02/20/2011 12:07 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Lessons Learned from the Worst Breakups Ever


Another Valentine's Day come and gone. While some hearts have melted, others have suffered a meltdown. A 2004 study shows that couples are 2.55 times more likely to break up during the weeks leading up to and after Valentine's Day compared with any other month. Gawker's Worst Breakup Story Contest this year was proof positive of that. Many of the stories submitted by readers culminated with a Valentines Day massacre... of the relationship kind. Whether you were dumped, did the dumping or were single this Valentine's season, just reading these stories is a cathartic experience. From deadbeats to doormats, drunks to druggies, you can be thankful they're not yours. But the sagas of romance gone wrong call into question why we stay in bad relationships so long. Many posts were those of young love and all the misconceptions that entails. I thought I'd see how the Gawker breakup anecdotes stacked up against 40:20 Vision hindsight -- what 40-something women would tell 20-something women based on what they know now:

Like yourself more than you need someone to like you.

Breakup Story: "I kept thinking that if I stuck with it, he'd grow to like me."

40:20 Vision: "Don't waste time on men that aren't into you for real. A man should be in your dish -- digging you and loving you for who you are." -- 40-something, Los Angeles, Calif.

Jealousy is not a form of love, it's a form of control.

Breakup Story: "He became more jealous and possessive. He accused me of attempting to meet men at volunteer classes."

40:20 Vision: "Stay away from the jealous guys. When you're 20, you don't think it's controlling, you think it's loving. 'Oh they care about me. They don't want me to get hurt.' It seems flattering. No way. Stay away." -- 40-something, Cleveland, Ohio

You can't work out their problems if they're not willing to work on themselves.

Breakup Story: "I was confused by the whole situation, but I was starting to try to figure out whether I liked this guy enough to work out his problems."

40:20 Vision: "Don't date someone you think you are going to fix up. As much as we think that we can change other human beings, we just can't. Trust your heart. If something doesn't feel right it's not going to change. People say that all the time and it's an over-used phrase, but it's so true. You're not going to change anybody from who they are as a core. So you either got to be okay with the way it is exactly as it is now or move on. -- 40-something, Hermosa Beach, Calif.

Drama is not interesting. It's damaging. Drop the drama and make your own life interesting. Fear of being alone is not reason to stay in a bad relationship.

Breakup Story: "This guy was verbally abusive, but I was 19 and this was the longest relationship I'd been in. I really thought that if I couldn't make things work with him, I would be alone forever."

40:20 Vision: "Don't think that trauma-drama guy is the only person in the world. I had horrible relationships in my 20s. You're in. You're out. I was banging my head up against the wall. What was I thinking? This is the only person in the world? But now I'm older I can recognize a good relationship doesn't rely on drama for passion." -- 40-something, New York, N.Y.

Company should not breed misery. It's better to be alone with the potential to be happy than miserable in a relationship.

Breakup Story: "Things went to hell. I thought no one could possibly love me any better, and this was the best of all possible worlds. He made me cry almost every day."

40:20 Vision: "Too much time is when you wake up more days unhappy than happy." -- 40-something, Los Angeles, Calif.

Partying does not a partnership make.

Breakup Story: "There was a strong mutual physical attraction, and we had a lot of fun partying together. We were young enough to think this was a decent foundation for a long term relationship."

40:20 Vision: "It's easy to confuse good at partying together with good together. I thought it was love at first sight. We married. I graduated. Got a job. He was unemployed and partied all the time. He was not growing. We were not growing. I think that happens a lot in your 20s. It's all fun and games when you are partying when you are young, but it doesn't work long-term." -- 40-something, Los Angeles, Calif.

A strong self-esteem is a pre-requisite to dating. Don't let put-downs stick. It's not you, it's them.

Breakup Story: "He never appreciated me, did everything possible to destroy my self-esteem and treated me like dirt, generally."

40:20 Vision: "Don't date someone who puts you down. I was borderline anorexic because my boyfriend would tell me I was going to get fat or that I would never find anyone better than him. And you think maybe he's right. You get warped because you don't have the self-esteem yet. You are not established." (40-something, Cleveland, Ohio)

Don't confuse attraction with love.

Breakup Story: "I was young, and I thought that being in love and longing for someone were the same thing."

40:20 Vision: "Please don't marry the first person you think you love. I beg of you. When you have had experiences with different types of men and relationships, you can better differentiate between love and attention." -- 40-something, Detroit, Mich.

One happy note in these stories is that almost everyone who wrote says they are in a better place now. No regrets. So if you are in the midst of a stay-or-go decision, take comfort in knowing that even the most difficult breakups make room in your heart for happiness. When to leave will be different for everyone. But most agree that it's when compromise turns into compromising your self-esteem, your personality or your confidence, and when your gut tells you something is wrong.