No one has ever felt the way you feel right now. No one understands this pain. You want her back so badly it hurts. She was that special unicorn that stole your heart; she was “the one,” and now you don’t know what to do. Obviously, you’re doomed to live a sad, miserable rest of your life because your soul mate has disappeared forever.

Or maybe you could just get over her. Easier said than done, right? Relationships require investment, and seeing all of that lost can definitely be a kick in the nuts sometimes, especially if you’re the kind of guy who over-invests in his relationships. Well, what’s done is done. Time to pick yourself up and keep on moving. How do you do that, though?

Let’s break it down to 5 simple steps:

1Forget about winning her back

This is a hard one, but it’s necessary. Chances are, if you loved her to any degree, you’ve been entertaining fantasies in your mind of somehow getting her to come back to you. Part of you feels hope every time your phone rings, hope that it may be her desperately trying to reach you so that she can apologize and come crawling back.

Here’s the problem, though: Until you accept that you’re not getting her back—that you shouldn’t get her back, even—you will not be able to move forward and onto better relationships.

2Cut all contact

“We can still be friends,” she said, “I love you, but I’m not in love with you.” It’s like she’s dangling a tiny glimmer of hope in front of your face. In fact, some guys see this gesture of camaraderie and start immediately plotting how they will turn this new “friendship” back into a romantic relationship.

The fact of the matter is that she is friend-zoning you. She might not even want to hang out with you anymore and is just trying to lessen the blow of the break-up, or if she does want to be around you, she might be trying to keep you around as the “platonic boyfriend,” where she can enjoy all of the previous benefits of the relationship without having to deal with the duties of being a girlfriend to you. Either way, that doesn’t seem like a very dignified position for you.

Do yourself a favor and cut contact 100% for a certain amount of time—no texts, no emails, no calls. How long you should actually spend not talking to her will depend on how long it takes you to get over her. If one day you feel that you can reconnect without all the old feelings coming back, then go on ahead, though you may find that by then you won’t want to.

Even if you’re secretly planning to win her back (which you shouldn’t; see step 1), shutting off all contact will actually help that endeavor as well. Distance makes the heart grow fonder, and often the reason why women break up with us in the first place is because they feel suffocated.

3Try to figure out why the breakup happened

This isn’t about playing the blame game. Rather, this is about the simple fact that what history we refuse to acknowledge will tend to repeat itself; your personal life is no different.

Without being too judgmental—either with her or with yourself—try to analyze what went wrong. Was there a lack of communication? Were you behaving in an insecure way that turned her off? Were the two of you simply heading in two different directions? The goal here isn’t to make yourself feel bad or inadequate, or to beat yourself up over what you should have done differently. The point is to develop a deeper understanding of the factors involved and to learn from your mistakes so that you can do better when your next relationship rolls around.

4Spend some time alone

Before jumping into another long-term relationship, spend some time living the single life. How long you will need, again, depends on your individual circumstance, but usually it will be months or years. If you find that you simply can’t be alone, and that your brain is desperately seeking out new serious relationships immediately after you’ve left an old one, this might be a sign of a lingering problem; it could be that you feel a void of inadequacy in yourself, and that you’ve been trying to fill it with other people.

Now, being single doesn’t mean having no romantic life, of course. Take this time to have fun and experience a wider variety of people. There are a few social freedoms that you lose as a matter of course when in a monogamous relationship; take advantage of your time as a free man to explore these.

5Start seeing other women

By now, you should be mostly over your ex. The only way to know for sure is of course to jump into the dating pool once again and see what is out there. Be cautious, and fight the urge to get too serious too quickly, as this could simply be your still broken heart attempting a rebound.

Seeing other people will help solidify that feeling of “doneness” with the previous relationship, and will give you a chance to rebuild your self-confidence as you see that you really can click with other people who aren’t your ex. The validation will not cure an aching heart, but it will definitely help one that is already on the mend.

As you start to get to know more women, you may also notice something strange: You ex may appear less and less appealing. The magic that surrounded her aura will start to die a little. You’ll start to remember all the things about her that used to annoy you. You might even come to the conclusion that she wasn’t as special as you once thought she was.

Getting over an ex, especially someone you were with for a long time, can be a harrowing experience, but at the very least you can hold onto one universal truth: These feelings will pass.

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