Feminism | Posted by Julie Z on 11/17/2010

My First Heartbreak: How Feminism Got Me Through It

the graphic version

the graphic version

This past week my boyfriend dumped me. Now, under normal circumstances, recovery would have been simple. At first, I’d turn the radio randomly to any given pop song where a lyric about “looking into each other’s eyes” would inevitably transition into me sobbing, “WE USED TO LOOK INTO EACH OTHER’S EYES. THIS SONG WAS TOTALLY WRITTEN ABOUT ME AND MY PAIN” followed by dramatic, angsty teen tears. Then, there would be a bitch session with my friends as they confirmed that he was in fact always a douchebag and even though he kind of looked like John Mayer that also kind of added to the doucheyness. Knowing my friends, and our love of festively celebrating the fall season, his picture attached to a pumpkin would probably be presented along with a bat. I can actually attest to the fact that pumpkin smashing really is an effective form of therapy for those who haven’t tried it. Candy would be involved, and possibly even a crappy romantic comedy (they are good for approximately NO other purpose). And then, I’d move on with my 17-year-old life.

However. This was not a normal break up. A girl that I considered to be a close friend sent my boyfriend – who was also one of my best friends – a letter declaring her undying love for him while we were still together (for those of you not up on the Unofficial Girl Code, this is Violation #1). Not to mention she was still with her boyfriend at the time. My boyfriend and friend conferred, apparently decided that their feelings for each other were similar in nature to those felt by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in Titanic / Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca / Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams in the The Notebook and broke up with their significant others to begin their lifelong love affair that film and literature could possibly try to capture in the future, but would pale in comparison to their other-worldy glow of true love.

So, left with the eloquent break up of, “This has been fun but I have feelings for one of your good friends and am dumping you for her,” delivered to me at school, I was suddenly without two of the people that I had cared about and trusted the most. As a person who doesn’t let others into her life easily and carefully considers every person who she gives her heart to in any way, I had chosen these two people with confidence. So on top of feeling betrayed I just felt plain stupid when I realized that they found that getting rid of me was so easy.

Now, I know this sounds like a lot of teen drama. Get over yourself, you’re probably thinking. This happens all the time and besides, kids are starving, dictators are oppressing people. SHUT UP JULIE. And in reality I am able to see that the fact that they had feelings for each other doesn’t make them evil, and getting me out of the way may be the best thing for all of us in the long run (despite how carelessly they handled the whole thing).

So I’m going to stop throwing myself a pity party (friends/boyfriends come and go) and instead try to use this situation to help the FBomb community. I didn’t have a guide to dealing with this situation – certainly not a feminist guide. Thus I ended up feeling pretty anti-feminist as I remained on the couch in my sweats crying for close to 24 hours and unable to eat for a few days. So. I’m going to explain how my feminist identity helped me through what was (though something trivial in the large scheme of things) the worst emotional experience of my young life. Because maybe (God/Mother Goddess/Extra-Terrestrial Serpent Lord forbid) if you, dear FBomber, are in this situation, with the help of this guide you’ll just skip to the empowerment part.

How To Get Through the Feeling Betrayed / Feeling Sorry for Yourself / “My Life Sucks And Nobody Has Ever Been In As Much Pain As I Have” Phase:


In this garbage dump of a situation, I realized I have an AMAZING group of friends. They brought me every type of candy they could think of. One baked me a massive cupcake (can you possibly think of anything better?). They listened to endless hours of my sobbing and made sure I knew that I was loved when I felt like I had just been shown I clearly wasn’t worthy of love. They drove to Speedway (the best gas station chain in America, I must say) to bring me the mixture of Diet Coke and Dr. Pepper that disgusts them but that I’m addicted too. They made me laugh, they let me cry. Which made me realize how important the feminist value of sisterhood is. My female relationships in this situation made all the difference. And while through this ordeal I found that sometimes such (perceived) relationships can fail a girl, as one of mine did (the fact that we exist in this girl on girl crime culture where we are constantly competing with each other, often having to do with boyfriends also didn’t help) it’s so important to have a close group of girl friends that will get you through to the other end and keep you on track no matter how trivial the problem you’re dealing with seems in the scheme of things.

