Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight

Delphine Hirsh '92 offers step-by-step advice for surviving a breakup in her new book.

October 8, 2003:

Heartbreak help
Delphine Hirsh '92 helps you get through the hurt

Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, the saying goes, and Delphine Hirsh '92 definitely agrees. In her book The Girls' Guide to Surviving a Breakup (St. Martin's Press), Hirsh, a history major at Princeton who worked for several nonprofits after graduation and now lives in Los Angeles, dispenses plenty of advice for girls whose guys give them the boot and offers uplifting fare to get love-shocked self-esteem back in shape. Her guide gives specific advice on how to get through the first few hours, the first month, and the next six by healing the hurt, pampering one's self, and then looking to the future. Interspersed throughout are stories from the frontlines — both her own and from her friends — as well as end-of-chapter self-checks on progress and lighthearted suggestions for additional support. Currently at work on a novel and caring for her infant son, Hirsh spoke with PAW contributor Maria LoBiondo.

What inspired you to write this book?

The book is really a love letter to some of my friends and my former self. I was looking for a book to give as a gift that was serious, funny, and true to our experiences about the end of relationships and couldn't find one. ... I feel like there are a lot of people out there giving advice that's dated and retro and antiwoman. They are offering advice that sounds familiar and plays on familiar fears but that doesn't make it relevant to our lives. The world has changed, I think for the better.

But don't women's magazines and self-help books cover this? Is it really so different today than in years past?

The nature of romance has changed dramatically since the '60s. Most of us are having more serious intimate relationships with men that end before marriage. That's new. My grandmother would never, never have considered living with someone before marriage. In my parent's generation, that wasn't acceptable either. Today it's commonplace. So men and women alike are negotiating romantic loss that's serious but doesn't have a name like "divorce," and there is a lot less material about it on the self-help shelves. I want to say, though, that there is an upside to all these changes — women in the U.S. today are freer than women have ever been, possibly in the history of the world.

There's a cultural change we're undergoing. ... For someone facing romantic loss, it's helpful for her to know there are a lot of things they can control. And, while it's hard to keep in mind when you are dealing with such a personal situation, it's also worth considering that with the changes of the last 40 years, women have gained a lot of opportunities including the right to be who they want to be and marry someone of their own choosing.

How did your Princeton years influence you in writing this book?

I loved Princeton and had an awesome experience there. I remember bringing a novel of Joyce Carol Oates's to her to have autographed and she made a comment that I took to heart: "Don't study creative writing. Study something where you'll learn stories. You'll have time to learn how to write when you have more experience and more stories to write about." That worked out fine because I thought I was going to law school then so I studied American history and Afro-American studies. I was lucky enough to take a small class with Toni Morrison, among other great classes. But, in general, you could say that I was a student of human nature while at school.

In some ways a section called "Freedom Baby" is the most important section of the book to me and definitely ties into the social history that I studied at Princeton with professors like Sean Wilentz, Gary Gerstle, Nell Painter, and Charles Brinkley.

Are the women you mention real girlfriends?

They're composites. The stories are real but I wanted to respect their privacy. All my girlfriends had a chance to read the manuscript and were comfortable with it before the book came out. They had a lot of input, too, both in contributions and in edits.

How about the advice. Did you really decontaminate your living spaces by going through them and dumping all boyfriend-related paraphernalia into manila envelopes? Keep a break-up journal? Lie about taking a day off from work?

I am crazy for manila envelopes so that one is all me. I keep a journal so the idea for a break-up journal just seemed natural to me.... I've kept a journal throughout my life. It's clarifying, comforting, and helpful, especially in dealing with hardships. My college roommate, Priscilla Glickman '92, died before our senior year. That was my first real experience with grief that was unexpected and immediate. There are tools you can learn to cope with grief of one kind that can help you with another kind. And lying your way out of work? I don't think I know a person who hasn't done that at one time.

Why did you include the quizzes at the end of each chapter and the lists, such as Top Five Movies to Distract You and Top Five Marriage Myths, in your book?

The quizzes, which are quickie mental health checks, and the lists were really to keep the book zippy and provide further distraction from dwelling on the ex, calling him or possibly keying his car.

What kind of promotion and feedback have you gotten since the book's been out?

I've done two talk shows, the Jenny Jones show, which was a nightmare, and The Other Half, which is hosted by four guys, including Dick Clark. It was surreal to be interviewed by Dick Clark! They both had studio audiences, which was nerve wracking for me. I also have been interviewed by Cosmopolitan, Australian Vogue, Seventeen, and newspapers in Cincinnati and Denver. The book's been featured in Complete Woman and Playgirl, too. It's incredibly flattering to have interest shown by total strangers. But the most exciting thing for me has been the e-mail response. The e-mails have been personal and touching and it's gratifying to think that the book made someone feel better. Some of the messages I've received are serious: one woman e-mailed me to thank me and shared her personal story — she was two months pregnant and her boyfriend of four years just left her. Another woman said the book's advice stopped her from torching her ex-boyfriend's trailer! Definitely a good thing.

You're married and a new mother. Is your husband in the book?

My husband makes a brief appearance in the fantasy section of the book. I was madly in love with him when he left for tour (he's a musician) and broke my heart. Three years later, we got back together and got married but I don't mention that in the book because it seemed like the wrong message to be giving a potential reader who is trying to accept the break-up at hand. There is, however, a section later in the book about things to think about if you are considering getting back together with an ex, which, like most of the book, was based on personal experience.

Have you heard from any ex-boyfriends?


How about from guy friends?

I have a lot of guy friends, but this is really about the female experience. I think culturally women still have the tougher time with break-ups because of the expectation about marriage and having children. There's a certain framework, timeline, which women have to work with. It's expected that women want to be in a relationship and want to get married. But for men it's different. A bachelor party is a celebration of the end of a life stage for them. I don't say I agree with this, but culturally I think it's still there.

What do you hope your readers will come away with after finishing the book?

What I hope readers will come away with is that I'm optimistic about the future of romance. Even though there are more break-ups, it's an exciting time to be a woman. Some writers are telling women that they should act less "modern" if they want to find love and get married. I'm definitely not saying that. I'm saying be who you are, don't feel like you have to play by old rules, and don't romanticize the experience of the women before us. Trust yourself because we are making history.

Is the endorsement on the back of the book really from Liz Taylor?

Yes. I worked with Elizabeth at the American Foundation for AIDS Research for years and when I thought about getting a blurb for the book I thought, who knows more about break-ups than Elizabeth? I was, of course, thrilled to get her stamp of approval.