How do you mend a broken heart? You can eat some cookie dough ice cream, of course. Or jump into a rebound relationship. Or compulsively record and catalog reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. There are plenty of ways to ease breakup angst and, just like cures for the hiccups, everyone has one that works best for them.

When my heart's broken, I always head to the self-help section of a bookstore to doggedly search for some magic words that will make the pain stop. Inevitably, a phrase from Edgar Allen Poe's famous poem, "The Raven," pops into my head:

"Eagerly I wished the morrow: vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow."

The part that sticks in my brain is "vainly" and then I wonder, "Is this search for a way to cease my sorrow really (just) in vain? Am I wasting my money? Can a self-help book actually help or should I just buy a new pair of shoes and call it a day?" I've come to the conclusion that the usefulness of breakup books, like most things in life, depends on how realistic your expectations are. For example, here is my standard post-breakup plan:

Revenge and Happiness in Seven Easy Steps:

1. Get ex to come crawling back.
2. Dump him to see how he likes it.
3. Get back with ex after he does something romantic and chick-flicky.
4. Leave him to marry Owen Wilson.
5. Develop close Jerry-and-Elaine style friendship with ex.
6. Be genuinely happy for ex when he settles for—I mean down with—someone almost as good as me.
7. Live happily ever.

Accepting that the relationship is over and moving on—let's just call that "Plan B."

Unfortunately, there is no book on earth with a foolproof plan to make someone love you again or to achieve wedded bliss with a Wilson brother (trust me on this one). There are, however, a number of books that can help you feel a little better, understand what happened and, yes, accept that it's over and move on. And, just to save you some time and money, I've provided a list of the books I read after my last breakup, along with my own (very) personal opinion on the effectiveness of each.

Key:
Four hearts: Highly recommended
Three hearts: Pretty helpful
Two hearts: Somewhat helpful
One heart: The cover is pretty
Tree: A tree died for this ?!?


How to Heal a Broken Heart in 30 Days: A Day-by-Day Guide to Saying Good-bye and Getting On With Your Life by Howard Bronson and Mike Riley (Broadway Books, 2002)


This is the only book that I can wholly endorse for both men and women. For one thing, the cover isn't pink—whoever said you can't judge a book by its cover wasn't scanning shelves for breakup books. Also, it's written by two men so it doesn't have that "you go girl!" tone that one often finds in relationship books written for women (in other words, most relationship books.) The other reason I highly recommend this book to anyone is that it's the only breakup recovery book I know of that is written for any person in the throes of heartbreak, including the person who ended the relationship. Because of this, the book is very balanced and objective, with absolutely no blame-laying or victim-playing rhetoric in any of the thirty short chapters.

Overall, I found How to Heal a Broken Heart in 30 Days extremely pragmatic, organized, and well written. It's sympathetic without being touchy-feely and it's serious without being boring. Good work, Bronson and Riley! You go, guys!

Sample of Suggested Activities:
Clean your office, have a good laugh, have a good cry, make love to strangers (telepathically), exercise, spend a half-hour in a floatation tank, drink hot cocoa at bedtime

Best/Most Useful Line or Advice:
"Did you work too hard to maintain your recent relationship? Bend over backward, swallow your pride, play the doormat to prevent any conflicts?" Wow! How did they know? Wait a minute—did I date one of these guys?

Weirdest/Not At All Useful Line or Advice:
On day 14, Bronson and Riley recommended a two-week checkup to "acknowledge the truth." I don't think they meant that I should go for coffee with my ex, burst into tears, and hurl accusations while nosy Starbucks patrons looked at him like he was the Antichrist—but that's pretty much what I did and, let me tell you, it didn't help much. Two weeks is too soon to schedule an exit interview because the pain is still awfully fresh. I think it's much better to wait and "acknowledge the truth" when the truth is that you no longer give a damn.

This book is great for:
People who have never read a self-help book
Virgos


The Girls' Guide to Surviving a Break-Up by Delphine Hirsh (St. Martin's, 2003)


This is one of my favorites of the pink breakup books. The tone is very friendly and conversational, like you're talking to a close pal. And it's chock-full of no-nonsense ideas for pampering yourself, feeling better, and being your fabulous self again. The first chapter, "The First Few Days: Keep Breathing" has valuable tips for getting out of work (beyond that of the flu in winter and food poisoning in summer) so you can convalesce on that first horrible day. It also has advice for functioning at work if you must go in. In later chapters, you'll find valuable tips for dealing with random phone calls, surprise run-ins, and other sticky situations in Splitsville.