My Relationship with my Mom/Other Female Role Model

I have always had a strong relationship with my Mom, and this relationship has always been integral to defining myself as a feminist. Strong women breed strong women, and my mom is no exception. She is the one who taught me to have integrity even when the world is beating down on you. She is the one who taught me how to treat everybody else the way I’d want to be treated (AHEM). She is the one who taught me to be strong and ambitious in life but giving and compassionate in relationships and friendships. She also helped get me through this by constantly reminding me that I could not let other people’s dumbass moves define me. “You’ve got so many more important things to deal with in your life than those idiots. Don’t let them have such power over you,” she said. And that’s when I remembered, “Oh right, I’m better than this.” Strong women role models – in this case, my Mommy – helped me (and can help you) remember that even when other people act in ways that are pretty low, you can still hold yourself to a higher standard and rise above them.

How To Move On To Empowerment

Set Yourself Aside and Focus on Other People

After a few days, I woke up and stopped getting sad and started getting mad. I was mad that they made me / I let myself wallow (I’m a feminist damn it!). I was also mad that I wasn’t the only person they hurt. They put one of my best friends in the middle of this crappy situation not to mention my ex-friend broke the heart of her boyfriend. I wanted to make sure that he was okay (we were in kind of parallel situations after all). Not that I could really do anything, but having people I didn’t even really know reach out to me to tell me what jerks my former friend / boyfriend were (which a surprisingly large number of people did) had made me feel supported: it was the least I could do for him. However, to do this, I found myself face to face with two girls (his best friends) who I had had a falling out with in freshman year. Which leads me to Empowerment Point #2…

Settle Your Karmic Score

I realized that while I was hurting, I had hurt other people. Without going into it, freshman year my two best friends and I had a huge fight. Stupid freshman that I was I walked away thinking that I was the only one who had been hurt. It took nearly 3 years and some heartbreak to figure out I may have hurt them, too. I began to realize the people I had designated “good” and the people I had designated “bad” were turning out to all be in the wrong categories and set out to fix it. I reached out to them on behalf of their friend (broken-hearted boyfriend) and apologized to them for ever having hurt them in the way my friends had just hurt me. Not only have I gained two people back in my life who are truly quality individuals from this experience, but it gives me hope that maybe my ex-friend and ex-boyfriend might realize what they did and apologize to me one day. Not that I’m crossing my fingers.

Now. Maybe I didn’t react to this experience in the most feminist way. Maybe instead of focusing so much on this one incident I should have channeled that energy into rallying for a more important cause. Instead of curling up in the fetal position, I probably should have volunteered for Planned Parenthood or something. And maybe this advice isn’t even the most feminist guide ever. But sometimes life, emotions and just being a freakin’ teenager interfere with perfect feminist theory. And when that happens, this is what I have learned: be a kind human being. Treat others the way you want to be treated. When you slip up and do something bad to somebody else, own up to it and make it right. When somebody does something bad to you, try to maintain your integrity and look inwards toward your own strength and outwards towards a future where you are a stronger person for the pain. Because in the end, that’s essentially what feminism is.

And that is my long-winded way of describing how I, as a feminist trying to employ her feminist morals, survived heartbreak, and how I hope you will, too.

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  • Kelpie @ at 1:25 pm, November 17th, 2010

    I feel like it’s all right to be sad, and it’s all right to be heartbroken, but sometimes the only way you can really heal is by turning outward and trying to help other people. And sometimes being hurt is a good thing because it helps you learn so much about other people and sometimes helps you see your own mistakes.

    I think that sisterhood is underrated sometimes. Some girls say that they hate other women, and the stereotype is that you gossip and watch chick flicks with your girl friends, when really, the other women in your life are hugely important in many instances. It’s in them that you can find the most solace and comfort, and it’s more than a superficial bond over clothes and boys.

    Also, your John Mayer comment made me laugh.

  • Zoe @ at 1:35 pm, November 17th, 2010

    I’m sorry to hear about your breakup. Everyone insists that breakups are trivial in the larger scheme of things, which sure, that may be true, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t allow yourself some time to let it affect it and consume you and run it’s course.

    That’s some good advice. Breakups are a good time to realize that your friends are there for you for much longer than most boys are. And I think that as we grow older, many girls (and guys) fear turning to their mom for comfort. This is sad because it’s not like moms don’t want you to come to them, they DO.

  • Sue @ at 1:52 pm, November 17th, 2010

    I totally just went through my first huge breakup too. It totally sucked and even though I swore I never would, I hibernated, cried, listened to sad songs (and cried), looked at our pictures, and just wallowed.

