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Going Through a Break-Up Doesn't Make You a "Survivor"

09/09/2013 12:36 EDT | Updated 11/09/2013 05:12 EST

I recently caught an interview with a woman on TV who managed to go from being a broke divorcee to being a self-made millionaire. It was impressive, to say the least, that she accumulated such wealth and success in the first place, but also because she did so while fast approaching 50 years-old. The person doing the interview praised this woman's success and called her a "survivor."

On another TV program I saw, a woman was interviewed about her new-found independence after going through a particularly nasty divorce. The show host screamed to the audience that the woman was "A Survivor!" The audience, of course, erupted into applause and cheers. Two days later, a friend of mine who lost half of everything he owns in a divorce told me he was "thankful to have survived it."

Survived what, exactly? Divorce, I guess. You know, that rare disease that claims the life of untold millions every year for which there is no known cure.

No less than 27 times in the past year have I heard someone coming out of a bad relationship call themselves a "survivor." As if awful splits are, somehow rare and something a random few people get through without succumbing to the Grim Reaper. Suddenly, going through a bad break-up has become synonymous with PTSD and treatment for Anthrax.

The truth of the matter is something no one wants to hear: You aren't special because you made it through a bad break-up.

These days it seems we want to convince everyone that every single experience is unique and rare; that no one could possibly understand the hardships that come with the demise of a relationship. In reality, most break-ups are difficult, many divorces can get nasty, and about 99 per cent of all people involved in either (or both) manage to live through them. People go through them all the time. We've all been there.

Over half of all marriages end in divorce and a majority of all relationships end. The odds of that relationship ending badly (or depressingly) are pretty high already. After all, these things end for a reason. Something went wrong. It "broke." It happens a lot. Patting yourself on the back for "surviving" it is just a slap in the face to those who actually deal with life-threatening situations.

You and the ex argued a lot and screamed at each other? That doesn't make you the victim of domestic violence. That makes you a bad fit with your chosen mate. You lost a lot of money in the divorce? That doesn't mean you were inches away from death's door. It actually makes you pretty much just like most people who go through a painful split.

The problem here is not people's feelings of self-importance; it's the devaluing of certain words. Pre-9/11, we called a good athlete a "hero." Calling someone who had a bad break-up a "survivor" is a similar kind of First-World-Problems hyperbole. But it belittles those who actually persevere and overcome true, life-threatening obstacles. Imagine telling the rugby players who resorted to cannibalism in order to survive that plane crash in the Andes Mountains that you're on a similar level because you married a passive-aggressive jackass.

Somewhere out there, there are actual "survivors" of awful break-ups. Victims of abuse, marital rape, con-artist spouses, and those who can claim to have lost more than their pride and condo. These are the people who deserve to use the term "survivor," not the person upset she had a bad relationship with the guy that lived in his parents' basement until he was 30 and never learned to wash his own clothes. You weren't on the verge of death; you just have bad taste in men. Same goes for my friend whining about losing his "Man Cave" because he married someone who couldn't put up with his crap. It's not like he had to endure four rounds of chemotherapy.

If you come through your break-up with your limbs attached, your skin unbruised, your body unviolated, and your future ahead of you, don't label yourself a "survivor." Instead, consider yourself pretty normal. Then consider yourself lucky that you don't actually deserve that label we so glibly throw around these days. In order to wear it, you'd have to have suffered through something far worse than a jerk who got half your stuff and didn't like your mother.

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