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Ovid’s 38 Recommendations for Dealing with a Breakup

Ovid’s 38 Recommendations for Dealing with a Breakup

Warning: suicide

Have you ever been through a breakup? You are not alone. The statistics are messy but in the US it seems that 40-50% of first marriages end in divorce. That rate is falling, but only because the marriage rate is falling even faster. Unfortunately, it is rising significantly for subsequent marriages. The divorce rate for second marriages is reportedly 67 percent, and for third marriages as high as 75 percent. And for dating relationships, of course — where breakups are the rule, not the exception — it is approaching 100 percent. We have all been there.

Breakups are common, but that doesn’t make them any less painful — especially when they’re not our choice. Breakups mean that relationships of all kinds end or change. Babies don’t happen, and the future we dreamed of never happens. There are also practical issues, because sometimes we need completely new friends or a new place to live.

Breakups can also play with our minds and make us weird. Studies suggest that almost everyone stalks their ex on social media.

Feelings of grief are common. They can be as deep and overwhelming as when a loved one dies, but unlike a funeral, we are expected to carry on as if nothing had happened.

Feelings of despair are also common and can be dangerous. As Paul Skallas has noted, suicide after a breakup is a real risk. He cites the case of Anthony Bourdain, the wildly popular chef who took his own life the day after photos of his girlfriend with another man surfaced.


In the year 1 AD Roman poet Ovid published a poem entitled Remedies for loveand suggests that human relationships have not changed much over two thousand years. Of all the books in Ancient Wisdom for Modern Readers series, Ovid’s text most closely resembles the modern title I have given it, How to deal with a breakupHis poem is the only explicit self-help guide that has survived to the present day. In this book, Ovid presents 38 practical strategies for dealing with unrequited love or a painful breakup, and – most remarkably –he writes for both women and men. Just reverse the genders if necessary, he advises us. And one of Ovid’s first points is the risk of suicide:

That’s why they have some men in love have turned a lasso into a tie? And, pathetic sacks that they are, hanged themselves from a high beam? Why some men in love stab each other in the chest?

The answer that Ovid tells Love (Cupid) straight to his face is Love himself: “Well, Mr. “I-Promote-Peace”, You are “blamed for their deaths!”

Ovid distributes his 38 recommendations throughout his poem. How to deal with a breakupI have collected and numbered them as an appendix. I have also added a few words to connect Ovid’s time and ours, and to give the recommendations a directness that may help you. Because technology has certainly advanced since the days of ancient Rome, but the human heart and human relationships remain as complicated as ever.

It’s worth noting that Ovid doesn’t recommend pills or medications to “cure” abandonment. On the contrary, if you’ve ever tried cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), some of his coping strategies will seem surprisingly familiar. If so, it’s probably because Ovid drew them from Stoicism, a pagan philosophy widely practiced in ancient Rome that was eventually reborn and reborn as CBT in the last century.

And here they are: Ovid’s 38 recommendations for dealing with unrequited love and moving on. Remember, they are good for both men and women — just make the necessary changes.

  1. Never have “nothing to do.” In other words, try to keep busy all the time.
  2. Go out and fight in the campaign – in a toga, in the center of the city. Simply put, become a lawyer.
  3. Do your duty. I mean, join the army.
  4. Living on a farm can easily solve all your problems. Get out of the city and get back to nature, because “pharmacology” beats pharmacology.
  5. Venus often turned away and fled shamefully after Diana’s victory! In other words, develop an outdoor hobby: take up hunting, fishing, or birding.
  6. Get out and go far. Take a long trip out of town. Out of sight, out of mind…
  7. Do not place your faith in spells, abracadabras and charms. Spells, magic, tarot, crystals – avoid all of it. It’s crap.
  8. Focus on everything you’ve lost, focus on everything it cost.Count all the money and emotions you have invested in the relationship, and you will feel the resentment grow. Careless, but effective.
  9. Minimize and belittle your ex’s best qualities. Tell yourself that your ex isn’t as attractive or talented as you thought, especially if that’s not true.
  10. Come in the morning and drop by her place, unannounced.. When you catch your loved one without makeup, you gain an unfiltered view of reality.
  11. First go and fuck some random girl. Preventive release will reduce the desire for your true love. Vulgar, bad, but probably effective in the short term.
  12. Assume an unusual sexual position – abnormal and unflattering. Second reality check, also bad.
  13. Juggle a couple of partners; find a new love. You could even say, “go on Tinder,” because the other girl or guy will both distract and focus your attention.
  14. He looks colder than ice. If you act indifferent, you will become indifferent (“Fake it ’til you make it”).
  15. Go get a drink — midstream. Specifically, have sex until you get bored of it.
  16. Overcome your fear. Suppress jealousy.
  17. Everyone should focus on the problems they have. Fear kills all joy in life.
  18. Avoid loneliness. There is strength in numbers!
  19. Unfriend all romantics. Because being around happy and in love people is bad for us.
  20. Live, if you can, in a new – separate and opposite – world. In the event of a breakup, it is best to avoid places where your ex-partner may be.
  21. She separated from her mother, sister, guardian/confidante, and with all the other people who are part of her life. Separation also means separation from the ex’s family. One of Ovid’s saddest recommendations.
  22. Don’t reveal your grievances. The feelings will return.
  23. When there is no lawsuit, Love goes elsewhere, free from the need to appear. Litigation carries the risk of the need for reconciliation.
  24. Stick to your opinion. Stay strong and don’t give up.
  25. Don’t comb your hair just because you’re going to see her. Generally speaking, don’t dress to please your ex.
  26. Don’t believe her sweet words. Be deaf to requests.
  27. Be careful not to let your ex-partner’s tears unsettle you.­ I cry, you don’t cry.
  28. Silence is strength. Drop the accusations.
  29. Compare your girl with stunning women. Bad, but probably effective (at least until you feel guilty).
  30. Don’t re-read old messages you received and saved from your girlfriend. We have telephones, the Romans had wax tablets, but the principle is the same.
  31. Get rid of photos of her. We have Instagram, they had murals.
  32. Avoid places where you could see meetings you two had. Avoid attachment to happy moments.
  33. Poverty means a lack of resources to support and maintain a relationship. You shouldn’t choose poverty, but if If poor, it helps.
  34. Refrain from performing on the theatre stage. No tearjerker movies for you.
  35. Hands off the erotic poets. Reading erotic literature makes it difficult to concentrate.
  36. Imagine that you are sleeping alone; accept the presence of a rival. Stop thinking about your ex’s new flame. And when you can finally greet your new partner with a kiss on the cheek, that’s a decisive sign that you’re cured.
  37. Don’t eat onions and arugula. Eat rue. They are aphrodisiacs and anaphrodisiacs respectively (says Ovid).
  38. Don’t get drunk at all, or get so drunk that you forget all your worries. Excitement brings about all kinds of emotions. (At 16.t The 19th century poet Vincent Obsopoeus made this recommendation the basis for his sequel to Ovid’s poem, How to drink.)
We have telephones, the Romans had wax tablets, but the principle is the same. Birthday invitation of Claudia Severa, ca. 100 AD Wikimedia Commons.


Michael Fontaine is a professor of classics at Cornell University. His books include three other volumes in the Ancient Wisdom for Modern Readers series, How to experience grief, How to Tell a JokeAND How to drink (all Princeton).


If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, please contact the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline on 988. To contact the helpline, call or text 988 or use online chat.