    You don’t have to feel unfeminist, you’re just human. A person that you cared about hurt you, and no matter your beliefs, sometimes hearts can’t get past feeling pain. I’m glad you put this guide up, though! The feminist way to handle it is allowing yourself time for pain, but picking yourself up and moving on, which is what you’re doing!

  • Ashton @ at 2:12 pm, November 17th, 2010


    You are a badass feminist and woman in general. This is wonderful that you were able to pick yourself up because of the support system that you had and made some mature decisions. Tell you’re Mom she’s awesome, and I want to be just like her when I’m one. :)

    your sister in solidarity,


  • Jessica @ at 2:41 pm, November 17th, 2010

    I agree with Sue. It’s not because you’re a feminist you’re not supposed to suffer and feel you’ve been hurt, betrayed etc. I think our feminism is expressed in our reactions, that is: knowing that you don’t actually need some guy to be able to be happy, fulfilled, so you are able to move on.
    I really wish you all the best, I’m sorry about your breakup. But you can always think: at least you’ve found out what really kind of people both your boyfriend and girlfriend were. And let me tell you: it’s awful at first, but when you feel you’ve finally got over it, it’s the best, I at least, was all happy, outgoing, willing to meet new people, experience new things.. well, it’s a restart

  • K8 AH @ at 3:35 pm, November 17th, 2010

    I love your writing Julie. I have to tell you, I was not as objective as you when my heart was first broken. Writing was definitely part of what saved me, every time my heart was broken; which all and all has been about four or five times. Writing and a whole lot of Janis Joplin.

    Cheers! You may not know this yet, but you are now both stronger and wiser for having made it though the misery of a broken heart!

  • Liz @ at 5:00 pm, November 17th, 2010

    Nobody actually likes John Mayer anyway…

    Feel better :)

  • Miranda @ at 6:34 pm, November 17th, 2010

    Yo. WORD.

    Love from a feminist sista, Miranda

  • . @ at 7:09 pm, November 17th, 2010

    It sucks that this happened but you have to think would you rather be with that guy while he clearly likes someone else more? Wouldn’t it hurt more if you were together longer and had gotten even more attached only to find out he liked someone else too the whole time? It hurts, heartbreak always hurts but even though the other people are the bad guys you have to remember that they didn’t necessarily feel all fine and dandy about doing what they did. Being friends with them probably isn’t the best idea to you right now but you should at least attempt to give them some what the benefit of the doubt. You never know what the other person is going through. And although this article does help a lot and you have many great tips and such be careful of how things on the internet especially can lead to some pretty deep shit. You never know how these people involved could react and if you don’t know their life too well it could cause some serious issues and make them do some stupid stuff.

    You rock and this experience will only make you a better person but don’t abandon your good ways and just talk trash about them endlessly, no matter how much you want to. That’s not the kind of person I’ve ever known you to be and I know you know that sometimes without knowing this kind of stuff could just spiral in the totally wrong direction, where you never thought it would or wanted it to lead no matter how angry or upset you were.

    Heartbreak only leads you to the right guy. You have to go through pain to get to the good stuff.

  • Morgan SW @ at 12:41 pm, November 18th, 2010

    OK, my first reaction: Julie, who would EVER break up with you?? what the hell…
    on another note, I get what you mean about moving on. I got my heart broken when i was 17, and it still hurts at times (I’m 19 now). Then I remind myself of an angsty teenager and virtually slap myself out of it and think of something else. Thats what I do now, but when it happened I was a mess. I definetely think that as much as you want to stop thinking about it or move on, it is essential to be upset and grieve as long as you need to.
    High emphasis on “as long as you you need to.” Because people take their own time. It took my friend a week after her year long relationship then she had sex with another guy (doesn’t mean she was over it but whatever). And even though I made out for 3 hours with a random guy a month after my breakup (so what? i like kissing…) doesn’t mean i was over it.
    Getting physical does sometimes help though normally it’s just a temporary distraction.
    Anyway my point is as lame or teenage angsty you may seem … cry it out girl! We’re all here for you on the interwebz.
    Much love!

  • Heather Aurelia @ at 4:33 pm, November 18th, 2010

    I have had plenty of break ups in the past with boys and girls. The worst thing for me was the fact that I would probably never see that person again. I wish I had feminist friends of my own!