Hirsch also recommends a number of beauty products (I'm not sure if that helped with the breakup but I now have a great red lipstick) and includes some fun lists like "Top 5 Celebrity Breakups." (Hey, if you think you feel bad, just imagine how Minnie Driver felt when she found out that Matt Damon broke up with her when he announced it on Oprah. Yow! That's gotta hurt!)

Sample of Suggested Activities:
Lie in bed in the fetal position (first few days only), take a walk, break some crockery, watch Airplane, keep fresh flowers in your home, get a facial, buy a variety of tea, burn incense, make a mix tape.

Best/Most Useful Line or Advice:
"No matter how great you thought he was, he probably is fucked up." My thoughts exactly!

Weirdest/Not At All Useful Line or Advice:
For tear-swollen eyes: "hemorrhoid cream—spread some on your eyelids and watch the puffiness disappear." I look hideous when I've been crying so I bought a tube and, yikes! Have you ever smelled this stuff? Until Chanel comes out with "Hemorrhoid Cream #5," there is no way I'm putting anything with shark's liver oil anywhere near my face!

This book is great for:
Girly-girls
Daily Candy subscribers


Letting Go: A 12-Week Personal Action Program to Overcome a Broken Heart by Dr. Zev Wanderer and Tracy Cabot, PhD (Dell Books, 1987)


When people roll their eyes at the thought of a self-help book, this is the kind of book that they're imagining. Written by two doctors, it's dry and dull and littered with phrases like "Neurotic Stimulus Generalization" and "Rational Emotive Therapy." Believe me, "Orgasmic Reorientation" is only slightly sexier than it sounds. This is too bad; because once you get past the boring clinical parts, you will find valuable insights and well-worded advice. Unfortunately, it's hard to read all of it with your eyes glazed over.

I'm not saying this is a terrible book because it's not. But if you're like me, your attention span during an emotional trauma is roughly that of a hyperactive three-year-old. I've given it my lowest rating because the ratings are based on effectiveness in making me feel better. I did not it find helpful during the period immediately following my breakup and, as a rule, that's the only time I ever read breakup recovery books. However, I did re-read it as I was writing this article and this time around, I was able to get through it and absorb some knowledge that I hope I'll never need to apply.

Sample of Suggested Activities:
Throw a party, take a bubblebath, drink Cokes and wallow in junk food, transfer feelings of sadness to anger.

Best/Most Useful Line or Advice:
"Even if you're a birdwatcher, a non-conformist or kinky, and so was your ex—don't worry. There are more deviants out there waiting to meet you." Whew! That's a relief. I hope they're on Friendster!

Weirdest/Not At All Useful Line or Advice:

The "Aversion" technique. Drs. Wanderer and Cabot recommend putting a raw egg out in the sun so it will rot, then filling an empty Zippo with cotton that's been soaked in the rotten egg juice, and sniffing the rotten egg smell whenever you think about your ex with sadness or nostalgia. "Imagine! You'll get nauseous at the thought of your missing lover." Wow! Nauseous at the thought of my missing lover? Count me in! Maybe if this method works really well, I'll run into my ex and barf like Stan in Southpark!

This book is great for:
People who can't afford therapy
Birdwatchers and other deviants


The Rebound Journal: Breaking Up and Bouncing Back with Style by Kerry Colburn and Jennifer Worick (Chronicle Books, 2003)


Back in junior high, I asked the cutest boy in school to a Sadie Hawkins dance and he said "no." I resorted to sour-grape therapy and consoled myself with the fact that he didn't like Devo (my favorite band back then) and was therefore too dumb to date anyway. Ever since then, I've found it useful to list every little thing that's wrong with a guy who got away—whether it's a big head or a small mind. Is this immature? Definitely. Is it effective? Absolutely.

That's where The Rebound Journal comes in. It has loads of guided journal entries, fill-in-the-blank pages, and list-making pages, all of which are designed to make you realize that your prince was not so charming and that you're better off without him. A few examples: "Apologies I waited for but didn't receive" and "The warning letter I would write to anyone foolish enough to date him." Not all the exercises will be applicable (at least I hope so). But if your ex is a sloppy, lying, penny-pinching, non-foreplaying, roving-eyed, sports-obsessed, chronically late, generally inept Neanderthal, then make sure your pen has plenty of ink before you open this book.

