Since the doomed days of Romeo and Juliet, our society has been inundated with books, movies and songs about longing, heartbreak, and lost love. But in this video from School of Life, Alain de Botton explains how romanticizing that kind of narrative may prevent us from seeking out the love we truly deserve.
“This sort of unrequited passion – so often celebrated in literature and society more generally – may sound generous and in that sense loving, but a devotion to an unrequited situation is, in truth, a clever way of ensuring we won’t end up in a relationship at all; that we won’t ever need to suffer the realities of love,” he explains.
Whether you’re pining over someone who broke it off, or can’t stop thinking about a crush who could have been the one, here are three ways to move on from heartbreak:
1. Confront your fears
Longing for someone after an unexpected break-up is natural, but if you still find yourself fixated on an ex-partner months—or even years—later, it often has less to do with missing them and more to do with protecting yourself from being hurt again.
“The fear of love may be motivated by a range of factors: a squeamishness around hope, a self-hatred which makes someone else’s love feel eerie, or a fear of self-revelation which breeds a reluctance to let anyone into the secret parts of ourselves,” de Botton says.
What fears or insecurities cause you to dwell on the past? Have you created a story in your mind about why things didn’t work out? Letting go of them is the first step to moving on.
Rather than focusing on the motives of an unresponsive ex, de Botton recommends looking inwards. What fears or insecurities cause you to dwell on the past? Have you created a story in your mind about why things didn’t work out? Letting go of them is the first step to moving on.
2. Consider what worked
When you can’t stop thinking about someone who left or rejected you, many of us are guilty of only focussing on their flaws, and perhaps denying that we ever truly cared for them in the first place.
Instead, de Botton recommends focussing on what it was that attracted you to that person, before things went south—like their dry sense of humour, their dedication to their career, or a shared love of cheesy movies.
“[We] come to see that the qualities we admired in the ex must necessarily exist in other people who don’t have the set of problems that made the original relationship impossible,” de Botton says.
Ultimately, you’ll realize they weren’t all that special—and you can find someone elsewho will watch your favourite movie with you again and again.
3. Get back out there
It’s certainly easier said than done, but the most effective way to get over someone is often to start dating again.
Doing so not only distracts you from thinking about your ex, but it also helps remind you that there are other people in the world who are interested in getting to know you more deeply.
“True love isn’t to be equated with pining for an absent figure; it means daring to engage with a truly frightening prospect: a person who is available and thinks, despite our strong background suppositions to the contrary, that we’re really rather nice,” de Botton concludes.