  • Arielle S @ at 12:32 pm, November 21st, 2010

    I can totally understand your situation. To have all this happen while you guys were dating was a violation of your trust. But after reading your post all the way through it seemed like you contradicted yourself slightly.
    You said at one point that “the fact that they had feelings for each other doesn’t make them evil” which is completely true. But you called them bad people and jerks all throughout the article and then at the end had this moment of clarity about forgiveness and being a kind person to even those who have hurt you (well, not including the ones involved in this love struggle).
    I know having your heart broken can be terrible. It has happened to me and a girl who I didn’t even know was involved. But in that situation, it was infatuation that made my boyfriend choose her over me. Not love. In this situation you said that they loved each other. That’s a lot easier to forgive honestly. As a feminist and a well-rounded and open person you have to admit that sometimes you can’t help who you end up caring for.
    I hope you are able to make it through this difficult situation but remember that sometimes it’s easier to forgive than spend all that energy on being angry.

  • Mary C @ at 2:28 am, November 23rd, 2010

    Hello, Julie! I read your article on Jezebel and it struck a really deep chord with me, because I just dealt with a similarish situation. Like you it was my first time dealing with not just heartbreak, but the realization that sometimes people that you are close to can be the ones to hurt you the most. I think that the most important thing to realize is that things like this DO happen, and life IS going to move on. And this truly does not have much to do with feminism besides the feminist idea that women are supposed to be strong. But please do not feel bad for the way you have reacted. I feel for you in this difficult situation and think you are handling it in a fantastic way. The best thing to do from here is to learn all that you can learn about yourself from this situation, distract yourself, and eventually you will find yourself able to move on. You’re doing everything correctly by looking at this from an objective viewpoint, and by realizing things about your life from all this. Thank you for your article, and please know that everything will clear up eventually!

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  • David @ at 6:42 am, January 2nd, 2011

    Julie Z
    This was such a very nice and well written story. I’m sure it has something to say to everyone.

  • Siobhan @ at 5:31 pm, January 10th, 2011

    Thank-you so much for this post!!! I found it so reassuring beacuse I can completely relate. My ex dumped me by text last October and I felt like such a bad feminist for doing the whole crying/fetal position/refusing to get out of bed thing. I mean we’re supposed to be empowered, right? Well I guess we’re also allowed to be human! The worst part for me was feeling that this guy, who didn’t even care enough about me to have a converstaion, could still have so much power control over me and the way I felt. I felt completely powerless. What really helped me was accepting that I was powerless to change what had happened in the past or to control the actions of anyone else but that how I deal with and react to these things is completely within my control. I found this hugely empowering as it reminded me that at the end of the day the only person who can actually determine the way I think and feel is me. Sure moving on is still a process (and a slow one at that) but I’m getting there and from what you’ve written it sounds like you’re well on the way too.
    Hang in there, hope you feel better soon! :)

  • Marie @ at 12:18 pm, January 23rd, 2011

    I have to say I love your blog, I’m an older feminist who has had their own share of relationship issues. Your post reminded me of the day I realized I had a huge crush on a close friend, but the reality that all my other girlfriends liked him too, and he wasn’t interested in them made me realize I was wasting my time and I severed my feelings for him the same day and decided to read some good empowering literature – I recommend The Female Eunche for those days.

    Another thing that might help is not to envelop your identity in your partner, accept that they are a free acting agent as are the women that may fall in love with them. I understand people have different philosophies when it comes to their personal relationships but I like to cut the B.S. and just tell my partner that I don’t possess them and they’re free to do what they want. So many girls get jealous and possessive that we end up damaging and causing splits between ourselves that aren’t worth the drama.

    But that’s just my two cents, I still have to say I love your blog and I think it’s a terrific model for young women who search to be free agents of themselves.

  • Rosemary @ at 7:42 pm, March 10th, 2011

    Great article. Just because you’re a feminist doesn’t mean you don’t get to have feelings. Learning to deal with them in an adult way is totally feminist.

  • Anonymous @ at 12:37 am, December 11th, 2011

    Heartbreaks are awful. After my last one, I became severely anorexic until I passed out in public. I am extremely jealous that you had your mother though.

    Oh and I like how 2 our of the 3 romances you compared them to were romances that broke up. How appropriate.

    Oh, and he was a douche.

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