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Hope for Broken Hearts on Valentine's Day: Prepare Early to Prevent Self-Pity

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On Valentine's Day, lovers celebrate, but those who don't have a lover suffer. Like James*, whose cab I got into one evening.

We passed a sign advertising chocolates; he groaned, and I asked why. "Everybody's gearing up for Valentine's Day. Look at all those rows of cards with blazing red hearts in Duane Reade," he said. "I hate the day."

"Oh dear," I said. "What can you do to make it better?"

"Nothing," he murmured. "Maybe make some money."

Business is bad in his other job, the travel agency business, since domestic travel offers no commission and international travel is down. Rent in Queens is up, and so is his car insurance. "What would make you happy? What do you wish for?" I asked.

"I would have wished for a girlfriend, but when I had one I was so unhappy that now I think it's better to be single."

"What happened that hurt you?" I asked.

"I was seeing this girl until last May," he explained. "She moved in with me with her three kids and I was taking care of them and paying all her bills. Then I found out she cheated on me. Obviously she didn't love me and was just using me. Now she's calling me for three days and wants me back, but I don't want to take her back."

Continuing, he exclaimed, "I think there should be a broken hearts day."

What a great idea!

Hence, my advice:

Have your own Broken Hearts Day and make a plan to get together with others who dread the day. Go to a restaurant and purge your love problems. Better yet, have a Broken Hearts party. Having a formal day with a label protects you from feeling like a Scrooge on Valentine's Day. Knowing you're not alone and getting support eases your ego that's been bruised and feels unlovable.

To heal a broken heart, here's what to do:

Instead of a having pity party, celebrate. Use one of my favorite techniques called paradoxical intention, where you welcome the very opposite of what you think you want. Jump up and down, dance and sing "good riddance to bad rubbish," regarding that person who didn't appreciate you anyway.

Ask friends to re-inflate your ego. Since rejected ones may get down on themselves, get people who do appreciate you to remind you of all your wonderful qualities.

Get friends to take your side. On the high road, no one is really right or wrong, but I'm not against the low road when you're smarting from rejection. It feels better to be told that the rejector is a rat, and you're an angel.

Convince yourself it's for the best. This is not fooling yourself, it's true: Trust that the universe has something better in store and someone else is better suited for you.

Identify qualities that you miss in the ex and find a substitute. If you liked jogging together, find another running partner. If you enjoyed talking about architecture, who else has that interest?

Take friends to your old haunts. Prevent nagging memories of where you and your ex hung out by taking a friend to those places to form new associations.

See the flaws. When someone exits our life, we tend to over-idealize how wonderful that person is. Resist imbuing an ex with perfection; instead, make a realistic assessment.

Notice what you can do better next time. Accept your responsibility in the breakup, not to blame yourself, but to learn. Were you smothering? Did you expect too much? What would you like to change in yourself or your next relationship?

Reaffirm that you deserve to be treated well. Consider how you would treat a child or best friend and be as loving, protective, and reassuring to yourself.

Indulge your pleasures. Make a list of things that make you feel good (listening to music, getting a massage) and treat yourself.

Resist doomsaying. Rejected exes have the tendency to say, as James did, "I'm giving up relationships," or "Forget dating, I'm better off alone." Pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and start all over again. Relationships enrich your life. Despite the pain, there's plenty of pleasure.

The bottom line is: love yourself.

James liked the advice. "I have to love myself," he told me. "When I paid all my ex-girlfriend's bills, I forgot about paying mine, and then I got into trouble. I have to think about me."

"You're a nice guy," I said, punching in the 30 percent tip on the taxi credit card screen. He thanked me profusely.

"What will you do with it, to do something nice for yourself for Broken Hearts Day?" I asked James.

"Probably get myself a nice shirt." He glanced at me, smiling.

* Details kept confidential

Get a copy of my third edition of "The Complete Idiots Guide to Dating" and follow all the rest of the tips in the chapter on breaking up without breaking apart.

For more on emotional wellness, click here.

For more by Judy Kuriansky, Ph.D., click here.

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