelling on your ex all day.
  • Make friends with a new person. Find someone who didn’t know you before you dated your ex. Maybe you already know them, but you aren’t close. Maybe you’re “friends,” but you don’t hang out. See if they want to grab food after school or play video games one night. Having a new friend who doesn’t associate you with your ex (and who you don’t associate with your ex) can not only be a nice break from thinking about the breakup but could also be… wait for it… fun.

Don’t Do It Alone

Finally, don’t isolate. Holding yourself hostage to your broken heart is unfair, unhealthy, and can lead to depression. Find folks to surround you with support, whether that be a group of friends at school, a small group or Bible study at church, or a mental health support group recommended by your counselor. If you don’t know where to start or who to talk to, chat online with a HopeCoach at TheHopeLine. We understand the pain of a broken heart, and more importantly, we know that Jesus heals the brokenhearted.

You are not, never have been, and never will be alone in this fight, so please reach out and let us support you in any way we can. You deserve to be able to go to school each day without being afraid of running into your ex, and we want you to know that’s possible.

TheHopeLine Team
For over 30 years, TheHopeLine has been helping students and young adults in crisis. Our team is made up of writers and mental health professionals who care deeply about helping others.
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