The exercises are not all about bad-mouthing, though. Some are designed to make you feel good about yourself and your life: your desirable attributes, talents you're going to develop, fun trips you're going to take, and so on. My favorite was "The lovely thoughts about my uncharted future that I now savor when I wake up." And there were also some sexy lists like "Sex acts I can't wait to try with someone worthy" that were, you know, exciting to fill out and made me actually look forward to getting back "out there." Honestly.

In between the guided writing pages you'll find some of the indulgent and wacky ways to have some fun. Extra points go to Colburn and Worick for recommending specific titles of several women-friendly porn films.

Sample of Suggested Activities:
Buy a vibrator, wear red lipstick, spend an afternoon learning how to do something you normally ask a man to do for you, get a massage, go shoot pool, make out.

Best/Most Useful Line or Advice:
Oh, I mentioned the porn already, didn't I?

Weirdest/Not At All Useful Line or Advice:
"Throw a pity party. Gather every single gal you know for a raucous night of self-pity and bitterness." No need. These "parties" occur naturally all the time without me having to make so much as one bowl of cheese dip.

This book is great for:
Cosmo girls
Cosmo drinkers


Exorcising Your Ex: How to Get Rid of the Demons of Relationships Past by Elizabeth Kuster (Fireside, 1996)


This book has tons and tons of funny bits. Actually, a more accurate word would be "jokey." This book has tons and tons of jokey bits. Sometimes the advice is nestled between the jokes and sometimes the advice is the joke. For example: Kuster advises women who are consumed with thoughts about their lost love to avoid being a contestant on Jeopardy or else they'll frame every question with "Who is my ex?" O.K., that's funny. Funny is good. However, I prefer humor that is clearly rooted in personal experience. If it had been a bit more personal and a bit less clever, I would have laughed more and reaped the benefits of laughter's healing properties.

Occasionally though, Kuster does manage to hit the nail on the head. After a barrage of jokes about lousy ex-boyfriends, she ultimately points out that indifference is the ultimate goal a jilted lover should aim for: not hate, not being "happy for" your ex, but cool indifference. Sounds good to me.

Sample of Suggested Activities:
Write an obscene limerick or ode to your ex, escape on a fabulous vacation, watch Divorce Court, make friends with another one of his exes

Best/Most Useful Line or Advice:
"It's easier to get over a guy when he referred to your private parts as his 'tool shed.'"

Weirdest/Not At All Useful Line or Advice:
"The Yoo-Hoo Diet Plan for Heartbreak." Yes, I knew it was a joke, eventually.

This book is great for:
Comedy Central addicts
Former class clowns


Getting Over John Doe: A Story of Love, Heartache, and Surviving With Style by Suzanne Yalof (William Morrow, 1999)


My favorite part of this little book is on the first page: "I call him John Doe because even though he said he was different, he was just like all the rest." That line resonated with me because, like a lot of folks I know, I feel like I date the same guy again and again. And, I'm sure it strikes a chord with many people and that's where the appeal of this book lies. It's written in a narrative style that reads more like fiction than self-help. There is the standard advice, of course, but it's in the context of Yalof's very close-to-home story of being dumped, feeling played, doubting herself, buying too many shoes, and finally getting over John Doe. (Oops, I just gave away the ending.)

To be honest, this book doesn't say anything new. But I liked it just the same. It's a simple story, simply told. It's poignant and real and although I found it funny and breezy when I read it, it stayed with me long after I'd finished it. The book isn't profound, but it affected me profoundly.

Sample of Suggested Activities:
Do things your ex hated, shop, misbehave a little, drop a bad habit, use your friends as spies and make sure their report back is negative.

Best/Most Useful Line or Advice:
"Don't ask questions you don't want the answer to." True, and I would like to add: "Don't ask questions you do want the answer to." Why? Because they're the same questions, that's why. Only you won't know it until you've already gotten your answer.

Weirdest/Not At All Useful Line or Advice:

"Get back at him by taking it out on a stranger who deserves it." I did this and I'm pretty sure my ex was unscathed. Then again, I never actually checked with him, so I could be wrong. Maybe he was sitting at home watching Smallville when suddenly, he felt like a complete jerk—at the precise moment that I told some jerk that he was a complete jerk. Spooky.

