Navigating a big breakup

Dear Meredith,

A few weeks ago, my boyfriend of 15 months came over to my house and broke up with me. I'm talking completely out of the blue, shocking me as if my breath got knocked out of me. His exact words to me were this: "I love you, but I don't see a future with you anymore." He told me that the idea of moving in together made him cringe. And I'm just standing in front of him in complete confusion. It didn't make sense to me, it still doesn't, and the worst part is I don't think I'll ever get the answers. He was my first love and heartbreak all in one. He was my first serious relationship, the first guy I ever said "I love you" to, and the first guy I ever had sex with. I felt so comfortable around him because for most of my life, I was used by guys (I was abandoned by my alcoholic father and haven't seen him in over a decade).

My boyfriend helped me be the person I always wanted to be and I never thought he'd be the same person to take it all away. It felt like he took my heart out, stomped on it, picked up the pieces, shook them up, and threw them all over every corner of the world. I haven't even been able to find a quarter of them yet. I can put on makeup, nice clothes, get complimented by people and be surrounded by friends and family, but deep down I'm crumbling. He told me that I would find someone else who was better for me, but I don't know if I'll get there or how.

How do you go on in life when the person you thought you saw a future with doesn't feel the same way about you? You feel so worthless, as if you're not good enough for someone. Because how can you be when the person who was supposed to love you didn't see it? I want to believe that I'll get to a point in my life where I'll be able to get over him. I still have some of the stuff he gave me in the corner of my room three weeks later. I still have the blanket he got me for Christmas last year because he knew how cold I always was. I slept with it every single night. I asked him if I could have a shirt that smells like him to keep, and he literally took the shirt off his back and gave it to me to keep. He said he didn't want to hurt me, but he broke me so bad.

– Broken

"My boyfriend helped me be the person I always wanted to be and I never thought he'd be the same person to take it all away."

Here's the thing: He doesn't have that power. You have always been the person you wanted to be. Maybe the relationship helped you recognize your qualities, but it is not the thing that made you excellent. This ex is not a magician who can make you more or less attractive at any moment. He fell for you because he could see you were great.

I love how you describe universal feeling of a breakup – because it's so real. Anyone who has been left without warning understands the idea that there are little broken pieces of you hidden all over the world – sort of like Horcruxes. I know that feeling because I've been there, as have so have so many people who participate in this column. Many of us are still looking for our pieces. Some of mine are probably hidden in random Dunkin' Donuts franchises around Boston.

The point is: This is normal, and it takes more than weeks to get over it. That's not much help to hear, I'm sure, but you need to listen. Breakups – especially first breakups – hurt a lot. They make you feel like you'll never find love again. But they can also prepare you for your next great relationship. They can teach you that the entire world isn't wrapped up in one person.

It would be wonderful if the next person you date is just part of your happy, confident life, as opposed to the person you've decided is responsible for it. It's a good time to figure out what else makes you smile. Maybe it's going out with friends. Staying in. Trying a new hobby. The more new memories you make, the better you'll feel.

For now, give yourself one more week with the shirt and blanket and then give them to a friend. I have held onto a shirt once. It does not help. You don't have to throw these things out, but you must give them up.

– Meredith

Readers? There's a podcast for this. Also, somebody write out a breakup playlist for this LW.