Many moons ago when I was in the throes of my first proper breakup, I was let in on a little secret. Breakups, it turns out, were a good thing! An opportunity for reinvention and self-care and a chance to become a better, lovelier version of your previous self. Perhaps someone who goes to yoga at 5am or, even, a person who eats bacon and egg rolls in bed without fear of crumb shaming! The beauty in breakups is that they allow you to become, well, whoever you damn well want to be.
Of course, when you’re nineteen and ugly crying in the bathroom at your part-time job, it’s hard to take that advice for what it is. And what it is, it turns out, is cold hard fact. When I first swallowed the cold, bitter pill of heartbreak at 19, I was nudged in the direction of a relationship guru who had penned a concept I now see to be gospel: the Better Man, Better Dan theory, coined by one Zoë Foster-Blake.
When it feels like someone’s run your heart through a meat grinder it turns out these are the only two possible future romantic outcomes you need to be concerned with. You will either end up with a Better Man or a Better Dan (I’m currently with neither, but in the name of love and science let’s not worry about that for now. There is an exception to every rule, after all).
You need to look no further than the Kensington Palace walls to see proof of this philosophy in action. After all, the commoner previously known as Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle are both tangible examples of just how the Better Man, Better Dan theory can play out.
Case number one: The Better Man, as told by Meghan Markle
“The Better Man part is simple,” writes Foster-Blake. “There are many exceptional men out there and eventually, when you’re willing to let one of them in, one of these men will fall so in love with you that your head will rotate in a delirious, dizzying fashion.”
While we probably won't see Markle’s head rotate when she vows to love and cherish Prince Harry, there truly is no better example of someone living out the Better Man part of the equation than seeing the former actress marrying a goddamn Prince.
Meghan, as we know (thanks, tabloid papers!) is (gasp!) a divorcee! Meghan and her first husband Trevor Engelson separated in 2013 after knowing each other for almost a decade, and since then he’s decided to write a TV show about what happens when your “wife marries a prince”. Hardly behaviour worthy of a place in the Ex Husband Hall of Fame. We’ll likely never know exactly why Meghan and Trevor decided to split, but Meghan and her future husband seem very well suited. She’s moved on with a guy who created a sporting event to help wounded and injured veterans! She’s passionate about humanitarian issues and now gets to spend her free time championing noble causes! They get to live in a palace! Not too shabby.
So, next time you’re shepherding a friend through a particularly crappy breakup, remind them there’s plenty more (read: a small handful) of royals left in the blue-blooded sea. Sure, Harry’s off the market, but have you SEEN the Crown Prince of Dubai?
Case number two: the Better Dan, as illustrated by Kate Middleton
The crux of the Better Man is essentially this: your relationship ended but there’s someone much better out there for you anyway. The Better Dan approach is not quite as simple. Because, surprise, the Better Dan in this case is actually the bloke who's currently responsible for your emotional ruin (that bastard!). In this case, it’s the Better Duke of Cambridge.
“Better Dan is the guy who has time to grow and get clarity as a single man, and who realises he wants to share that new man with you,” writes Foster-Blake. “As Richard Bach so wisely said, “If you love someone, set them free. If they come back they’re yours; if they don’t they never were.” Better Dan is the man who you loved enough to set free, and he came back.”
Now I don’t know if Kate Middleton, circa 2007, was one to scour the depths of internet for advice when it came to matters of the heart when she found herself single. But I like to think that even the future Duchess of Cambridge turned to ol’ Google while half a pint into a tub of Ben and Jerry’s to help solve her romantic conundrums.
“I, at the time, wasn’t very happy about it, but actually it made me a stronger person,” Middleton said about the split in an interview marking her 2010 engagement. “I really valued that time for me as well, although I didn’t think it at the time.”
Despite my fantasies about Kate Middleton turning to the world wide web with a tub of Salted Caramel Core in hand, Middleton actually gave us a masterclass in how to behave after a breakup. She went out! She had fun! She looked great! Yes, she probably felt like the emotional equivalent of a dust bin, but she did what you’re supposed to do when your long-term partner has gone “oh, yeah, no thanks”. She went out and spent time with her friends and looked glorious and marinated herself in all the great things the single life has to offer. And her relationship, it seems, is all the better for that time apart.
Of course, there is one other option Foster-Blake doesn’t cover, and that’s the person that will come out the other side of those rubbish, tissue strewn months. Better Mans and Better Dans don’t always present themselves straight away. But it’s nice to know they might be out there. But if they’re not? Then you’ll always have Better Jan.*
*Or, you know, Alice or Jessica or whatever your name is!