This book is great for:
People who need a quick read for their commute
The Rules Girls


The Breakup Repair Kit: How to Heal Your Broken Heart by Marni Kamins and Janice MacLeod (Conari Press, 2004)


This book is jam-packed: advice, resources, contact information for support groups, anecdotes, you name it. It's like a breakup encyclopedia. It details eight stages of healing after a breakup (shock, numbness, anger, etc.) and devotes a number of pages to each one. This book also offers sound advice regarding depression: how to deal with it, how to distinguish it from sadness, and more.

Kamins and MacLeod are fairly frank about sexual matters. They also talk a lot about a "higher power" and they tout the benefits of prayer (although they refrain from mentioning a specific religion) and meditation. This might be a drawback for some people out there who have hang-ups about religion or anything "new age" and it may be especially disconcerting for those who don't want spirituality and sexuality discussed in the same book. I, however, did not think they went too far in either area. They found just the right balance of holy, holistic, and horny.

Sample of Suggested Activities:
Build a nurture nest, belly dance, reclaim his side of the bed, memorize your favorite poem, take a photography class, take a nap, Feng Shui your space, lie on the couch and let your feelings be felt.

Best/Most Useful Line or Advice:
"Feeling blue? Check out the sky: blue, gray, cloudy, clear, bright. The sky is always beautiful, even on stormy days. Its God-like immensity can add perspective to your day. Right now you are exactly where you are supposed to be."

Weirdest/Not At All Useful Line or Advice:
"Breaking wind can break the ice. Do you have people you feel comfortable farting around? If you don't it's time to eat some beans and evolve a friendship or two." Sure... I'll get right on that.

This book is great for:
People in 12-step programs
Julia Cameron (author of The Artist's Way) devotees


The Between Boyfriends Book: A Collection of Cautiously Hopeful Essays by Cindy Chupack (St. Martin's, 2004)


This isn't really a "self-help" book in the traditional sense but it definitely helped me feel better. Laughter is healing after all, and this is one hilarious book. It's also smart and insightful and saucy, which isn't surprising considering that Chupak is a writer/executive producer of Sex and the City.

One of my favorite chapters is chapter two "Sexual Sorbet," that is, "the first person you sleep with after a breakup; a palate cleanser to remove the taste of a failed relationship." Chupak advises sleeping with someone else so that your ex isn't the last person you slept with. Her theory is that "you need to put some distance between the two of you, and five to seven inches ought to do it."

Other than that, Chupak doesn't dispense advice as much as she makes keen observations and comes up with some truly fantastic ideas like the "Relationship Equivalency Exam: A test that would allow you to earn credit for past dating experience so you could pick up a new relationship where the old one left off." Wouldn't that be wonderful? Talk about a time-saver.

It's my opinion that every woman should read this book, if only so that we can all have the same vocabulary.

Best of all, this book was a bit of a man magnet. When I read the other books on the train, the sleaziest, ickiest men hit on me. Creeps seem to know instinctively when a women has been dumped and is feeling vulnerable, but seeing her read a breakup book just gives them further encouragement. But when I read this on the train, I received attention from cute, non-sleazy fellows. Maybe it was because I was laughing and sending out a positive "vibe," or because I looked particularly cute that day. But maybe it was because of the book's title. Chupack even acknowledges that the book is called "Between Boyfriends" because "that's when you'll read it, so now if you read it in public, men will know you're available." When you're ready to move on, buy this book.

Sample of Suggested Activities:
Juggle (men, not balls), say "no" to men who just want to be friends, come to terms with "your number," look glamorous at award shows.

Best/Most Useful Line or Advice:

"Every breakup is an opportunity to do it right the next time. And in the meantime, it's an opportunity to do it."

Weirdest/Not At All Useful Line or Advice:
"Seventeen Dates: After a breakup, the approximate number of bad dates you have to endure before you have a good one." Oh no! No! Nooooooo!

This book is great for:
Sex and the City fans
People who've been on some crummy dates and could use a laugh

 

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Might As Well Face It You're Addicted to Sex: A Sex Addict Revealed

Crazy In Love: Actress Paige Moss on Buffy, 90210, and French Boys

50 Ways To Leave Your Lover: Breakup Books
Love Hurts: Fashion Spread Featuring Story Of O
Marriage: You Give Love A Bad Name
When Will I Be Loved? Dating in NYC

The Look Of Love: Wedding Announcements

** EXTRA: Our Top Ten Favorite Things**

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