I speak here of the romantic variety. The other kinds .. the ones that matter... I can't really help with. (Well, I can, but the advice is very much like the below).
These rules work, if you are a relatively well functioning human. I know this because one day I was sitting at Murky Coffee on the Hill... I don't think it had yet turned into Peregrine... and my neighbor, a dead ringer for Angie Harmon, wandered by with her friend.
"Do you know what happened?" Angie asked me.
"OMG what tell me," I said because I love a story.
And good lord did she have one. Her husband, whom I also considered a friend, had taken her dog (whom I also considered a friend) to the dog park whereupon he had met another dog lady, and knocked her up. This ended his career (conduct unbecoming to an officer), and he moved to points west to raise the baby.
The most galling part was that he had used her beloved dog as his ticket to the neighborhood hussy.
All of this had come to a head in rapid succession and just a few days prior. Angie was in shock, of course, and I told her to sit down and said here's what you need to do.* This may seem heartless but when you break up with someone there are no end of people, for a while at least, who will sympathize and listen and pat your hand. No one will tell you what to do, and you must move in a direction. That in itself is empowering, which is the first step toward healing. This is the direction to move in. (Angie later told me she did exactly as i said and it totally worked. She has a gorgeous new house and loyal boyfriend now. See? These steps are road-tested.)
1. If you can manage it, get yourself to a war zone. I was like the walking dead after an old boyfriend broke up with me just a few weeks before the Sept. 11 attacks (which included an attack on the Pentagon, where I then worked). But the Afghan war started, and there's nothing like a war zone to put your own problems in perspective, like Rick said... a hill of beans.
She got herself to I think Lebanon and won an award for her coverage. I got myself to Kabul and a valley in the shadow of the Hindu Kush, and gave an Afghan family water when the car I was in broke down. They had a camel and all their earthly posssessions piled on top, including a live calf, which was folded into a rug like a package with just his head poking out. There was also a mine field there. That will make you forget your boy troubles. (stay on the outside of the white stones. Do not step toward the red side. V bad.)
2. Immediately plan a great pleasure trip. Angie went on a two-week crazy adventure in Alaska and lord knows where else. All I know is it involved crampons and some super hot executive who lived in Japan and a rip roaring affair. The point here is to remove yourself, quickly and spectacularly, from your normal routine and all the things that remind you of him. (Or her). I, having had my plans for 2 weeks on Martha's Vineyard dashed, headed instead to the San Juan Islands and a 4 day, camping/kayak trip. Exhausting yourself physically and being with people who know nothing of your troubles: very helpful. You can talk about it if you want, but you can also keep quiet and begin to experience yourself as a person without a broken heart again. It starts from the outside in. Your trip should involve learning a new skill and challenging yourself in some way so that you come back a different person than when you went -- someone your ex doesn't quite know everything about. Go to all-girls surf camp. That'll fix you right up.
3. Upon returning home from your trip or your war, you must do something physically to your environment, and I don't mean burning all your photos and mementos. I mean paint a wall; redecorate. DEFINITELY get new sheets for the bed, and a new duvet cover. You are not only changing your environment for the better; you are taking life in your own two hands, making decisions, and will have something to show for your time. You may be sobbing throughout the painting ("He helped me pick Great Barrington Green!") but you will have accomplished something. You can be miserable; you can't avoid that. But you can put your miserable time to good use. You will eventually get over this. If you do constructive things -- things you've been putting off, or meaning to do -- when you do get over it, you'll be able to think: huhn! well I didnt totally waste that time. Tote up experiences. Become, in this time. Become something different and new and better.
4. On that note: Angie took my list of instructions and bettered it. She decided that every day she would do a random act of kindness for a stranger. It had to be a stranger -- one day I ran into her buying cold drinks for some work men laboring in the sticky August heat across the street, which is how I learned of her technique. The genius of this is it's NOT volunteering for some do-good organization, which involves: commitment, schedules, pressure -- and some days you just may not be up to it. Don't lock yourself down. But the brilliance of this is that it forces you out of your head; you must be paying attention to the world around you so you see your opportunities for these acts of kindness, and they can be as big or as small as your heart, head state and pocketbook allows.
5. If you go on a crying and ice cream jag , make french bread at the same time. It's very easy, fool proof almost, and will fill your house with a gorgeous smell and will paint your day with again the all important sense of accomplishment. It involves only flour, yeast, salt and water, and time. You get to knead it, and watch it change, and it drives home the fact that time does indeed accomplish wondrous things if you just sit back and let it. Plus, french bread! Good butter, jam. Read MFK Fisher's How to Rise up Like New Bread. Ooh, then read The Flaw (both of these are essays, in two different books).
6. Pay attention to what your ex is revealing about him or herself by their behavior toward you. They invariably expose themselves. Your task is to take it in -- to learn who they are, at their heart. Few people conduct themselves well during break ups (you should: be self contained and be kind. You never regret the high road.) and when you open your eyes to it -- to who they are, not to how they feel about you -- it makes the getting over much easier.
7. Time. It passes. That's the saddest part, really, that with time, you get over just about anything. There will be a morning when you wake up and it's not the first thing on your mind, and you'll realize that, and you'll feel a loss that you lost your sense of loss. But this is good. Congratulations. Eventually you will realize this was the best thing that ever happened to you, if you make it so.
*this is especially applicable if you are a reporter. War zones are far more accessible to reporters than regular people. Please don't be a war tourist. You'll just end up in jail in Iran.