The New Breakup Equation: How Long It Will Take to Get Over Your Ex
I tried to come up with a new equation, as simple as I could make it, to calculate how long it actually takes to get over your ex.
Illustration by Cathryn Virginia.
How long does it take to get over someone? Well, that depends. I miss some sandwiches more than men I brought home for Christmas, and I miss some random men I slept with once more than dear old friends. In my experience, there’s no real logic to the process of getting over someone, which I define as: Thinking of him no longer causes you pain, which is to say, he isn’t in your top five most-searched on Instagram.
Most people who’ve experienced particularly brutal break-ups are familiar with a certain equation, thrown around by friends “just trying to be helpful” or found by you on the 2:00 AM Google search “when will breakup make me not want to die.” And the equation is this: Getting over a person takes half the time you were together. So if you dated Jeremiah for eight months, and he just ended things because he “can’t be a good boyfriend right now,” it should, theoretically, take you four months to get over his noncommittal ass.
x/2 = y. (In this equation, x is the amount of time, in months, you dated, and y is the amount of time, in months, it will take for you to stop baiting him on your Instagram story.)
Obviously, the process of getting over someone isn’t as simple or reductive as that equation suggests. But it makes sense why people cling to it.
“The equation is mostly just a way for people to feel like their pain has a finite time stamp – especially if you have strong feelings for someone you dated for a short amount of time and want to know that you won't be sad for too long, because you're ‘supposed’ to feel better by now,” says one female friend I spoke with about this story. “We never have the same exact feelings of romantic attraction for two people, so how could be possibly quantify an end date to us being hurt?”
I’ve certainly clung to that equation as a metric—mentally ticking each day in chalk on the prison cell that is my brain, waiting to reach the month count that’s half the time I dated the person. (I’ve never dated someone for several years; leave me alone about it!)
And I find that, yes, halfway through the amount of time we dated, the hard feelings lessen, but I need longer. Unless I don’t, and I’m over it almost right away because I was never that into it. See, it’s almost unquantifiable. Almost.
“I feel like this equation is roughly a good guideline but definitely not hard and fast,” another friend told me. “I once got out of an eight-month relationship that I felt totally fine about within a few days, and similarly I'd say it took years for me to get over a guy I never truly called my boyfriend but fell deeply in love with over an intense six months before he moved out of the country.”
Some studies have attempted to identify the exact length of time it takes to recover. A 2007 study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology put forth the magic number at three months. The participants were 155 undergraduates who had gone through breakups in the past six months, and 71 percent of people started to feel much better at the 11-week mark. (They had been in relationships of different lengths of time, and a blend of dumpers and dumpees.) A 2009 study found that divorcees take, on average, 17 months and 26 days to get over their splits.
But every breakup is different because every relationship is different and everyone is fucked up and fucked over in different ways. So not only can there not be one number that applies to all relationships, no matter the quality or length, but there can’t be an equation that exclusively factors in length of the relationship and not, say, how well they integrated into your friend group, or if they got you into a show that hurts to watch now because it reminds you of them. Because with an upsettingly vast new array of ways to be romantically engaged with someone—as fuck buddies, as boyfriends or girlfriends, as several-night stands, as married partners, as back-burners, as two-off hook-ups—we must identify what, exactly, it is that gives us the feelings that turn us into depressed monster people until they go away.
Every breakup is different because every relationship is different and everyone is fucked up and fucked over in different ways.
I tried to come up with a new break-up equation, as simple as I could make it. Even though we’ve already established, in several long-winded ways, that a formula could never calculate or project emotional progress, sometimes we need to fix our eyes on a date when things won’t suck so much. Because when you’re in the middle of getting over someone, you feel like the pain is endless; like your dreams will always be poisoned by reunion fantasies; like you’ll think of him every time you see a 5’10 man on the L train. You need an expiration date, even an unscientific one made up by a horny sex blogger, to remind yourself that it will be over, eventually.
There are a few key variables, however, that you’ll probably object to me leaving out, like: Whether or not you’re the dumper or dumpee, or whether or not you decided to stay friends after, or whether or not the breakup was abrupt. I didn’t include these because, in my experiences and those of people I’ve talked to, they can affect the getting-over process in opposite ways, so statistically, they may cancel each other out. (For example: The easiest breakup for me to get over was the one where I was dumped; for my friend, being on the receiving end of a dump made her relationship excruciatingly hard to let go of.) If you made the choice to continue sleeping with your ex, no judgement at all — just make sure to tear up the entire formula, throw it in a trash fire and walk straight into the sea, because nothing can help you now.
Okay, here’s the formula I came up with: x/2 + j + l - t + k/2 + r = y.
x = Amount of time in months you dated. Remember: It doesn’t matter if you were in a defined relationship or not.
y = Amount of time in months it will take for you to get over them.
j = x/3 If you can’t quite wrap your mind around why the breakup happened, and you’re left feeling Clare-Danes-Trying-To-Piece-Together-a-Terror-Plot confused, and you think you were really, really good together, you have to add more time to the getting-over process because the denial/confusion period will take longer. That’s what j is. And j equals roughly a third of the amount of time, in months, you dated. Also, j comes into play if you were cheated on. But if the breakup completely checks out to you, j=0.
l = 4 Are you soft? Do things upset you a lot of the time? Add four months. If not, l=0.
t = x/3 If, at any point post-breakup, you get romantically involved with someone else, and the sex is alright and they’re sort of nice to you, take a chunk off. If you’re not dabbling in rebounds, t=0. (One man I spoke to for this piece told me, “New sex is probably the fastest way to recover from lingering feelings, especially if you can convince yourself that new person is better than old person. Relationships often take the form of a psychosexual battle and nothing helps putting someone in the rearview like convincing yourself that you've ‘won’ the experience.”)
k = The amount of times you check his social media per day
r=3 If you feel conflicted between blocking them or letting them watch your Instagram stories for validation that they still are interested in you, add three months. If not, r=0.
I applied this formula to my past relationships, one of which I’m still not “super over,” and it was spot on. Maybe it’s helpful for you. Hopefully, it’s useless, and you’ve never been hurt.