When I was 20, I broke up with my first love.
The reasons for ending the relationship were pretty typical: We started dating right after high school and fell in love quickly.
Between ages 17 and 20, we grew into separate people and ultimately, apart. It's a typical situation, but the pain I felt didn't abate, regardless of how many other couples around me were breaking up for similar reasons.
When I was 23, I broke up with my second love, and the breakup was much harder.
We had known each other for six months before we began to "officially" date, and were best friends and partners in crime.
Unlike my first love, we lived together for almost the entirety of our relationship.
We had gone to look at engagement rings together. We had promised that no matter what, our relationship would last.
We were both wounded, and we needed to believe in forever-lasting love.
Despite how pretty everything looked on the outside, the inside of our relationship was far more tumultuous.
We fought constantly, especially toward the end. We fought about his habit of lying to me. We fought about how much more I needed him than he needed me.
We fought about how he became closed off when I was hurting and needed him most.
Eventually, after many threats to break up, I became fed up and cheated. It was only once, with someone who was happy to hold my hand and treat me with kindness, but once is enough.
My boyfriend forgave me and wanted to continue our relationship, but I knew once I had crossed that line, nothing could ever be the same. So, I walked away.
Both of these relationships were devastating in their own ways.
There's nothing like ending things with your first love, experiencing your first major heartbreak, and not knowing — for the first time in a long time — how to function on your own.
But there's something equally terrible about trying again with the wrong person, holding on for too long and re-breaking your heart in the process. I can only say that 23 was a bad year, and I'll leave it at that.
But, I learned lessons from each of these breakups. Some of them were from what I did right while others were from things I regretted.
I hope that, if anything, some of these lessons can be learned by reading them. That way, you don't have to fumble your way through these losses like I did:
1. Talk it out.
After my first breakup, I couldn't sleep for weeks. I stayed up until the sun started to rise and the birds started to chirp.
Only then did it feel safe to surrender. I talked with friends late into the night in their kitchens, drinking coffee with Baileys, and purging myself of the entire experience, word by word.
I texted and called my girlfriends in tears, confusion and just general feelings of being lost.
I wondered what on earth I was supposed to do now that I was single. How could I get over this guy I spent two and a half years of my life with?
And that was an absolutely perfect move. When your whole world is upside down, what else are you supposed to do but talk it out?
What could possibly be better for you than to verbally suck the poison out? So rant, rave, cry and accept consolation. You've been through a loss; let yourself feel it.
2. Don't jump into something new too quickly.
I was incredibly careful about starting another relationship too soon after my first breakup. I didn't want to get hurt again.
Even though I had already met my second love, I knew starting up with him so soon after a breakup would only lead to disaster.
That's not to say I didn't kiss or try to date my fair share of guys, but I knew this one guy, this second love, was special.
So, when he asked me out a month into knowing each other, I said no. I told him I wasn't ready, but I would be someday. I said I would let him know when I was.
It took six months, but that's when I finally felt healthy enough to be 100 percent someone's girlfriend again.
So, while rebounds, hookups and all manners of dating and sexual exploration are fun and totally normal, definitely take the time to wait before moving on to someone else.
It may take a month, six months, a year or six years, but you'll know when you're really ready. Listen to that intuition.
3. Be honest with yourself about what you want, then do it.
That being said, after both breakups, I gave myself the opportunity to go wild. My first love was more of a sit-at-home-and-watch-movies guy, whereas I wanted to be social and hit up every party every weekend.
So, I did. I went out Thursday through Saturday, suffered through the inevitable hangovers at my waitressing job and loved every minute of it.
I kissed guys (and girls) at parties without a thought of what might happen later.
I had one one-night stand (which I wouldn't re-do in hindsight, but it helped me learn my boundaries when it came to sex and experimentation).
Hell, after breakup number two, I actively sought out a friend with benefits who was completely unlike my ex, just so I could keep my sex life where I wanted it.
Let yourself have those moments. Get drunk if you want. Make out if you want. Have sex if you want.
Or don't, but let yourself be whoever you are, whomever you couldn't be in your last relationship.
Being single gives you the opportunity to answer to no one but yourself, so have fun and don't apologize for it.
4. Fight the urge to return to your ex.
But never, ever go back to your ex to satisfy your needs in moments of weakness. After my first breakup, I made the mistake of mentioning missing sex to my ex.
He happily offered to go down on me, presumably thinking that would help win me back. I said yes, and afterward, I felt nothing but sadness.
I didn't want to be with him, and I knew giving in to those desires was the wrong decision.
And the worst part is, I didn't learn my lesson.
After breaking up with my second love, I convinced myself we could be friends with benefits. Why not?
The sex was good, and neither one of us wanted to date. The guy I sought out to fill the void was a selfish bro who was more than willing to sling insults my way when I didn't move fast enough for him.
So, I went back to my ex, and it was fine... for about two seconds.
Obviously, there were still feelings there, and this time, I was the one who thought sex would win him over, bring him back and allow him to open up in a way he never did during our relationship. And I was wrong.
I spent months chasing him, and he spent months pushing me away (until past midnight, when he was more than happy to join me in bed).
The lesson? There are plenty of guys out there who can fulfill your needs. Hell, there are plenty of battery-operated devices that can give you what you want.
So, leave your exes alone. Remember, they're ex for a reason.
5. Let it go.
This last lesson is one I never learned, but I always meant to: Give yourself space.
As much as you might like your exes, as much as you might want to be friends in the future and as much as you think you're ready to be friends right now, you're probably not.
If you're still wondering what they're thinking of your every move, if you're still stalking them on Facebook and Instagram, or if you're still trying to one-up them at every shared gathering, then you're not ready.
The best advice I can give here is if you're yearning for friendship, it's not time to be friends.
Only when you could take it or leave it should you try, and only if they're in the same mental space as you.
Letting go of someone you loved is harder than almost anything in the world. It's a loss that's a cousin to death.
They could drop out of your life forever, you might never see them again and everything you had together could end up being nothing but a memory.
But that's what breakups are, especially when you've spent years entwining your lives.
You're choosing to let go of what you had in order to take a chance on something more, which means you have to let go.
That's the saddest, most difficult part — letting a love of your life go off into the world, knowing you're not supposed to walk hand-in-hand anymore — is the most necessary.
Perhaps one day you'll end up acquaintances or friends, maybe even best friends. Perhaps one day you'll learn, grow and come back into each other's lives, ready to start anew as a couple again.
Perhaps you both will continue to live your lives separately, eventually finding someone else and moving on so completely, you forget to even think about them anymore. It's not for me to say.
The only thing I do know is that if you love someone, set him or her free. And in the space he or she leaves behind, build a life that brings you joy. That's all you can do when a relationship ends.