Though it might not seem like it, I do believe life is a wonderful thing, especially when you examine the alternatives. But only your old religion teacher on happy pills would tell you that it's a joyride all the time. Life has some pretty ugly things hidden in a holster under its jacket. And amongst the more unpleasant experiences, along with getting your first needle, your first car accident, and first conviction for involuntary manslaughter, is the Big Breakup.
That's when the love of your life, a person you've probably been with for years and expected to be with when you're old and don't think what kids today listen to is real music, hits the off switch on your relationship. And Captain, I've got no power, no matter how many times you try to turn it back on.
I've had the experience of the Big Breakup. It feels like you've been killed, but for some reason your body won't stop moving. This is a horrible time in a person's life. Everything seems devoid of colour, nothing seems important or even meaningful. And when you hear the latest Adult Contemporary Artist croon songs that proclaim "I will love you forever," you scream at the radio "You bitch/asshole! You lie!"
You wake up in the morning and don't quite know why. You might not be suicidal, but you really have to look hard to find a reason to be alive. Food has no taste. And there is no escape from thinking about this person. Everything you see reminds you of them. You could see Appendix B of the Mountaintop Mining Report Presented to Congress 2/23/99, and that would somehow remind you of that cute thing they always did with their nose. You can connect anything to this person, James Burke would be proud.
When the Big Breakup happens, the sympathy usually comes along from friends and family, or at least, the attempt at sympathy and support. The truth is though, many people when trying to console those who have loved and lost, say things that only make it worse. I know they mean well, but one of the agonies of breaking up, besides the loneliness, the despair, the slim hopes of reconciliation you can almost get yourself to believe, is enduring the stupidity of well-wishers.
When you experience the Big Break Up, there are certain things you are bound to hear that will not be comforting, may make you feel worse, and in fact, are pretty damn stupid. If you've ever been in that situation, you know what I'm talking about and probably agree. If you don't, here's a list of phrases to avoid and why.
It's a mistake to try to get the recently dumped to hate their Ex. You're only going to anger the Dumped. "No s/he wasn't! My Ex was great!" Even if this person was a little shady, it still won't work. "Your Ex was the Anti-Christ." "Yes, but I loved that Anti-Christ SO MUCH!"
Some people can trick themselves into hating their Ex, but it's usually only temporary, and will lead to guilt afterwards. Unless that person has done something spectacular along with the breakup, like killed the pets. But even if this person is Satan's Spawn, and you somehow get the Dumped to believe it, good is not likely to come out of it. "My Ex was bitch/asshole! And I just spent three years with him/her. What does that make meeeee?"
It happens? Brilliant deduction, Holmes. Yes I am very aware it happens, having just gone through it, thank you very much.
"It happens" is actually the Number One Universal Stupid Piece of Sympathy. It can be and is applied to just about any situation--breakup, death of loved one, discovery of disease, anything. And it's a stupid observation in all of them. My response is usually to knee the person in the groin. While they're rolling around in pain, I helpfully explain "It happens," just in case it wasn't clear that it happens.
Oh really? Well, I'll just instantly forget the past six years I spent with this other person. The problem is not that you think this is the last relationship you will ever have (although breakups are really hard on your confidence). The problem is you don't want someone else. You want that other person. Even trickier, you want them to want you. Which you now know will not happen.
Yes, thank God my non-existent children are safe. Fuck the children, what about me? I'm not a theory, I'm real. I heard this one a number of times when I went through the Big Breakup, and in fact my imaginary children received more sympathy than I did. And why yes, I am bitter about it.
I know people who believe that the world has become "Infantalized." That is, the world romanticizes children and puts far too great an emphasis on the safety and well being of children. At the cost of adults. Who cares if all the adults are dead, are the kids safe? I never used to believe in the Infantilization, but now am not so sure.
Yes, that's precisely the problem. When I got dumped, I was not surprised to see that the buses were still running and the liquor stores weren't closed. The world did not see I was in distress, and did not pull over until I was ready to continue. Life indeed goes on, because it doesn't give a shit about you. It has places to go and things to see, and if you can't keep up, too bad. Bills still become due and the milk creeps towards its expiration date even though you don't feel like going out to get more. When life goes on with cruel indifference, believe me, the Dumped notices. No need to remind them of their basic insignificance in the grand order of the universe.
It is not wrong to have sympathy and try to comfort someone in pain. Unless they're a masochist, but let's not go off on a tangent. These five statements smell like someone trying to "fix" the problem. That's probably why they're so stupid -- the problem cannot be fixed. It's a wound, and it heals with time, and that is the only solution. You can't do anything to change that. You, as a friend to someone in pain, should just make sure that they're coping okay and let them know they can rely on you and that you still care. In many ways you have to be as patient as the person who has to cope. And trust them to find the way forward without insulting their intelligence. After all, it happens.